I ran a retreat with our 8th grade Confirmation students Friday night and Saturday morning at the church. Time was when we loaded them all in a school bus on Friday night and barreled our way through rush hour traffic to Michigan for the weekend, but the last time we did that was 2019 (the spring retreat was the first covid domino to fall in 2020). Now we send them home Friday and hope they come back Saturday. Most do. Many do.
I build the retreat around a version of the profession of faith questions, the one from the new edition of the Book of Common Worship. There are four of them. The first two are about renouncing sin and calling Jesus “Lord and Savior.” The third one asks you to obey Jesus’ word, and that’s where some students get stuck. “Obey” is a part of what jams them up. Progressives haven’t been comfortable with that term in, like, forever; it’s patriarchal and authoritarian and bears down on a person’s authentic personal choice. It feels coercive.
The bigger piece of the puzzle is Jesus’ actual word. I keep it simple and crib from the Sermon on The Mount: turn the other cheek; you can’t serve God and wealth; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; don’t worry about your life. Then I ask them if they think any of those would be challenging. Hands shoot up, and by the end of the session every command of the sermon has been targeted for complaint.
I love it.
Watching their faces, I’m reminded of what a cranky seminary professor used to say about infant baptisms, how she preferred the babies loud and wailing, because then at least somebody appreciated the gravity of the occasion. I imagine these 8th grader’s faces to be like those in the crowd of disciples that day on the mount, hearing “enemies” and thinking of the Roman soldiers who daily harassed them, hearing “wealth” and needing lunch, worrying practically every minute about their life.
Confirmation is an invitation to profess faith, and I’ve always wanted that invitation to have the integrity of possible refusal, at least for now, and on the right grounds, not that church and faith and Jesus are boring but that they’re too demanding.
Before the session ends we rehearse the answer to this third question about obeying Jesus’ word: “I will, with God’s help.”