Day 3 at Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity
Day 3 was filled was an inspiring day for me at the conference. Though I am going on little sleep and a brain full of mush, I left filled with energy and excitement. That said, I resoluted to sit down and write a summary of the various things I heard today and as I tried to put words down, I couldn’t think of any. My brain is working a little slower than my heart, so I hope to summarize more clearly when I have had time to process the vast amounts of information.
I do want to briefly touch on the panel discussion that ended our night. The discussion included Almeda Wright, John Westerhoff, Brian McClaren, Ivy Beckwith, and Melvin Bray. The topic was violence. The panelists shared with us their various opinions primarily focused on how we deal with violence in the Bible as well as the concept of redemptive violence.
Brian McClaren helped to put a framework for understanding violence and peace in the Bible. He stressed the danger in picking Bible verses and using them as “loaded guns” and the fact that interpretation of the Biblical text shapes how we understand violence and peacemaking in the light of Jesus. He talked about desire leading to violence using text from James 4.
Almeda Wright explained her uncomfortability with our focus on redemptive violence and elevating suffering at the hands of violence as a means for redemption.
Brian followed that up with the theory of penal substitutionary atonement and how that plays into what Almeda was describing as a negative connotation of redemptive violence.
John Westerhoff reminded us that the language we use is important to describe. What one person means when they say violence or peace making, is different than another.
All of this brought up some really good thoughts and questions from participants. Unfortunately, time was short and there was not a lot of time to discuss what this all means when we talk about the faith formation of children and youth. One important sentiment held by many is that we must talk about it more.
I left with a lot of questions. My questions mainly stem from violence in the Bible and how we create dialogue with children in an age appropriate way to address issues of violence. As I said in an earlier post, kids are not sheltered from a world of violence, even ones living in middle class suburbia. Whether it is from the news, from video games, from cartoons, and from eye witness accounts, kids are faced with violence. It comes out in the art I see them do in Sunday school. So we can address it or ignore it. We tend to lean on the side of ignoring it.
I think that can start with engaging a conversation when we see the violence come out in what children draw, say our write. Ask questions. Invite them to think about where God is in the midst of it.
When and where do we teach Bible stories and at what age? I wonder if we do things a backwards. Often the primary experience children have in the faith community is in a classroom learning Bible stories. The stories are presented in different ways utilizing reading, teacher lecture, storytelling, drama, music and more. Whatever way it is packaged, they are learning the story. Rarely do kids engage in practices of the faith, rarely are those practices modeled. Rarely do they experience the narrative of the faith community in which they are part of, losing out on the chance to somewhat intrinsically understand the rituals and rhythms that make up that community and the lives of the members of that community. And many of them come from homes where church is compartmentalized, it is just another activity on the calendar filled with sports and extra curricular activities, a full schedule gearing that child up for “success.”
Without the framework of a community of faith in which children are immersed in the God’s story, not only as we know it in the Bible, but also God’s story unfolding today, are the Bible stories left stagnate? In order to meet our need to teach Bible stories, we turn stories like Noah’s Ark, which begins as a story of the destruction of humans, into a story appropriate for preschoolers with cute animals and silly songs.
So maybe that works when they are young, but when those kids grow up, they haven’t had the chance to wrestle with a God that wipes out almost the entire human race and later says things like “love your enemies.” I know many adults who struggle to read the Bible because when they read stories like I read this morning in Acts 5 about about Ananias and Saphria dropping dead and there is a disconnect between what their Sunday school teachers told them to believe about God and what they read in the scripture. They are missing the bigger narrative in which to interpret and wrestle with those stories.
That leaves many people with a few options…stop reading the Bible, only read Biblical passages that “fit” what we want to hear or that are easy, or stop believing in this God that is supposed to be good, but is the main character in a book that is filled with violence.
And so I wonder….
What if we started children out not with just learning Biblical stories, but by being immersed into a faith community that offers a framework for wrestling with those stories? What if the primary focus wasn’t on kids “knowing” God’s story, but “being” part of God’s story?