Friday, October 29, 2010

Youth Ministry and Gore

I have been reading (and enjoying greatly I might add) the book Relationships Unfiltered by Andrew Root, professor of youth and family at Luther Seminary. I saw an offer to be sent the book free, and I rarely pass up a free book offer, so I wrote him. In a nutshell, his book is about being truly incarnational with youth, not merely trying to influence them. Of course he points out that being incarnational means suffering with the youth since the incarnation is always connected with the crucifixion.

In his fifth chapter, he recounts a story about a five-year old Millie who asks the great question, "Why is it a good thing that Jesus died?" He then goes on a nice discussion of the cross and points out that it is not about torture. I suspect that in the coming Halloween weekend, there will be a number of youth who are subjected to hell houses or terrible accounts of the crucifixion in an attempt to influence them to accept Jesus as their savior. Root's following paragraphs are an excellent answer to this practice.

When talking about the crucifixion with adolescents, it's always tempting to emphasize the torture of the cross. I have sat through "cross night" camp talks in which the speaker sketches in gruesome detail where the nails were placed, how they punctured the skin, and how painful the event was, providing a kind of forensic examination of how Jesus died. This how is supposed to be so shocking and emotionally stirring that kids are supposed to (and some do) crumble with appreciation and then follow with commitment. But the how of blood and guts in the crucifixion misses the essential good news (and for that matter, intrigue) of the cross.

The power of the crucifixion is not in the blood but in the person. The power of the crucifixion is not in how it happened or how bloody it was; rather the power of the crucifixion rests in who is found on the cross. If it is only about the blood and not the person, then logically those who have suffered more bodily injuries and severe deaths than Jesus (and there are many; remember Jesus was only on the cross for a short time) could vie for the status of savior too. But the crucifixion is not a story of gore and torture. It's a story of who God is, a story about the depth and of this God's love for us and desire to be in relationship with us, to share our place. The power of the crucifixion is in the proclamation that the one who is suffering and dying in shame, pain and isolation is the fullness of God. It's the assertion that the beaten man, dying alone, is the fullness of God, that he bears the fullness of our humanity, entering completely into the horror of death, which is the destiny of us all. The crucifixion is not primarily about blood, but about a person, about relationship. The cross is about sharing our place so completely that God takes on suffering and death.
Unfiltered Relationships, pp. 80-81

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