The God of Fun

When we think about the affections, we are thinking about what our hearts value: their desires, inclinations, dispositions, and tastes.

One value which we seem to seek to shape in our children is the value of fun. Fun is an unquestioned, undisputed right of children. When we think of children, it seems we regard fun as the greatest good.

Fun, fun, fun. Learning at school must be fun, and curriculi are now judged on how much fun they make the learning process. School holidays must be fun, and a veritable industry of holiday activities and entertainments now exists. Sports must be fun, and it is the supposed inherent fun of beating others at games that I suppose makes sports so central to our culture. Eating breakfast must have fun pictures on the box, fun toys inside and fun sugary food to boot. Observe the mountain of toys in the average Western child’s bedroom. What he or she needs most is fun, and Mom and Dad will buy it. Brushing our teeth must be done with fun-shaped toothbrushes, and fun-tasting toothpaste. Bathing must include toys, so that fun may be had in the act of cleaning oneself. Pajamas must have fun pictures on them, and so must the blankets. And at the top of this fun-list is television. Television producers have been masters at satisfying and creating the appetite for fun. Immediate, interesting, amusing, startling, comical, rambunctious images keep the fun going. And a child without a steady diet of TV has no fun, you see.

Perhaps I am not exaggerating when I say that our culture regards fun as the greatest good when it comes to children. Fun is the supreme goal for children. I am not sure at what point this supreme value loses its centrality, but at some point, the bored young humans are introduced to the truth, “Life’s not all about fun, you know!” This cynical statement is a rather heartless and violent introduction to reality, since nothing in all the child’s existence could have revealed this fact. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the child is to have fun.

I don’t know all the origins of this fun-as-supreme-value ethic. I suspect much of it began with Romanticism’s idealising of the child as the paragon of innocence and virtue, and therefore thinking it deserving of a childhood of uncomplicated play. However, as a parent and pastor, I am concerned with how this idea will shape the religious imagination of my children, and the children in my congregation. I’m worried about how teaching our children to love fun above all else will become a major stumbling-block to their worship. Because the fun-ethic has not escaped church life.

Observe what we ask our children when they come out of Sunday School. “Did you have fun?” Indeed, that’s what we expect from our children’s programmes: fun. The materials must be colourful and fun to look at. The activities must be interesting and fun to do. Fun games need to be played. The songs must be full of movement, comical gestures and catchy tunes. They must be fun to sing. The lessons must be funny, zany and fun to listen to. And we judge them a success if our children return with the ultimate value statement: “That was fun!” When someone has a talent for fun-making, we remark, “He’s really good with the children!” Yes, if a child thinks church is fun, they will like it. And hopefully, we reason, they’ll become Christians.

The problem is this: at what point, and in what way, do we graduate our children to the understanding that God is not fun? The fear of the Lord is not a “fun” experience. Singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” is not fun. One thinks of words like sobriety, awe, hope, or adoration to describe the experience, but fun is not one of them. Preparing sermons is not fun. I enjoy doing it, and am greatly enriched by the intense study of God’s Word. But it isn’t fun, like Tetris, or playing fetch with my dog. Nor is listening to a patient explanation of God’s Word. Illuminating, encouraging, disturbing, challenging, provocative, perhaps, but not fun. Prayer is not fun. Intense concentration, focus and meditation on God’s revealed character is penetrating, revealing, satisfying, exhilarating and exhausting. But it is not fun. And the Lord’s Supper is never fun. Daunting, intimidating, heart-rending, welcoming, refreshing, but never fun. Worship is not fun, and yet we think fun is the key to creating little worshippers.

We face several large obstacles to overcome the fun-ethic.

First, our culture simply takes it for granted. It is the way we do things. Therefore, to question it is to disturb the way the machine runs.

Second, pragmatism guides our methods. We want our children to be in church, and to worship, so we figure that fun ought to be brought in to hook them on church. This is not different from using rock and pop music, promising your best life now, or offering a car raffle in the foyer of the church. We think that ends justify means.

Third, we create and sustain this appetite in so many ways outside of church.  I grew up in the fun culture, and pass it on without thinking. But what did children do before the world smothered them with its overflowing, laughing box of fun in the last two centuries? They found things to do and make. They learned things. They helped at home. Where they could, they read. They played music with their families. They worshipped at church. And they played. In other words, they were little humans preparing for their adult lives. We, on the other hand, consciously look for ways to entertain and amuse our children, to keep the fun levels high.

If the affections of our children seek fun above all else, they have inordinate affections. And it is up to those who shape children to think about how to shape what they value.

We are always shaping our children’s affections, by what we love, and what we expect from them. If we expect them to not only play, but work and serve, they learn that fun is not central to life.  If we insist that they must learn, even when that learning is not fun, we teach them what learning is like in real life. If we send them out to amuse themselves with sticks and rocks and mud and dead birds, like children always have, we shape them to find and create enjoyment, not wait for it to be given to them.  And more to the heart of the matter of the affections: if we teach them to be motivated by the truth, goodness and beauty of things and actions, we teach them to value things for what they are, not merely for what they supply. If we remove fun as the governing arbiter of value, we prepare them to love things for what they are worth, not merely for what kind of ephemeral thrill they provide. If we insist that they learn to live with their boredom with worship, we teach them to postpone their judgement on what they do not yet understand. In other words, we prepare them to be worshippers, not consumers. 

And perhaps we will see them still worshipping in twenty years.

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12 Responses to “The God of Fun”

  1. ds. Marc sr. Says:

    Perhaps, you are right! I certainly did appreciate your blog-thoughts! I will pray for your family, my grandchildren and my congregation’s families … that their perspective on ‘fun’ will come right and stay that way under the pressures of the world!

    When trying to teach, disciple or parent … I have noticed that many of us are better at assigning or delegating work … to be done for us …. rather than inviting others to join us – (walking alongside us) – as we work and serve.

    Many people, parents and pastors have told me that it is just easier to “do ‘it’ themselves” rather than ‘doing it’ together with others! The education of practical ‘on-site’ mentorship, … as a training approach or life-learning routine, takes too much time, preparation and calls for too much flexibility.

    Working at teamwork, training on site and patiently ‘sharing vision’ and values is just too complicated an approach – as ministry or parenting ‘learning-models’ go! In other words it’s just not too much “fun” … or should I say, rather, its just not enough FUN!

    Perhaps, the “fun” is out of sight and often to far ‘down the road’? Maybe the ‘fun’ is really just a bit further – even around the bend? Perhaps ‘fun’ needs to be better understood as the “result” – rather than the journey? Even more to the point: perhaps “joy” needs to be understood as the spiritual replacement for fun? (Hebrews 13:2-5-11.) Could ‘fun” really have no place – at all? Surely Not!?

  2. David Says:

    I’d agree that we need to distinguish between fun and joy. Indeed, we need to distinguish between types of fun, and types of joy. There is ‘fun’ that is appropriate for certain contexts when Christians are together, and there are other contexts where that same fun is inappropriate. Tickling my children is fine at certain times, but the Lord’s Supper is not one of them.
    I think we need to think deeply about what kind of emotion we are creating, and whether that emotion will prepare them to worship, or whether it will create in them an appetite for something worship was never meant to fulfill.

  3. dandelionsmith Says:

    I apologize if this is a duplicate comment; something odd happened when I hit the “ENTER” key by accident.

    In any case, this post is well spoken on several levels. Even though we do not now have “Sunday-school”, per se, in Granite Falls (only one class, and one that is age-integrated), I have certainly heard the question regarding “fun” from parent to child, following the first (usually) service.

    What is often missed is the connection between “fun” and “flight”, so to speak. That is, I have seen a pattern between a “child’s” church and “no” church. This connection is missed even by educators who are familiar with the subject of amusement. Neil Postman wrote an excellent book in Amusing Ourselves to Death, but he also wrote The Disappearance of Childhood. Granted, part of Disappearance… is concerned with the very young knowing too much of the world of an adult, but along the way, he disposes also, of some of the ideas of sober-mindedness and Godly joy in favor of “fun”. Indeed, two of the three “blurbs” on the cover of my edition speak highly of “fun.” The LA Times says, “No contemporary essayist writing about American … culture is more fun to read and more on target than Neil Postman”. And another reviewer speaks of the persuasiveness of the book, yet adds, “…it’s fun to read, too.”

    As you say, preparing sermons is rewarding and joyful, but neither would I describe said preparation as “fun”.

  4. David Says:

    Yup, this stuff is by now a reflex. I knew a Christian who would express his pleasure at anything by just saying “Fun”.
    Truth is, nothing is more unfair to our kids than to feed them fun at church in their formative years, and then begin to steadily withdraw it at around age sixteen. The cynical expressions are sometimes the looks of betrayal. “You used to make it fun, why isn’t it so anymore?”

  5. Not just fun and games « From DandelionEnd Says:

    […] Not just fun and games Posted on July 1, 2010 by dandelionsmith You need to read this post by David over at Toward Conservative Christianity: The God of fun […]

  6. Jeremiah Says:

    It doesn’t help that the adults in church are there to have fun as well. If the adults were serious about worship instead of “Oh that will beeeee, glory for meeee” singing, we might have a chance of our children being sober-minded. How can we graduate children when we ourselves have not graduated?

  7. David Says:

    This is true. Part of the reason for the substitution of entertainment for worship is that the children grew up and wanted the fun to go on.

  8. Web Pulse – July 2, 2010 | Religious Affections Ministries Says:

    […] Conservative Christianity – The God of Fun- This is […]

  9. Simon Thomas Says:

    Luther said he was moved by a God of Mercy.. a long way from the fun ethic that seems to be governing our society.

    Tell me have you reviewed Dr Dion Fosters book ‘Transnform your worklife” ? I read it and wrote a short review on my blog. I tried to maintain my Reformed perspective ( whatever that is) The book is worht a read, even though the Theology of it is a bit skimpy, i think it gives good advice.

  10. David Says:

    Simon,

    Afraid I haven’t come across that. Was it fun to read ? 😉

  11. Simon Thomas Says:

    Rather. a bit of Gospel lite but had some good pointers on how to enjoy work Biblically. God to give Dion Credit for trying but his Emergent affiliation shows in the book, good read though.

  12. Dale Streblow Says:

    David,

    Well done brother! To extend your final thought on preparing our children to be worshipers, might I suggest that one of the greatest values we can teach our children is the value of work. If we can instill in them an appreciation of work ( both mental and physical ) then they will be well suited to the discipline of learning what true worship is and in exercising it in their lives, to the glory of God.
    Rather than teaching our children to view work as something to get through in order to get to the fun time ahead, ought we naught to be teaching them that work was part of the created order and a necessary part of a God-honoring life. Just as joy is on a different plane than happiness, so is the satisfaction of a job will done compared with the momentary rush of a fun experience.
    For what it’s worth, we have seen and are seeing in our 35 years of parenting, the spiritual fruit of an investment in teaching our children the value of work. I am blessed to be married to a woman who has a knack for turning most any job into a collectively satisfying experience. From there it is a natural jump to teaching our children other proper values and affections.
    I could ramble on for a few thousand words but enough said. Keep up the good work! We here at Granite Falls First Baptist are blessed by your thoughtful and insightful writing and are praying for your ministry there. Take good care of our sister there and send her back much edified and enriched for her time with you.
    Your brother in Christ and fellow soldier in the battle for the affections of present day believers,

    Dale

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