All have seen

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God:
sing joyfully to God, all the earth. – Psalm 98:3

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Church in a Honey Boo-Boo Moment of History

 [This is a comment I left to a Facebook posting with a question on appropriateness, with attached video of a 4-year-old-ish child dancing in front of a congregation to an upbeat Christian worship song "He's The Light" - I don't have time for much more than this, but wanted to share more widely.  I'm not including the video, because I do not want to expose the parents or the child unnecessarily - I edited my comment to request that the rather critical posting in the facebook not be shared with the original video poster.

The very, very cute 4 year old is dancing and pointing up - "He's the Light!!"  Nothing particularly noteworthy nor different from what we see in so many churches in America.  This is not aimed at the family that posted the video - rather, "this is us," this is American Christianity]


Since this is a child, and we don't know the context - it is very, very difficult for us to tell what is going on (esp. in the mind and spirit of the child).

From what I remember of childhood and "public behavior," performance, acting - I can say this: It is very very easy for a child to become swept away with the reactions of others, esp. to "cutesiness."  I can't really think of any Biblical injunctions against "cutesiness"  per se - but at the same time, that does NOT mean that this is not a potential problem!  It is very, very, very true that almost all Americans get really carried away with "cute children," and if you put a child doing something cute almost everywhere - we are almost socially compelled to say, "Oh, how wonderful, how cute!" and to ignore almost all of the potential consequences as "not our business."

However, from what I remember about public situations as a child, when many people were watching me - I would say this:  It is much, much, much better for kids to praise God in a group, where no one of them is somehow "shining" more than the others in getting attention - because this attention alone can get the child thinking about all sorts of things that are very very different from praising God.  If you want your kids to do some kind of cute stuff in a solo act - then by all means, have them sing a Spice Girls song or something like that - *unless* you have very, very seriously discussed and prepared them for what is going on, and you are confident that they are ready for what they are going to do - and you also have some kind of discussion with the kid afterward about what went on.

As a kid - I know I had all kinds of other things going through my mind, I was doing a little bit of praising God, but mostly it was putting on a show to please the adults.  It is not bad to please adults!  But when a child gets to an age of a little bit more self-consciousness - this can become difficult!  The question arises - "OKAY - what is happening here?  Is my 'churchiness' simply a cute little show to please mom and dad and the other church-goers?  Why did I do that little show X years ago - and why am I doing it now?"  A kid probably won't even ask their parents this question - they will probably just try to dissociate themselves from that kind of activity in general, because they find it inauthentic.  "BUT IT IS SOOOOO CUUUTE!!!!" - this is not the kind of response that is going to convince a 14 year old kid that doing this type of thing is honest, good, is praising God - it is rather the opposite of what a lot of them aspire to.

It boggles my mind as to why we continue to do this type of thing with children / to children.  It seems to me like a sure-fire recipe for disaster in the development of spirituality in children.  Children begin to rebel against this - *Of course they do* !!!  Parents, I have seen them do this in a church Sunday school program - where the highschoolers did not, did not, did not want to do skits - in fact, they wanted to study the Bible instead.  And what did the Sunday School leadership mandate???  They *had* to do the skits.  And since the highschoolers were so self-conscious, they wanted to do these silly skits as well and perfectly and thought-out as they could.  So we spent just about ALL of our time doing these SILLY skits that the kids HATED but then went up on stage and dutifully performed because their parents somehow wanted to still have these cutesy moments where they felt like their kids .... I dunno???  The Sunday School teachers told the youth pastor about this problem - and still, we had these skits mandated.

This was so utterly ironic.  The kids, in hindsight I think, could "see" what was happening - how they were being cutesified for their parents, publicly, by doing these skits - and they realized it was a waste of time, and they wanted to be doing what kids should be doing in Sunday School class - studying the Bible!  But - well, no, parents pay for the church and not the kids - so the kids had to do the cutesy stuff.  I am still rather awestruck at how ironic this was, and in other ways, how I have been a rather willing participant in the cutesifying of church in such a way that makes church exceedingly unappealing except for a particularly "duty-bound" type of advocate of cutesy church - which oddly enough, seems to be most Americans who have kids!  Somehow, this seems to be a thing which almost all parents believe in.  And so sad they can't believe their kids just want to study the Bible, and engage in thoughtful conversation, but instead want to do all this cutesy-kid stuff.  For me - it marked a very important point in my dissociation from "Evangelicalism" - since there is more to life than movies, skits, and other kinds of "kid-stuff" - or at least, I want there to be (though it somehow seems to be increasingly impossible - but this is not a direct fault of the kids, it is a very indirect thing which has to do with how adult culture is in an odd symbiosis with kid culture in America - or maybe rather, imagined kid culture - which then ends up conditioning adults, and indirectly conditioning kids).

Do you parents really need to cherish a cutesy churchy moment so badly that you are willing to blind yourselves to the normal pattern of development, of what just about any healthy growing mind would begin to ask itself?  And then churches so reliant on the money of such parents that they are more or less forced into this, beyond better judgment?

What does this say about the generations of people in church, and worship??  Why is it that we continue to think that kids want kiddy-kiddy stuff, and that it's the kiddy-kiddy stuff all out-and-proud-and-public that is gonna save the church?  This has gotten ridiculous, it is like church is going through a Honey Boo Boo moment of history.