As I anticipate watching an advance screening (tonight) of the Wilberforce movie - Amazing Grace - I thought this might be an opportune time to share my first and last efforts in song-writing. It goes like this:
Innocuous Grace, how dull the sound that saved a nice guy like me.
[later ... rather than writing a new post, I have written a little 'review' of Amazing Grace and embedded it within the 'comments' on this post]
Recently I visited the Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru. Having been ushered through the Visitor Centre 50 of us gathered in a little grandstand to wait and to watch - and to listen to an expert tell us about the blue penguin. She knew her stuff! She described what the blue penguin looked like and how they lived. Just 30cm tall! They spend each night in their little hobbiton up a slope and then in the morning they waddle down to the ocean and disappear for up to 50kms of swimming and as many as 1000 dives for food. Then each night they return, gathering out from the shore in clusters, before surfing in on the waves together and waddling back up to hobbiton for the night. How clever is that?! And so there we were, peering into this thickening twilight waiting for these surfies to arrive. How silly we must have looked! But out of that great big expanse of dark ocean they surfed on in and waddled on up. We were, as the brochure expresses it, 'captivated by nature'.
Just one day earlier I had been chatting with a young woman who had been selected for the Peer Sexuality Support Programme (PSSP) in her high school. Three days of training and a very thick workbook later, we were having a chat. They knew their stuff! They described what the issues of sexuality are today and how the body and the law and the relationships and the helplines work. It is all in that workbook: from body image to contraception, from anatomical detail to HIV/AIDS, from sexual orientations to shaping values, from cultural issues to gender issues, from eating disorders to sexually transmitted infections, from sexual abuses and coercions to abortions and adoptions ... How clever are these people? It just goes on and on and on. How sad I felt! An ache-y, throbby kind of sadness. Has our society slid so far that someone somewhere now feels that teenagers need to know about all this in such graphic detail?
Penguins and Sexuality. What do these two experiences on consecutive days have in common? Both demonstrate the upsides and downsides of science. The upside of science tends to be that it answers the what and the how questions fully. It is about description and about process. The downside of science is that when it infiltrates penguin colonies and sexuality programmes and fully answers the whats and the hows it really believes - and I emphasise the non-scientific word 'believe' here - it really believes that the task is finished. Explanation is complete.
It isn't. Followers of Jesus cannot accept this. What and How is never the full story. Science does not tend to be wrong as much as it tends to be incomplete. There is also a Who and a Why. No one volunteers this information - but behind those penguins and that sexuality there is a person and a purpose.
There is something sillier than peering into the darkness looking for surfing penguins. It is the silliness of worshipping the penguin, rather than worshipping the penguin's creator.
There is a something sadder than working through a workbook crammed with all the problems associated with teenage sexuality. It is the sadness of recognising that if we followed the maker's instructions it could all be said on a single page.
Penguins and Sex have this in common: they are the designs of a creator who longs for us to ask our whats and hows - but then to frame our responses with wonder and worship.
I rise from the malaise that has engulfed me after NZ's dismal final week at the cricket World Cup to offer just one more 'first eleven'. One of the more complicated roles in the church today is 'leading worship'. It is tough! I have a lot of empathy for worship-leaders ... In fact I have a discussion with a worship team tonight and here are the questions I will be encouraging them to ask:
How important is it for our worship to reflect all four seasons in human life - summer, autumn, winter, and spring? How could worship engage more authentically with peoples' winters and autumns - as this is where most of them spend much of their time?
How important is it for our worship to be always contemporary? How could worship connect more with what is pre-contemporary and post-contemporary, respecting both the history and the hope that is designed to impact our present experience as followers of Jesus?
How important is it for our worship to be something more than singing? We all know it is and yet we all keep defaulting back to this. How could worship be seen to be and nurtured to be something that includes singing ... but so much more as well?
How important is it for our worship to be biblically accurate in what we affirm? How could the teachings of the Bible better enrich and restrain our practise of worship?
How important is it for our worship to affirm the reality of both the transcendent and the immanent God, the God who is way beyond us and the God who is beside us? How could we ensure a balance in this area in our worship?
How important is it for our worship to be realistic in what we pronounce to God? How could our bold statements along the lines of 'You are the only one I want' be tempered by a greater truthfulness where we focus more on God and what he does, rather than on me and what I will do?
How important is it for our worship to be appealing to those who are not followers of Jesus? Should worship carry the burden of evangelism? How could we focus more intentionally on making our worship appealing to God - and then allow Him to carry the burden of drawing people to himself if he chooses to do so through the beauty of our authentic worship?
How important is it for our worship to be so similar to what is happening elsewhere? How could we think more independently and imaginatively under God's direction to do and to be something more unique in our own setting?
How important is it for our worship to be inclusive of everyone who gathers? How could we 'push back' the danger of worship teams becoming bands who perform as well as the danger of the congregation becoming mere attenders rather than genuine participants?
How important is it for our worship to feature an engagement with God's word so late in the 'worship service' (that climax to our week of worship)? How could more of the worship service be structured as a lingering response to hearing God's word, rather than having us rush out so soon after hearing it?
How important is it for you to convene as a small group for a season and work through Stephen Worsley's new resource together - http://www.onestepaheadworship.com/ ... I think it is very important!