Once again, we are honored to share another insightful post written by our co-worker, Erica Hunt. Erica is an Associate Pastor with our Emerging Generation youth ministry here at Woodland Hills Church.
It feels like I blinked a few times and suddenly we have three teenagers in the house. People always told me it would feel like that, but in the groggy years of their infancy and the harried years of pre-school and early elementary, the idea of teenagers seemed like a stage of parenting that would never arrive.
One of the many changes we’ve noticed in this season is the increased difficulty in sitting down together for dinner. This used to happen every night, but now there are work shifts, piles of homework, social plans and the standard teenage angst that makes a meal together more rare. Still, we try to have one meal a week that includes intentional conversation about faith, life and the intersection of the two. Some of these conversations have been surprisingly engaging for all of us, and I get a glimpse into the more complex thoughts and questions that come with their developing brains and expanding worldviews.
Recently, our dinner conversation was prompted by a postcard we received from the St. Paul Police Department. The card informed us that a Level 3 Sexual Offender would be moving into the neighborhood, within a block from our house. We passed the card around the dinner table for each of them to read and then share their thoughts on the question, “As Christ-followers and engaged neighbors, what should our response to this information be?”
There were a few clarifying questions, but then we dove into this tricky conversation. A few things jumped out at me. They all had the perspective that this conversation mattered in a very real way. While the specific house address was not provided, they have a strong sense of place in our neighborhood, where we’ve lived for almost 16 years. We know a lot of people and, whether we ever personally encountered this person or not, they had a sense of ownership in their neighborhood and spoke about what kind of place they wanted it to be for everyone.
Any thread of unity that came from their shared sense of ownership was short-lived as their personal opinions came through. One daughter was adamant that we should extend the benefit of the doubt and give him a chance. We should assume that he learned his lesson and is a reformed person. Another daughter was equally passionate about her caution. How could we be so sure that he wouldn’t recommit the crime? Details of the offense were not provided, but statistics suggest that teenage girls might be at a greater risk around a male convicted sex offender. She admitted that she was a little bit afraid. The third daughter brought a philosophical angle as she asked about why he would do what he did and wondered how it affected the people who loved him. She considered if he had children, a wife, good friends and how much they might be missing him.
Our dialogue on this matter is ongoing and no answers or conclusions have been reached. We were all reminded that difficult questions are not resolved quickly. In addition to the questions of justice, grace, wisdom and loving neighbors that started our conversation, it also became an experiment in having a meaningful conversation with someone with whom you disagree.
In reflecting back on this dinner table conversation, I’m grateful for this season of life. We get to walk with our kids as they gain more independence in their interpretations of faith, life and the intersection of the two. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, exhausting and full of hope. Kind of like the toddler years…but different.