By Tim Cruise
This semester, I am in a preaching class that specifically focuses on the parables of Jesus. On the syllabus for this course, the professor put a quotation by John Dominic Crossan that offers a working definition of parable. It reads, “Myth establishes world. Apologue defends world. Action investigates world. Satire attacks world. Parable subverts world.”
We all find ourselves in a world of some sort, probably multiple. One of mine is characterized by a beautiful, surprising and interesting collection of seventh through twelfth graders. I am the youth ministry intern at an affluent, traditional Baptist church in Dallas. One wouldn’t necessarily, on first glance, characterize my church as being a hot spot for diversity or progressing beyond normative boundaries that culture places on what being human and Christian can mean.
I can’t speak as much for the population of the church as a whole, but I can speak on behalf of this community of twelve to eighteen year-olds. It has been my experience that the basement rooms where we hold Sunday School and Wednesday night worship is a transformative and sacred space. It is, indeed, a parabolic space. Every time I encounter these students, whether it is one-on-one conversations, a group discussion or in singing together, my working mythology of the world is challenged, reworked and/or subverted. I walk down the stairs to the youth center with one understanding of what it means to be human, and I walk up those same stairs with a new one.
Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching is characterized by taking the working narrative that structures the world in which he is operating and retelling it in a way that flips it on its head. Jesus is a disruptor of norms in such a way that makes more room for those made in the image of God.
Jesus is constantly challenging our definitions of what it means to be a child of God to the point where he identifies himself with those who are vulnerable, left-behind and even imprisoned. Those who are least valued by the current narrative are not being lifted up as infinitely valuable in this new realm, this new reign of God that Jesus keeps talking about.
Jürgen Moltmann, writing about the Resurrected Christ, claims that “if we perceive something ‘wholly other’, we ourselves are fundamentally changed. If we are not, we have not perceived the wholly other at all; we have merely assimilated it to what we already know, repressing its strangeness.”
I will be the first to admit that I encounter what often what could be regarded as “wholly other” and some definite “strangeness” in the context of the youth group at my church. There are times when I convinced that there is life on other planets because I am pretty confident that I have encountered visitors from these other planets that have found a home in our student ministry.
There is a temptation to write off what is foreign to me. If I can just categorize an encounter with a student as weird and unimportant, then I can comfortably continue to hold onto my established understanding of the world and humanity. But if I want to be transformed into the image of Christ, I must encounter the Resurrected Christ, the one who abides in the weirdness, the otherness, the strangeness of the students in my youth group.
Every time I encounter a student with a learning difference, a student who doesn’t fit in with social norms, and/or doesn’t find their inherited theology as a life-giving way to make meaning of existence, my world is subverted by the parabolic text of another’s life. Every time I encounter that which is “wholly other” in the students I work with, I am transformed by the Resurrected Christ.
Tim Cruise is a second year Master of Divinity student at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, Texas, and the Student Ministry intern at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, a CBF congregation. He is from and currently resides in Mesquite, Texas.