I was scheduled to speak at a youth conference out west, and about two weeks prior to the event I received a phone call from a woman on the design team who wanted to review basic details of the conference schedules and travel plans. All in all, it was pretty routine.
That was when she added, without any hint of irony, this additional word of preparation: "Please, when you give your talks to the kids, weve decided as a design team to ask that you not mention the name of Jesus. We dont mind if you talk about God, in fact, we hope you will. But we hope youll understand that talking about Jesus will offend some of our young people, and we dont want to do anything that will make them feel uncomfortable...."
I tried to imagine a doctor who refused to tell her patient of his disease because it might after all trouble him. Or, the spelling teacher who didnt have the heart to tell his students that they were consistently misspelling certain words because he didnt want to discourage them. Or, the traffic cop who couldnt bring himself to ask the driver to please keep his truck off of the sidewalk because he didnt want him to think policemen unfriendly.
We can almost imagine the furrowed brows as this Design Team wrestled with what they must have considered "the Jesus problem."
In an age where modesty seems as out of date as Pong and penny loafers, in an age in which no topic is taboo, no indignation un-televised, no truth held back, it is striking that we in the church have finally found a modesty that we can feel good about: We can be modest about Jesus.
Now, please understand, I am completely sympathetic with the motives that must have led these good folks to "design" The Designer out of their youth event. After all, they wanted to make the conference a safe place for kids to ask questions, to feel accepted, to feel comfortable. I agree with that. Thats important. But just because we want all patientsno matter how sickto be welcomed into the hospital, doesnt mean that we have to be modest about the cure.
Several years ago an Archbishop of Canterbury supposedly said that the Church of England was "dying of good taste." I hope it is not in poor taste to say so, but I fear the same may be happening to our United Methodist Church.
Peter and his ship mates in Matthew 14:22-33 were frightened by the storm that railed against them that awful nighta fury of horizontal rain, howling wind, and smothering darkness. But, as scary as that storm must have been, that wasnt what really got them screaming and gasping. After all, some of those on the boat were fishermen by trade. Theyd seen storms before.
What really shook everybody up that night in the midst of the stormy turmoil was when Jesus arrived on the scene (14:26). This was no longer the story of valiant effort in the midst of the storm; it was a story about the Son of God who could quiet the wind and the waves. That changes everything. Instead of the big issue being our efforts and being very careful that nobody rocks the boat; now the issue is obedience to the One who is the Son of God.
I think a lot of us in youth ministry have come to terms with the scary parts of our work: unruly kids, unhappy parents, bad food, lock-ins, church vehicles, the church board. Sure, its a storm, but we know these waters. What makes some of us uneasy is when Jesus shows up.
One of the great temptations in youth ministry is to keep our kids safe. So we concentrate on nice little programs, something that wont offend anybody. We try not to talk too much about sin. We try not to get into some of the hard words of Scripture.
It reminds me of that brief episode in C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia, when the children first hear about Aslan, the mysterious, frightening, Christ figure who is rumored to be on the prowl.
"Isis he a man?" asked Lucy.
"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Dont you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lionthe Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh!" said Susan, "Id thought he was a man. Is hequite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if theres anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, theyre either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isnt safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Dont you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isnt safe. But hes good. Hes the King, I tell you."
I never agreed in that phone call to refrain from talking about Jesus. Thats not the gospel. I did do the event, and I did talk about Jesus (a little more than usual, in fact!). And what we witnessed that weekend once again was that Christ could meet the desperate yearnings of kids restless and helpless in adolescent storms.
Hes not safe, but, oh he is so good.
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