I've been frustrated. Frustrated by statements of absolutes. You've heard them ... people who love to use the words like "everything", "always", never", "completely" and so on. Very rarely are these statements true. And when you put those words in a sentence such as "I'll never ..." or "She's always ..." and "Everyone says ...", you make a liar out of yourself.
I know it's only a manner of speaking, and I do it myself, but when said to someone who is hurting or vulnerable, and it's like a slap in the face to them.
Worse still, I've found that I've been reacting in exactly the wrong way to people who say these things, by going to the opposite extreme. And then today I read this:
The devil always sends errors into the world in pairs of opposites
He relies on your dislike of one to draw you into the opposite one.
Oops. That sounds like me.
I think we like absolute statements because they make things simple, because it draws a line between me and the other thing, because I can use it to put me in the right ... or so I think. Every time I make an absolute statement I implicitly take on the role of God: I make a judgment. But how often that judgment is made through the eyes of my culture and prejudice, and especially out of my own incomplete vision.
I wrote recently that "I see through the filter of culture and prejudice ... God sees unfiltered. I want God's eyes, but I'm scared of what I might see!" And because I fear, I judge. And when I judge, I draw a line. And when I draw a line I proclaim that I understand fully, that I can see clearly, and that this is the true absolute of it all.
Shiver ... to quote Lewis again: "It is not a question of God sending us to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud."
There are few absolutes in our lives. "God is Love". That's one. "I am broken" is another.
From http://www.insertimg.com/ via http://www.outofur.com
I was fascinated by a question I stumbled across:
What does Christian love look like on social media?
It's got my mind in a spin. How do I answer this. What would an answer look like?
In this day where so many of us have our relationships through virtual space, what does our love look like.
What should it look like?
I was reading a blog on communications, and it related 5 reasons for failure in communication, which I think can also be applied to all contexts of the church life. The 5 points were essentially:
I hate more than I love
I live more for selfish gain than heavenly treasure.
I see my neighbor as my enemy.
How I need a new heart to be born again and filled with the love of God in my heart.
To be like the good Samaritan.
To love my neighbor as myself.
Love lays down its life.
Oh to abide in Jesus.
To abide in His love.
So Lord again I confess my being born in sin, having a sin full heart.
Please forgive me again.
That I may be born again – again.
To be a new creation.
I receive Your forgiveness and love into my heart.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord.
For there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the Holy Spirit does indeed live in me.
When I get to meet Jesus face to face He is going to ask me. “Did you learn to love?”
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fireflythegreat/5030898874/
Probably the single strongest indicator of one's love for anything is by one's expression. Look at the people around you, look at yourself:
Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?"
It is my lament for this age that so few church goers most want to talk about life with Jesus. It is often not even the second, or third topic or preference. I have sometimes found non-believers more keen than Christians to engage in discussion.
A leading thinker of the western world recently suggested that it is because we have no confidence in what we say, and we have no confidence because we have no passion.
Image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1382919
If you had to plan a Church service, what would it look like?
Lets plan a service, he said
OK, she said. What type of service? Postal service, catering service, security service, what service are you thinking of?
Twit ... a church service
Oh ... that's rather boring. Can't we do a catering service?
I'm serious ... lets plan a church service ... come on, it'll be fun.
I'm also being serious ... a catering service will be much more fun. But hey, ok, if a church service is what you want, let's do that. Who're we going to serve?
Who? Serve? What do you mean, its a church service.
Well, I mean, it's called a service, so in a service, servers serve someone. So who's being served, who's doing the serving, and what's on the menu?
Ok, first of all, get menus off your brain, we not doing a catering service. We're doing a church service and no menus are involved.
Well, I disagree. It strikes me thats exactly what I get in a church - a catering service. Someone trying to anticipate my appetites and feed me what they think I'll find tasty. Not so? Be honest.
No, no, no. That's not ... well, I mean ... well, actually, I guess so, maybe, sometimes.
Yeah, I mean, in just about any church you go to you can find fast food, junk food, inedible French cuisine prettily presented in the center of a huge almost empty plate, heavy boiled British beef that leaves you feeling bloated, or chemically loaded food that gives you a high and then drops you into a tailspin of disillusion. That's my experience, anyway.
Well, I guess so. Ok, that happens, sometimes, maybe often, you may have a point. Not bad for a girl. (slap) Ok, ok, sorry. just joking. But if its like that, then all the more reason to plan a service. Let's plan something that's healthy, and relevant.
Relevant to who?
Oh no, you're not back to that! It's a church service, isn't it obvious?
Well, it's for, well, .... hmmm. Ok, well, its for God. It's about God, so it must be for God, not so?
But God doesn't need our service. If he did He wouldn't be God. So what's the point. Now, with a catering service we could actually give people some nice food, and make some money!
Forget that. We're doing a Church service, church service. Ok? Right, ok. So, now God may not need our service, but he deserves it. If he is God he unquestionably deserves our service. But if he doesn't need it, then there must be a reason he wants it. Wouldn't that reason be because he wants the best for us, and the best for us is to serve Him. So I guess a church service is for God because it's what He wants for us? Yes?
Ok, so what you're saying is a church service is for us! So let's plan what would be fun for us.
Noooo! Well, yes. I suppose so. But that doesn't seem right.
Of course its right. If God wants us to serve, then His intention is that serving is for our benefit, so He wants us to serve Him for our own good, and so we're serving ourselves by serving Him coz that serves me ... I think ...? I'm confused ...
Hmm ... you may be onto something there. Not bad for a gir... ... ... good idea. So a church service is to serve God because its right, and that's good for us. Who's the "us" by the way ... seeing you're on this insightful intellectual roll at the moment ... who do you think "us" is?
Huh ... are you patronizing me? But alright, who's us ... well that's anyone God is interested in, so I guess anyone is everyone? It's not just you and me and the regulars, is it? It must be everyone.
Yep, I think you've nailed it ... a church is one place everyone can come and serve God so that God can serve them ... coz that's what God wants. He wants to serve us. A church service should be a place where anyone can come and serve God ... and be better for doing so. That sort of makes sense ... He said to love Him with all our heart, soul and other stuff, and then love each other. So we need to plan a church service which helps people do that, and by doing that we're loving them. Neat! It makes sense.
Hey you got it, not bad for a guy! I can say that, because I'm a girl. Deal with it! So then, in this church service that we're designing, what are we serving? I'm a bit stuck there.
Hmmm ... yeah ... what are we serving? Well, we're serving opportunity I guess. Because a church service is where people come together to serve God with all their stuff, then we're serving them by planning the opportunity for them to do it. Yes?
Yup ... that sort of makes sense. Ok, then, what we need is a plan for a service that will help people take the opportunity with both hands. What was that you said? Love God with heart soul and all your stuff? So anything that stops people from doing that should be off the table, if you'll pardon the pun.
Very haha ... not a pun and very weak. But yes. So lets put the regulars on one side for now ... they keep coming to church anyway so there's got to be enough opportunity already for them. Or perhaps, hmmm, here's a nasty thought: Perhaps the regulars keep coming because what we've been doing keeps them comfortably lukewarm. We don't want a service that perpetuates lukewarmers.
Yes, absolutely. That's not doing anyone a service. Rather, we want to make sweet and sour pork, ice cream with hot custard, chilli chocolate sauce steak! We want to draw the contrast, let people really taste the difference between sugar and salt! Did you know that in our brain taste is the one sense that brings smell, sight and touch together?
What is it with you and food? You can't seem to have a conversation without talking about food!
Oh come on ... it's just a metaphor. Lighten up. I'm just trying to point out that church shouldn't be all soft ... so often its just like a marshmallow: all sweet, sticky and emotionally icky with nothing to bite into! Anyway, did you know chocolate is one of the most complex foods with up to 600 aromatic compounds?
What on earth does chocolate have to do with this?
Lets have a chocolate service! Complex flavors to feed the soul!
Sigh. I give up on your food fetish. So, now then, what would our service look like? I think it should be absolutely clear to people what we're about. No obfuscation.
Huh, me and food is like you and big words. But yes, crystal clarity clear ... can you imagine what someone new thinks when they hear us say "come eat his flesh and drink his blood" ... yuch ... I mean, just, yuch! What must go through their mind? They probably think they've stepped into a real life episode of the Twilight movies.
Yeah, I agree. This liturgy reminds me of an encyclopedia. It's got everything in it, its rich and right, but before you can understand it you've got to cross reference the whole thing just to know the words ... and that's me Mr-Big-Words saying that! Who on earth goes into a conversation and speaks like an encyclopedia? And before you say it ... I don't!
Huh ... at times you do, but yes, I know what you mean.
Thanks, Not. But anyway, so we're going to use regular words and regular language, and regular style of speech. No obfuscation! And no pretentious rote recitation of repetitive words ... we speak from who we are. OK? We simply be people.
Yep ... that's good. Coz we're people meeting with people for a purpose. Imagine if we went as a group to a restaurant and wrote out all our conversation beforehand, and then recited it to the waiter and chef. I mean, they'd think we were nuts and mocking them ... I don't want to mock God. It'd ruin the conversation, to say nothing of the meal.
Food, food, food. Ok, I get the point. Why can't you use some other metaphor. Like rugby, or Formula1 racing, or something that's a bit more exciting?
Team sports? You gotta be kidding, about all you can say for sports is that someone will win, someone will lose, or there will be a draw. The rest is just irrelevant distraction while you wait for the end.
I know why God made man and woman ... try to combine them in the same body and you'll simply get spontaneous combustion. But there's something in this we're missing ... the story ... we need to keep the story!
YES, the story, I agree. We know life by the story of contrast. No wonder Jesus always told stories ... and his stories always had a huge, huge contrast! And by the way, the reason God didn't put us in the same body was because the man bit couldn't cope with the diversity of woman.
Diversity, huh! You mean chaos. And don't hit me again. You started it all with your food obsession.
Ok, I'm sorry. I've got to admit you've got some good ideas, and in any case you're part of when God brings order out of chaos.
Alright. But doesn't this just highlight it all ... we understand by story ... we make memories together and tell the story. Think, Jesus never talked like "and as Habbakuk 3:23 says, according to Nezekiah 2:21, you must never do this or that". He just incorporated it all into His story telling. Imagine what it must have been like on evenings by the road, wrapped in a blanket with the fire burning low, the day ending, and Jesus telling stories. I wonder if he told jokes ... I'm pretty sure he did! I can't imagine a Jesus who couldn't tell a joke.
That's it ... we need to serve people by letting them see the real Jesus, the one who can laugh and cry in the same breath. That's serious Joy.
Yes ... ... ... ... ... ... Oh yes!
Phew. Right, we're making progress, and we're not even talking about food. So we're going to have a service that is linguistically appropriate ... sorry, a service that speaks plainly.
Yep, and I won't rise to the bait ... and before you say it, bait is not food. And we'll not only keep the language plain, but we'll use metaphor and analogy and narrative -- see I can do big words too -- and we'll speak not recite. And we'll use normal language. And refer to iPads, and twitter, and spam and things we all deal with all the time. And ...
Hold on, hold on, yes, let's not revert into street lingo, but I agree, lets talk the way we talk face to face.
But please lets use all that creativity we were created with. Good grief, do you realize we were created to be creative, and the best we've been doing with our services is decades old music and words from a book written by some dusty old bishops. I mean, they were being creative in their time - probably - but why should we live on their creativity, that must be a real insult to God. That's like a student chef bringing Macdonald's to work for his lunch.
Don't get carried away ... I like Macdonald's ... but don't you dare tell anyone that. Let's move on then, we can come back to the details. For now we've nailed down the language issue, how about the music? What do you think we should do there? I mean, you just said about that old stuff ... some of that's good stuff.
Music? Do we even need it? Just joking ... of course we do, it's part of being creative. And I'm not saying the old stuff is of no use, just that it should be a catalyst for our own expression, not a substitute.
Ok, but I'm still a bit unclear. Are you seriously saying we all need to be creative in our music expression, and that old Mr ____ who bellows tunelessly should be allowed to lead worship? Or that that new young girl, what's her name again, anyway, the one who can't hold a rhythm should be let to within 10 foot of a tambourine? That'd be like assault on the congregation with a deadly weapon.
Nooo ... be sensible. Think. Isn't that what you always say men are good at? I'm simply saying that each to their own should be expressive.
Nope ... not getting it. And I am thinking. It hurts to try follow your logic.
Well, its like I let you make scrambled eggs when I know you want to try and help ... even when you burn them and I have to scrub the pan. But for dinner you stay out the kitchen on pain of something I'd do to you, and you let me do the real cooking. Then, then ... thats when it comes together, when we enjoy the meal together. Isn't that what we're doing here? Cooking up a plan? Making the opportunity meal for everyone?
At this rate, when people leave our service they'll have to go straight into a weight watchers program. But ok, I get the point. Our plan should be to help people be expressive.
Yep ... that's it.
If we want to be effective, then we need to use the forms of expression that are natural to them ... we shouldn't make them learn a new expression before they can be creative. Like babies, they know how to move food around a plate, so finger painting comes naturally to them.
That's an insulting metaphor, but a good one I admit. Yep, we need to help them get off the ground so their, our, collective creativity takes off. And if one persons musical expression is a bit tuneless, well, let's just turn up the volume on everything else.
OK, so we have the shaping of a plan ... details to follow. What else should we consider? I think we should also be careful of trying to be all things to all men in one service. Sorry, to all woman, I mean all people. I think if we try be everything all in one service we end up with a smörgåsbord of pickled herring that doesn't even taste as good. Let's plan the service for a clear purpose, and do that well.
Uhuh, yep. Not a smörgåsbord ... instead a meal that seamlessly blends the fullest expression of the chef. However, that's going to cut some people out isn't it? That's not very loving.
Well, would you serve steak in a vegan restaurant? I'm sorry, but we can't be everything in everyone of our services. I think we need to choose clearly if a service is going to be sushi, steak, pizza, Italian, whatever, and do that well. Jeepers, now you've got me doing food too!
Well, excuse my smug smile, but it feels good, doesn't it?
I guess ... another male falls before the stampede of women wisdom.
Don't feel too bad ... it was inevitable. And don't scowl ... inwardly you agree, and Jesus talked about food a lot too. But you're right too, we do need to consider other tastes. This is tough.
Yeah. Tough is an understatement. But I think we need to go back to our purpose here. Is God asking us to serve pizza and beer or a formal Sunday roast? For our church I think it's the first. And if that's the case, I'm not going to serve duck a l'orange when God is trying to serve the people hamburgers.
Yep, much as it pains me to say it, I think our church is the hamburger joint type of place. But at least, please, lets make them really, really good hamburgers. So I think our music needs to be contemporary (and that means contemporary). We live in a time of creative explosion ... lets leverage that.
And contemporary also implies we're going to be consistent. People today live in a paralysis of choice.
They have so much choice they can't choose, and if they encounter something that is too much of a barrier, they'll simply go with what's least threatening or most appealing. It's like, I mean, people buy Apple. Why? OK, it's a cool design, but way, way overpriced for what you get. I think that apart from the fashion statement, its because people know what they're going to get with Apple. And then through subtle changes over time Apple slowly evolves their walled garden. Sneaky, but effective.
Geek alert! OK, so I understood some of that, enough to get your point. Be consistent and allow people to grow. I think that's what you said, anyway.
Right ... that's it. Now, we've nailed culture, language, expression, and food. What else for our service plan?
Well, you're probably not aware of it, but I think being made welcome is hugely important. I want to and need to talk - and hold your snarky comments - I mean relationship is so important. So lets make SURE we welcome people personally every time! That we listen to people. Do you know the power of a personal hello, a smile, a handshake, and a hug - even for guys?
Well, that shows how much you know about men. I also want to relate, it's just I'd rather do it by punching each other. But yes, so let's make sure we have welcome and greeting and conversation in hand -- we'll have to leave out the punching I suppose.
One last thing. Let's also know what we're not! And especially, let's not be the warming drawer for keeping lukewarm Christians comfortable in their dish of self-security.
Sigh. With you, even when it's not about food its still about food. You're weird. Anyway, I think we've got a good framework to work from. This could really reach people and help them serve God with all their stuff. Now we need details for this Sunday's service. Where do we start?
Want a slice of cake?