Monday, June 15, 2009

VBS = "Very Big Show"?

Our church is hosting Vacation Bible School this week. The sanctuary has been transformed into a Roman marketplace – complete with the Coliseum in the background – and classrooms now resemble Paul’s household and a cave where followers of the Way met secretly. Volunteers have spent countless hours painting scenery, practicing nightly skits (which will take place among the crowds in the marketplace), and preparing games, crafts, and snacks. My own small role, overseeing registration, kept me at the computer long enough yesterday that my husband complained that our family day had been spoiled.

My son can hardly wait to go to VBS, and he’s already asking questions about its theme, “Rome: Paul and the Underground Church.” I’m sure he will love it. But I can’t help but wonder, will all the wow of VBS draw his attention to – or distract him from – the message of the week? Will he come away remembering the sets and the excitement of the marketplace or the volunteer who demonstrated Christ’s love in a simple way by serving him a snack? After one night at a friend’s farm-themed VBS last year, he still believes that friend goes to church in a barn.

This VBS is impressive; it’s a far cry from the VBS I attended as a child, where we made crafts with popsicle sticks, played silly games, and heard flannelboard stories. I don’t even recall having a theme for any of the years I attended. The biggest thing that made VBS stand out from weekly Sunday school was the Sunday night “final program” for our parents: we spent our music time practicing new songs to sing between scenes of a play with a small cast. (One year, my mom and I were the cast – a mother and daughter angel discussing the lessons kids learned in VBS the week before.) Now, the VBS programs children proudly performed for their parents have been reduced to one or two songs in the Sunday morning service, overshadowed by the nightly VBS performances for those children by adults.

Some argue that these VBS extravaganzas are necessary to draw in today’s media savvy children, but the typical small- to medium-sized church does not have the resources or the skills to compete successfully with the entertainment industry. Our church of 300 people has more than 100 volunteers working for weeks to impress about 50 four- to twelve-year-olds, at least half of whom are our own children. Many of the most dedicated volunteers feel drained and discouraged before the week even begins. Remembering the work, some are reluctant to volunteer the following year.

I am not saying that VBS is a waste of time. Far from it! VBS is an excellent way to express God’s love to children and introduce them to the tenets of the faith. I am, however, saying that the extra time and effort we put in to create an exciting theme could be better spent elsewhere. A simple VBS would do the job just as well as an elaborately themed extravaganza – maybe better. What makes VBS most effective is the commitment of the adults who get involved in the children’s lives, showing them by their interest and attention that God, too, cares about them. We have lost that focus. In a lot of our churches, the “Bible School” part of “VBS” is forgotten; those letters really stand for “Big Show.”

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Makes You You?

I’ve spent a lot of time on Facebook recently, reconnecting with old friends. We’ve all changed since we knew each other offline. We’ve grown up, married, had children, changed careers. But the essential cores of my old friends remain the same. I might not recognize them if I saw them on the street, but I still know them. In some cases, I can predict old friends’ comments on status updates, even if I haven’t seen those friends in person for more than a decade. In many cases, I am certain that if miles didn’t separate us, we would be able to get together for dinner and feel as if we had not been apart for more than three days.

In conjunction with our pastor’s two-part sermon on being new in Christ, these experiences make me wonder what it is that makes us who we are. Genes and environment, yes, but it’s something more than that. A person who becomes new in Christ changes his or her actions and way of thinking, but close friends would still recognize that person as the one they know and love. Fred might “change completely” when he becomes a believer (or even meets a new girl), but he’s still essentially Fred and not Bob or Jerry.

As we become more like Christ, how much of us has to change before we’re unrecognizable? And does that ever happen? How much of me will always be me, even when I’m made perfect in the next life?

I have more questions than answers here, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Guest Post at Christian Personal Finance

I've written a guest post for the Christian Personal Finance blog, "Is Your Mortgage Hindering You from Fulfilling God's Call?" Check it out.

If you've found this blog from that site, welcome! My intent is to write thought-provoking posts that generate discussion. Please leave comments -- whether you agree or disagree, I'll be glad to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Stranger Danger

I teach my children about stranger danger. I spend a fair amount of time shredding junk mail. I am careful about using my children’s first names online; I know people who will not accept Facebook friend requests from acquaintances because they want to protect their children. And I wonder whether the greater danger to my children is from an unknown predator or from me.

It’s a difficult balance to maintain. Of course I want to protect my children from the horrors of abuse. Of course I want them to be healthy and safe. But I don’t want to teach them to live in fear of potential dangers and of people in general.

In short, I fear that fear of the harm people can cause us is keeping us all from building relationships, from getting to know people who can bring joy, encouragement, and friendship into our lives. Yes, some people might do something awful to us or our children. Yes, we should “be wise in the way [we] act toward outsiders” (Colossians 4:5). But if we follow every recommended precaution against unknown people who intend to do us wrong, we will build walls around our families that keep out everyone.

Colossians 4:5 starts, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders,” but it ends, “make the most of every opportunity.” Our focus is wrong. We should be wise not about keeping out potential harm but about finding the best way to express Christ’s love to “outsiders.”

I have to remind myself that all my friends were once strangers. If I had never shared any personal information with them, if I had never accepted an invitation from someone I knew only casually, I would never have had the opportunity to love them or to enjoy their love for me.