What’s all the activity for? Why do we as members of the church spend so much time doing stuff? There are so many spheres of activity, so many worthwhile events and initiatives, so many vital meetings, countless services of worship, acts of kindness and social responsibility, missions, conferences and charitable fundraisers…
All these things are valuable in themselves, but the activity and the demand for outcomes and progress often drives us to miss the main thing: each person we have to do with in all this work is a person made in the image of God, created a little lower than the angels. When there is so much of everything and there are so many people involved, there simply isn’t time to relate to each person on a deep level… there isn’t time for encounter. I wonder if we’re in such a panic about what has to be done in a cash-poor environment under pressure of time, and trying to work for maximum gains, that we aim for outcomes across a wide area of engagement and risk making a shallow impact that won’t be transformative in the way we would hope. What if we just prioritised spending time one-to-one….?!
I watched a video today of two people sitting gazing at each other’s faces. It was an act of performance art that took place in an art gallery. What happens when two people simply sit in silence and encounter the other intensely through observation of their eyes, features, skin, body? It seemed as if the experience was profoundly moving.
In an art gallery we stand and examine original pieces by talented artists. We pay money for it – some works of art call in millions. We are made in the image of God… we are each created, unique, easily damaged, mysterious and full of meaning, like most paintings or artefacts you’d find in a gallery.
What would church be like if we took our creation in the image of God more seriously? How would it affect what we took time over? How would it impact people who came through our doors? Could we take time simply to sit and marvel at the face of the person sitting next to us, putting ourself into the imagination of God as he designed her (or him?). What if our worship was more like a piece of performance art, open to a radical encounter with another human being?
Obviously it could send people screaming from the building. Or it could encourage us to make church a place where we contemplate what it means to have been ‘made a little lower than the angels’ and re-orientate our focus on the other extraordinary (human) works God has made.
Easy-to-organise last-minute creativity for a Christmas service if you’re pressed! Goes well with Luke 2:8-20 (or radical choice – instead of!).
“We’re the unsung heroes, you know…No one gives us the blindest bit of notice. You’d think we were dirt, the way they treat us when we go into town…
The wages are rubbish and when you think what we have to do… Night shift in the freezing cold, wild animals on the prowl, and not a sniff of danger money… Bored out of our minds half the time and scared witless the rest… And in the day we’re at it non-stop – getting the maggots out of them, shearing them for market, hunting down the strays… Oh, did I tell you? We’re shepherds… We provide food for that stuck-up lot in town, wool for them as can afford it, and lambs for sacrifices in the temple… And all the thanks we get for it is the evil looks in the street… ‘Better stand down-wind of him…Cor, what a whiff! Did someone let one off?’
So there we were this one time… Sat round the fire with the usual bottle of something to keep the cold and the fear out, and then – there’s this other person there with us, talking to us somehow…and you could just hear a voice, inside you and outside you at the same time, if you know what I mean… Of course you don’t…I know you don’t…you couldn’t unless it happened to you…And I tried to look at him but it was like he was made of light…really brilliant light…
He said about the baby…a special baby born for us… ‘For shepherds?!’ I said, trying to make a bit of a joke of it, stop myself feeling so weak and wobbly. ‘Is there going to be a posher baby born for society people?’ I still wish I hadn’t opened my mouth. But he – she – it didn’t break me into a million pieces. It said, ‘This baby’s for everyone, and will bring peace to everyone who worships him.’
And then there was singing. No, not us! But them – a whole load of them by now, a blaze of light and music like you can’t describe. But it fills you with a joy and excitement so big you think you’re going to explode.
So we went to see the baby… he was easy to find, the only one in an animal shed – his mother had used her wits and made a trough into a kind of cot…God must have a sense of humour, I thought, to put his kid – if it really was his – in a baby bed like that. And among the straw and cow muck – well, we fitted right in. By the time we went back to the sheep, everything had changed. God thought of telling me about his Son’s arrival. He wasn’t the God I thought he was – he was much better. Much more human. Much more down-to-earth! I could worship a God like that…”