Libby Ringenberg’s first year of life was chronicled on Facebook.
I stopped posting my children’s developmental milestones on Facebook.
I come from a large close-knit family, who I never get to see.
Imagine my excitement when I realized that Facebook would enable me to keep my family updated on how my first child was growing and developing. My family could watch her grow through pictures and status updates.
But something happened. Suddenly my desire to share my joy with family quickly turned my status updates into a forum for competitive parenting.
“Mine has been doing that for months now.” “Mine always …” “Mine never …”
Whether we intended it to or not, every status became a showcase of how brilliant or talented our babies were.
So I just stopped.
Since when did parenting or childhood become a competition?
I recently read a Huffington Post blog by Scott Dannemiller that precisely portrayed the crisis our families are facing today.
I believe his article points rightly in the direction of the questions we continue to ask each other.
Is there an increase in emotional distress in our families? Why does it seem like so many youth suffer from anxiety and depression?
He cites a study in Psychology Today “Free time” that states that free time for children has been on a steady decline for decades.
In fact our competitive parenting practice has been the impetus for entering our children into lessons and leagues at younger and younger ages, all in order to get a “leg up” on the competition.
However, Dannemiller suggests that in our desire as parents to produce little prodigies, our children are becoming burned out before they even hit young adulthood.
We are teaching our children that they are only as valuable as they are good at something.
We are teaching them that their lives only matter as much as they dominate the competition.
And what happens when they reach high school and they realize they aren’t the “stud” or the “diva” they thought they were? Self-value in what they can do is replaced by anxiety and depression.
They have been taught their whole lives that if they aren’t good enough they will be cut from the team.
And strangely enough, no matter how much we preach about grace that is the message they are getting from church too: If you are not good enough, you’ll be cut from the team.
In an age where our children are treated like commodities, stocks, investments that are expected to perform, we need to reimagine the Gospel—the Good News—for them.
If there is one thing I learned from the Ghanaian theologian Kewame Bediako it is to recognize how much of the gospel is imbedded in the pop-culture of Jesus and Paul’s day.
The Bible and the Good News found in it was really infused with pop-culture references used to explain to people who Jesus was and why he came for their sake.
Ancient cultures understood the world in terms of sin and sacrifice. Our contemporary culture does not.
We can tell kids today that Jesus came to die for their sins all we want, but in the end if it does not transform their lives or empower them to live lives for the bringing of the Kingdom of God, what difference does that ancient cultural reference do?
Like it or not, but to this generation of Millennials and Post-millenials sin is relative.
Truth is relative. You can argue that it is not all you want, as we have been, but in the meantime generations are fleeing the church because it (the church and the Gospel) have become irrelevant.
The Good News we are preaching is not talking to the pain they are experiencing and the pain they are experiencing is that if they are not good enough, they will be cut from the team.
(Finally a sports metaphor I can get into).
Our consumeristic society is consuming our children and spitting them out if they do not hold up to scrutiny.
In the meantime our gospel continues to be that you are a dirty little sinner and that you are no good unless God can sacrifice his son on your behalf. (And we don’t even question that there can be better good news than that!)
Our good news is stuck in a time that is not ours.
Since when has child sacrifice been something we could relate to?
Sure it worked for ancient cultures who understood how and why child sacrifice would work, but we don’t—so why don’t we choose another metaphor out of the plethora of metaphors given to us in the Bible?
How about the incarnation? That God loves us so much that God entered human history to be with us, to experience life with us, to know our limits and our abilities and to recognize that we can all be more than we are today? And that no matter who we are or what we can do God values us.
As William Sloane Coffin said, “…God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement.”
If we want the church to become new and viable for the next millennia we are going to have to re-read the Gospel with a new set of post-Christendom eyeballs.
The church is going to have to become more than a club, with an initiation for its members who will then supposedly assimilate and act as one (at least in public). It is going to have to become a thriving community that understands that life is not a competition.
I am not successful unless you are successful. My children will not thrive unless your children thrive.
And in a community where success is determined by the mutual wellbeing of its body, then it does not matter if we agree or not, it doesn’t even matter if sin is relative or not, but that I am in this with you no matter what. I am committed to you staying on the team.
Isn’t that biblical? Isn’t that the grace Jesus embodied? Isn’t that the incarnation? Isn’t that Good News to a lost generation?