I don't know why I was surprised by the long line that began forming before 8:00 pm (So I was told. My oldest son, sis and her oldest and I waited an hour and 1/2). Or of the packed house of tweens, teens, young people, and moms. Mostly fillies, but there was some testosterone present, too. I don't know why I was surprised by their universal outward expression of excitement. I was excited, too, just too reserved by age and lack of coffee to be jumping in the aisles waiting for the lights to go down. The theatre was hot with their anticipating energy. A good heat. The kind that is present when blood is rushing. Hearts are racing. I don't know why I was surprised by the roaring claps and hoops and hollas as the lights went down and the movie finally began. Or the audible oohs and ahhs, winces, and, yes, more cheering and clapping. By the end of the experience, I found myself caught up in the excitement and unabashedly joined the clapping.
As the movie drew to a close and bands of friends that had come out together hugged, gasped, laughed, replayed their favorite scenes, compared the book, and set a date to return this weekend, I simply observed. I noticed filly after filly pass me with the token Katniss side braid. Here in this moment it hit me...
The answer to "how" we present Christ in a palatable way to "this generation." I hear over and over again in clergy circles, "We aren't reaching the young people." Well, how do we do it? It is simple really...Are you ready for it?
The gospel account is full of stories that when woven together can reveal perfectly the passionate man worth being passionate about. The gentle man who was willing to die, not for one sister, but for all sisters and brothers. A courageous man that saw injustice and refused to stand for it. A man that confronted the Capitol of his day and rebelled against the self-righteous religious leaders. A man that was THE man on fire. A man that was willing to live and die for what he believed.
What exactly did he believe? Women and children were not to be trampled upon. Outcasts and the poor were to be uplifted. The aging were to be honored. A man that wanted "his cup taken from him," but instead bravely gave everything he had. This is a man worth getting excited about. This is THE MAN that this generation WOULD follow.
Speaking of following, I loosely follow a closed UM clergy group on FB. The last few days a firestorm of posts exploded centering basically around, "How and can the UM church survive...and what can we do to 'grow' numerically...and some other stuff you probably wouldn't find interesting coming down the General Conference pipeline in regard to clergy appointments." Intrigued one night, I reread the various threads and record breaking posts. Plenty of concern and impassioned ideas were presented and debated. I agreed with some. Others not so much. It is clear the desire to "fix" the problem is universally there. But, perhaps we shouldn't be focusing on the "problem," instead we should be searching for opportunities to solve the "problem." The beginnings of a possible solution to the survival question percolated into my imagination from an unlikely, but obvious, source...
Katniss Everdeen--The "girl on fire." This generation wants to be involved in something that is worth their excitement. Worth their energy. Something that is worth the fight. Something that is worth being head over heels in love with. Something worth starting a "fire" over. Ironically, we have that and so much more...
We have Christ. God in Skin. The beginning and the end. Life itself. The most passionate story ever told. And, sadly, we either don't know how, are scared to, or just fail to communicate the greatest story ever told in a way that connects. Makes sense. Is worth it. Instead we offer Christ the rule maker. Christ the obligation. Christ the fun stealer. Christ the fire insurance, not the fire starter.
We have an opportunity to unleash the passion for justice evident in this generation...look around. In just a few days the "Stop Kony" campaign swept through Facebook. These young people have a longing to be a part of a movement that DOES SOMETHING worth DOING. Is SOMETHING worth BEING.
As United Methodists our two-fold approach to spiritual growth can answer this deep longing:
1. Offering Christ, the passionate savior, as the model for a life burning with holy fire. 2. Offering opportunities and spaces for creative work to be done to end the oppression of the "Capitol," aid the citizens of the "districts," and not just survive, but feel the passionate BURN in life's "Hunger Games" arena.