30,000 Lutherans – the ELCA Youth Gathering was art!

Posted on August 1, 2015 by Heidi Hagstrom

How do you define art? A painting? A sculpture? A fine piece of music? A moving play?

Seth Godin, one of my favorite bloggers, defines art as “a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.” According to Seth’s definition, the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering was art.

30,000 Lutheran humans acted on behalf of a city that needs champions.

30,000 Lutherans contributed generously – 1 million diapers and counting!

30,000 Lutherans risked meeting in a city emerging from economic collapse.

30,000 Lutherans were changed for the better because they gave of themselves in service to others.

30,000 Lutherans connected with Detroiters who were, for the most part, amazed that we showed up with, as one Detroit blogger described, our “insufferably cheerful” energy, colored T-shirts and high-fives!

30,000 Lutherans left a mark on Detroit that will long be remembered, not just for our economic impact, but for our witness through service, through the attitude and behavior of our young people and, yes, through our sheer volume that had some people on social media asking, “What’s going on in Detroit?” One Detroiter commented, tongue ‘n cheek, on social media, “They are singing, ‘Don’t stop believing!’ Make it stop.” Another Detroiter wrote, “I have been to other cities for big conventions, typically [people] would blend in but I have never seen a group so colorful that it actually makes their presence known. I hope they enjoy themselves and when they are done that they go home and preach the Gospel of Detroit, Preach the good news that Detroit is Alive :).”

Well, the Gospel of Detroit isn’t exactly what we had planned would be the proclamation when young people returned home, but it certainly is part of the message. Too often we make snap judgments about people and places and situations. Even though no one has granted us the authority to play judge and jury, most of us make snap judgments all the time declaring our approval or disapproval of whatever and whomever we are observing or experiencing. The problem is that these snap judgments forgo careful consideration, or humility, and are typically merely the automatic expression of our personal fears, prejudices and pet peeves. They happen so fast that we often have trouble distinguishing between our judgments and reality, and sometimes we are not even aware of the fact that we are judging ourselves or others. These little judgments, whether we say them out loud or not, are often extremely damaging to those we judge.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read that Jesus didn’t denigrate the people who were being judged valueless by the political and religious authorities of the time. In fact, Jesus elevated them. Jesus stated that he did not come to minister to those who are well but to those who need healing (Mark 2:17).

Mennonite pastor and professor Ted Grimsrud reminds us that “Jesus plays the central role in the biblical story of God’s healing strategy. Jesus understood himself (and was confessed thus by early Christians) to fulfill the message of Torah. He makes the call to love neighbors, to bring healing into broken contexts, and to offer forgiveness and restoration in face of wrongdoing central.” http://peacetheology.net/restorative-justice/6-jesus-and-justice/

THAT is the gospel – the gospel of God’s healing strategy – I hope young people will proclaim (and practice) as they return home. During their Proclaim Story day at the Gathering, young people learned and proclaimed that Jesus is Good News! Holy Spirit, give us the faith to proclaim to ourselves and to the world that Jesus is Good News for those who judge and those who are judged. That Jesus is Good News for those who are deemed to have no value and those who assign value. Jesus is Good News for Detroit … and Chicago, and New York, and Des Moines, and Anchorage, and Juarez, and San Juan, and Beruit, and Aleppo, and Sarajevo, and …. add your own town/city. May it be so!

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