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.
The Center for Youth Ministry Training (CYMT) recently received a $1.19MM grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., to fund the next phase of the Innovation Laboratory. The grant will enable CYMT to strengthen the Innovation Lab by building on what we learned from our original cohorts and tweaking our process and strategy for greater impact.
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