Sesame Street was effective because the program didn’t just contexutalize to the present; it contextualized to the future. Remember, after all, when the show started. It was in 1969, the era of George Wallace and the Black Panther Party and campus race riots and the Richard Nixon “Southern Strategy.” From the very start, the program showed kids what few of them had ever seen before: a racially integrated neighborhood.
Now, Sesame Street could have done this with preachy didactic dialogue (kind of like Norman Lear’s Maude series). But instead, they showed kids racial equality, and made it normal for them, without ever saying much about it in the process.
As I read that, it struck me that, years before my Mississippi elementary school was integrated via busing, I’d seen African-American and Latino characters (such as “Gordon” and “Maria”) functioning as equal members of a society, on the television screen of my home.
“It’s almost too perfect that the first African-American president of the United States was elected in time for the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street,” the New York Times says. “The world is finally beginning to look the way that PBS show always made it out to be.”
What would happen if, whenever our culture saw love or reconciliation or peace, our neighbors said, “This is exactly the way that church always made life out to be?”
I wonder what would happen if our churches were to recognize our role in showing people the future, not just in our teaching and in our going but in our being? What kind of witness could we be to our communities, as fragmented as they are by race and class and economics and politics, if the very makeup of our congregations signaled the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10) in which “here there is no Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Schythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11)?
First caution regarding indoctrination: We must be careful not to simply indoctrinate children without a due concern that they should also have a good reason for believing them. Indoctrination tries to preserve a viewpoint from group to group or generation to generation without also helping them to “test all things and hold fast to what is good.” You shouldn’t just be passing on blocks of information. You should also be thinking about the process of how they learn to think about those truths. Second caution regarding contextualization: It is amazingly helpful to think about how we do things with children first. Then, this helps us understand something about how to do ministry and missions. Contextualization is a hot buzzword today. Our task in contextualizing for kids is not merely contextualization as typically understood but concept creation (and with adults concept destruction).
When I say, for example, a ministry needs to be “God-centered,” everyone agrees. But when I talk about the God-centeredness of God, people shake their heads “No.” Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you or when he helps you make much of him forever?
Why is it so wrong for us to be self-exalting and so right for God to be self-exalting? We find examples of God exalting himself throughout the Bible: Ephesians 1:5; Psalm 19:1; Jeremiah 13:11; Psalm 106:7; Ezekiel 20:14; 1 Samuel 12:20; Romans 15:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Philippians 2:9; 1 Peter 4:11; Acts 12:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Revelation 21:23
So, this creates a crisis in people’s lives. The idea of self-adulation is a huge moral hindrance to people believing in the God of the Bible.
John 11:1-4 (ESV): Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
He lets Lazarus die, because he loves them. How can this be love?
The main way that God loves us is not by making much of us or by sparing us trouble, but by making much of himself. Love does whatever it has to do to provide the beloved with the deepest and longest satisfaction. God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving thing.
We’re not into indoctrinating. We don’t merely do contextualization but create categories. All of life should be God-centered. A good litmus test of whether or not you are God centered is whether or not you can exalt in the God centeredness of God.