Middle School Bible Study, four words that strike fear into even the minds of well-trained Biblical scholars, but one of my favorite things in life. In the five years since I graduated from McCormick, years filled with Christian Education, Youth, and Young Adult leadership roles in churches, youth camp directorships and Presbytery work, Middle School Bible Study has become one of my favorite things to plan and certainly to lead.
My current Middle School Bible Study, in my first ordained position at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, is series that we are calling (Super) Heroes of Faith. I have been writing our curriculum to match the lectionary text that we use in worship. The significant and fun thing about this study is that each character or set of characters is matched with a super hero who shares a character trait, situation or challenge with our Biblical character- we have talked about using our blessings with Jacob and Jesus at his Baptism with Spiderman, about God’s deliverance at Passover and communion with Professor X and Jean Grey, about being an outsider with Ruth and the Canaanite woman and Superman, about the importance of community with the people of Israel and Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount with the Avengers, about being a flawed leader with David, and Peter, and Batman, about making the right choice with Jeremiah and Mary and Thor, about following God’s path with Joseph and Paul and the Guardians of the Galaxy, and this week we will conclude our time with a conversation about God’s presence in each of our lives with the Psalmist in Psalm 139, Jesus sending the disciples in Matthew and the Superhero YOU.
Super heroes, comic books, graphic novels, and movies may not seem like a serious or particularly adult way to address this to many people, but I believe that these are the cultural realities in our time, and a valuable tool to ministry. I work on the crew of Denver Comic Con every summer and see how powerful these stories of character, faith, community and good and evil are in the lives of people of all ages, how they bring together people from massively disparate contexts and create community for those who are often overlooked or seen as outside the main stream of culture. These stories are modern philosophical texts, exploring the human experience and what it means to be a social animal, a person of faith, how to live in a hostile world, and even who God is in our lives. These stories may not always directly address Christian faith, although they sometimes do, but they wrestle with these questions in real ways that are genuine and interesting.
So we have talked this fall every Sunday and Wednesday about super heroes, and about the heroes of our faith in scripture. The wonderful thing that has happened for these youth is they are going home and telling the stories of scripture to their families… because of superheroes. A parent came to me after our second lesson and said, “my son came home and told me the story of Jacob wrestling with God and how that is a weird blessing, but so are all of ours when we first find them…but he told it to me through the story of Spiderman”. This was said with a bit of bafflement, but was actually my intention and it has been a great avenue to explore the stories of our faith with this group of young people. We live in a cultural context where teens and tweens, even ones who have been in the church all their lives, are far more likely to be able to tell you the origin story of the X-men than of King David or Moses, so why shouldn’t we help them learn the stories that are so profoundly important and exciting to our faith and tradition through these modern myths, stories that capture the imagination, share the fears and gifts of an individual story and do so in a language, imagery and setting that is more accessible than scripture sometimes is?
When I began looking for a curriculum to use this fall I came up woefully lacking in resources that truly take seriously where our youth are as a place to start conversations about scripture, the life of faith and Christian community. This is not a new problem, and is the main reason I have written most of the Bible study I have done in the last five years. So this fall I chose to create a study that took something they love, something they understand and are not intimidated by, and found the place that it speaks to faith and the Bible, something we all should find intimidating and spend our lives struggling with if we take them seriously. We took a cue from Clark and Tony and Peter, Bruce and Diana and Natalia and put on the cape, picked up the shield and hammer, got in the bat mobile and explored our faith together through the stories of Jacob and David and Ruth and Mary and Jesus and Peter and Paul. It has been wonderful, challenging and community building. The Church at its best.
Rev. Jessica Dixon currently serves Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church as Temporary Associate pastor where she enjoys exploring the intersection between Bible and Comic book nerdery. You can follow her @JEDi1016