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Last week Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece about Millennials leaving the evangelical church. Young people are finding faith outside the glossy café atmosphere of the latest hip church. They are reading Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, and Jay Bakker, and attending churches with smells and bells. They care about justice, the environment, equality and simplicity.

But what does that mean for our children?

A few years ago a friend said to me that he didn’t trust any Sunday school to teach his children about Jesus. I was horrified. But what about all of the well-meaning people? What about the essential Bible stories? What about the Christian community? I dismissed his feelings of frustration and focused on convincing him to bring his kids to church.

Years later I apologized.

I wonder if he and I have the same frustrations now. I am now a children and youth minister at a mainline progressive church. There are things about my experiences in the evangelical movement that are a treasure to me, but there are some things that I am ready to abandon:

1. White Jesus 

White flannel Jesus represents the Ugly to us. White Jesus represents a faith that is image-conscience and science/history adverse. White Jesus is usually accompanied by white dolls in the nursery and white families in all the books—especially the Bible storybooks. When the only people of color at your church are people on your missionary wall, what does that teach children? We raise money for the poor brown people. I am ready for a colorful Sunday school.

2. Accepted Jesus This Morning

Don’t tell us that our three-year-old accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior this morning. For so many reasons. Let’s name a few. This is not appropriate for her stage of child-development. This is not theologically responsible. You just added Jesus to the unmitigated, indiscernible list of Santa, Pretty Princess, Abraham Lincoln, and Daddy. And like Santa, he knows that you’ve been naughty.

3. Hello and Welcome to Consumerland

We don’t want to drop our kids off into a sensory overload extravaganza of color, lights, music, and fun prizes.

4. Our Kids Are Special

At our local public school we can find people who care enough about including everyone to adjust the environment, hire aides, turn down the music, and accommodate for all abilities. We are ready for the church to go after the one little sheep who needs a little extra help.  We are excited about churches that have programs for our special kids.

5. Bible Heroes? Not For My Kid.

This discussion has already gained some traction. We don’t want to see a mural on the wall that is based on mass genocide via a worldwide flood. We don’t want our kids to come out of Sunday school with a coloring page about a person that we would never allow near our children. The events in the Bible are not cartoons. When we present them as cartoons we replace the depth and meaning with a moral that is styled after “Aesop’s Fables.” This is not proper use of the Old or New Testament. Sure, teach my child about the Bible, but think about the story first. What is it really saying? What did it mean then? Is God the only worthwhile character in the story? Then let’s call God our Bible hero/heroine. The rest are just people like us, sometimes worse.

6. Cry Rooms

Okay, so we like cry rooms if we are breastfeeding or if our toddler just needs to sing ABC’s at the top of his lungs. But the point is, we believe that children should feel welcome in church. And I don’t mean that children should feel welcome to sit still. Children should feel welcome to squirm, wiggle, draw, process, sing, dance, and move around and visit friends and family. This is best for their learning styles, and this is best for the learning styles of adults. If we were to cater to the kinesthetic learning styles of children, adults would actually learn more. More about this in another post. Bottom line: stop making parents feel like pariahs for our children’s normal, age-appropriate behavior.

7. The B-I-B-L-E

We love the Bible. We want our kids to love the Bible. It may seem counter-intuitive to ask churches to stop teaching our kids the Bible, but for real. Stop.

But seriously, stop teaching our kids to take verses out of context. Stop telling our kids to use the “sword of the spirit” in arguments with friends and online. Stop having memory verse contests that reinforce the idea that the Bible is a big book of one-liners. This is the opposite of taking the Bible seriously. This is paganism. This is not Christianity. This is a fortune-cookie religion and we are not buying it.

We want our kids to ask questions, express curiosity, and wonder about everything. We don’t want instantaneous obedience—we know better.

Like I said, I am in this for the long haul. I am in seminary, I am serving kids in full time ministry, I love planning VBS, and I treasure many of my experiences in the church. But we are not raising an army. We are not raising the “future of the church!” We are not raising the latest recruits in the culture war. We are raising children. We want a Sunday school that will help us do THAT.

Whitney-Houston-Bodyguard

I laugh when I hear college students reminiscing over the 2000’s. Their eyes get misty when they think about Britney Spears’s pop peak, the first season of American idol, their first election (Bush v Kerry!), or midriff-bearing tops paired with thong underwear. I have no sentimentality for the decade after 9/11. That’s when the world grew up. Or at least I did.

The genius over at xkcd says that an American tradition is “anything a baby boomer did twice.” His chart there on comic #988 satirically shows how baby boomers have defined what Christmas songs we all find nostalgic. Golden Oldies stations play their music, themed restaurants cater to their memories of what it meant to be a teenager, and the decade that appears most ideal happens to be the 1950’s.

But thanks to VH1 and the internet, Gen X has defined a new “Golden Oldies” category: anything that happened in the decade in which you went to junior high and high school. Although I was alive through the 80’s, nostalgia begins for me around 1989 and ends somewhere around 1999. This is when everything special went down.

This morning I was rocked by the news of Whitney Houston’s death. Not only was she a singularly miraculous singer, not only did she break racial boundaries, create the modern pop diva, and break records selling records, not only did she sing a ballad that still stops people in their tracks with its a cappella introduction, she broke my heart in 1993. And for this Gen X middle schooler, that was everything.

I was sitting in Ms. Kahn’s 8th grade Spanish class at Grisham Middle School in Austin, TX. I was in the front row. It was seat work time. Sophia, an African American in my class, asked the teacher if she could put on a tape. Yeah, a cassette tape. And I remember the way my heart broke when those first few notes came out of that raspy tape player. I knew the song because I knew Dolly Parton. I knew it as a country whine and I loved it. But this, this was new. This was life-changing. This was different.

I can’t hyperbolize this moment because it was historic in my musical, social, and cultural education. Until 1993, my music exposure had not included gospel music. Southern gospel, yes. CCM, yes. Country, yes. But this? This must be what heaven sounds like. I had never heard anything like it.

That day in class I was so moved by what this woman’s voice could do with such a familiar song, that my eyes welled up with tears, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Even now, as I’ve participated in gospel choirs, familiarized myself with the gospel greats, memorized ballads from Celine, Cristina, and Mariah, I still drop everything when I hear that song. It’s magical. It’s miraculous. It’s a moment that moves beyond nostalgia for me.

Once in a while as we contemplate the moments of our Golden Oldies decade, we realize that some of the things we experienced were important. There is something more life-changing about I Will Always Love You than alternative rock, Doc Martens, the tv show Friends, or anything else I miss about the 90’s.

My good friend put this status up today on Facebook:

In 1992 my family got our first CD player. I walked into Peaches record store in Oak Park and what was my first cd purchase: Whitney Houston’s 1987 “I Want to Dance with Somebody.” Loved her! On a funny note, my brother picked “Criss Cross.” Fail

Criss Cross brings back nostalgic feelings for all the children of the 90’s (Jump! Jump!). But yeah, we just chuckle about that. And Hammer pants. And sky-scraper bangs. They are sentimental things, but they don’t really stick with us.

Whitney gave me a window into another culture, another musical expression, another group of people that I didn’t really understand. Whitney’s version of that song was so powerful that it broke my heart that day. When it comes to music, I feel like I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to find that again.

I may be crying around the house today because she represented my youth, but this time it’s more than that. Her voice transcends nostalgia. She was historic. She changed everything.

And for that, I will always love her.

 

 

Children of trauma believe a lot of lies about themselves. Instead of hearing Mozart while in the womb, it’s as if they all heard the same devilish soundtrack:

  • I don’t deserve to be here.
  • I am bad.
  • You will hurt me, so I can’t trust you.
  • My existence is shameful.
  • I must hide all my faults and mistakes.
  • No one will ever take care of me so I have to take care of myself.

This week I stumbled upon this song. I have purchased it, loaded it onto my iPod, and will now be playing it for every car ride and every errand.

Because of one line.

“You’re not mad at me. You’re madly in love with me.”

If I could heal the trauma soundtrack with one message, this would be it.

Surely Goodness and Mercy by Israel Houghton

I pray this healing over my kids and yours.

What song are you singing to your kids today?