Monday, June 01, 2009

"Mom, is that church music?"

The other day, I was listening to my Coldplay Radio on Pandora (an online music service that plays continuous music based on a song or artist that you enjoy, a kind of make your own commercial free radio station) while I was cleaning the kitchen, when my son walked in.

“Mom,” he asked, “is that church music?”

Heh.

Coldplay is a very successful and critically acclaimed British alternative rock band. The fact that my son would compare their sound to the music he hears at church says, in my humble opinion, some very good things about that worship band.

But I was also intrigued by how my son’s frame of reference for music is what he hears at church. Church is the context in which he views or thinks about music. And that got me thinking—and dreaming. If our children’s perception of music related to when we gather can change like this, then surely their perception of “church” itself can, too.

If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that my own understanding of what it means be the church has changed over the last few years. And I’m still working out what it means to be this people of God that God calls and enables us to be. Recently, that perception was tweaked again as I read through New Testament scholar Scot McKnight’s series on the Kingdom Gospel at Jesus Creed (I compiled a list of links here). In particular, I have been soaking in this observation:
The gospel is about church formation before it is about personal formation.
As I read through this series, I realized how much I still hold on to an individualized and limited understanding of the gospel—what McKnight calls the “God and me” gospel. But when we read the Bible as the Story, McKnight points out, “we discover that the focus is overwhelmingly on God forming a covenant community.” This series pushes me to grapple with and grasp the truth that God’s attention to me is not simply for me alone but even more so as part of his formation of his people—one of people personally commited to Jesus. The whole Story “converges onto one person,” says McKnight. “In fact, the Story is a Person.” And in our reading, McKnight reminds us, we see Jesus gathering “a community made up of all sorts and it is especially populated by those at the margins of society.”

When we start to shift our perspective from a “me” based gospel, it leads to a broader, deeper understanding of the Good News—one that McKnight puts forth in his final post in the series, and one that I am still trying absorb:
If the kingdom is the solution, what was the problem? The community of God gone awry. What is the solution? A community standing on its feet, heart transformed, eyes and ears open, and a willingness to live as one.

Let's return to the gospel that deconstructs the church and offer its alternative:God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.

But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.

The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you - so you all can live as the beloved community.

If you enter into Jesus' story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.

Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God's community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.
How would we change if the gospel expanded like this and really sank into our hearts? What would we look like? I think we would look a lot more like all those kingdom images that I’ve been gathering: bubbles and molecules, a collection, new wine skins, upside-down, a man looking with love at his wife, a cultivated inner life, a father’s love for a wayward-but-returning son, violence overcome with love, knowing Life will out”, severed ropes, more like an embrace than a bridge, a better and far country, learning to see right, learning to live unbroken, the love between a father and son, opening a vein, sharing a meal, seeing in green, a dance, present to grief and pain without shelter or reserve, seeing and hearing like Jesus, collecting fall leaves, a brother’s love, true friendships, New York city life, “a membership even cul-de-sacs or a good wine.

And, in the wake of my son’s comments above, now I can’t help but wonder and dream of what would it would look like if our children took for granted that that is what it is to be the church.

And that makes my breath catch and my eyes go all blurry.

But will that ever be? Too often, I get discouraged. We are such a shadow of who we are called to be, and I sometimes wonder how we could ever become a people like that. But recently, in a discussion about how God commands us to forgive, I wondered aloud if God would tell us do something if he wasn’t going to enable us to do so. Now I’m hearing my words spoken back at me, reminding me that God wouldn’t call us be a people like this if he wasn’t going to enable us to be so.

And hearing my son take for granted that church music is good music reminds me of this. I am reminded that God is a God who remembers his promises to his people, that he will show us how to become those he calls and enables us to be.

(Image: my Pandora web page)

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