Seven Weeks to Wisdom – Week 3: The Wisdom of Youth

Lesson 2 of the Quest for Truth "Seven Weeks to Wisdom" curriculum.

Lesson Developed by

Skip Masback

Goal

Bible Study, Appreciation of Biblical Wisdom as Guidance for Life

Materials Checklist

  • Bibles: New Revised Standard or New International Versions
  • Candle
  • Copy of “Seven Weeks to Wisdom: Week VII Handout of Excerpts if you prepare one
  • Writing Instruments
  • Flip Chart Pad (with Post-It strip or masking tape)
  • Three small different colored pads of post it notes
  • Enough 4×6 index cards for each student to have two cards
  • Several pieces of oaktag – write a heading on each piece: “The Wisdom of [the name of your class or group here]: A Collection of Proverbs”
  • 3 Music Playing Devices (e.g. Smart phones, Tablets, Laptops) with speakers
  • A Way of accessing recordings and lyrics of the following songs by Alan Watts and Antonio Pontarelli. The recordings are readily available on apps like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and Google Play without ads). The additional songs are optional – to be used instead of or in addition to the selected songs.

Alan Watts: “The Wisdom of Youth” Recording

“The Wisdom of Youth” Lyrics

Antonio Pontarelli, “The Wisdom of Youth” Recording

Purpose

To provide the youth with: a) the value of wisdom as guidance for life; 2) the wisdom of youth valued in ancient and modern wisdom sources; 3) the resources to seek wisdom on their own.

Introduction for Leaders

Here are some resources the leader may choose to review while preparing the lesson. In some circumstances, you may choose to share parts of them with your youth:

Yale Bible Study Course on Wisdom Literature. Week V: Ecclesiastes

From G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education, Vol 2 (Appleton, 1921), p. 142

An American psychologist, Hall coined the term “adolescence”, arguing in his book that adolescence was a “golden stage” when life “glistens and crackles” – a “vernal season of the heart” uniquely open to experiencing and sharing joy and love and uniquely susceptible to suffering their absence.

From Erik Erikson, Insight and Responsibility, (Norton, 1964), p. 126):

“[Adolescence is] a vital regenerator in the process of social evolution; for youth selectively offers its loyalties and energies to the conservation of that which feels true to them and to the correction or destruction of that which has lost its regenerative significance.”

From Almeda Wright, “The Ministry of Questioning Everything”, Reflections, Spring:2014 at 33-34:

“James Fowler, in his seminal text Stages of Faith, describes changes in faith that typically occur during late adolescence or early adulthood, when young people have experiences that call into questions the symbols, images, practices, and traditions of their communities of origin.

Sometimes the trigger can be a first romantic relationship or a cross-cultural friendship. In light of these experiences, their faith becomes more critically reflective and individuated. And sometimes the communities come up lacking or the practices seem insufficient. In other circumstances, young adults recognize they have to wrestle with the faith tradition and imagine it in new ways in order to make it their own – and not simply accept the faith of their parents, pastor, or friends.

In Fowler’s theory, many young adults – just by nature of maturing – encounter questions that can lead either to a crisis of faith or an enlightening moment. Embracing the importance of faith questions prepares communities for the turbulent changes young adults will experience as they move through life. When we accept questions as a way of being faithful we begin to live into the inquisitive faith of Jesus, and we honor the fullness of who God has created us to be.

Walter Brueggemann reminds us that any community that wants to survive beyond a generation has to concern itself with education. [Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as Model for Biblical Education (Fortress Press, 1982).] Like Fowler, Brueggemann proposes a model of education and community that honors questions. He accounts for the inquisitive young children, who are yearning to know the narrative of the community. He notes the ruptures – often the prophetic speaking of truth to power – of adolescents and young adults, who offer new eyes and skills to question our complicity with the status quo. Bruggemann’s model includes the wisdom tradition, which emerges only from attending to (and I would add exploring or questioning what we see and learn as we live.

Each of these forms of inquisitive learning shows us a way to be more welcoming to actual young people – with all of their innovations and annoying questions as well as their genuine sense that we can do things differently.”

Job 32:1-22
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong.[a]  Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job, because they were older than he.  But when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouths of these three men, he became angry.
Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite answered:
“I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said, ‘Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But truly it is the spirit in a mortal,
the breath of the Almighty,[b] that makes for understanding.
It is not the old[c] that are wise,
nor the aged that understand what is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’
“See, I waited for your words,
I listened for your wise sayings,
while you searched out what to say.
I gave you my attention,
but there was in fact no one that confuted Job,
no one among you that answered his words.
Yet do not say, ‘We have found wisdom;
God may vanquish him, not a human.’
He has not directed his words against me,
and I will not answer him with your speeches.
“They are dismayed, they answer no more;
they have not a word to say.
And am I to wait, because they do not speak,
because they stand there, and answer no more?
I also will give my answer;
I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
the spirit within me constrains me.
My heart is indeed like wine that has no vent;
like new wineskins, it is ready to burst.
I must speak, so that I may find relief;
I must open my lips and answer.
I will not show partiality to any person
or use flattery toward anyone.
For I do not know how to flatter—
or my Maker would soon put an end to me!

Joel 2:28
Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.

Luke 18:15-17
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

James 1:5-8:
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind;  for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

1 Timothy 4:11-12:

These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

From Alan Watts, “The Wisdom of Youth”:

All energies of life have in them a possibility of an excess of going too far.
When you bring up your children, and you tell your children your various far-out ideas and the children suddenly believe in them, I’m horrified.
I think “Oh my god, what will they do next?”
But everybody feels that way in regard to the strength of the younger generation that is coming on.
Cause this younger generation is huge.

When we think about young people, we have terrible ideas.
We think that we know what life is and that they have to be told that they will learn it from us, and be like us.
We don’t take that attitude when we see the new vegetables come up in the spring.
We don’t say the vegetables have to be educated to be vegetables.
We say “hooray! At last, young vegetables. With all the life and energy in them. New meals for everything.”
So when we see young people come up, we might say “good gracious, isn’t this great? To see the human race is still doing its stuff. I wonder what they’ll have to teach us.”

Because wisdom doesn’t come from above down.
It comes from below up.
That’s where the wisdom is, surging into us.
The old people, they have a function.
But they have it in order to fulfill that function.
They have to understand first that they can learn from the young sources.
If they understand that, then they can be wise and be teachers.
If they don’t understand that, they never can.

To be wise, you have to…that’s the meaning of the saying, “to enter the kingdom of heaven, you have to become again as a child.”
From the child’s point of view, the things which the adult considers irrelevant to survival, are perfectly important.
And so children collect pebbles and colored glass, and all sorts of trivia which they consider as precious as diamonds.
The adult says “oh, pfft. Frippery.”
But they really have the secret.

Now the child, as a child doesn’t know how to play the adults game. It is a power game. And so it has to be educated to learn the values of the power game.
To learn what’s what and what is important.
But when he has mastered that game he realizes it has no rewards.
That all the things that the adults thought they were gaining by their power game, are after all not worth having.
Which is why you can be rich and miserable.

So that having learned and having seen through the adults power game, we come back to the point of a child.

Video: Alan Watts: “The Wisdom of Youth”

Video: Antonio Pontarelli, “The Wisdom of Youth”

Lauren Calvin Cooke, “Finding Joy in an Unjust World: Practicing Joy in Youth Ministry”

See attachment from: Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore and Ms. Yara Gonzalez-Justiniano, “Youth Wisdom – Pointing toward Joy and Flourishing”

Gather

Gather (15 minutes)

  • Invite the youth to sit in a circle. As they settle down, place a candle in the center of the circle and ask one of the young people to light it.
  • Offer the prayer adapted from President Abraham Lincoln’s prayer in March of 1861:

Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  • Remind the youth of last week’s conversation and how you invited them to reflect on the various bits of wisdom posted on the walls and select an element they wanted to try to reflect and act upon during the week that followed. Invite volunteers to share the wisdom teaching they had selected and to describe their experience during the week:
  1. How had they reflected on the teaching?
  2. How had they tried to act on the teaching?
  3. What did they experience in their efforts?
  4. What did they learn from the exercise?
  5. How did they revise the wisdom teaching to reflect what they learned and thought about during the week?

Engage

Engage (30 minutes)

Activity I: Reflecting on the Wisdom of Youth and Its Sources

  • Remind the youth that one of your most thoughtful texts introducing the nature of wisdom was an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “I Know why the Caged Bird Sings”:

“As I ate she began the first of what was later called “my lessons in living.” She said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors. She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit. That in those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations.”

  • The lessons in living from an elder and the reference to “mother wit” certainly reflects a common understanding that elders have a rich store of lived experience to shape their wisdom, and that all ages would do well to attend to the collective wisdom of past generations. Indeed, the association of wisdom and elders is a widespread and insightful one – certainly it appears in our Scripture as it does in many indigenous cultures:

Deuteronomy 32:7

Remember the days of old,
consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you;
your elders, and they will tell you.

1 Kings 12:6

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?”

“The Importance of Elders in Native American Culture”

“Simon Looking Elk told us that elders often are known for being the kind of people who have paid attention, gaining knowledge and wisdom from life –during their childhood they watched and listened carefully to ceremonies and traditions, and as youth they paid attention to the way the elders in their communities behaved . . .Essentially, elders are libraries of Indian knowledge, history and tradition.”

  • But there are ample Biblical passages encouraging and respecting the wisdom and insights of the young as well.

From Job 32:1-22
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God;  he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong.[a]  Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job, because they were older than he.  But when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouths of these three men, he became angry.  Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite answered:
“I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said, ‘Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But truly it is the spirit in a mortal,
the breath of the Almighty,[b] that makes for understanding.
It is not the old[c] that are wise,
nor the aged that understand what is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’
“See, I waited for your words,
I listened for your wise sayings,
while you searched out what to say.
I gave you my attention,
but there was in fact no one that confuted Job,
no one among you that answered his words.
Yet do not say, ‘We have found wisdom;
God may vanquish him, not a human.’
He has not directed his words against me,
and I will not answer him with your speeches.
“They are dismayed, they answer no more;
they have not a word to say.
And am I to wait, because they do not speak,
because they stand there, and answer no more?
I also will give my answer;
I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
the spirit within me constrains me.
My heart is indeed like wine that has no vent;
like new wineskins, it is ready to burst.
I must speak, so that I may find relief;
I must open my lips and answer.
I will not show partiality to any person
or use flattery toward anyone.
For I do not know how to flatter—
or my Maker would soon put an end to me!

From Joel 2:28:
Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.

From Luke 18:15-17:
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

  • And both the disciple James and the apostle Paul knew the young had access to wisdom as well:

From James 1:5-8: 
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.  But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

From 1 Timothy 4:11-12:

These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

  • Consider this excerpt from Yale theologian Almeda Wright:

From Almeda Wright, “The Ministry of Questioning Everything”, Reflections, Spring:2014 at 33-34

Walter Brueggemann reminds us that any community that wants to survive beyond a generation has to concern itself with education. [Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as Model for Biblical Education (Fortress Press, 1982).] Like Fowler, Brueggemann proposes a model of education and community that honors questions. He accounts for the inquisitive young children, who are yearning to know the narrative of the community. He notes the ruptures – often the prophetic speaking of truth to power – of adolescents and young adults, who offer new eyes and skills to question our complicity with the status quo. Bruggemann’s model includes the wisdom tradition, which emerges only from attending to (and I would add exploring or questioning) what we see and learn as we live.

Psychologists who have studied the dynamics and capacities of adolescence have gone so far as to conclude that adolescents have unique capacities for insight and, indeed, have a vocational responsibility to the community to lend their gifts to the accumulation of communal wisdom.

G. Stanley Hall, the American psychologist who coined the term “adolescent, argued in his book that adolescence was a “golden stage” when life “glistens and crackles” – a “vernal season of the heart” uniquely open to experiencing and sharing joy and love and uniquely susceptible to suffering their absence.

Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson concluded:

“[Adolescence is] a vital regenerator in the process of social evolution; for youth selectively offers its loyalties and energies to the conservation of that which feels true to them and to the correction or destruction of that which has lost its regenerative significance.”

Alan Watts was a lifetime student and teacher of Zen Buddhism. After graduating from seminary and serving for a time as an Episcopal priest, Watts spent most of his life writing and teaching about Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. He had particularly provocative thoughts on the wisdom of youth. Watch the following video together of an excerpt from his teachings:

Video: Alan Watts: “The Wisdom of Youth”

  • Discuss the perspective on the wisdom of youth shared by Watts, touching as a group on the following questions:
  1. What struck you most about Watts’ assertions?
  2. What do you agree most with? Disagree with?
  3. Watts ultimately quotes Jesus to support his appreciation for the wisdom of youth:

From Luke 18:15-17:
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

4. What do you think Jesus meant when he said, “whoevever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it?”
5. Do you think our modern American culture appreciates the wisdom of youth? Does your community? Does your church? Does your family? Do your friends? Do you?

Activity II: We Begin Compiling the Great Book of our Youth Group’s Wisdom

  • Explain that you’re going to begin a project today that we will continue with throughout our weeks together. We’re going to put together our own book of wisdom sayings, something like, :The Great Book of Our Youth Group’s Wisdom”. As with ancient peoples, the keys to developing a rich, helpful book of wisdom, “mother wit”, “homely sayings couched in the collective wisdom of the community” is, “to pay attention” to our experience: 1) to engage in deep reflection on the stories of triumph, success, and satisfaction in their lives and to engage in deep reflection on the stories of defeat, loss, and suffering in their lives; 2) to inquire openly and listen attentively to the stories of others; 3) to collectively discuss and shape the evolving collection of proverbs to capture accurately and memorably the wisdom collected.
  • We’re going to begin by revisiting the various bits of wisdom that were posted on the walls last week and which the youth selected to reflect and act upon during the last week. Invite the youth to revisit their wisdom source and to write it out in the form of a short proverb.
  • As time permits, invite the young people to share the proverb or wisdom saying that they have drafted with the group and describe their experience during the week. Entertain a short discussion of each proverb after it has been shared with the group. Seek, particularly, to encourage the sharing of personal stories from members of the group that illustrate or enrich their understanding of the proverb.
  • At the end of the conversation, give the youth five minutes to make any changes to the proverbs they have written (or to write one if they hadn’t written one during the week).
  • As youth complete their drafting and edits, invite them to tape their proverbs on the sheets of oak tag you have taped on the walls of the room. Indicate that you’re going to compile the proverbs and send them to the group members by email during the week. Don’t forget!

 

Reflect

Reflect (10 minutes)

The short summary of the wisdom acquired Native American elders emphasizes “Simon Looking Elk told us that elders often are known for being the kind of people who have paid attention, gaining knowledge and wisdom from life experiences”

  • What are the different ways to “pay attention” and what types of different circumstances invite and facilitate “paying attention” attention to life experiences?

One of the nation’s leading scholars on the wisdom of youth is Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore, until recently the dean of the Boston University Divinity School. Dean Moore led a twenty-five year study of youth wisdom in two successive projects: “Youth and Culture” (1994-2005) and “Wisdom of Youth” (2005-2018). She co-authored a paper (with Yara Gonzalez-Justiniano) entitled, “Youth Wisdom: Pointing toward Joy and Flourishing” for a Yale Youth Ministry Institute grant project. This paper, and the curricular suggestions it sets forth will be woven through most of the following weeks of the course, supporting “The Great Book of Our Youth Group’s Wisdom” project. Dean Moore’s paper is attached at the end of this curriculum. You may choose to pass out the entire paper to your youth, or you may choose to pass out the most relevant excerpts, for their reading at home over the following weeks.

Dean Moore and Ms. Gonzalez-Justiniano offer three concrete curricular proposals at the end of their proposal to support the youth in cultivating “youth wisdom” which can be found on our website at the following links:

  1. Invitation to Significant Conversation
  2. Engaging Youth In Theological Questing
  3. Engaging Youth with the Hurts of the World and their Own Callings to serve and Advocate

Note: Our “Seven Weeks to Wisdom” curriculum presumes only that you assign Curriculum Resource #1 as an activity for Week 4, but you may choose to structure participation by your youth in Curriculum Resources 2 and 3 in following weeks.

  • Pass out copies of Curriculum Resource #1: Invitation to Significant Conversation, and invite the youth to find a member of the congregation or friend to engage in the coming week as described in the resource.
  • In addition to reflecting on the questions at the end of the resource, invite the youth to draft a one or two sentence “proverb” or wisdom saying that expresses one element of wisdom they gained from the conversation

 

Send Forth

Send Forth (5 minutes)

  • Invite the youth to join you in prayer. Let them know before you begin that there will be an opportunity for those who wish to lift up requests for God’s help with specific elements of wisdom during the prayer. Give a few possible examples. Note that every time a “petition” is lifted up, the group will respond with, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
  • Begin the prayer by thanking God for the blessings of creation, the God-given capacities we have to learn from experience, and the lessons learned by those who have gone before that they have passed along to us as “mother wit.” Invite the students to voice petitions asking God to help us embrace particular pieces of wisdom in our lives, communities, and our world. After any student offers a petition (e.g., “Lord, help us to be mindful the need to think through the consequences of what we say before we speak”) lead the group in responding “Lord, hear our prayer.” When all the youth have had an opportunity to offer a petition, lead a closing to the prayer by saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison.

 

Additional Document

Moore-and-Justiniano-Wisdom-1.pdf