Twelve years ago I was asked by my cousin Chelli’s then-husband if I would give the introductory lecture at a brand new class he was teaching at Denver East High— Exploring Comparative Religions. He asked if I could give an hour and a half presentation on “What is Religion and its Role in Society”? I told him I would be honored. This past Thursday I taught two sections for this now very popular class.
Last year I had the challenge of doing it via a screen. We made it work but there is nothing like face to face. Ministry offers a huge variety of opportunities and experiences. I have spoken at middle school health days on addiction and recovery. I have served on panels, been interviewed by both print—media, and television. I can tell you that my every semester kick off at East High is my favorite thing I have ever done. Thursday was no disappointment.
I always begin each class by asking every student to tell me their name and why they took the class. The answers every year are consistent—“I heard it was a great class”, “My counselor made me take it”, “My sister took it and told me to”, “It just sounded cool”. The thing that moves me each year is the hunger that students have for honest conversations about the mystery of our existence, and how religion attempts to make sense of it.
I tell the kids that what will make the class work is their questions. “There are no questions that are off limits, I will do my best to give you my take and what I am really excited about is honest dialog”. Things usually start slowly and by the end of class, the teacher Shaun has to get written questions for me to respond to, as the 80 minutes are too short.
This year in both classes a very similar question was asked,”Has there ever been a time you did not have faith”? Without trying to retell you those moments, I share that my greatest growth has come during and after “Dark Nights of the Soul”. I told them about my most recent experience of my 18 day hospitalization with Covid. “One night at 3am I lay there in a diaper, unable to to anything for myself. I said ‘Ok God, it’s you and me’. For an hour I lay there in lonely silence. Then my answers came. The little voice that never lies to me spoke very directly. One word—Compassion”.
That was it… that was my answer. I shared that compassion is the reality that connects us with all that is.
We then usually enter into a conversation about the difference between belief and faith. Certitude is the enemy of a healthy life giving faith. When we we think we “know something, or have something” we quit growing. “God is not something you put in your pocket, or get a merit badge in. That’s what I find so compelling about Jesus—his faith grew as he engaged with real people struggling with these very questions”.
I left the high school through the midst of the most diverse crew of kids I could imagine. They were all out in front of the school on a break. They were wearing masks, but that did not deter their energy.
Once again, I felt like I received way more than I gave—and I remember my friend who said years ago, “That axiom is true, but we don’t give to get”. These kids give me some hope.
Onward and Upward, Mark