The Parachute Christian Music Festival weekend is pre-programmed into most Catholic youth ministers’ calendars. It seems to tick a lot of boxes in that it is fun, safe, and Christian in content—a sure bet for anyone who walks alongside young Catholics. The music is of a high quality, the weather is always amazing (too hot this year!) and those young people with whom we travelled seemed to be genuinely excited about the time they had.
The festival organisers have done a stunning job in creating an environment where young people can see that God and Cool can have something in common and that the Christian message is exciting, vibrant and relevant in the world.
Yet, at the same time, something irks me (and this is not just limited to Parachute). I have been to the festival many times, both as a young person and in more recent years as a group leader, and I have witnessed the phenomenal growth of the event in a relatively short time. Sometimes though, I struggle with the ‘check your brain at the door’ mentality that can pervade Christian ministry. Why does Christianity need to be presented as so black and white and simplistic? Surely we realise that life isn’t actually like that!
The problem is, for many Christian (Catholic too!) speakers, leaders and musicians, this is what they seem to tell us. ‘Believe in Jesus and everything will be ok.’ Often people do seek simple solutions in life. It’s easier. Yet, when it comes to issues of faith, simply believing in your own absolute truth, effectively means that we are telling others that they are at best confused and mistaken or, worse, completely wrong in their own beliefs.
I think that when it comes to ministering to young people we take it even further. We sell them short and present them with the ‘best’ that we have to offer. We talk in sound bytes that we think will be catchy. Unfortunately, so often, our best is still woefully short of what God with us—Emmanuel—can be in our lives and in the world.
The most theologically learned people I know seem to be the most at ease with seeing truth everywhere and not just in our own faith tradition. The most learned don’t seem to need to defend their own faith because they can see truth elsewhere, too.
It is refreshing and inspiring to grow in the understanding that God really is everywhere and in everything and everyone. A fundamentalists’ view of God seems to exist just in their own context and is limited by very black and white parameters, often defined by their own faith formation and experience.
It seems that we naturally seek to be affirmed in what we already believe instead of really trusting God to be where we don’t expect him.
I have heard recently that as ministers to young people we need to tell them all about hell (as if we really know!), to be full of zeal and to win souls for Jesus—pretty simple really and maybe this is why some view it as a tempting (and easy) way to share an exciting faith with young people.
Unfortunately I think that it is a small part of the story and to leave it at that is to do all people, not just the young, a massive disservice.
On January 25, 1959, almost exactly 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII gave notice of his intention to begin the second Vatican Council. Fifty years! And yet sometimes we still talk to our young people as if it never happened.
God, (I hope!) is so much more than our human minds can comprehend. If that is genuinely the case then we should be continually striving to learn and study more and pray so that we can give a fuller and more truth-filled testimony to those with whom we share our faith.
Image shows John Beech, David Harvey, Harry Leatherby and Luke Parker from Pahiatua dutifully helping with the dishes at Parachute Music festival recently. These young men, along with 20 others, ravelled from Palmerston North to attend the festival.