Having explained that while we couldn’t see him, we could see him acting in the world, we asked the group of boys to come up with some analogies to help us understand this idea better.
The first suggestion was ‘quarks and invisible cheese’ and a second boy offered farts.
There really is very little you can say to that; there’s a certain tension between affirming the boys’ enthusiasm and comprehension, and comparing the Holy Ghost to flatulence and sub-atomic particles which can probably never come out well.
It might be best to state now: youth work is not a gift which God put in my lap on the gift-handing-out-day (in fact, my limited appearance on the youthwork rota has since come to an end). I’m sure it wasn’t that long ago since I was in one of those groups and loving it but these days I breathe a sigh of relief when they reach the age of normal adult social function and we can talk about books, the Great British Bake-Off, and Jessie-J’s new hair cut. The day when you can say ‘the Holy Spirit is like the Holy Spirit’, and everyone gets the idea…but back to youthwork.
The thing is, even if I try to stick to weather-based similes (the Holy Spirit is like the wind, the Trinity is like water, steam and ice, etc etc) then it’s only a few years until they find out that Solomon’s songs are about boobies and that after getting off the ark Noah got trollied and passed out naked. It’s like a time-bomb of irreverence.
And frankly, we’re already stretching those trusty weather-based metaphors a bit far as it is. Water metaphors particularly, are inexplicably employed to name almost every church youth group going: Divers, H2o, and my personal favourite, Hydr8. In fact, it’s probably about time farts and cheese got a look in (Flatul8?).
While I don’t wish to compare my questionable youth-leading to the teaching of Jesus, it’s pretty much how parables operate right? Jesus used things that were every-day like sheep, servants, muggings and coins to teach people about God; the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl, faith is like a mustard seed, and erm…the Holy Spirit is like a fart.
To return to the dilemma at hand, I’m afraid I said: “Yes, brilliant, how creative, write them on the big sheet with a marker pen.”
In all honesty, I would say it dented my credibility as a youth leader far less than the time I didn’t know what Gangnam Style was.