Finding ourselves and one another in God’s story
We have domesticated the Bible. We are teaching a one-dimensional Bible. We’ve left out the lament, the trouble, the danger, the conflict, and the drama, and along with it the beauty, the poetry, and the wonder.
When leading Children Worship and Wonder, adult volunteers are stunned by the raw beauty, mystery, and power of the biblical stories: the journey of the Magi, the parable of the sower, the Exodus story, the wanderings in the desert, the riveting story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice. This stuff can bring you to tears. When telling these stories, the adults themselves discover different layers of the story as they tell it over and over, pausing here, attending there, noticing a feeling or a nuance.
We own these stories; yet they don’t own us.
In most Bible studies, the stories have become trite, domesticated, safe, and to-the-point even to us–the professional holders and interpreters. We forget that someone might be hearing for the first time; we forget to hear it anew. Because we don’t have time to teach and accompany young people in the hermeneutic task, we rush them to a finish line. We do it for them. So they walk away with one meaning rather than many meanings, rather than depth of wonderment, rather than questions that will keep them awake at night. We’ve smothered much of the mystery and wonder out of the stories.
We would like to invent a way to seduce young people to take a deep dive into the stories of the Bible–and not merely a grand historical survey from A to Z that tidies everything up in a universal salvation narrative. They’re beyond falling for that.
Let’s be a church that leans into this messy conflicting narrative–a complex set of historical contexts with many layers of languages and interpretations–and takes the time and energy to immerse folks of all ages in the hermeneutical/historical task.
Along the way, maybe we will internalize the story and become once more people of the word.
God’s Story (made up of all these little stories) becomes our story. Our story intersects God’s stories. And the other–the religious other, the outcast other, the uncool one, the hungry–they also show up in the narrative. This gives birth to actions in our life together, new stories that are God’s ongoing story in the world.
If we’re going to be faithful with the story, we must trust young people with the whole story. Their schools take them seriously enough to have them read Shakespeare in ninth grade; how can we pretend they’re not capable of dealing with the Chronicles and the Book of Kings? How can we justify failing to trust young believers with the stories that instruct us on why the Gospel is a scandal…the stories by which we can lead them to believe “if it ain’t amazing, it ain’t grace”?
We have a messy, mystical story. Let’s equip kids to access scripture, to interpret their experiences and identities, to make meaning. Let’s release the biblical text from the tyranny of our agendas and give it back to the masses so they can wrestle with it till it pins them, so they can have their own “aha!” moments.
Youth Worker Training:
- Youth workers need the experience of playing with scripture in a space that has been created for their flourishing.
- Children Worship and Wonder
- Godly Play
- Unleashing God’s Word by Barry Shafer
- The Barefoot Way: A Faith Guide for Youth, Young Adults and The People who Walk With Them by Dori Baker
- Tales from The Big Room: From Garden of Eden to Garden of Gethsemane
- Shaped by the Story by Michael Novelli
- This is not so true in the progressive church where we value deep questioning, multiple interpretations and doubt
- Implication vs. application
- Remember being bored by Shakespeare in the ninth grade?
- What does the statement, “We own these stories; yet they don’t own us.” actually mean?
- How about using the Bible? Putting the “Bible” in our youth’s hands
- Liberation theologies out of Latin America
- Will kids continue to stay engaged if it’s too messy?
- Will volunteers stay engaged in this more difficult process?
- The framing of this topic feels like it’s not broad enough to include a variety of paradigms
- How has the modern prescriptive sermon perpetuated this and how do we combat it?
- Keep pushing the question, “To what end?” What do we want to happen in young people when they do engage the Bible?
- Question the youth ask: “Why the Bible over any other book? Why is it more compelling for my life than Harry Potter?”
- The “Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-ization” of the Bible
- Make this the focus of ministry training.
- We need to allow for the emergence of a teenage hermeneutic as opposed to trying to place one upon youth. For much of Christian history the fourfold sense of scripture (literal, allegorical, moral, anagogic) held sway. But in the enlightenment, we let three of the four go. We are stuck in the literal and need to se that you may operate best in the other three (or in a sense a hermeneutic all their own), e.g. the passion of the scripture narrative is read best by youth.
- Stop “Life Application” and allow the Bible to be formational on its own. Information to transformation.
- Shift from verses to pericopes.
- “Apply the text closely to ourselves; apply ourselves closely to the text.” Peter Gomes
Train and Educate:
- Teaching methods that will help youth experience the texts, not simply discuss them.
- Teaching methods to help youths read the bible critically within its historical and cultural contexts.
- Works by Brueggemann and NT Wright
- The Book of God by Walter Wangerin
- Works by Marcus Borg
- Teaching students to teach the messiness of scripture
- Stop publishing traditional curriculum books; create new and free digital resources that can be changed and edited by youth pastors, volunteers, and students.