Saturday, October 23, 2004

Christian moralising

I’m stuck and I need some help. Last night I spoke to about 30 young people aged 8-18, most non-Christians. It was a “God-spot” at the local youth drop-in. I had 5 minutes. It went well, but I came away feeling stuck within my own communication.

Since I was asked to do a God-spot, I used that as my jumping off point. I asked where the God-spot was. Well, apparently a God-spot was not the paint spot on the floor, but me talking about God.

I told them about the ancient Celts who used to create “God-spots” for their protection. I laid out a circle of white stones on the floor

and stepped into the “God-spot”. (Now at least I felt safe in this alien environment). God-spots can keep us safe.

I told them of a verse in the Bible; those that overcome, will be given a white stone. We chanted this together a number of times. I then linked the white stones around my God-spot and the white stones in the verse. White stones stood for purity; so those that keep themselves pure will be protected. And the question is; what makes our stones dirty?

I produced a black marker and wrote what came back. And here is when I am stuck. All the responses were Christian moralizing; black = alcholol, dope, sex. And so Christianity is reduced to don’ts and to private individual morals.

The talk ended well. I wrapped up. Ideally I would have given each of them a stone one by one, with the group chanting the verse; those that overcome, will be given a white stone. It would have been a nice, tactile take-away. But historical behavioural patterns suggested a few white stones would have gone through windows on the way home.

But do you see where I got stuck? How do I advance a conversation about Christianity beyond morals? How do I talk about sin as shalom; as broken relationships with God, people and planet? The moral soundbites are easy – alcholol, dope, sex. Yet how do I “soundbite” more wholistic sin? Or do I just be glad I survived 5 minutes in a pretty energetic context.

Posted by steve at 03:47 PM


  1. Christianity and Morality

    Comment by — October 23, 2004 @ 6:12 pm

  2. Steve,

    Not entirely sure how young people in New Zealand compare with young people in the UK, but it sounds like in the time space you had you did well to get the responses you did.

    It takes time and alot of encouragement for all of us, particularly young people, to start giving the different answers, when there is a stock set that they feel they are expected to give. This isn’t just in church type settings, but as a teacher I experience it with 16 and 17 year olds in the classroom as well. I think what we need to do is make our young people feel safe about giving answers “outside the box” again, & that is not going to happen overnight.

    Don’t think this helps, but hope it kinda helps you figure out.

    Comment by Tractor Girl — October 24, 2004 @ 1:53 am

  3. I recon you did good!
    Think like them to follow up- Id suggest that you do something about links…. what links all the things on the stones? They will then tell you they are moral or sins or whatever they say and then you can talk about broken links…. hence sin??? AND Relationship with God????
    any good?

    Comment by Jules — October 24, 2004 @ 10:39 am

  4. Gospel as invitation. Repentance as the call to a “new agenda” – a way of living more fully, more alively; “a different way of doing life, a bigger & better vision for life than is being articulated” by culture(s) etc. Jesus’s gospel call = an invitation to enhance and enrich life. Contra the things that diminish and make small the possibilities of living a BIG life, a colourful life, a fulfilling life, a meaningful life – the life for which we were created…

    Comment by Paul Fromont — October 24, 2004 @ 3:32 pm

  5. Steve, in five minutes you can’t hope to reverse the effects of a lifetime of stereotype and implicit understanding of the meaning of sin. And if you do, you have to do so in continuous negotiation with the parents of teens who have their own ideas that the teachings of the church should reinforce the teachings of the parents.

    I always find that kingdom of god stuff works well with teens – the whole upside down kingdom stuff. It is a phase which is naturally self-centred and defined around image, place and status, so it is perfect for understanding the mode of pharisaical judaism. And the headspin hearing about the idea that people who are worse than you might be more valued than you in the kingdom can be a fantastic paradigm shift.

    Comment by dan — October 25, 2004 @ 12:45 pm

  6. do they already have their own soundbites which they use already for stuff -in their world … which you could
    ask them about and (when u feel they have given permission) you can use to bridge between christianity = morality to christianity = extreme youth craze started off by a young person with his mates – (men and women) that can attack any generation … eg.

    watch out((;-))

    when we stumbled onto it – it was like finding ET — a delicious secret! we kept away from adults – mind you where we grew up many of the adults were v. abusive!
    Jesus didn’t seem to stop the abuse – but we didn’t feel we were alone anymore … not only with this new jesus thingy — but we found we could talk to each other — in a v hard scottish housing scheme (reservation) that was a miracle — to us anyway…

    may be different context – but cosmic loneliness among the young is pretty universal i would think?

    Comment by paul T — October 26, 2004 @ 5:10 am

  7. hmm. because primarily I fit into the youthworker box, i think that you’ve stumbled into one of the most disturbing remnants of programme-based evangelism.

    the scores of countless youthworkers who realised with horrified affliction that after years of painstaking bible studies, object lessons, relational social programmes and meaningful ‘altar calls’, eastercamps etc.; their young people are well doctrined sinners.

    did you do well to breach the chasm of relationship, trust and manna, to win their tried and true responses, yes.

    can we go further? of course. in my experience, you have to push them out of the easy situational moral code, to tease out what they really think.
    the best starting place, isn’t necessarily what the right thing is, but what their thing is.

    granted, it’s a lot messier, and it doesn’t necessarily produce tidy equations of ’14 in attendance acknowledged the sin problem’.. but it is more real. it’s inevitably uncovering not what they ‘should’ think, but how they do think and respond to life.

    Comment by tash — October 26, 2004 @ 11:00 am

  8. Consuming Faith

    Article by Tom Beaudoin on faith, relationships and economics. Some good stuff. See: Consuming Faith.This raised the question for me: how central are economic relationships to faith? Are my economic relationships secondary to who I am before God, or ce…

    Comment by Greenflame — October 27, 2004 @ 12:03 am

  9. Steve, I read your post with much fascination. Next time I am asked to talk to a bunch that age, I know who I will be emailing!

    As I reflected on the post, I thought about a workshop Scripture Union asked me to do on a leadership weekend they held. We did a role play where we got the good SU worker and the happy moral pagan. Someone who gives to and cares for the poor, is happy, has a great relationship with their spouse, is self actualised in every way, and generally has “no need for God”. I then instructed the worker to “preach the gospel” without using the word sin.

    The thinking was something that Stuart Murray Williams spoke about in a Postcards event we held a few years back. “We know how to deal with guilty sinners. The problem is we don’t know how to deal with happy moral pagans. So all our our ‘outreach’ programs are designed to take happy moral pagans, make them feel like dirty sinners, which we know how to deal with”.

    The work shop was hilarious as the leaders were forced to think about other ways of engaging with people around the broad notion of the Kingdom of God, not just the one aspect that we use without exploring the others. Theological laziness really.

    It’s not until we deny ourselves the old tools, that we come up with other avenues. Like the old maxim, when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If all we have is guilty sinner, every ‘gospel’ conversation is about loosing the sins and getting with the morals program.

    The direction the whole exercise took me on came as a result of something Kierkergaard wrote on appealling to people on the basis of their strength as opposed to their weakness. Got me thinking and musing till this day.

    Hope my out loud musings and reminiscings helps…?

    Comment by Stephen Said — October 27, 2004 @ 11:56 am

  10. I’m a youth worker/volunteer just come to NZ (been here a month). I must say that you bring up a VERY good point. How do we deal with “happy moral pagans”, without condemning them and putting them on the all-too-well-known-and-rejected guilt trip? Honestly, I think if anyone has to make them feel guilty, I’d rather let God do it. What is the answer? I dont’ know. Perhaps this means the happy pagans haven’t seen happier Christians??

    Honestly, sometimes I think that the only answer would be the creation of a groundsweeping “hero”. the “pagans” have their heroes – Green Day, Ludacris, Britney (used to be), Nelly. Where is a good moral pop idol??

    Perhaps that’s not the answer. Perhaps the “idol” should be us – again leading to the question, have we Christians who are happier than the “happy” pagans??

    Just a thought. Random ones at that. Hello to everyone. Steve you have a great site. Cheers.


    Comment by Jon L — October 27, 2004 @ 9:27 pm

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