Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No, Really, It's the Gospel

I grew up in fundamentalist world. It screwed me up in a lot of ways--a whole lot of ways, actually. It's to blame for the fact that I have no rhythm (dancing was evil), wear massive earrings (a rebellion against the demure, lady-like ideal), and am very nervous in large gatherings of women (church ladies are not always so nice), among other things.

But I also learned the Bible. It was sometimes in a weird, scary, obsessive way. It was probably over the top. But all those hours of teaching and study made it seep into me in a way that I could never, ever forget it. Somehow, all those stories became part of who I am.

When I tried to leave church, I couldn't. But more importantly, as I spent more time around more relaxed, more open, dare I say more liberal Christians, those stories are what made things make sense. I remember the moment that I knew better than I ever had before what Jesus was talking about when he said, "I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly." That list goes on and on and on. I know, I'm a Bible nerd.

But I'm not just a Bible nerd. Yes, I enjoy having historical critical discussions about the Bible. I enjoy discussing translation issues. I love systematic theology. I wish more people in my church enjoyed those things. But when it comes down to it, I want people to know the Bible not as a rule book, or a magic book, or as a mark of piety. I want them to know the Bible and those stories, because yes, this is the Gospel. These are the stories of faith from God's people. These stories tell us what to expect from God, how to look for God and give us a way of interpreting our own experiences of God. Really, truly, we call (part of) our Bible the Gospel for a reason. Sit with it. Struggle with it. Think about it.

On my church's mission trip this year, I told the story of Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. It's one of the stories I don't remember learning (despite the teetotalers in my church!). It's also one of those fabulous Gospel stories of the abundance of God. It's also a really good way to narrate an experience of the abundance of God that we were having in a mission trip. Most of the people on the trip had never heard the story. I understand the youngest kid not knowing it, given extreme cultural anti-drug, anti-alcohol, anti-smoking tirades. But there was no reason the others shouldn't know it.

The church is missing something when it says, "We should help others," but never tells those willing to help about Jesus healing people or feeding people or saying that providing for the least of these is as if it were providing for Jesus. We miss something when we say, "God loves you no matter what," but never speak of Matthew, Zacchaeus, or so many hated, marginal people tied to Jesus' ministry. We miss something when we invite people into ministry and never tell them of those gallons and gallons of wine, or the thousands of fish, or the poured out expensive perfume or any of those other stories that point to God's abundance in the midst of scarcity.

And that something we miss might just be the Gospel.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

VBS...oh dear

I waffle a lot on VBS. Some days I hate it. Some days I love it.

I love it because of things like the little boy last night. We were playing games and somehow, he missed the "fill the cup full of water, put the cup in your mouth and start running." Instead, he just had a mouth full of water, all blown up like a chipmunk, with water occasionally sputtering from his clenched lips. It was hilarious.

And I hate it for so many other reasons. I hate that we dress up the Gospel in themes ripped from popular kids' movies because by doing so we say the Gospel is irrelevant unless we dress it up with something that really matters. We use curriculum that makes no sense in terms of what stories it puts together and offer kids no substance. We make it a time-driven, programmed production in a whole world where kids are forced into time-driven, heavily programmed, heavily produced lifestyle. We demonstrate poor stewardship by spending hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on all those bells and whistles. We demonstrate poor stewardship by creating elaborate decorations that are used only once and suck up an amazing amount of time, not to mention money or materials.

By doing all those things, we refuse to be an antidote to a culture that consumes too much, fears silence and believes nothing.

The only proof I need that what we should be offering is an antidote to those things in our world is that last night, it didn't take long before I dropped the third game from the rotation we were playing. That game involved a parachute and themed animal. I dropped it because the kids were having so much fun playing another game: freeze tag.

That's right. Freeze tag. No supplies, few rules, just a big open space freeze tag.

There's far more Gospel there than in any decked-out sanctuary.