Early this year I visited the Episcopal parish outside Chicago where my family and I used to worship before we moved to California a few years ago. About a dozen 12-to-14-year-olds gathered in a classroom used for daycare during the rest of the week. They pulled out cushions and gathered in a circle on the floor, falling over each other like puppies and talking nonstop.
The lead teacher began with prayer and then asked the kids to share about the previous week. For the better part of 45 minutes, the kids shared their triumphs and trials—a Spanish skit due in the morning that several were dreading, a classmate who was injured during a lacrosse game, a sick neighbor, a good grade on a science test, an upcoming three-day weekend, etc.
As each of the young teens shared, the others attempted to listen with care, but their boundless energy (and ample hormones) often erupted into a cacophony of asides, flirty joking, and epic fidgeting. It was exactly how you’d imagine an assemblage of a dozen junior highers might look and sound. Barely controlled chaos.
That is, until the teacher pulled out his laptop computer and described a video he was about to play called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” The four-minute video was created by and features 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke, a spoken word artist, eloquently voicing his frustrations with organized religion. He says in part:
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? ... I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor? ... See, the problem with religion is it never gets to the core. It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores ...
As the video began to play via YouTube on the teacher’s laptop, the room grew still. The kids were absolutely rapt. You could have heard a pin drop.