16 Oct 2011

Top of the pops (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth).

Snappy title hey!

I just want to clarify something. I have written in a few blog entries about our need to be popular and complained that quite a lot of what we do damages our popularity. I think I'd better just explain what I mean by that so that those people who say, "Christianity isn't a popularity contest," can no longer say, "Christianity isn't a popularity contest, we're called to say what's true not what's popular." People who say that kind of thing may be surprised to find out that I agree with them - we are called to speak the truth (within the confines of what we see understand as truth - see my earlier blog).

What I mean is we need to make sure that what we do is relatable and personable to those who attend and those who don't. The Church has a very bad public image and that's one of the things that keeps people away. They either see old fusty buildings with old fusty hymns and old fusty miserable people (the Songs of Praise model) or happy-clappy super-nice cheese-meisters (the Ned Flanders model). I don't find either of these images appealing, so how someone outside the Church looking in is supposed to I really don't know. If we can present a positive image of Christianity we can gain respect for our faith, then people are more likely to take it more seriously and ask our opinions and seek our help rather than just side-lining us.
A few years ago I received a birthday gift (I actually received a few, but this one stood out). The wrapping paper was covering what looked like a small dog in a sitting position. I was intrigued and it was one of the first presents I opened. I was disappointed. Far from containing the puppy it initially promised, it contained a desk lamp and a couple of cardboard tubes from the centre of a toilet roll to give it it's shape. The prevailing culture we live in has often been criticised for being about style over substance; however this is the world we live in and need to speak to. Exactly the opposite of the present I opened,  I believe that we have the substance, but we're sadly lacking in style.

There are parts of the Church that try to address this problem. Over the last 20-30 years there have been any number of what has been called 'Alternative Worship' events and communities spring up, and today there are many examples of 'Fresh Expressions' seeking to meet the needs of communities outside our Church walls. But even these sometimes don't go far enough - they suffer because we've become so entrenched in church culture that we can't think outside of these parameters, or sometimes when we can we have to compromise what we want to do to keep the support of Church people (it was a brave Methodist Church that first decided to meet in a pub). Paul talk about being all things to all people in order to spread the gospel and it's one thing that we've sadly forgotten. For so long the church was highly influential in setting public taste and opinion, and now it is no longer we've forgotten how to adapt and communicate.

We need to take more care of our public image. We need to wrestle the spotlight away from images like Church governing bodies infighting over issues like women in leadership or homosexuality. We need to present a viable alternative to coverage of things like the Phelps' hate-mongering. We need to be the mouth of Jesus in the world as much as we are his hands and feet. We need to be more ready to shout about the good we're doing in the world, but do it without losing the humility and purpose in which we do god's work. And we do need to make sure that in our attempts to do so we don't compromise out faith just to be popular. We need to change the wrapping, but leave the gift perfectly in tact.

" Hmmph. Easier said than done," you say.
" Yes it is!" I agree, and tell you the following story to illustrate the difficulty.

Someone I know speaks at Christian events very regularly and I've heard him tell a story a few times. In his professional life he was doing a job for the Church, and it had a very short deadline. The completion of the job was absolutely dependent on a particular computer peripheral which picked that particular moment to stop working. He did everything he could to get the thing to work properly all to no avail. After a failed visit from tech support was accompanied by a promise to come back and sort it out 24 hours after the deadline for the job he decided that the only course of action left open to him was to lay hands on the peripheral and pray for it. At which point it started working again and the job was completed. When the tech support guy came back he still had no idea what had been wrong with the device and why it had started working again.

The times I've heard him tell the story it has been to a Christian audience and it has been presented to people as a miracle, as proof that God is still working in the world and looks after those faithful to him. But when I've heard it told it's always been met with derision and people sniggering behind their hands. Computers and peripherals are well known for inexplicably stopping working and then just starting again for no reason ("Have you turned it off and on again?") and for a sizeable proportion of hearers this story is not a story of God working a miracle, it's just a tale of flaky equipment. I've even heard people retelling the story to each other with much mockery.
So here are my questions. Firstly, Is this a story that should be retold? If it was a miracle (and I make no comment either way) is it not enough that it's happening brought glory to God without the retelling or does the story need repeating? Is the negative reaction to the story enough to mean that it shouldn't be told. Baring in mind the reaction of Christian audiences to this story, how would the story go down if it were told to a non-Christian audience? Would it bare witness to God's existence and involvement in the world or would he just come off as a nutjob, and if so is that a good picture to be presenting or should we be more careful with how people judge us (and by extension, God.)?

Or if it was a miracle and he doesn't retell the story is it denying God and withholding Truth?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Or you could just leave a comment below.

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