Sunday, May 16, 2010

christology in kids ministry?

Last night I taught my kids that Jesus was human.

Christology is the particular field of theology which asks the question, "How could Jesus be both fully human and fully God?" As a student of historical theology, I have long been convinced this question lies at the core of our Christian faith, but I have never entered into it so personally as I did last night in "Sunday school" with my kids. And I am not joking about that!

There is a story in the kid's ministry program we use (called Godly Play) in which the story-teller and children wonder about the core elements of the Jesus-story. The story begins with Jesus' birth, then proceeds on to:

-his childhood
-his baptism
-his battle with temptation in the desert
-his core ministry
-his last supper
-his death and resurrection
-his presence with us today

My children and I have shared in wondering about this story many, many times over the years. (At the top of this post is the first of seven tiles that are presented as visual foci in the story-telling). I figure I have been telling this story to Meaghan and Nic for the past six years, at least. We return to it at least once a year and it never gets boring because the story is rich enough to return to again and again and again. Each time we are able to wonder about it afresh and notice new things in the story.

After telling the story I asked Meaghan and Nic if they saw any object in the room that fit with the last two parts of the story I just told (last night I added the "temptation" part of the story and the "core ministry" part of the story that includes the phrase "Jesus came close to the people no one else wanted to come close to".) Through this simple exercise we were able to connect these parts of the story with Jesus' parables--particularly the parable of the Good Shepherd.

After this, I asked another series of questions that began when Nicolas noticed something in the artistic renderings of Jesus in two of the story's tiles.

The first one shows the face of Jesus with the back of John the Baptist's head. John the Baptist, it is said in the story, "was a wild man."

The next tile shows Jesus being tempted (accused) by Satan in the desert.

Here are the two tiles. First, the baptism tile with the back of John's head to the right; then, the temptation tile with a profile of Jesus' face to the right.

Nicolas noticed that the Jesus of the temptation picture looked a lot like John of the baptism picture.

I thought that was a brilliant observation. Once again, my children taught me something. Here's what happened:

I discovered that in the past whenever I told the story I always grew uncomfortable with the bits of the story that pointed out Jesus' humanity. For example, in the part of the story where the boy Jesus is in the temple, the story says that when Jesus spoke the teachers listened because he knew so much. But then the story goes on to say that when the teachers spoke Jesus listened because he wanted to learn even more.

In the past, this second observation always made me feel uncomfortable because I thought that was a statement that diminished Jesus' divinity. I always viewed it as a "liberal" interpolation into the story, a way of subtly questioning the fact that Jesus was God.

But as we delved into the part of the story that began with Nic's observation that Jesus was like John the Baptist, we noticed that every part of the story includes the notion that Jesus was not just divine--he was also fully human.

As we did that I began to notice that I have spent much of my Christian life feeling strange and shy about Jesus' humanity--as if his humanity somehow threatened my faith.

But last night in Godly Play with my children I learned in a more personal way (not just in my head) that, far from posing a threat to my faith, Jesus' humanity could impart hope to my soul. See, last night I saw in Jesus' humanity a level of compassion, love and solidarity that I had never seen before. He identified with us in every way and it is only in that intimate identification that we find our salvation. If Jesus had not come close to the people that "no one else wanted to come close to" we would be literally lost and without hope. And if Jesus had not become fully human he would not have been able to come close to us.

Last night I realized that, in many respects, I am one of those lost ones. I am one of those people that many do not want to come close to. I am the blind beggar--the one who is sometimes viewed more as a hindrance than a help. It's comforting to know that Jesus, in becoming human, came close to me, so close that he could touch my eyes, so I could see.

We need to teach our kids (and each other) that Jesus was human, for this teaching is far from heretical; in fact, it is essential.

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