Dr. Joel LemonHow did you first become involved with YTI?
I first heard about it when I was a grad student. It was in the atmosphere so I knew people who were doing it. My first actual class that I taught, I think it was my first or second year on the faculty during the summer about eight or nine years ago.

What workshop do you teach?
I think I have had something like Mummys, Myths and the museum. In that course we took a tour of the museum, looked at some cool stuff, dead people, ancient weapons, cylinder seals. Then tried to figure out in what ways the Bible, an artifact like that, was different and how those artifacts help us understand the Bible more. I've done one on the prophets and how their messages about justice and faithfulness continue to resonate today. I did one on the Psalms and in that course I am trying to help people to think about how the ancient word of the Psalms can be their own words and what are the possibilities for finding your own voice within this long community of worshipers and people who have cried out to God in the midst of their most challenging circumstance.

A lot of professors might shy aw ay from teaching with high school students. What can you tell them about its value for you? Or, for theologicalDr. Joel Lemon?
When I was in seminary I was a youth pastor and I found that work when I was a seminarian was difficult. But then when I got to teach there was enough distance between me and the youth that it became way more fun. I don't know what it was but suddenly they became interesting, it became a cross generational experience. It makes me have to be a lot sharper with what I do, I can't spin my wheel for long before they're not really down with it. I've got to keep it crisp and on point, and compelling, and that's good practice for any sort of public talking.

Dr. Joel LemonHas your experience in YTI impacted your teaching in any way?
I think I have had the chance to see how different lectures and ideas have landed with the youth and that's given me great ideas for how to repackage some stuff for the Candler community. Youth are just really transparent with respect to whether they like it or not or does it make sense. You can just tell immediately if you're there, if you're making sense to them. I feel that it sharpens me as a teacher to speak to kids that age.

Why do you teach at YTI? You are taking time out in the summer when you would be spending it on your own research or with your family, so why doDr. Joel Lemonyou consider this an important use of your time?

I feel like I am equipped and called to talk about the Bible. And these kids are good enough and smart enough and they're just fascinating people. Wherever I talk about the bible with a group that can talk back, especially respond to me in some way, I learn something about myself and about the way the scriptures continue to have authority in new communities all the time. Intellectually it's very fascinating to teach youth about the bible, to see what they know about scripture, to see what sort of formation is happening in their congregation. When you teach youth you start to get a sense of your own effectiveness as a teacher. It helps reflect the temperature of the church and the theological sensibilities of the communities.

What would you say to a faculty member who is considering teaching at YTI?
I would say do it and it will be a real challenge, but it will be rewarding. I had a couple of students who I clearly connected with and because they are so young you can tell you are the first person who ever really made a whole lot of sense about the bible to them. This is laying ground work for who knows what's going to happen with these people when they get older and go to college and maybe come back to seminary or something. Even if they don't, to connect with somebody about the Bible in their first sort of significant, academic, careful, but theologically engaged reflection on scripture which is incredible. It's an incredible gift and an honor.

Why should others support YTI/Final Thoughts?
I think they should support YTI because there is very little like it that's treating our youth like theologians already at this early stage in their life. There is a lot of churchy talk out there that just tells you what to think and that have prepackaged answers because they are afraid of what children might think, and we're not doing that. We're going to lay those bare for kids and see what happens, see what God's spirit does. We don't have to manage it, we just let it go and see what happens.

Dr. LeMon is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology