Last week our high schoolers requested mac n’ cheese and apple cider slushies, so this week we had both! After some quality hang out time, we took prayer requests and spent some time praying for one another. I can’t tell you how proud I am to see your kids praying corporately for each other. Each week it feels more natural and students are more willing to pray and share deeper requests.
As someone who deeply values community and giving ownership to the high school students in particular, I began the night by asking if there were any “big” questions they wanted to talk about that our book didn’t cover. A few weeks ago there was an excellent conversation about swearing, and it came back up last night. So we spent the majority of our time together discussing what swearing was, the strange nature of language as attributed meaning, and what the Bible has to say about it.
I think we eventually settled on swearing being defined as strong, impolite language. We made a distinction between taking the Lord’s name in vain and swearing, with the former being the more serious of the two. We reflected on Eph. 4, and some of the things we talked about last week in our conversation on taming the tongue. Much of the language we use regularly might not be considered “swearing” in our culture, but it probably qualifies as "unwholesome talk that tears others down." In the same way, there are some strange ways I have experienced students swearing at me in wholesome ways. I had a student in Chicago named Damien that once said, “Noah, you’re the s#!&.” While that was definitely strong and impolite, what he meant with those words was actually wholesome and uplifting.
I made sure to clarify that I’m not advocating for swearing in any context though. I do think that we are called to be in the world, but not of it, so when I responded to Damien, I just said “You’re pretty awesome too.” I took what he meant behind those words without offense, and I upheld my moral beliefs without responding in kind.
This led to what I would consider the most vulnerable conversation we have had yet, even though it was a bit of a rabbit trail. One student admitted that they felt stuck between two friends, one who believed that tattoos were sinful, and another who didn’t. The friend that believed they were sinful was encouraging this student that it was their job to go and convince the other that they were sinful.
Regardless of the topic, this kind of tension feels so common in our culture. Christians who believe one way silo themselves and pit themselves against Christians who believe differently, and mudslinging ensues. I’ve been wrestling personally with the idea that Christians are called or directed in Scripture to change each others minds about things like tattoos, methodology of baptism (infant vs believer, immersion vs sprinkling, etc.), or worship style. I’m not sure that any of those things are so important that a difference in belief would warrant chastising or excluding a brother or sister in Christ over them. If the crux of the disagreement was something like “Jesus did not bodily rise,” or “Jesus was not fully God,” I would see it way differently, but I wonder if the culture our students are growing up in now is similar to some of the behavior we see in the Pharisees.
I’m always struck by Jesus’ response to known sinners in the Bible, and how we seem to miss that mark in our treatment of people we deem sinners. He demonstrates a pattern of “love first, give grace, and call them to repentance and a changed life.” We seem to reverse that order, and require a changed life to give grace, and love follows after they meet our self-imposed criteria for holiness.
So what started as a simple question about swearing and tattoos turned into an excellent discussion of how we interact with one another, how Jesus approached sinners and what He requires of His followers. What a wild ride :)
Next week in youth group we return to our series in James to talk about fighting for peace!
If you made it through that giant wall of text, thanks! I’m so grateful to be walking alongside you and your students as we pursue Jesus together. Have a wonderful, restful week!