When I first spoke with Jarrod Conyers, he was not like I expected him to be. Mark DeVries had asked that I meet with this man he knew who was working on translating the entire bible into emojis. Mark had seen one of the books and loved it and wanted to see if we could work with him. I will admit that I chuckled at the concept, imagining an emoji resurrection story: *cross emoji* *skull emoji* *rock emoji* *angel emoji* *shocked face emoji* *twins dancing emoji* (I was using the Gospel of Mark here, obviously). But I learned a long time ago to trust Mark, so I set up a zoom meeting.
Jarrod was working with young people, and their love of emojis had inspired his work. But Jarrod could not have been taking his work more seriously than if he was translating it from the Ancient Greek himself. He had laced the emoji bible (called the Little Bird Bible as a reference to an emoji-laden app that up until recently used a little bird as its logo) with interjections from relevant theologians, as well as questions and comments from avatars of common voices that young people might use to frame scripture (Old Church Lady, Youth Pastor, etc). The theological discussions and commentary reveal a deep engagement with the text, its interpretive history, and church culture.
We have a lot of fun with fun here at MINC – and we spend a lot of time bringing fun and silliness into things that seem stiff or boring (ie visioning and budgets). Our origin story as an organization is in the field of youth ministry, and a lot our most powerful tools are games. We truly believe the work of missional innovation, and church in general should be fun! But I wonder if the other side is also true, if we equally are called to bring a note of seriousness into the things that seem silly.
Talking with Jarrod, and seeing how seriously he took his work, made it obvious that he wasn’t just doing this for the bit, but was really trying to make scripture more accessible for a new group of people without losing any of its depth. He was thinking through the theological implications of every emoji choice and comment added in a way that got me wondering:
- Where do we need to add the same seriousness?
- What are the theological implications of our potlucks, our children’s pageants, our easter egg hunts?
- Are there things that we don’t take seriously that may have the capacity to carry more weight than we’re asking them to?
- Are there ways we can point towards the work of God even in the silly things in our lives and world? And who might that give us the opportunity to reach?
Innovation tends to come when unexpected thoughts crash into each other, and as much as that can begin with a round of Blow Up Your Idea during an innovation session, it can also begin with the question of what Karl Barth might have to say about your annual Pumpkin Patch.
So this week, especially as the holiday season begins in earnest, consider what the important implications of the sweet silliness of the season might be, and how we can harness those to further our work in participating in the Kingdom of God. And check out Jarrod’s version of the book of Jonah here, and the book of Philippians, here!