Read any guidebook to magic and you’ll quickly become introduced to the “art of misdirection.” When preforming a magic trick, magicians will call the attention of the audience to their right hand, while their left hand is “working the magic.” For far too long, the faithful have fallen for the theological trap of misdirection. For too long we have looked “up to the heavens” and the “being-ness of God,” rather than focusing on how we, the faithful, ought to see the heavens all around and to live lives that exemplify God. We have been duped into continuing to follow old philosophical scams that neglect the possibility that the ‘incarnate God is present, and can be experienced, in the humanity of every [human], and in full human corporeality.”1
For too long, youth group ministry has focused on the “joys” of Jesus who “kept company with children and sheep.”2 This banal understanding of the complexities of life neglected the realities that life, at times, can be unbearable, painful, embarrassing, and difficult. The coloring-book Christ is all rainbows and butterflies while painting over the gray storms that gave the rainbow its color. This understanding of God works for a while. As a child, who can deny the joys of mindlessly doodling with crayons and watercolors? The problem, however, with this model of faith is that eventually we draw outside the lines.
When life draws us to color beyond the lines, what are we to do? When we experience our heartbreak, what does the laughing Christ have to teach us? When a family member dies after a long and painful illness, what does the smiling Jesus have to say to that? When we first experience sexual attraction and longing, how can that divine celibate relate? When we experience a shooting, tragedy, or disaster, how can the God who never felt pain empathize? When we confine Christ between the lines of a coloring book page, we relinquish the all-mighty nature of God who became fully human.
To understand and follow Christ means to recognize the complexities and dichotomy of his nature. Rather than hobnobbing with royalty, Christ entered the world through the pains of the least. This act of solidarity, allowed God to fully integrate into the struggles of humanity and question the systemic forces of greed and oppression. This fact of Christ’s life is often overlooked in the theme parks where most youth ministry programs spend their time. While the amusement parks might be reminiscent of the joyful Christ that is plastered everywhere in youth ministry, we all know what happens after too many trips on the Tilt-A-Whirl. It is in the moment where the vomit meets that trashcan, that youth ministry meets the crux of Christ.
To follow Christ, it does not mean that you need to wait in line for the next cheap thrill, in fact it is quite the opposite. As Jesuit Daniel Berrigan suggests, “If you are going to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood.” The countercultural reality of following the life of Jesus as Berrigan suggests aligns with Moltmann’s emphasis of “recognizing God in the cross of Christ.”3 When faced with tragedy, we are called to see Christ in the tragedy bleeding and suffering and wailing in pain with us and in the first-responders rushing into the building. When faced with a broken-heart, we are called to see God screaming with us into our pillows and also in that friend calling to check in with us. In seeing Christ both in the sufferer and the comforter we have a responsibility to be the “wounded healers” to a world in need.
- Moltmann Jürgen. (1993). The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. pg. 414
- Dean, K. C. (2004). Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. pg. 40
- Moltmann, pg. 416