I'm going to start with a confession. I'm not an artist. Beauty often escapes me. I often don't get symbolism. If I see a black canvas, I don't think about the deep and meaningful things it might symbolize. I think somebody should slap some color on that baby! When I see a Jackson Pollock painting, I honestly think, "I could do that." When I was in High School, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Museums twice. When we came across the "Venus de Milo" ( a copy, I'm sure) I actually said, out loud, "I didn't do that!" I then proceeded around the National Museum of Art saying, "I don't get it." (However, I totally got the beauty of Fonzie's leather jacket and Dorothy's ruby red slippers.) True story, with witnesses. Did I mention, I often don't get art? In many churches, there are a lot of beautiful rituals and symbols. In the Baptist church, we don't utilize a lot of symbolism. I do understand much of the symbolism used in the Bible. I "get" the Bible. I don't "get" some of the things churches are teaching these days.
There is a custom among Catholic and many liturgical churches called "flowering the cross."
Children put flowers, usually fresh flowers, on a cross on Easter morning as way to symbolize the new life that emerges from the death on Good Friday. I have never heard of this until tonight. I'm willing to concede that this may be beautiful and packed with meaning and lessons. I'm putting this at the top, so you'll know that I understand that it is a real thing. I'd love to hear about how wonderful it is, feel free to leave your thoughts on it as comments. However, I don't get it. I'm probably about to offend a few folks.
Today I saw a sight that quite frankly offended me. It was a big cross covered in chicken wire and white silk flowers. I assume that even though it isn't Easter, it was supposed to symbolize something like what I mentioned above. I saw it as a symbol of what is wrong with Christianity. I'll explain.
I've been concerned about the state of the church and youth ministry lately. I spent a large portion of the last couple of years as a teacher of High School girls and general youth worker. I loved it. I tried to be a Titus 2 woman and as an older woman teach the younger women. I loved it. "My girls" will always be precious to me. Many of them are about to graduate, including my own sweet Ashley. They have almost without exception grown into mighty warrior women for Jesus. However, statistics say that most of them will graduate from high school and never darken the doorstep of a church again. Many will walk away from their childhood faith. According to Barna, “despite strong levels of spiritual activity during the teen years, most twentysomethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years - and often beyond that. In total, six out of ten twentysomethings were involved in a church during their teen years, but have failed to translate that into active spirituality during their early adulthood.” This terrifies me! Somewhere, somehow, church, we are failing. When I say church, I don't mean the building, I'm talking about the people. You and me.
Parents have decided to let the schools and the church raise their kids with disastrous results. Not me, mind you. I am the Queen and I will not abdicate the throne! During my time with the youth, I could not believe how unplugged parents are. I shouldn't know more about your kids' life than you do. We are failing to teach our kids respect for life, respect for other people, respect for their elders, manners, modesty, and how to have some common courtesy. The most tragic thing we are failing to teach our kids is Jesus. We are not passing to them our faith.
Some churches have so watered down the gospel, I wonder if God recognizes it. We tell everyone what they want to hear. If you tithe to your church, you will be rich. If you love your fellow man, isn't that all God asks of us? The only sexual sin we talk about is homosexuality. If you tithe, love everybody and manage to avoid being attracted to the same sex, you're in! What a bunch of poppycock! We don't teach them God's Word. We don't help them understand the Word. We don't challenge them to learn the scripture...or even learn to find passages in the Bible. We don't teach them to live out and breathe in the very Word of The Holy God. We assume they aren't going to read scripture anyway. We teach people to be good parents, employees or dog owners. We teach them that a big church is a good church. We pretty up the Word so it doesn't offend anyone. How are we going to grow in number and be culturally relevant if we are offending people? In many youth ministries they play lots of cool games, have some relevant music and go on some fun trips. They teach the kids those things above and if they are very progressive they add, "don't have sex." Hmm. I wonder why they aren't buying it? Everybody knows you can't fool kids and old people.
When I saw that flowered up cross, I saw an image of today's church. Covered in chicken wire to hold and hide the scars, struggles and splinters. Decoupaged with flowers to show how beautiful your Christian life will be. Silk flowers to show that your faith will never fade or grow weak. Claim Jesus and it will be beautiful and easy and you will never hit an ugly spot in life. This is the lie we are selling and our kids are walking away from this product because they realize it is foolishness when they hit the first bump in the road. The ones that are buying it are no better off.
A more realistic showing of the cross would have big old railroad tie holes, blood, bits of flesh stuck in the wood, splinters and some sweat. Those big old holes symbolize where your Savior and mine was nailed to the cross. They represent the very real price paid for our sin. My sin required more that a staple. They remind me not to go there again. The blood was spilled to redeem me from hell. I don't belong to Satan, I'm a child of the King. The splinters are for the little struggles and setbacks in life that distract us from being fully sold out to Jesus. I can't possibly read my Bible daily and get my kids to soccer practice too. Splinter. The flesh torn from the back of our Savior I think represents our faith. Sometimes it might get torn apart until we feel there's nothing left. Stripping the flesh off our faith and leaving us laid raw is something we don't see coming until it is almost too late. The sweat represents us growing in Christ as we struggle to live out our faith. It is for sharing our faith with someone who doesn't want to hear. It is for pulling out that Bible and studying the Word. It is calling a godly friend or even pastor and laying your doubts on the table.
We need to stop teaching that "flowery cross" gospel. I understand the fact that Jesus is no longer on the cross and that He suffered all of that for me. I don't believe for a minute that He did it so we could be rich or happy or good. He did it to redeem his Bride from the very pit of hell. We need to be concerned that we are losing our young people. We need to be concerned about all of the big fat baby adult Christians. I am not slamming the church. I have a special love for the church, however, I'm not blind. I love youth Ministry and have had the privilege to grow up in a great one and to work with some godly youth ministers who grieve over these statistics. I know many who are doing what they can to help avoid the mass exodus of our kids from the church and subsequently their faith. Don't think I'm blaming only the church. I think parents need to do their Deuteronomy job. But I don't have any room in my life for a "flowery cross," I need to be reminded of the ugly, violent, struggle and the holy price paid for me.
For an intelligent discussion on the merits of children's and youth ministries, see http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-liturgical-gangstas-4-what-about-childrens-and-youth-ministries. Something to think about.