Too safe for faith?
I ran across an article exploring why the era of kids’ adventure movies like E.T. and The Goonies is over. Similar modern films “just haven’t caught fire the way they once did,” writes Lisa Risra at pop-culture blog io9. “Why not? The real reason may actually be off-screen.”
Risa quotes screenwriter Sam Sapirstein, who says these kinds of movies are no longer possible because they “rely on the exploration of the world of children that is separate from the world of adults, and that world no longer exists.” Kids no longer play unsupervised or walk home alone from school, he observes. “All play is regulated, either for the sake of safety or the desire of parents to participate in childhood.”
In The Atlantic’s “The Overprotected Kid,” Hanna Rosin chronicles the rise of risk-averse parenting, beginning with playground safety lawsuits in the 1970s and the 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz, whose case launched the missing-child fear era. Yet after all the playground safety efforts and constant supervision of a whole generation, Rosin reports our obsession with safety has not made a big difference in the number of accidents children have. The number of abductions by strangers is virtually the same — that is, exceedingly rare.
The effects on our overprotected children? “It’s a familiar list of ills attributed to Millennials,” Rosin says, referencing findings by Boston College psychologist Peter Gray: “depression, narcissism and a decline in empathy.”
It’s hard not to give in to this obsession. My heart rate goes up when my son climbs a tree or my daughter gets behind the wheel of a car. But I’ve renewed my efforts to step out of this obsession because I don’t like how it affects our faith — mine or my children’s.
In a Verge Network interview, missiologist Alan Hirsch talks about this middle-class America obsession with safety, comfort and convenience.
“I think Christians are very risk averse, and churches are very, very risk averse,” he says.
The obsession, Hirsch says, “attenuates the gospel because the gospel calls that into question. . . . We have to resolve the tension, and we usually do it in the name of the family. So the gospel becomes this civil religion that just affirms [our] lifestyle.”
In other words, when we give in to the obsessions with safety and security, we water down and strip the gospel of the countercultural, radical life and community Jesus calls us to.
For me, this began sinking in on a trip to Lebanon, where more than 1.6 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees have fled to escape war and persecution, which broils on that small country’s borders. I spent a week with a community of Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi believers, listening to stories of misery, death and suffering. It was heartbreaking.
But I also heard testimonies of God’s power in their lives and the lives of the refugees. I heard of bodies healed, dreams and visions, hearts and minds captured by Jesus — lives transformed in ways I rarely see here at home.
These encounters are changing the way I think about my own faith. The people I met are girded with trust and a fierce love in the midst of war and suffering. Their lives confirm the reality of Jesus and God’s power, often displayed most brilliantly in and through their community, God’s church.
That makes me thirsty to take more risks in my faith. If I do, Hirsch says, I’ll “find Jesus in new ways and . . . learn to trust God in new ways too.” I want that more than anything, for me and my children.
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.
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