Friday, August 12, 2011

A Workshop Reveals The Gospel Must Be Adapted to All Ages

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Recently I was asked to give a workshop for youth and young adults on the new translation of the Mass coming into use this Advent. As I set about preparing for this day long seminar, I knew I needed a hook to hang the ideas I was hoping to communicate to the young people.  I knew that what I was suppose to talk about could be pretty heady and boring stuff such as  theology, church history (not just any history!) and even an ancient language. If I did not figure out a way to speak to these generations in a language they could understand, we were all doomed to a horrible, terrible, boring day and of course, I would have failed as a teacher and evangelist. As I began my preparation, the words of a friend’s teenage son about his confirmation class haunted me, “don’t they know we’re teenagers!” I was determined not only to remember this reality but succeed in communicating with these young people in a way that would be relevant, but how?   

I was scheduled to give this “youth -friendly” seminar the same weekend the final Harry Potter film was opening.  While preparing it occurred to me that this movie event was my hook!  The current generation of young adults (the 20-somethings) and of high school teens, have all come of age during the “Potter” years (2000-2011).  Using images from the films would be a great hook to hang my teaching upon and link this very church-y knowledge to something happening right now in their media driven lives. A college student I know was re-reading all 8 Harry Potter books in prep for seeing the final film and others were re-watching the films. My mind raced as I began to connect the workshop’s formal content to scenes and images from the films.   For staying closer to the Latin, there was the scene from the Sorcerer’s Stone of Hermione trying to teach Ron how to pronounce a spell properly.  For the introductory rites at the beginning of Mass there were the grand entrances by the other schools in the Goblet of Fire. For the Liturgy of the Word, there were various speeches and proclamations by Dumbledore at the big meals and the continuing stories of the history of Hogwarts and the world of wizardry. The possibilities seemed endless.

As of the writing of this reflection, I had not yet led the seminar so I can’t reflect on how successful my Harry Potter approach was. The experience of preparing though reminded again me that the while the truth of the Gospel is universal, meant for all ages and cultures, it must be adapted and proclaimed into words and expressions that each people and generation can grasp and make their own. When I was a teen (unbelievably over 33+ years ago) I liked learning stuff about church history and tradition as long as it somehow connected to my life. It is still true for me today. To connect meaningfully to today’s youth and young adults, I think means connecting to popular entertainment such as movies and music and to social media such as Facebook and Twitter and soon the new Google+.

Some people, especially from my generation, are sometimes wary of the appropriation of popular media and technology (read Internet) for faith formation and ministry. Yet adapting the message to the hearers from each generation is as old as the Gospel itself. God first used this method by sending his Son to become one of us, as Joan Osborne sang in the 90s. The incarnation (God becoming human) was God’s way of adapting the message to those first human hearers in Palestine over 2,000 years ago. Jesus becoming human means that all that is human may be a conveyor of the divine message. A popular movie may help us understand and connect to an ancient ritual whose roots go back to the Upper Room. A hit song may help us sort out how divinity and humanity relate and a 137 character Tweet (see below) may contain the words of salvation:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. –Jn 3:16
For Sharing and Reflection:

What popular song, TV show or movie speaks to you about the Gospel message of love, hope, justice and peace?

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Steve, anxious to hear how it all went. The movie Chocolate is one that sticks in my mind as a story that includes all the elements of the Gospel message. There are, I am sure several more as well as dozens of songs but I will have to think on that for a bit and get back to you.


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