Letting the arts come to church

pottery-makingI’m not a cultured person, at least when it comes to the arts. I’m not interested in ballet, nor opera. Most classical music leaves me cold; symphony tickets feel like an upcoming jail sentence. A visit to an art museum is typically wasted on me.

It doesn’t help that I come from a church tradition that downplays the role of artisic expression in worship. We tend to have utilitarian buildings, with little focus on aesthetic values. (Though it’s interesting that I grew up in a church that breaks from that mold and attend one that has a cathedral-like feel to the architecture). Historically, we have rejected the use of musical instruments and “special” music (choirs, solists, etc.). An artist finds little room for expression in most congregations within our fellowship. (Outside of children’s Sunday school, of course)

I think we need to recapture God’s love of beauty and creativity. We need to see that God’s Word addresses the senses and not just the mind. We need to find a way for individual Christians to share their artistic gifts with the rest of body; special times and spaces could be created for any such expressions that don’t fit our corporate worship time.

Even those with a lack of general culture can appreciate the giftedness of others in our midst. We can encourage them to use their talents for the glory of God, rather than making them feel that such things only belong to the world. Our churches will be all the richer for it.

Debriefing short-term trips

debrief-001-001Whether we see our short-term mission trip as primarily an educational experience or mainly an evangelistic outreach, we should try to help participants process what they’ve seen and done. Research has shown that intentional debriefing of short-term workers helps them experience long-term changes based on the trip. (See Gary Green’s Now What for insights into this)

This doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some basic questions to ask:

  • What was the best thing about the trip for you?
  • What was the hardest thing about your short-term experience?
  • What would you have changed to improve this trip?
  • What did you learn…
    • …about yourself?
    • …about the people you visited?
    • …about the church overseas?
    • …about God
  • What do you plan to do about the things that you have learned?

Taking time to process questions like these and make specific plans about what to do with what was learned can make a short-term trip have long-term effects.

Our Problem: We Don’t See People Anymore

people“I see dead people” was the famous line from the movie The Sixth Sense. A young boy was sensitive enough to be able to see the unseen world of those who were no longer living.

We need a bit of that sensitivity today, not to see the dead, but to see the living. We look at people, and we see their race. We look at people and see their sexual orientation. We see their political views. We see their immigration status. We see their religion. We see their nationality. We see “them” or “us.”

And we don’t see human beings made in the image of God. We don’t see individuals that Jesus loved enough to die for.

That’s what’s wrong with the world.

The church, modernity, and time

Transforming Worldviews book coverUsing ideas from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews, I looked last time at some general impacts that modernity had on the church.

One specific area that Hiebert focused on is the emphasis on law and order. In the U.S., this shows itself in our emphasis on punctuality. Hiebert notes:

The first influence is the emphasis on mechanistic order over interpersonal relationships. We see this in the emphasis on clock time over relational time. In the former, people must be “on time” according to the clock, because punctuality is most efficient in coordinating the activities of many people doing different jobs. In much of the world people live by relational time, which means they do their best to meet at a given time, but other, human-related activities may intervene and delay them. Although they may set out for church in good time, on the way they may meet a relative or a friend they have not seen for a long time. They cannot simply say hello and good-bye in a few minutes. It takes time to rebuild the relationship, and they will eventually get to the service, which is held every week. (Kindle location 3383)

I’m troubled by the obsession with time in many U.S. churches, especially as regards ending times for services. I much prefer event orientation, where the focus is on what is done, not how long it takes. I hate people saying that we don’t have time to do this or that during our service; we have the time, we just want to use it on our own leisure later.

Hiebert’s point about clock time and relational time is seen in a study that Richard Beck referred to the other day. In this 1973 study, the participants were seminarians who were assigned to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan. When they arrived at the place they were supposed to speak, they were informed of a change in location. Some of them were told that they had plenty of time to arrive at the new location. Some were told that they should arrive promptly (moderate time pressure). Others were told that they would have to hurry or they would be late (high time pressure).

Along the way, they passed someone who was in obvious physical distress (who was actually an accomplice of the researchers). As Beck tells it:

So who stopped to help? Those on their way to preach a sermon about the Good Samaritan? Or those who had the time to help?

Overall, the results of the study revealed that the biggest factor in helping was having the time. The relevant statistic from the study was (% who stopped):

The Low Hurry Condition: 63% offered aid
The High Hurry Condition: 10% offered aid

And, incidentally, some seminarians in the high hurry condition literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan.

What was the biggest factor that determined whether or not seminarians would show compassion? Time.

Believing in the unseen

Transforming Worldviews book coverI’ve been looking over some of my notes from when I read Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews. It’s an excellent book about culture and how it affects our outreach to the world. Might be a bit academic if you don’t spend a lot of time with the subject, but an amazing work overall. Hiebert was a pioneer in the field of missionary anthropology; in fact, you could argue that before him there was no such field of study.

One concept that jumped out at me this week was the idea that literate societies emphasize sight over the other senses while other cultures almost universally favor hearing. Because of this, literate societies have trouble believing in what they can’t see, much more trouble than non-literate societies have.

Not an earth-shattering idea, I guess, but it made me think. I have to feel that this is one big reason the modern world has trouble accepting the claims of the Bible.