Relevance or Truth? (circle one)

I usually love Bad Catholic Marc Barnes’ blog. I love how he is able to be smart and witty at the same time and that he writes at above a 7th grade level (while most blogs seem to fall below that mark).  On many days, I agree with him 100% and can point people to his writing and say, “Read this!  He speaks for me – and does it much more eloquently than I!”

Today is not one of those days.

In his typically eloquent response to a horrid opinion piece in the Washington Post called The church young Catholics want, I think Marc misses the mark.  In the WaPo piece, the author demands that the Catholic church become relevant to the youth today, and in her opinion, relevance means toeing the cultural line on issues like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and women’s ordination.

Marc argues

Relevance is the worst factor for determining the goodness of a thing since we dunked witches in the river to see whether they’d float.

After railing against youth ministry that uses skits, contemporary Christian music, and social media, Marc concludes:

Kill relevance, seek transcendence.

While I think Marc is absolutely right to rail against “relevance” to the exclusion of everything else – including the Truth – I think his piece is missing something.

This is not an either/or situation, but a both/and.

We do not have to reject true relevance that goes where youth are.  And yes, social media IS where they are.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks to their life experiences.  From the very real experiences of suffering, sin, and grace they encounter as youth to the real experience of listening to One Direction and texting during class.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks their language.   The only way they can learn the rich vocabulary of theology and ecclesiology in the Church is if we help them translate it.

The combox kills again

I think what Marc is trying to say is that people who do crappy youth ministry, who water down the Truth in favor of a pandering, cheesy theology, and who do it all in the name of “relevance” are missing the boat because their watered down, effeminate, pansy gospel is actually irrelevant.

Unfortunately, if that is what he is trying to say, the message is lost.  If he’s arguing for both relevance and the Transcendental, if he’s arguing for us to consecrate (as we are called to do by virtue of our common priesthood) the world in which these youth live instead of condemn it, if he’s arguing for us to just be more cautious in our use of the secular and to temper our desire to be relevant with good, solid catechesis and sharing of the Truth, then I’m not the only one who missed it – so did most of the commenters in his combox.

I’m fifteen, and “happy happy joy joy” Christianity just ticks me off. In an attempt to be hip and cool, all formality, reverence, and beauty is muffled.

I don’t want relevance, I want reverence!

From her article: “We do not need answers; we need to engage the world.” False. They need solid catechesis and sufficient explanation.

If I wanted a church that was “with the times” and “relevant” I would become one of those non-denominational hipster Christians.

Relevance AND Truth

The Gospel can be shared in a way that is relevant without being watered-down.

Good youth ministry can catechize and still include skits, and even KLove on occasion.

Good youth ministry can be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and can evangelize in those places and teach the teens to be evangelize there as well.

Good youth ministry is first and foremost about sharing the Truth with them, but it also must be relevant.

After all, Jesus showed us over and over again how to be relevant without losing the beauty of the Truth.  He started where the people were (oftentimes in the midst of sin and in sinful places), they used the life experiences of the people to teach (parables of shepherds and farming) and to share the truth.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus walked with those two disciples (they were going the wrong way), asked questions, and really listened to them before he spoke a single word of Truth to them. And when he did speak Truth, he answered the questions they had, and spoke a language they understood – he was relevant.

What do you think?  How can we better balance the need to be relevant while at the same time sharing Truth and allowing them to opportunity to experience and reflect on the Transcendental?

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