A nativity scene shows Jesus, Mary, Joseph
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Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

What we lose when we call Christ ‘king’

Fairytale language makes it easy to conclude that church is not to be taken seriously

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I was at my mom’s one day a few autumns ago. She was busy getting things together to decorate the bulletin board at her church for Advent. Mom showed me a poster of a cute manger scene with the words “God gave us a King,” and asked me whether I thought it was an appropriate picture to use. Mom forgot that when you ask my opinion, you’re going to get it.

I told her I struggled with the words “God gave us a king.” Because in Canada, we live in a democracy, albeit one attached to a monarch.

In Jesus’ time, kings held the power of life and death over people. Jesus himself might not have lived past the age of three had his parents not been warned of the narcissistic fears of the weak King Herod. Kings are a toss-up. With no qualification but a bloodline, it’s a 50-50 chance you’ll get a tyrant.


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We don’t like tyrants, whether they be kings or otherwise. And though our government is connected to a monarchy, and we will have a king in our future, let’s be honest: no one expects the British monarchy to become an autocratic institution, nor its king a vicious murderer. Maybe that’s why the monarchy continues.

But that’s not what troubled me about my mom’s bulletin board. I was thinking about the kids who, before COVID, would gather around as I sat cross-legged on the floor during storytime on Sunday morning. It occurred to me that for at least three generations of people, certainly for me, my children and my grandchildren who grew up on Disney movies, a king is largely someone from a fairy tale. When we call Jesus “king,” in our children’s experience, he goes into the column of make-believe figures not to be taken seriously. Everything he lived and died for is made fictional. By extension, when we use language about the kingdom of God, it’s easy for kids to conclude church is not to be taken seriously either. (This doesn’t just apply to children.)

I remember one Sunday telling the kids about Noah and the ark. In the middle of the story, as Noah was gathering all the animals by twos and herding them onto the ark, one particularly precocious boy shouted out “That’s impossible!” and threw up his hands in frustration. Clearly, I was wasting his time by telling stories that made no sense in his world and expecting him to take them seriously.

As sometimes happens in the midst of worship, something cracked open in me. I realized I needed to be more honest with the kids. “This is a story.” I said. “It’s a story that teaches us the importance of caring for the earth and for each other. It teaches us that the earth is a powerful thing. We can’t control the weather. But we can control how we live with respect in Creation. That’s what our Creed tells us to do — to live with respect.”

That young boy never went back to Sunday school. From that day on he sat in the pews with his mother and listened to the sermon instead. He’s all grown up now, going to university. He admits he doesn’t believe most of what he hears in church and refuses to pretend he does. I admire him more than he knows. He takes God seriously.

As sometimes happens in the midst of worship, something cracked open in me. I realized I needed to be more honest with the kids.

When I ask myself why children leave the church as soon as parents get tired of forcing them to go, I wonder, could it be they leave at the same time they outgrow fairytales? Could it be they leave at that time in their lives when things are very black and white and they haven’t yet discovered how to think critically? Criticizing the Bible gives me more joy than I can describe. That’s where I find God: in the questions. Perhaps I can share that joy when a child asks me a question by replying, “I don’t know. What do you think?”

But back to my mother and her bulletin board. “Well,” Mom said, “what words should I put there?”

I thought for a moment, wrapping my head around all the theologically correct answers, looking for the one that says it all. And here it is: God gave us hope.

***

Patti Rodgers is a designated lay minister serving Tottenham Rich Hill Community of Faith, a two-point charge just north of Toronto.  She is an author and musician, and is currently building an off-grid clergy-retreat cabin in Muskoka. 


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  • says:

    I told her I struggled with the words “God gave us a king.” Because in Canada, we live in a democracy, albeit one attached to a monarch. So does the author struggle with "Stalin was a dictator", as we do not have one in Canada?
    Rather than dwell on "Why do we still have a monarchy? Perhaps we should ask Why did we need one in the first place? When we ask that, then Jesus as a Spiritual King starts to make sense. BTW if you are leaving it up to Disney to explain life, you're in trouble.
    In life you will always find skeptics, does one quite because one of 5 or 10 children doesn't take your word (God's Word) seriously? Explain how it might be possible, perhaps the location of the ark was in a migratory area, we don't have all the facts of what life was like then. Most animals are not that big, so they can fit in a large container ship. Some things are not fathomable, and we need to have some form of faith. When we get into a car, we have faith in the builders, materials and the driver to get us from point A to B. Christ made us, builds us and leads us. Noah and the Ark also tells us how much God hates sin, with God all things are possible, and God gives us mercy.
    I find it odd that the boy still goes to church, this tells me he believes, but doesn't trust. No faith, there is no trust, just like the example of sitting on a chair, you have faith it will support your weight, if you don't, you won't sit or stand on it.
    If kids are leaving church because they no longer believe in fairytales, it is likely you're teaching them fairy tales. If you teach them as actual fact, and believe it yourself, then they are more likely to stay.
    Read Luke 1:32-33 (remember this was told by eyewitnesses - verses 2-3)

  • says:

    the Bible is story. Kingdom is a very dated word and I use the realm of God. Male gender exclusively is too restrictive to refer to God. Much greater meaning is gained when we move beyond a literal interpretation of Bible stories. The flood story is in gilgamish before it was in the Torah

    Replies

    • says:

      I wonder why there was never an ancient matriarchal religion?

      There are over 15 religions who tell of similar "Noah and the ark" story. Some of these religions never crossed paths before globalization (or colonization), yet their detail is strikingly similar. Why would you want to tell such a story? What lessons could be gained from total annihilation of mankind, save a few?

      More would be gained from the truth, rather than "fairy tales" and myths. Even today we use statistics for proof and "myth-busters" for fabrications. A myth cannot be proved. Truth can be denied.

  • says:

    Well said Patti Rogers , a nurturing parent encourages questioning and reflection, much better than obey or else.

  • says:

    It seems to me (especially in light of the Christmas scriptures at this time of the year) that as a preacher/teacher of the gospel you would explain why Jesus was referred to as King and what it means to be a citizen in his realm (Kingdom). Luke 2:33: "He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" I look to the Pastor to reflect on the implications to me as one who is subject to the authority of Jesus' truth and grace and how I ought to live into the realm of it.