teaching a mystery

teaching a mysteryI’m obsessed at the moment with how we’re passing down our faith. And dissatisfied. I’m not of the opinion that we should kick all of our traditions and beliefs and means of confirmation and discipleship to the curb. But I think we need to be willing to admit to ourselves and even the kids that for all of our definition and understanding and choir robes and systematic theologies and creeds that we’re not REALLY inviting them into a set of answers or a wholly satisfying and settled faith that itself requires no faith, but rather inviting them into a disturbing and perpetual and wonderful dance with The Great Question that is God.

Because if at the center of it all we’re saying that the essence of what or who God and grace and the rest IS remains a mystery, it’s wasted breath to adamantly bash about with our knowledge of Things Known, in order that we might be Right In All Things exterior to the mystery. Our faith is suddenly in orbit around the mystery of God instead of being pulled into the center.

I don’t want to teach orbital faith anymore. It just leaves kids’ faith hanging there, sometimes too weak to pull away and usually not substantive enough to be pulled in. Until life hits them and knocks them out of orbit: college, a death, a divorce, a lost love. Suddenly they’re adrift.

I want to dance with kids in the middle of the mystery, acknowledging together that while we’ll never in this life fully understand it, there’s no denying how it pulls at our soul and how we can learn together through incremental surrender that the mystery is good and the mystery is enough.

And I will remain happily Wesleyan. See? You thought I’d left. Here’s the thing. When I encountered this expression of faith, I found myself able to put words to the mystery of God that I never had before. It doesn’t mean that all the words are absolutely right, or even that all the bigger ideas behind those words are undeniably true. But it allows me to participate in the conversation in a way that I can understand, and able to hear others that speak that same way.

Where it falls apart for me is when we forget to keep listening for new words and means of expression and turn our back to the mystery to only share the old ones. I don’t believe that Wesleyan thinking or Methodism are the only correct faith language any more than I believe English is the only “right language.” Youth are incredibly sharp and know that there are other words in use in other traditions and they can’t stand that we stand before them as if to say, “Nope. It’s this one right here. Everyone else is wrong.” It’s like the kids see the mystery behind us and want desperately to know WHAT IS THAT with wild curious gestures and we shush them to explain the pile of facts our tradition has assembled.

So. How do we reengage this beautiful uncertainty that is such an essential component of faith?

Maybe we begin by admitting what we don’t know. Which is nearly everything, really.

Maybe we work toward a fresh perspective on God that has God at the center instead of us.

Maybe we look at what scripture was saying then before trying to make it say anything now.

And maybe if we shut our mouths we’ll hear what those in our care are actually asking.

Maybe they don’t need answers. Maybe they need to see how we’re searching for the answers so that they can follow. You know, like disciples.
Peace,
K

 

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Flora

 

About Kevin Alton

Kevin is a writer, author, and speaker in Christian age-level & family ministry circles. He is the co-creator of the Wesleyan curriculum resource Youthworker Circuit and content curator for Science for Youth Ministry. He lives in the Georgia woods just outside of Chattanooga, TN, with his wife Britta and their two boys, Grey & Penner.