The Gate of Eaven

16 01 2012

There’s always that one kid.

You know the one I’m talking about.  The one you secretly hope will not show up for youth group. The one you wish would just find Jesus…at some other church.

He started out in our after-school program and was the first to make the transition into Sunday night youth group. I don’t know much about his background, although I’ve gathered snippets of his story from talking to his brothers and cousin.  I know he’s seen more violence than anyone his age should.  There is a large scar across his cheek.  I’ve never asked how he got it.

He is hardened, sullen.  When he does come (which is not often), he picks fights and causes trouble. He enjoys the food, and he always plays basketball…but when we start Bible study, he prefers to sit on a chair away from the group, cracking dirty jokes under his breath.

Last night, when we divided into small groups, I had to send a volunteer to coax him out of his hiding place. He came in late and lay down on the floor beside me.

Our discussion continued as I asked the students to finish the sentence, “God is…” Their answers came flying back: “God is our Father!” “the Creator!” “Light!”

He lifted his head up, watching. “The gate,” he said, finally. “Isn’t he the gate of heaven?”

“Yes!” I said, handing him a pen. “Why don’t you write that down?”

He sat up, leaned forward, and painstakingly wrote the words onto the canvas. After that, he didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t lie back down, either.

When we sent the youth out to decorate their mirrors, he hunched over the small table, cutting shapes out of blue vinyl and then scrunching them up and tearing the edges as he saw fit.  When he was finished, he showed it to me proudly before setting it down with the others.

Later, as I was washing the etching cream off his mirror, I discovered that one of his letters had not stuck down and could not be seen. Oh no, I thought. It’s ruined.

But I went back to look at it after it had dried. The light shone down on it in a special way, and I realized: it’s perfect.

mirror image created by a student

What a metaphor.  The gates of heaven are not polished or even sanitary.  They’re a bit messy most of the time, and they have jagged edges.  But what makes them beautiful is where they lead.

To the Cross. To Jesus.


16 01 2012

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

– 2 Corinthians 3:18

Last night was one of my favorite youth group meetings ever.  One of my high school seniors is taking a “Career Mentorship” class this semester, which means he gets to come hang out at the church for one hour every day.  At first I had my doubts about how much work we would actually get done…but  last week, we spent a couple of days reflecting on Scripture and devising an elaborate art project for youth group.  (Side note: How much better is it to work with youth when writing your lesson plan??? You get great ideas, buy-in, and immediate feedback about whether something will work!)

Part 1.  Canvas

We started out by remembering the story of Moses: how his face glowed when he returned from Mount Sinai.  We talked about how it is impossible to spend time with God and remain unchanged.  (I brought up the saying, “Come as you are, but don’t stay that way,” and we discussed how this applies to the Christian life).

Earlier, we had painted two canvases black.  On one we had attached vinyl letters to read, “God is…”  On the other, I invited the youth to fill in the blank with Sharpie poster paint pens:

We then read 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 using a modified type of Lectio Divina.  In our response time, we discussed what it would look like for us to reflect the glory of God today (hint: we probably won’t actually glow, but we want it to be just as obvious that we’ve been spending time with God!)

Part 2. Mirrors.

Self-Portrait: forgiveness

The youth divided into pairs, and each pair picked one attribute of God to reflect back into the world.  Then we created mirror etchings based around each of their attributes, etching the negative space so that the design itself would shine through.  (So whenever you look into the mirror, the only part that reflects back would be “Love,” “Joy,” etc.)

I got my directions from Dancing Commas (she did a fruit bowl, but the technique is the same).  Here’s my quick rundown of instructions:

1. We used 12-inch square mirror tiles, marking off a six-inch square (the design area) in the middle with masking tape.

2. We provided the youth with a variety of letter stickers, and several sheets of plain vinyl stickers (which they could cut out into any shape).  I also printed out some Christian symbols, which they could trace onto the vinyl.  Stickers and stencils were a really good idea; the non-artistic youth ended up just writing their word onto the mirror with the stickers, and they looked just as good as the more elaborate squares!

3. The etching cream is really acid, so take precautions if you let youth use it.  No horseplay, don’t let it touch your skin, etc.

washing off the etching cream

washing off the etching cream

4. We waited about 30 minutes before washing off the etching cream (which means they haven’t seen their final products yet).  Just a warning: no matter how many mirror tiles you do, you will still have a minor panic attack every time you wash off the etching cream, because you will think it didn’t work.  I promise, once it dries, it will be awesome!

I love the variety of images that were created last night!  We intend to hang all of the artwork in our Youth Wing in the next week or so.  And at Prayer Breakfast tomorrow, I’m going to give each of the kids a tiny mirror tile (you can get them cheap at Hobby Lobby) with a characteristic of God written on it in Sharpie.  We’ll challenge them to carry it with them all day as a reminder to reflect that characteristic back into their schools/homes/etc.

the word "alive" etched into a mirror, with a tree

"Be Alive" (created by two students)