Day 1 at Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity Conference
Day One at Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity
I am spending the week in DC at a conference titled Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity. My goal is to write at least one blog post a day, and so I am determined to do it. It is mainly as a place for me to wrestle with the thoughts or ideas coming my way, and put them in my own words so they become more than just an interesting point, but something that I am internalizing. However, after the first day, that was really only a half day, I am already overloaded with many different thoughts going in many different directions making it hard to focus on a particular concept or idea that I can expound upon here. As I think about the pathways of my thinking spread, I find myself using the words that have become an integral part of me because of Godly Play, “I wonder.” In an attempt to provide a platform for these snippets of ideas or questions running through my head to become more thoughtful reflections, I will begin with highlighting the topics of my “snippets of ides” and the wondering questions that follow.
Death, despair, and art
On the train ride from Virginia to DC this morning I finished the book The Promise of Despair by Andrew Root, a book that I would like to expound on later. As I finished this book the questions remains where in our churches is there a place to face the monster of death and despair. After I got off train I headed to the American Museum of Portraits and the American Museum of African American Art. I was struck by the realization that art is one place in our culture where it is somewhat socially acceptable to wrestle with the reality of death, and as Lodor calls it “proximate forms of death.” In the museum I saw picture and paintings, along with descriptions from the authors that dealt with identity formation, issues of race, poverty, loneliness, and more. And then I thought about music and how various genres have allowed artists to wrestle with the pains of humanity (thought contemporary Christian music doesn’t necessarily fit into this category). And then I thought about Godly Play or other times in Sunday school when we allow children to use different materials for artistic expression with no parameters. I remembered the many times when boys especially but also girls, end up with pictures that involved blood or fighting or knives, and how many times I have said or heard the words “That is not appropriate for church.” It is important for us to recognize and dialogue about artwork that may portray violence and wrestle with kids about our response to violence as Christians.
I wonder when we brush it off with a simple “you know better” kind of attitude, what is that teaching children about the churches ability to have conversation about issues that go deeper than our simple religious positivity and optimism?
The Sunday School Superstar
Janell Anema spoke about being a Sunday School Superstar and the pervading negative impact the church culture she grew up in has had on her ability to interact with others on a deeper level of faith connection. I resonated with all her sentiments, being a “Sunday School Superstar.” The shelf in my bedroom that was lined with trophies of marble blocks topped with gold plastic statues of girls playing softball and soccer, also held two gold plastic cross trophies I earned from memorizing two to three scripture verses each week, as well as the Apostles and the Nicene creed. I went on all the mission trips in high school, served as a student leader, and was involved as I could be. For me it was after college when all that I grew up learning and studying in the church felt meaningless. I had to begin my journey of breaking down what had been ingrained in me about being a “good Christian” to develop a faith that was about more than optimism, memory, and doing the “right” thing. And yet when I work with the kids, I still find myself going back to that place where I grew up. It flows out of me so easily, and trying to figure out a different way to engage children in their faith development gets muddled with experiences from my past.
I wonder, how do we stop another generation from having to breakdown the church culture they grew up in, when many of us teaching and mentoring them have the “Sunday School Superstar” mentality so ingrained in us?
How We Use the Bible
In one 18 minute presentation the speaker urged people to stay where they are in ministry for many years in order to cultivate a strong faith community. I won’t go into my direct thoughts on his content, but something he did disturbed me. As he was stating his case he obviously felt it necessary to use Biblical examples as arguments. He used Jesus as an example, saying that Jesus went no more than 100 miles outside of his hometown (except for the flight to Egypt). My first thought was…um he was walking those 100 miles, that is a long ways. The part that irked me the most was when he acknowledged that Paul did travel and move around a lot in his ministry, but his statement about that was something to the effect of,” I don’t think that was as important.” Um, really. I feel like we do this so much. Make a decision about something we personally think is important or right and then find a way to use the Biblical text to support our position. I am just as guilty of it, especially when it comes to working with children.
I wonder, how can we present the Bible more as a living narrative than purely a book of answers or moral guidance?
A New Package or a New Message
I asked a fellow conference attendee what drew her to this conference. She gave me a bit of her background in the church and said, “We (as in the big church) have the right message, we just need a new way to package it.” I think that may be part of the problem. We think we have the right message, but we just have to make it more appealing to get people to buy into in. However, our “message” is covered in an individualistic, consumer driven society. When Brian McLaren shows us statistics about how many youth and young adults are leaving the church, I don’t think his point is that we need to make it more attractive. That is when we fall into the trap of making the message fit with what the culture is attracted to, so the message can get muddled in our attempt to entertain and keep people happy. The transforming power of our God is attractive enough. Instead of looking at how we can repackage our message, maybe we need to look at why the message we are indoctrinating into our children and youth and adults isn’t transforming them enough, allowing many to walk away with from the church with ease maybe to return when they have kids or during holidays, and others to walk away never looking back.
I wonder, when our conversations continually focus on the surface level of attractive packages, will we
Those are just a few of my thoughts from the day….now time to get some sleep.