was a question i was asked by someone in church the other week, someone who was a visitor to the church and who had found out that i was a ‘christian youth worker’ and because of this wanted me to put some of their evangelistic mission posters up in a local school. It has taken me a little while to want to articulate a response to this, as even though i did make much of a response at the time ( didnt feel it appropriate in the context) i began to realise today, a week later how i might respond to this.
Use of language is an important factor here, and so when we think of something being ‘christian’ what does that mean? ie
Christian music, Christian book shop, Christian festival?
are the artefacts of these things inherantly holy? – ie the paper and ink of the books in the book shop, or is it that person is a christian?
is it that things accepted by the church to be within the church community can be labelled as Christian – without too much of an argument – and yet when something, somebody, a ministry is outside of such a framework – their so called christian credentials are questioned, and their belonging within the acceptable demography of ‘christian’ is doubted, yet in itself is a labelling, prejudgement phrase – not unlike ‘youth’, ‘generation X’ , said by those intent on preservation of the status quo, the cultural hegemony if you like.
Its the easiest thing to do, judge others by the stock phrase of what we have derived to be christian – from our own cultural landscape of what it means to be christian, however broad or narrow, broad, global, western or eastern that is.
Some of this, for me, reeks of a Platonic dualism, that still pervades, where something is derived as one thing or another, a platonic view of the early christian world that stated that something was either one thing or another. an examples being what is seen/unseen, where what is seen is physical and temporal, and ‘bad’ and what is unseen is eternal, and thus Good, where Heaven is sky, and World is earth. Even now this is embedded in our language of work/home, and similarly in ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ , christian and ‘non’.
What we realise when we read Jonah, is that God is not escapable, not set to places that we think, not only in one thing or another. That he is already in the city – before he manages to get Jonah to get there too. There is no sacred, secular divide with God.
So, my response. If you want to derive the ‘christian’ of the ‘christian’ detached youthwork that i do to the artefacts that somehow are accepted as christian – such as assemblies, God talks, taking young people to soul survivor (other festivals are also available- but even they may not be ‘as christian ie Greenbelt!), RE lessons, doing the monthly worship event in a church , then that makes me and the youthwork that i do not christian, as i dont do any of these.
However, if by listening to young people in their territory, if by being there, with them in the dark spaces of their lives, if by enabling them to see hope, faith and dare to dream through the conversation that i have on the streets with them. If in these moments with the young person, as a human person they explore faith, their humanity and they flourish and encounter a new vision of God, a God who is already with them, for them and wanting not for them to perish – then this to me is what i do. It has no labels, it may not be derived as christian to some, its about expanding the stage of the Gods ongoing drama to include the streets and parks and in those spaces rehearsing the Kingdom (Vanhoozer 2005). Maybe its not christian, maybe its Kingdom.