I wonder if I should feel like that trendy, thick-rimmed bespectacled, latte sipping, skinny jean sporting hipster pastor? It seems I’ve gladly jumped in line with the seductive forces of relevance that are all-too-present, and all-too-lamentable in youth ministry.
But I must admit I don’t have skinny jeans, I received lasik surgery over a year ago, and I have rarely been confused for much resembling this elusive category called “hip.” Still, I donned the bat suit, presented before the youth with cardboard chest puffed out, and invited them all to join me in the sanctuary for the making of MCC Youth’s own “Harlem Shake” video. Pretty hip, no?
Was the invitation based on the belief that we need to make youth group as cool and trendy as it can be? Was it driven by the understanding that good youth ministry should be judged by how many youth grace the doors of the church, which is always a function of how state-of-the-art, culturally relevant, and sensory-stimulating the environment for youth ministry is?
Well, if it wasn’t aimed at “being cool”… why do it? (besides finding yet another excuse to sport the batsuit)
Before going any further, it’s important to state up front: I had zero awareness of this viral internet video “meme” called the Harlem Shake. It was brought to my attention by our former youth intern and all-around amazing guy, Corey Miller. He suggested we make an MCC Youth Harlem Shake. Which, of course, I immediately agreed to before following up with: “umm… by the way, what is this Harlem Shake, exactly?”
After a few minutes of Youtube browsing, I realized this Harlem Shake thing could be a lot of fun. And yes, I knew that many of the youth would feel right “at home” with this idea; but that “relevance” was only an indirect and supporting reason for this endeavor.
I think the faithful reason for doing something like this is not “to be cool” or “to seem relevant.” It might be very cool and very relevant–though an argument could be made that the Harlem Shake meme peaked last week and is already “over” to those ethereal internet social critics who hold zero sway over my decision-making. Rather, I believe the faithful reason for doing something like this is found by looking very closely at the video itself. Did you notice that? The unifying, community-building spirit of joy that erupted around the Communion Table?
In that moment, dancing around the table with whatever moves we could muster, the youth group was “church” in the most surprising and beautiful sense. We were bound together by a rhythm of grace that is open to all–visitor and long-term attender; a space of unfettered acceptance that incubates the risk-taking dance of discipleship. We were our silliest selves, giving ourselves over to the uninhibited joy that truly marks the deepest dimensions of the communion table. It doesn’t take much stretching of my imagination to suspect that Jesus himself, in all his Resurrected glory, joined us in the celebration of life and love drenching that moment.
And why not dance with the joy, celebration, and acceptance that the table itself is really all about? That’s an invitation into a community I am grateful to be a part of and I suspect others will yearn to know. Trendy? Maybe. But not in the “do whatever seems cool right now” sense. Rather, it’s the meme-shaking, memory-making trendiness of brushing up against that which is always relevant: the fullness of life in the grace of Jesus Christ.