Micah 6: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
“How many failures do you have in your youth group?” asks a cynical member of the congregation who is looking for some way to condemn the Native American youth.
“I don’t have any,” I reply. “They all pray and they know they are connected to something profound.”
With a snort, the man left.
Later I ask the youth what is important for them to know or achieve. Granted that this is a very large question but we have asked it many times.
A young adult who is seriously thinking about college says, “I want to continue going different places and meeting new people. I feel like I can really make things change by what I do.”
One says, “I never thought of myself as a kind person but I do so many things now that bring a smile to someone’s face. I really care if the homeless have enough food to eat. That is different.”
Another chimes in, “I like our study on our baptismal vows where we strive to correct injustice and seek to find Christ in other people. I am most alive when we talk with the homeless and share our food.”
“That’s it,” says another youth. “I want to be alive in what I do. I’m not sure that it makes a difference what I do as long as I am alive in it.”
We pushed him a bit on this answer. He replies, “I used to get high on drugs or fighting but I am so alive when we do something with other people. It makes me alive to really get to know someone different and to show them that we see Christ in them, that they too walk in beauty.”
I thought of the many things that the youth have said they wanted. It used to be a list of possessions and achievements and escape. Now they have other names. They want a profound dimension in their lives. They want a life that is filled with rich relationships rather than fight and run. They want to be in control of changing not only their own lives but that of others. And they want to be with others who want something rich and abundant in their lives.
What does God require of them? “That they do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”
Okay, I can check that off. They are on a journey that includes all this.
Now, what can the Church provide them?
Here is where I get stuck. So I ask them.
One young lady starts. “I think that in the churches that welcome us, they have made me aware of tolerance toward differences and if they can accept me with my jail history, I can accept them with their attitude.”
Another one says, “They take the ceremony with seriousness. I feel like I am on Holy Ground when I go to Church. It seems to make prayer more real or something when I kneel.”
“They talk about the church welcoming everyone. I thought they were just mouthing it when I first heard it but now I think that they do,” proclaims another.
The first youth speaks up again. “I think that worshiping God in a sacred space reminds me that we are centered in God, even if a lot of people don’t take it deeply. I’m a God person because I belong to a Church. It’s hard to put it into words.”
So for these youth, if a Church takes the sacred seriously, if they welcome everyone, if they see God as the center of their lives, and if they see Christ in those who are different, then the youth want to be a part of the Church.
So simple, so Biblical, so Native.
Kaze Gadway has worked with the emerging leaders of the Episcopal Church within the Native American community of Northern Arizona as a volunteer for eleven years. They are youth of promise from ages twelve to twenty-four. The Spirit Journey Youth is an outreach program of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona with forty young people. She is on Facebook and blogs at infaith’s posterous