On Providing a Refuge from Secular Modernism

Secular modernism is the cultural frame in which much of my life, and yours, takes place. I get my medical care there. My husband works inside that frame – also my son and son-in-law. Secular modernism delivers to me this fine fruit-flavored computer I am using, and resources to do the kind of study and thought I like to do. It causes groceries to arrive at the supermarket where I shop and provides useful ant, flea, tick and spider control products. And so forth.
But there’s much more to humanity – things that don’t fit very well into the frame of secular modernism. Storytelling comes to mind – also art, music, and the life of faith community. And anyone with a modest knowledge of twentieth-century history knows that secular modernism has had significant and terrible failures.
As I’ve traveled around this summer I keep stumbling into places that invite children to step outside the cultural frame of secular modernism. I didn’t start out looking for these! Awareness of them as a class of experiences snuck up on me gradually. Here’s some of what I saw – pictures of many of these places are in my smugmug online gallery.
• An enormous pile of sand, with assorted construction toys
• A Youth Room with giant puppets, scenery, props, all made by the Youth
• At a craft-and toy store, a craft room for children – oh, how this touched my heart! Paints. Jars of scissors, markers, pencils. Aprons on hooks. Tubs of craft supplies. I could have stayed there all day.
• And then, at an art museum in Groningen – another craft room for children.
• And in Amsterdam – a museum of narrative imagination for children. Many pictures of this are at my smugmug site. The museum says it exists to draw children into storytelling. The picture at the top of this post is the children’s art room at this museum.

What does this have to do with the life of the church? One of the important things the faith community does is provide a place of discourse and experience outside the cultural frame of secular modernism. We need this place because the life of faith is not understood within secular modernism. We need it because we are more than the sum of our biological and demographic categories. And we need it because, in Jesus’ name, we are called to challenge secular modernism in ways that are vital for the well-being of all people. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote,

So I said good-bye to government,
and I gave my reason.
A really good religion
is a form of treason.

All right, so, I’ll stop waving my arms. I think that, by providing space and invitation for children to make things, we invite them into the kind of free, powerful and grounded life we hope they will carry into adulthood. Offering this is something simple that any church could do. Start now!


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