Saturday, September 24, 2005

Jesus Isn't Cool

Yesterday, I cited an article from Christian Century on youth ministry. I read over it again after posting and found the message to be challenging even as it was talking about challenging youth ministry. Or something.

Anyway, a brief excerpt:

A few months ago a confirmation teacher asked to meet with me. "Can I talk to you about an issue we're having with one of our students?" Immediately I imagined a long list of possible teenage offenses. "Is the student disruptive?" I asked. "Well, sort of," she said. "The student keeps saying, 'This is too easy; it must be the easiest religion in the world.'" In light of that comment I had to wonder if the confirmation program was teaching Christianity or Moralistic Theraputic Deism.

Twice each year, I take two busloads of high school students on retreats at which they worship, walk labyrinths, talk in small groups with adults who care about them, and "hang out" in Christian community. Upon arrival, low-cut jeans, exposed mid-riffs and tight tank tops were exchanged for hooded sweatshirts and sweat pants. The girls breathe more easily, the burden of being cool and sexy having been lifted from their shoulders. This doesn't happen because of an imposed dress code. It's their idea. Youth group is a different community. The usual social hierarchies have no traction here, because this is Sabbath time. Here everything begins and ends with prayer, and the distinct message of the gospel permeates everything. "Hear and believe the Good News," I say to them, "Jesus is not cool."

A few thoughts on this section. First, one of the primary accusations leveled at mainline Protestantism is that it teaches 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,' though the language isn't that heady. 'They teach that God is nice, so be nice to each other' is a more common version. I'll concede that sometimes it can come off that way (even that sappily), and sometimes that's all it is. 'God is nice, so be nice.' No wonder the kid in the above excerpt complained that it seemed too easy. Here there is no challenge to transformation, to discipleship, to risk, to take up one's cross.

The author of this essay did one other thing for me in the above piece: give me an idea for our fall youth retreat. The working theme for it will now be, 'Jesus isn't cool.' We'll focus on the stories that made Jesus unpopular with the masses: his being thrown out of the synagogue, his healing and forgiving on the Sabbath, his proclaiming a kingdom alternative to THE kingdom, Peter trying to stand between him and the cross. 'Hear the good news. Jesus is not cool.'

Will you still follow?

Related post: The Need for a Passionate Church