Red Construction Paper & Dreams for the Church
I like Reformation Day. Probably more than a person should like Reformation Day. I've written Reformation Day carols. I used a Martin Luther bobblehead to talk in this past Sunday's communion meditation. At our youth Halloween party, I dressed up as the Wittenberg by way of Asgard Avenger Martin Lu-Thor. Yes, I like Reformation Day quite a bit.
It doesn't really have to do with fanboying over Luther. By all accounts, he was a highly unpleasant person to put it mildly. Most of my zeal comes from being a massive church history nerd and then running that through my slightly off-kilter way of looking at things.
Yet I think the real reason that this day looms large in my imagination is because it is a flashpoint of revolutionary fervor. I think that the Christian faith at its roots has that vibe; look at the ministry of Jesus. Yet it is difficult to remember that sense of rebellion when most people in this country think of the faith as being represented by a white guy in a suit defending the status quo.
Yet in that moment 500 years ago today, a German priest decided that the church was not living up to God's dream and he nailed that conviction to a church door. A good deal of good and ill has come from the Protestant Reformation. There were good aspects to the Reformation. I am fond of many of the Protestant churches I have been in. Yet there was also a legacy of anti-Catholic hysteria, anti-Semitism, and televangelists that came in its wake. History is never that tidy. But there is something pure in that moment. That desire for the church to be more than it presently is resonates deeply with me.
I've been a youth minister for a little over a year now and one of the things I am trying to express is that the Christian faith is more than just something that makes you appear well-rounded on a college application. It is this animating force for goodness, justice, and beauty in this world. The way of Jesus is essential. I am still getting a feel for how to communicate that. Some days I do a good job and some days I suck at it. It's something I am always reforming to borrow a rallying cry from the Reformation.
But Sunday night, at the same Halloween party where I dressed as Martin Lu-Thor, I hit on something accidentally. I wanted to convey the spirit of Wittenberg 1517 to our students. We couldn't nail things to the front door of the church. I'd probably get fired or, at the very least, our very nice facilities manager would murder me. So I found a bunch of red construction paper, tore it into pieces, and went to each Small Group, and gave a spiel.
I talked about how, yes, I am a dork for dressing up as Martin Lu-Thor, but that I loved the idea that Luther wasn't satisfied with where the church was and he did something about it. And I talked about the phrase semper reformandum and how the reformation was seen as an ongoing project. Christians are to continually examine how the church and our lives can be brought into closer accord with what God wants for us.
Then I asked them to write down what their dream for the church was, how they thought it could better be what God wanted it to be and write it down on a piece of red construction paper, and we'd tape it to the Youth Lounge door. They wouldn't be censored. We'd put what they wrote up on the door.
Some students wrote that the youth group should be more fun (ouch...but okay, you can express your thoughts here). Some wrote about how they wanted the church to reach out more into the community, be more welcoming of people of color or LGBTQ individuals, how they wanted the church to practice what they preached. I look at those pieces of paper and I read hope and hurt in their lives. There are statements that fill me with pride and some that hit close to home about how I or the church at large could probably be doing a better job. But that's the idea. The very act of protest, which is the root of Protestant, makes people uncomfortable.
We'll leave up our makeshift Reformation Day activity for a little bit. I want our students to know that they have a voice, they should use it, and that they will be heard. I want them to know that their dreams for the church matter. I don't know if taping our own versions of the 95 Theses on our Youth Room door registered with all of them. I'm sure some probably wish that I just let a Halloween party be a Halloween party (looking at you, anonymous "more fun" kid). I hope it meant something to some of them or at least will somewhere down the line.
At the very least, it's a good reminder to me. We are always being called to be ever-growing into what God dreams for us. The Christian journey is one that does not ever stop. We are always maturing, always evolving, always reforming to be more like Jesus in all that we do. Semper reformandum.