Below is my rough transcript for what I shared at the Cultivate Gathering this weekend. This a long one to read, but hopefully it gets you thinking. I wanted to come at it from something that I was currently trying to understand and grasp a hold of as opposed to something that I give the impression that I’ve figured it out; and because of that its probably more broken apart than it should be. If you were at Cultivate this probably says a lot more than I do by talking.
Easter Sunday was a day of celebration for us. We left Friday morning in a downer; with the bad taste in our mouths that we were the ones that crucified our God. It wasn’t a happy ending. In contrast, Sunday we thought we’d bring more of a celebration to our gathering. We told everyone to bring their instruments. Drums, guitars, bass, more drums, instruments that have no name and keyboards were all part of the band on Sunday. So you can imagine what it sounded like. All these musicians in one room following the chords which we put up on the overhead PowerPoint, the sound was horrible. Nothing was on beat, let alone in tune, you couldn’t really hear any of the good musicians, and it was a blur of chords that didn’t really go together.
It is this Sunday that I want to talk about. There was something about this Sunday which put me on a journey of discovering beauty in places that are usually offensive.
Let’s contrast this Sunday with a regular worship service. Worship services nowadays are pretty awesome. At the bigger churches we have CD quality musicians and sound guys putting on a seamless performance while everyone lifts up their praise to God. The lights are just right, the PowerPoint slides are transitioning perfect and every song flows into another. Most of the other churches are just wannabe’s of these churches. They play Hillsongs as if they won’t ever be putting out another CD again, they try and get the perfect sounding mix, after all its worship to our creator right? We better do it with excellence. In fact, even the suggestion of a Sunday like we had would almost be blasphemous. Some churches pay their musicians because they require such high standards of music coming from the stage. Why would we ever take the leadership away from our trained worship leaders and offer it out to the crowd? To do anything less than excellence for many churches is wrong and sacrilegious and there is a list of other reasons that people make up for the need of concert sounding worship music and experiences.
In many ways I think that we on Easter Sunday made a spectacle out of the entire praise and worship culture that has hit Christianity with quite a force over the last few years. We took what was sacred to some (perfect music, perfect atmosphere) and we crapped all over it. We said the music is going to suck, the atmosphere is going to be annoying and it is still going to be beautiful. And it was.
Let me give you another example. How many of you have seen Little Miss Sunshine (Spoiler Ahead)? I want to show you a clip from the movie, but let me set it up for you first. The entire movie is set around this young girl who gets into a Little Miss Sunshine competition. Basically it’s a competition where girls that are 6 dress up like 18 year old strippers and put on fake to win the competition. Throughout the movie this little girl is practicing her routine with her grandpa who taught it to her. No one knows what the routine is except her Grandpa who is basically her only source of self confidence in the movie who dies before she ever performs it. Her gay, suicidal uncle is the guy who gets up and claps first. Her overachiever, motivational speaker (not a very good one) dad is the one who starts dancing with her, the brother who refuses to speak for over 6 months is the younger guy and the mom is a trying to make ends meet sweet lady who wants her daughter to be happy. Those are the characters, and it is absolutely beautiful how they all come together.
In the end, her entire recital was almost a mockery of the whole competition. Yet, there is something beautiful about this mockery. Her family is reunited through it. She is debunking something that objectifies these little girls and has for as long as anyone can remember made little girls feel insecure. As her family gets up on stage they are saying with her that she is beautiful because of who she is and not because they judge her a certain way. The other competitors, the judges and the organizers were disgusted by who she was and what she was doing, yet the movie was absolutely beautiful and said more to our culture than most preachers do in a year about what true beauty is. Why is something so offensive to one person so beautiful to the next?
Let me give you another example. It’s found in John 2. Jesus is at a wedding. They run out of wine and so Jesus’ mother comes up to him and tells him to do something. Jesus says fine and goes and does what his mother says. So he tells the servants at the wedding to go and grab six stone water jars, the same kind of jars that are used in ceremonial washing totaling between 120 and 180 gallons (8-12 kegs). He tells them to fill them up and take some and bring it to the master of the banquet. I’m not sure what Jesus was trying to pull here. But he takes what is most precious to the Jews, obedience to their rules, because it was their job to cleanse themselves with this water before times of worship, in which the wedding would be considered one. So here is Jesus taking an important ceremony of Jewish Culture and their rules, taking all that water that should be used for spiritual cleansing and turning it into wine. We have enough people now that would be upset if Jesus turned our mini shot glasses of grape juice into alcohol, so imagine 12 kegs.
If you’ve read Walter Wink’s book The Power’s that Be, he explains culturally the three stories of turning the other cheek, carrying the pack the extra mile and if someone wants your coat give them your undergarment too. These stories are loaded with undertones that eventually put the one being slapped twice, the one carrying the pack and the one getting naked in a position where they are making a spectacle out of the oppressor. The stories are fascinating; maybe I’ll post in more detail about them soon, if anyone is interested. Basically though Jesus is telling these people who are being oppressed to make a spectacle out of their oppressor; to put them in a position where their foolishness is exposed. Or what about Jesus healing on the Sabbath? The Pharisees would get so low that they actually got upset that Jesus was healing someone on the Sabbath. If that didn’t look ridiculous, I don’t know what would.
And finally there is the ultimate spectacle; the crucifixion. Jesus, the perfect, innocent man who came to heal and save all mankind was brutalized, beaten and killed. The Passion was uncomfortable and awkward. It’s supposed to be. It was never supposed to happen. But God let humankind get to its most ridiculous state and ridiculous it was and really in many ways communicated a lot about humanity.
So with all these examples, I’m just left thinking. What is the role of a spectacle in our lives? Is it a valid form of communication? It seems to work in our culture and in cultures before us. Look at Stephen Colbert for instance. His entire show is him over exaggerating culture’s weaknesses to a point where it’s made into a spectacle and you can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it is. When someone challenges the Bible he gets all upset and starts challenging them by telling them that of course “the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true.” And he will keep saying it over and over again until the other person gives up. He fights so hard government, religion, and other things that culture loves and always goes too far and in doing so makes a spectacle of what he was fighting for and revealing all sorts of truth about it in the midst. There are statistics now that say that just as many people get their news from Stephen Colbert and John Stewart as the main news channels. So maybe there is something to this spectacle thing? Maybe cultures throughout time respond to spectacles made out of ridiculousness. Is part of our calling to living in the Kingdom and this culture to make a spectacle out of religion and culture in hopes to actually help people see the Kingdom?
If it is; this demands creativity. What would it look like to make a spectacle out of capitalism? Or to make a spectacle out of materialism? Or to make a spectacle out of religion? I’m not saying do things out of spite, anger or even retaliation. I think there is an art in confronting with a spectacle that we as Christians need to learn. Spectacles communicate something to culture that regular conversations don’t. I think we need to uncover this practice of Jesus and not be afraid to make spectacles of ideals and standards that the church and culture holds over our heads. What this looks like I have no idea. How to do it with love, I think will be a challenge, but I think its part of our calling. I think its natural for the Kingdom to make spectacles of all other kingdoms. Not in a sense to make fun of it like Stephen Colbert maybe does but in a sense that actually living as part of this paradoxical Kingdom makes anything else seem ridiculous.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.