By: Dori Baker
April 02, 2012
My 72-year-old mother called the other day to give me some unexpected news: she was reading the Bible. She had gotten through Genesis and was now looking at Mark. My mother, you must understand, was a “none” (shorthand for “no religious preference” on the US census) long before that was trendy. The subject of multiple baptisms as a child, she now keeps her distance from most things that smack of organized religion, unless I happen to be preaching.
What was the impetus for her to dig up a Bible and dust it off? My new book “The Barefoot Way: A Faith Guide for Youth, Young Adults and the People who Walk with Them.”
It’s intended to spark just that kind of response – in teenagers and young adults – those very people so prone to become “nones” if we read the current data. I call it “upside down Bible study.” First you hear a story, a true story, from someone’s life. It may be a story about anything: a bench at Wal-mart, a hummingbird, and flip-flops all make appearances.
After hearing the story, you step onto the holy ground of meaning making. As humans, we are first and foremost meaning-makers. Our brains are always seeking connections, looking for patterns, wanting to know “why” from the time we learn to speak. When we follow that natural urge a little further, we may ask where our stories overlap with God’s story—as revealed to us in Scripture, experience, and Christian tradition. We move toward wondering what God might be calling us to be and do as we collaborate with God in constructing a future.
Sometimes, when we open our meaning-making to a trusted circle of friends, we see things we cannot see alone. We see images and hear whispers of connection that elude us in solo quests. If we carefully prepare our hearts and minds, we might even sense one another’s “shy souls” coming out of hiding to bask for awhile in the mysterious presence of God among us.
People of all ages can step onto this holy ground, and I believe congregations are places where that sometimes happens. What if we found a way to allow that to happen more frequently? What if we got serious about creating spaces for intergenerational meaning-making?
It was this hope that brought about “A Barefoot Way.” For the past dozen years, I’ve been practicing this kind of storied meaning making with various groups of women, men, children, youth, and adults. I’ve collected some of my favorites to create a method of spiritual formation that I teach in the book. In Austin, TX next month, I’ll be teaching it to a group of Presbyterian Christian educators. I am bringing along a friend and former student, Aram Bae, who is a practicing PC/USA Christian educator completing her doctoral work. A story from Aram’s childhood is included in the book, and she’s gone on to think carefully about how this method can be a gift in various contexts of race and ethnicity.
When participants leave this time, they’ll be renewed in their ability to lead that very human search for meaning. They’ll have everything they need adapt this method—at the end of a mission trip, in a Sunday morning small group gathering, around a campfire, or at a local coffee shop. They’ll be inspired to look for signs of God and help others think more theologically every day.
Perhaps someone in one of their ministries will wonder what Exodus has to do with their life, go looking for that dusty book, and begin to wonder how God might be calling them into the future.