In 1872, in a small corner of the world—London’s Hyde Park, to be exact—a new breed of orators stepped up to speak about their own specific agendas. Whether political, scientific or religious, these ‘soapbox orators’ opened themselves up to praise or ridicule, all while standing on a crate.
From the 19th century to the 21st, these orators—nimble on their feet, and even more agile at the verbal fencing which marks most discourses—were able to speak to and debate with the common public about what was closest to their hearts.
Scrchhhhhhh. Umph. That’s the sound of me grabbing my soapbox and standing on it.
I’ve mounted the soapbox to proclaim what a new friend of mine said to me as we watched 36 kids dance their way, sing their way and shout their way through a new youth initiative in South Australia called SPIN Camp. We stood at the back, surveying the scene of youth leaders bringing the joy of the Lord to pre-teens, smiling more brightly than for many weeks before, because there was laughter and praise mixed with emotion and joy. My new friend Pete said, ‘This is completely amazing … all these kids, after three days, singing songs to God’. He leaned in to me, shouting over the clapping. ‘I can’t really believe it, because the Lutheran church has always been good at mourning, but not so good at midwifery.’
I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I asked him.
‘It’s no secret’, he continued, ‘that the Lutheran Church excels at funerals. Hundreds of people show up for the celebration of life for a community member, and they come in droves for the closing of a church they used to belong to. But we aren’t really good at birthing new things—especially when they involve youth.’
It was profound. In my mind I thought of all the things that the LCA spoke about at the most recent general convention and I couldn’t think of one thing that involved birthing something new (other than calling our presidents ‘bishops’). We find ourselves most often singing laments and much less often singing songs of praise for new birth.
In South Australia, at the very first SPIN Camp for pre-teens, 36 families entrusted their kids to us so that they could hear the gospel in a completely non-traditional way. Under the leadership of Monique and Dillon (two 20-somethings with a lot of talent), these children will be the future evangelists of the church. Their mission field may never include those who are willing to step inside the hallowed walls of a church building. The SPIN camp people have put their vision into reaching kids where they are at. They are midwives, not professional mourners.
I smiled at Pete. He’s a wise man.
I should give him my soapbox.
Reid Matthias is pastor of Green Pastures Lutheran Church, Lockrose, Queensland.