I received some training from a wonderful teacher from SafePlace in Austin the other day. It was about creating and using engaging activities in group therapy. I planned the following exercise. Little did I know how much I would learn. Nor did I know the surprise ending the activity would take.
The exercise I used was originally called “Power Play.” It is a safe way of examining power and in reading and understanding body language by placing chairs in different positions and talking about where the power is in what we see. It’s a simple but surprisingly cool way of accessing some things in group.
I often design my exercises to help the street dependent youth to them how they feel about the church and religious systems. They have definitely experienced church systems before and they have been largely let down by them, so it’s often a mixed bag of negatives and positives. Exploring these feelings helps open the door to discovering that Christianity can be relevant to their lives today.
I set four white plastic patio chairs up, the kind that stack. I told them to arrange the four chairs in some way that reminds them of church. At first they just stared, but then one guy got an idea. He jumped up and arranged them.
He placed all four chairs upside down, four legs sticking up on each. I asked him to explain. He said, “This is the church from Monday through Saturday.” I asked others to comment: “The chairs are empty.” “They serve no purpose.” “The legs stick up and look dangerous. You might hurt yourself.” Wow!
I asked for another arrangement. One girl got up and set one in front and three in a line facing. I asked her to explain. “It’s the priest upfront and everyone listening.”
Another jumped up and put the three facing chairs down on their sides, top faced to the priest. “This is the people worshipping the pastor instead of God.” Another added his interpretation, “And the leader is taking advantage of the people.”
Another guy had an idea. He arranged the chairs in two short lines facing one another, two chairs in each line. “This is the church arguing with itself over all the church stuff instead of doing what it’s supposed to do.”
I decided to try one. I placed three chairs together in the middle of the room and then put one chair far away against and facing the wall the wall. I said, “I’m not going to tell you what I had in mind until you try to guess. What do you see?”
One said, “That’s me there on the wall, and everyone over here in church wants to keep me out.”
Another said, “I think it’s the church over against the wall, turning it’s back on the world.” Not being sure what she might be meaning, I asked, “How do you mean?” She said, “You know… like not following the worldly ways.” But another interrupted, “No.. I think it’s the church turning it’s back on all of us.”
I asked if I could explain what I had in mind with the chairs. “I see each of these things you mentioned, but none of you have guessed it yet. I had something different in mind when I put that lone chair over their facing the wall. It’s a lonely chair…all alone by itself. And the three chairs over here are the world, happy and having a party. But that one chair over there was Jesus when all the stuff we’ve been reading about in Mark happened.”
Suddenly I had an inspiration. I always try to give them an overview of the Bible before we read whatever specific details we’re reading that week… the 10,000 foot view, if you will.
I began, “The Bible is a love story of God and his created people. These two chairs are the people. They started out perfectly white and unscratched like these were when they were brand new. But the chairs rebelled from God and ended up scratched and covered with problems likes these chairs that have paint splattered all over them.” (The chair we use are typical of those in a Sunday school classroom… covered with paint and scratches from years of use.)
“God tried several ways to get the chairs to clean up and be satisfied with loving Him, but the chairs preferred living their own way. They multiplied and God spread them all over the world.” I put a third chair with the other two and spread them out.
“But God had a plan. He chose one man and his wife and started teaching and showing him to live with God. This couple prospered and grew into a family… then a clan… then a tribe… and finally a nation. God blessed them.” I put the three chairs into a circle.
“And into the nation, God send his only Son, Jesus, to help them.” I put another chair into the center. “The chair was white and unscratched. It lived with them, knew them, and taught them. But eventually it came time for God’s amazing plan to bring the world back to how God wanted it in the first place.
“Jesus, who was perfect and knew exactly how to live with God, would assume all the sins of the world. At that the forth chair became scratched. It became covered with paint spots. So much so that you could hardly have noticed it… it was gray and dingy. That paint and those scratches came from the people living in that nation, from the people living all over the world. It came from me, from you, and from everyone who ever was, is, or will be. It was terrible.
“And then they killed the forth hair. They crucified it and it was totally separated from God.” I tossed the plastic chair (it’s light and nobody was over in the corner where I threw it) across the room into the corner.
“Jesus took all the paint and all the scratches with him. But three days later, he arose.” I walked over and got the chair and put it back into the center. “He appeared here and there very mysteriously.” I moved the chair around from place to place. “And forty days later, he ascended into heaven.” I held the chair high above everyone.
“But Jesus is bringing about God’s plan for the world. It will be restored the way God wanted it all along, with everyone who knows Jesus living in harmony and peace in Heaven. This is the love story of the Bible. And you can be a part of it.”
That day the kids taught me how they see the church and religious systems. And that day, I pray, I reminded them what it was really about.
Please understand that I do not share the viewpoint of the youth which they expressed during this activity. However, I listened to them. I have compassion for them. And I do pray that the church will be patient in helping and working with these youth one day. Street dependent youth often feel they have experienced the church failing them in a very personal way. By allowing them to express that and helping them go straight to the source (the Word), we open the door for forgiveness, healing, and restoration. Please let it be, Lord! Amen.