Sunday, May 15, 2005

We Didn't Start The Fire

I knew it had been a long time since my last post, but I didn’t realize it had been almost 2 months. Between work, school and shopping for my first house, I lost track of time. To my loyal fan (that would be you, Jim) I apologize.

Life has been rather stressful recently, and I’ve found myself looking for things to laugh at to relieve the stress. One of my favorite sources of laughter has become the youth group materials that get sent to our church. Record companies and other Christian “ministries” develop these curriculums that integrate whatever they’re selling with a variety of Christian lessons. Sometimes it turns out well; sometimes you just have to wonder what they were thinking.

One of these brochures contained an insert outlining a youth group session aimed at teaching young women the joys of sexual purity. For the warm-up they suggest playing a game called “Burned.” Here is their description [words typed in all-caps appeared that way in the original material]:

“Play BURNED – a form of ‘Musical Chairs.’ Place chairs in a line (or in rows if needed), having one less chair than girls. At one end of the chairs hang red, orange and yellow streamers from the ceiling (about 3-4 feet wide) so they touch the edge of the chair, but still allow someone to sit there. The streamers represent FIRE. For the music, use Out of Eden’s “This is Your Life” CD. Start playing the music. While the music is playing, each girl has to sit in each chair as they move closer to the fire. Anyone left touching the fire when the music stops is BURNED, and they’re out. They take a chair with them and sit to the side, cheering their friends on, encouraging them not to get burned. The last one left wins a white rose.”

I’m all for teaching sexual purity to teenage girls (and boys for that matter), but I have to be a bit disturbed by this game. In the context of the larger lesson, I can only assume this game is meant to imply that if you have premarital sex, you’re going to hell (with the implication that no one will ever love you, especially God).

I know youth ministry is hard. I’m scared to death whenever I help out with our youth group. But I also don’t think we should scare the kids into thinking they’re going to hell if they ever do something that does not fit into our moral/ethical framework.

The Christian life is not about morality motivated by fear. It is about morality motivated by joy that we have become part of something bigger than ourselves. And the best part is that even if we do falter, we have a God who welcomes us home, encourages us to right our wrongs, and loves us even as we are a work in progress.

I’d rather have that than a white rose any day.


skab said...

~Very well put! I'm in my senior year of high school and just left one youth group and church for another. I know EXACTLY what you're talking about. Have you ever read those little booklets with the fillins from the Bible? Some of those things are completely out of context to what is mentioned in the verses you're supposed to find the answers in.
~As far as I can see, the best way to teach youth group is with logic and lots of stuff straight from the Bible. Let us question our heads off, too. It's what were good at. Of course, I guess we should always be taught that we should just question, but follow and question.

Parker said...

Hmm, I kind of expect that being "burned" in this game refers to the possible consequences of premarital sex that happen in THIS life, not the fires of hell. You know the old list: pregnancy, STDs, broken hearts, social ostracism, and even conviction by the Holy Spirit, the guilt of having sinned.

In that context, the word "burned" takes on the modern teenage meaning of "treated poorly" or "used." As in "she totally got burned by that jerk." It's not referring to a literal burning, in hell or otherwise. Granted, I'm not familiar with the game, and you may be right after all, but that's just the impression I got from the description you quoted. Nice blog, by the way, it's my first time commenting here -- but as a former Christian retail clerk, I agree with just about everything you post. Welcome back, too.

photosteve said...

As an English christian, what passes for 'normal' in american churches makes for scary reading. Idon't think that trying to scare kids or threaten them with terrible consequences will ever work, it just adds an air of danger and thrill to whatever is being villified, and carries the risk of cripplingthem with guilt and the feeling that they are unlovable if they ever do stray from what is considered acceptable by their church.
I have met more people who have suffered from this, and who have drifted away from God entirely as a result of the lack of acceptance by their church, than have suffered in any lasting way from the consequences of premarital sex.
I strongly agree with Ben's final point, that Christianity shouldn't be motivated by fear of what will happen if you don't toe the line. God is all about grace and forgiveness and love, and it's a shame that more christians aren't the same.
I also liked Skab's point that we SHOULD question things. I have a friend who was asked to leave her bible study group because she asked why it was that Muslims also spoke in tongues. It seems they didn't want people asking awkward questions, you either lapped up what the leaders decided was right or you were asked to leave. This kind of attitude, in bible study groups or in church youth groups, will surely just alienate anyone with the intelligence and mental creativity to question the things they are presented with.
Healthy debate, questioning logic, biblical references and an open, forgiving, inclusive, loving environment are surely the best things to help teenagers to grow in themselves and learn how they can build a relationship with God.

(I like your blog Ben, hope this comment isn't too long. It's your fault for having thought provoking posts!)

Rogue said...

Hooray! You're back!

I always appreciate reading your posts. Like photosteve said - they always provoke thought in my little noggin.

I was a youth intern while I was in college and I heartily agree with you that some youth group activities are out of control. I firmly believe the Bible and God can stand up to whatever questions we fire at them, God wouldn't be God and the Bible wouldn't be the Bible. What's the point of believing something if it a)isn't your own belief, b) you don't understand it, and c)you aren't allowed to try and further understand it?

leeontheroad said...

Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog! You should keep it up.

Kirala said...

Love this place.

I particularly hate the fact that all but one of the girls are doomed to BURN. I know the Christian life is a hard one, but I'd like to think there's room for more than one person to succeed. Especially in something like abstinence, which for some people (like me, sans love life) is ridiculously easy.

Perhaps they're all supposed to be engaging in premarital sex, and the one with the white rose is simply the lucky one who didn't get caught and can therefore play holier-than-thou. As an ironic commentary on the modern church... hmm, that works.

Jim said...

Uh. I'm Jim and I am a loyal fan. No idea if I'm the one you mentioned but you ARE back on my blogroll, please forgive me for taking you off.

And you came back with a great post!

Hah! Youth ministers. I was one and repented, partly because there was so much pressure to teach things like that. Eeeewww!

I just wanted to point at Jesus in front of a bunch of kids, anyone really, and say "Look! The Lamb of God!" Which is to say, I'm not sure I was a very good youth minister. (And please don't think that I have a Jbap complex, although "He must increase, I must decrease" does happen to be my deisred epitath).

Many blessings!

Jeff Eaton said...

Actually, they're probably trying to make a point about physical intimacy and how easily it accelerates if you try to "go as far as you can without crossing the line."

At least, that's one possible reading. It seems like churches are doing everything they can to avoid actually developing and communicating a coherent Christian sexual ethic to the next generation...

Mike said...

Skab, you're probably thinking of Jack Chick, no?

skab said...

~Mike, I think its the same idea, but I was actually talking about another one. I think it was put out by Reach Out Youth Solutions(
. By some guy named Barry St. Clair.
~I also kinda wanted to re-explain my last paragraph. While I do DEFINATELY think youth should be allowed to question their heads off, I also believe one of the most important things to teach youth is about doubting and how it can be good and bad.

Brandon said...

Glad you're still alive, Ben!

Love your thoughts on this.

Wendy said...

Good to have you back, Ben! . . . And I'm with Parker on this. To me, getting "burned" seems like what happens to too many girls after they give in. Of course, that could've been explained better in the instructions you were given.

I'm also with Jeff Eaton. We Christians do an excellent job of skirting this subject, don't we? And then we wonder why our pre-marital sex statistics aren't much better than those of non-Christians.

This is actually a interesting post, since I have a calling to teach this subject to teens one day. I would be interested in getting some cohesive, grounded-in-reality ideas about how to do that.

Ben said...

I understand that everyone wants to assume the getting burned part is about a loss of innocence, STD's, pregnancy, etc. It makes us feel better about guilting our teenage girls into assuming their sluts if they kiss a guy. But I still maintain that the streamers represent hell. I thought about the other options, but burning in hell just ended up being funnier.

Kevin said...

The fact that the game says the streamers are supposed to represent fire kinda makes what you say seem right. As a youth pastor, this crap scares me too. It could represent something else, but if you are a teen playing this game and then having that lesson and you have to actually question what the game is about, then the game stinks.

Anonymous said...

So added to the fact that this game is terribly offensive in terms of the implied consequences of "defiled" virgins burning in hell or paying horrible consequences, why is it that the game is only designed for young women…? This seems terribly unfair to me. It encompasses an attitude that is common in the Christian church, that purity is more frequently emphasized to women much more rarely to men. To be fair maybe there was some horrible male-equivalent game, but it just wasn’t mentioned…

Women are encouraged to be chaste, dress modestly, etc. while often men are left with little responsibility at all. As a young woman raised in the church I had always felt a terrible amount of guilt and responsibility associated with my attire, etc. until finally I found it too exhausting to constantly be responsible for someone else’s complete lack of self-control.

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