Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Christianity ala Youth Group, or, Our youth group is such a photo bomber

A few weeks ago, I snapped this photo at a meeting of my church's youth group. It just kind of happened that the three items ended up on the table in front of me. I asked afterward and nobody owned up to intentionally arranging the items... in fact, no one else noticed the significance until I had said something.

Anyway, this is what I saw:

Each of the items has a practical significance; Goldfish crackers have been a staple of church youth ministry since time immemorial because they never go stale and you can buy them for $20 a pallet. Any wise youth worker carries a water bottle because getting dehydrated (especially in Minnesota) is just asking to catch the latest bug that all the cool kids are sharing. And candles are great because, even when you have a kid who doesn't like the games or isn't interested by the lesson plan you've written, you know that every pyromaniacal kid will be into the closing prayer when you're passing around an open flame.

But, of course, me being me, I saw these things reflecting deeper meaning in this gathering of youth at church...

Goldfish are crackers, but that also means that they're bread products. And there is another bread product that is essential to sacramental theology: communion hosts. You wouldn't be able to make Eucharist without some kind of bread product. And it's even better that Goldfish are actually in the shape of fish! I have long valued the Christian fish in my life because of the symbolic value it has had in Church history. I think I could talk anyone's ear off on this topic, if they were to let me (which is why my wife doesn't let me anymore).

That water bottle holds something essential to human life, but you also can't mention water in church without talking about Baptism. And baptism, in a youth group context, is a really weird thing. Most kids in a youth group have been baptized because their parents wanted their kids baptized. And the kids are usually in the youth group because their parents want them there. So, often, there is that common experience, but it happened when they were so little that they really don't remember it, let alone have been able to find a deeper significance to it. But nonetheless, the waters of baptism are important because they affirm that these kids are full and equal members in the Body of Christ, along with the oldest little ladies in the faith community.

The candle is our own Christ Light for the youth group. While still acknowledging all the light metaphors in scripture and Christian tradition, I value the Christ candle most as the sign of Easter. I love hearing that Christ is the light shining in the darkness and that the darkness cannot quench it. And, moreover, may I also say that I finding the symbols of the two Great Sacraments flanking the reminder of the Easter Christ Candle was incredible? I might go so far to say that Easter, when Christ's triumph over death is celebrated, is when these two chief sacraments are even more wonderful.

Now, taking a step back, I will admit that I was a pretty big geek to suddenly make these connections when a water bottle, a candle and a box of goldfish were sitting on a table. But I also want to admit that I find such richness in reflecting on seeming coincidences. I rejoice in being able to find reminders of Christ's story is such mundane things like this.

Almighty God, who made the heavens and the earth, who filled all of creation with such wonderful things, I give you thanks and I rejoice for the small things in my life that remind me that reality is so much bigger than what I can see right in front of me. I pray this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen!