ah, 6th grade boys

awesome small group last night with my 6th grade guys. last week was a bit rough, so it was nice to have a night like this where it seemed we accomplished something (i know we accomplished something last week — we were building a relational foundation for the stuff to come in our three years together. but it’s still enjoyable to have a week where the conversation seems to be about more than farts, guitar hero, girls, and whatever else pops into their heads unannounced).

we meet at my house, in the little “guest house” in our backyard. when the guys were arriving, zach looked in the little kitchen and (seeing the teapot on the stove) asked, “can i make some tea?” “uh, sure, i guess so,” i responded, still trying to figure out if he was kidding or not. he went on to describe how he makes tea for himself every morning, and how he’s somewhat of a tea snob, and really only likes english teas. i decided to join him in a cup, thinking that might lessen the chances that the other guys would tease him. but, instead, it meant that everyone wanted tea.

when it came to choosing vessels to hold said tea, i went for a mug. but zach spotted jeannie’s old teacup collection (i used to buy them for her on international trips, but that ended long ago, and there are about 10 different frilly teacups with wildly variant designs, and they were all sitting on display on the shelf in that little kitchen), and said, “i prefer to use a teacup.” and, as i offered the other guys a MUG, or a teacup, they all wanted to choose a dainty little teacup. i had a green ginger tea, as did my 20-ish co-leader. the guys either had decaf mint, ginger peach, or green pomegranate tea.

we decided it needs to be a new tradition for us, that we have tea each week. one of the guys — bryson, the squirreliest of the group, one of the most wonderfully random middle schoolers i’ve ever met — even started saying “huzzah!” to everything.

we talked about whether a superhero is more really himself (or herself) when he’s in superhero mode, or in alter ego mode. interesting discussion about this, since the superhero mode often comes with a mask. but we all agreed that in a strange way, the alter ego is really more of a mask, and that the superhero is really being himself when he’s being a superhero (this is all stuff from ken rawson‘s book, becoming a young man of god).

we said that we all have this outside “dude” we wear everyday — our alter egos. but the real superhero inside is our real identity. then i mentioned that we’re going to talk about the characteristics of that superhero over the next few weeks.

tonite’s superhero identity stuff was that we are loved and forgiven. we talked about wondering whether a girl likes us or not, and how that can go back and forth depending on the day (or hour, or minute). and we talked about how it’s easy to assume that god works the same way with us — that god loves us one minutes, but when we screw up, god doesn’t. back and forth. then i gave a quick little overview (with the guys filling in some of the blanks) about the old testament sacrificial system, and then about jesus as the lamb. i was surprised, as most of these guys have grown up in the church, that the idea of jesus replacing the sacrificial system of the old testament was a brand new idea to them. “I’ve never thought of that before!” and “No one’s ever told me that before” (which doesn’t mean no one has, of course).

i’d told them we were going to light things on fire later, and they were especially focused and engaged because of this, by the way. so i handed out pieces of paper with crosses drawn on them, and talked about what forgiveness really means in our lives. then they each took a few minutes sitting somewhere on their own and wrote stuff on the cross that they thought god might have a hard time forgiving them for. we gathered on a stone walkway in the middle of the backyard, with their papers wadded up, and stood in a circle. we prayed and thanked god for forgiveness. then, one at a time, we bent over and lit our paper wads on fire, saying, “my superhero identity is that i’m loved and forgiven.” each lit their own, but we watched as they all burned together into a pile of ash.

then we had lemonade and double-stuf oreos.

yeah. 6th grade guys. love it!

17 thoughts on “ah, 6th grade boys”

  1. One of the fundamental differences between Marvel and DC comics is that question you asked of are they more the mask or the secret identity.

    In DC you predominitly find that the heroes are the masks they where and the secret identitys are the put on (specifically with Superman and Batman) you find this with the little care in which they tend to handle the complications in their secret identity’s life and also how they act, even when they are in the secret identity it always seems like the masked hero is calling the shots. The meat of the story is rarely about Clark Kent, Hal Jordan or Bruce Wayne, but are instead lways about Superman, Green Lantern and Batman. Another evidence of this is how often DC changes who the heroes are behind the mask, there are constantly new Flashs, or Blue Bettles, because to them the secret identity isn’t as important.

    But in the Marvel universe however the secret identities are who the heroes really are, more often than not their masked activities are to help, cover up, or protect something in their secret identity and even with a mask on they will often talk about their personal lives. You get the idea that even without the costume (like in Daredevil Born Again and Spider-man No More) they are the heroes they claim to be and the mask or masked identity is only something that comes out of the abundance of will or virture that comes from the secret identity. You can see this in how most often in the Marvel Universe, when a hero dies, nobody takes their mantle (or takes their mantle for long) because it was the hero inside that counted. Even if a story has the Hulk battling things out for a while, the point tends to be about what’s going on in Bruce Banner’s life, when the Fantastic Four go into the negative zone there is often a reflection of what is happening in their marriage represented in the story etc.

    Just a little nerd footnote to your discussion :)

  2. Marko,

    I am a middle school youth pastor (only middle) and I could just picture this entire post in my head. It was so real, because I have kids just like that. I really enjoyed your sharing your ministry experience with your middle school small groups. Feel free to do so more often if you would like because I find it encouraging to hear stories from other trenches.

    See you in Nashville


  3. Sounds like a great evening.

    I’m a fifth and sixth grade pastor in Grand Rapids (I work with Corrie B. + Steve C. – I think you know each other.) I might have to borrow some of these activities for our program. Only it might be tricky to burn things in our student room. But everyone would love it (except for our facilities team).

  4. Awesome Marko! Had tears in my eyes as I smiled at the picture in my mind of those boys and their teacups. We are also using that book with our jr. high guys, I have been touched by the discussions that have happened. Needless to say the farts, the tangents and the inexplicable randomness of their thoughts is a constant each time we get together. What a blast! Doesn’t it just blow your mind when they do stuff like the tea thing?!? They never cease to amaze me! Thanks for the post! They sound like some incredible guys.

  5. One of the things that makes middle school ministry so fun (or frustrating depending on your personality) is how random it is. A couple of weeks ago, we were having a discussion about prayer and it ended up being a 45 minute discussion about the existence of God and his goodness/or lack thereof. They even favored continuing the discussion over playing games. It was incredible. Of course the next week was like pulling teeth trying to get them to answer anything.

  6. Mark….what can I say…you’re awesome…God is so awesome…thanks for letting Him use you. I’m a Children’s Pastor at a small church in Vinita Ok. I’ve been teaching from your Wild Truth Bible Lessons with my 5th & 6th graders for about 6 years. Thanks for sharing your experiences and God given insight. Thanks for being God’s “sensitive guy” with crazy tweeners and teenagers.
    Love, Ms. Fawn

  7. How cool! Those kinds of meetings really keep you going don’t they? We’ve just been through a string of very trying meetings that left us frustrated and a little confused, but hearing about how well yours went gave me a lot of hope and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Maybe if we gave our kids sleepytime tea before meetings…

  8. Marko –
    Good to hear the randomness continues. New digs – new experiences – enjoy!!
    I read the YS newsletter this a.m. about pre-teen/teen self-centeredness, and loved your suggestion about serving others to get over that “me” focus. Shane went to the day care center in Tecate this week with the Encounter group, and loved it! He said he must’ve given about 70 wheelbarrow rides to the kids there, and knowing this may have been the wildest fun they’ve every had was a thrill for him. He was so grateful to sleep in his own bed when he got home!
    Keep up the good work with the guys – you are a blessing to them in this wacky world we live in!

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