On most Thursday nights I find myself in a room full of kids. Our youth groups at Grace are really a joy for me. We don't really "do" that much--we put the kids in a room; we talk, we listen and we seem to connect to a Spirit that is real and good. On the first Thursday of each month it's a bit different. We hang our with just the Juniors and Seniors. We meet at Bainbridge Bakers late at night--they let us have the place to ourselves, and they even cook for us. It's pretty cool. And again we talk and listen--about the very challenging realities of their lives as older kids beginning to make some pretty remarkable decisions. Each year, as these kids grow, I notice how much our local culture nurtures our kids for success--but rarely nurtures them in meaning. A recent NY Times article describes the attitudes of incoming freshman at UCLA--in 1971, 37% said it was essential or very important to "be financially successful" while 71% said it was essential or very important to "develop a meaningful philosophy of life." I'm sure no one is surprised to know that in 2009 those very numbers were reversed. What a shame.
And yet I marvel, on these first Thursdays, about how much kids want meaning. Last month we sat around the bakery tables, eating great paninis, with Bibles open as we tried to make sense of the Book of Job. Why? Because it was required reading for the Humanities course the Seniors were taking. Yep, we were doing homework! Nobody was talking about AP Statisitics, but they were taking that class too. They were stuck on the big questions, not the successful questions.
And then this month, we had a pretty special guest join us for conversation and chicken pot pies. Kyle Elmquist, a "Grace Kid" (now 26) has just returned from a year traveling in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and India. On his own. Rock climbing. Working with orphans. Studying Thai massage. Being a pilgrim. Seeking meaning and purpose. He came with stories about growing and learning--and he talked about how life has meaning, which is something he was nurtured in as a kid growing up at Grace, with parents who believed it was true. As anyone would guess, the kids listening to Kyle's amazing and humble stories were enlivened with meaning themselves.
This is one of the great gifts I experience in the work I get to do. To witness light and meaning pass from hand to hand and heart to heart. Sundays. Thursdays. On the ferry. Streets of Seattle. In the hospital. At local bakeries. It happens. Grace Happens. So, let's do just everything we can to keep it happening. Simple as that.