Living Fully into the Imagination of God!
And Now For Something Completely Different
— By Andy Wade —
Over at “Red Letter Christians: a blog by Tony Compolo and friends” I read an interesting post exploring the trend of Christians copying successful secular models for business and ideas. At the core, the issue was whether we should be mimicking “the world” or, if as followers of Christ, we have something more creative, imaginative, and transformational to offer. I’ve also been considering this question for quite a while as I’ve watched WWJD bracelets follow Live Strong bracelets, models for conducting church mimic organizational structures/practices in business, GodTube’s attempts at a Christian YouTube, Christian match-making services a near clone of secular match-making services, Christian bookstores transform into stores hocking “Jesus junk”, and now, as the Red Letter Christians article mentions, FaithBook emulating FaceBook. Don’t we have something better to offer?
So often it seems the church follows the trends of culture, all the while denouncing secular culture as “evil”. Even the so-called creative elements of church are, more often than not, just parodies of what’s “working” in the world. I find this disturbing, not just because of the inconsistencies of our rhetoric, but even more because it betrays a lack of bold, imaginative, risk-taking faith in the greatest Creator of all. I’m not saying that learning from others is bad; not at all! But we limit ourselves by simply “christianizing” elements of our culture that seem to be successful.
Several years ago while I was pastoring a church in the Seattle area, one of our members explained his inventive inspiration. “I just look at what God has already created and find new ways to use it,” he told me. “God is the greatest inventor!” The inventor, Roger, looked at how a crustacean focuses light and how God created this animal’s eyes as an array of individual light-channeling prisms. What if, he thought, we turn that around and use it to focus heat? Radiant Optics was born – an innovative, imaginative concept based on creation, resulting in a cost-effective and much more environmentally friendly way to heat large warehouses. They’ve now expanded this line of outdoor heaters for homes and small businesses.
What compels us to mimic the world rather than exploring the richness of God’s imagination? I believe it’s tied into our fast-food life styles. It’s faster and easier to copy what’s out there than to discover through prayer, attention to what God has been and is currently up to, and developing and deepening real, meaningful relationships. “Faster is better, bigger is better, more is better”, becomes our mantra. We’ve cultivated a culture whose greatest fear is missing out on the latest, greatest, and shiniest. And the church, by and large, has bought into this fear, often becoming a cheap imitation of the culture around us.
How do we build our churches and expand God’s Kingdom? We try bigger, better, more expansive, more elaborate churches, programs, advertisements, etc. We mimic the culture. But what’s worse is that while we at first appear to be expanding the Kingdom Purposes of God, we in fact hamstring them! By buying into the system, we make ourselves just another option among many competing for the attention of a world caught up in the scramble to the top. We have to keep expanding. We have to keep coming up with the next greatest thing. Rather than living into the counter-cultural call of Christ, we’ve aligned ourselves with a system that actually drains our financial resources, our energy, our ability to develop deep relationships, and ultimately cheapens our faith.
It’s not enough to baptize the world’s programs, policies, and productions in Christian language. We are called to transform the world. And that transformation begins in each one of us. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This process of spiritual and social transformation results in a new way of thinking, of living, of loving – and it is a rich and abundant alternative to what the world has to offer. A friend just posted on FaceBook, “If you’re tempted by the ‘greener grass’ on the other side of the fence, it might be time to water the grass you’re standing on.” Good point! But then I began thinking about my neighborhood and where the green grass is; it’s in highly watered and fertilized lawns! Yes, I know it’s just a saying. But the point of the idiom is that we’re always looking for something better. So we either move on to greener pastures, or we begin watering and fertilizing our own – so we aspire to what we covet.
But those perfect, green lawns are not natural. They require gallons of water and chemicals to maintain. However, if we look at it from a Kingdom perspective we realize that all of God’s creation is good. We rip out the grass, plant local and sustainable plants, and watch the wonders of God unfold as our yard becomes a safe-haven for all kinds of animals. Yes, that’s a long way to go from an old saying. But the point is, we need to turn the world upside-down and inside-out – or rather, right-side-up and right-side-out! It’s a transformation of our minds, our lives, and our cultures.
One of our prayers for Mustard Seed Village is to become an incubator of imagination and creativity. But we don’t want to be just another “think tank”. We want to be a place that both explores and implements creative ideas which help us both to live more sustainable lives and to live deeper into the heart of our Creator. Somehow we need to create ways to help ourselves, and the church, break free of cultural restraints and walk into the wild abundance and imagination of God.
Perhaps there is a place for GodTube or Faithbook or WWJD bracelets. But my question is, why limit ourselves to what’s already being done? When God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” I get the feeling that perhaps there’s a better way than just copying the world.
What are your thoughts?