This is a suitcase that belonged to my grandfather. In it are books that sat on the bookshelf in his den for decades. They aren’t particularly important books, but they have sentimental value. While it has been almost five years since he passed and we packed up and sold the family house, inside this suitcase are the smells of the home that I loved so much. When I open it I am flooded with memories. I only let myself do it once or twice a year…because I want to trap the past inside.
Last night I thought of the suitcase after seeing a picture of my Grandfather. I reminded myself that it was time to open it up again (I don’t think I have since moving to Monroe). So I sat it in the middle of the floor and I cracked the old latches. I held the books up to my nose and I pretty much put my head in the suitcase and took in the various odors that make up so many childhood memories. Then I shut it, and it will stay that way for months.
Memory is important to us as humans. It catches us up in so many things. In worship, we are exercising Christian memory. Just as I occasionally open up this suitcase to remind myself of my family, worship opens up the story of salvation to the congregation. But what separates Christian memory from my suitcase sessions is that in the church we have an active memory. Our memory is participation, insisting upon a present and future as well as a past. In the mysteries of the divine we have an interactive relationship with our God and what he has done for us.
This is why worship isn’t passive or just something that is about us. Individualism doesn’t solely reign in worship. Our individual stories are taken together as we come before Christ as his bride, as the body and congregation. This is an active life that we have with God, and by his gracious physical gifts to us we participate in this love with him. That is why the sacraments and means of grace are important.
Worship re-stories us into the reality that the kingdom of God is real, amongst us but also projecting us towards the future where God will dwell with us. It breaks us free from the world and creates a heart fully in love with God. The scriptures become part of who we are, not just a handy information book. This is rememberizing….
As much as I love this suitcase, it won’t cause new memories to happen. But the worship of the church is participating with the old as well as causing the new. Simply reminding ourselves of things doesn’t give proper service to who our God is. ….
There are a few days left in July, but since I have been gone for a week we will jump the gun.
Here are the top 5 posts in the month of July. Thanks for engaging and sharing.
1. 3 Reasons the Church Should Understand the Zombie Apocalypse.
2. Making Great Worship Graphics on the Cheap.
3. Does it make you any more Holy?
4. Why Church Camp Still Matters.
5. The Most Important Word in Worship Design is…
These next 8 days will involve me surrounded by plenty of my under 18 friends as well as a couple who are over 18. Yes, I am going to youth camp. Leading a group of kids halfway across the country in large vehicles, our goal is the Tennessee Outreach Project, or MT. Top.
These trips wear you out, shut down several work weeks before departure and tend to disrupt normal life.
It is totally worth it.
I am happy to see many churches have continued to encourage some sort of camp experience as part of their programming. I think any church should at least offer this, and build the rest of a yearly program around camp. You can never go wrong with setting time apart and focusing on God.
Here are a few reasons Church Camp Matters
1. It creates a new experience.
You could say this is the reason all others spring forth. Camp is a sociological experiment. In it you take tons of kids our of their element. You mix them up, change their schedule, deny them the level of privacy they are used to and generally give them a much more rigid schedule than normal. Camp puts attendants (adults and youth) in an unseen sociological phenomenon crafted to change everything.
It throws them off.
In the middle of this chaos their is one stability. They hear about Jesus a lot. They become receptive to the Holy Spirit in new ways. People begin to contemplate and feel the love of the Father in ways never sensed before. Since distractions are eliminated and
In short, camp allow people to experience God.
2. It builds unknown relationships
One of the things I always appreciated about camp was meeting new people. The youth at St. Paul’s LOVE this part of our trip. They look forward to the relationships they begun last year and hope to see their friends again. They consciously voice how they want to be around different people. Trust me, the kids from different parts of the country are really different from ours and it makes our experience stronger.
But the students also socialize amongst themselves in new ways. They make friends they might have not encountered during school. It might be age, grade, location or social circles. Camp allows relationships to begin and flourish in unexpected ways.
3. Expectancy is taken home.
This is the hard one. Everyone is familiar with the post camp high. Some people loose it after a few days. Others are changed eternally. They sense the world with different emotions.
They start to expect to see God move.
They start to assume you will see God in the world and begin to pattern life after that assumption.
They start to expect to see God move.
In college I was coming out of a really tough season of life. I enjoyed the idea of “Christian Liberty”. At the time, this theological idea was becoming popular. It focused on the New Covenant and emphasized freedom from certain legalities. To put it simply, it meant Baptists were drinking beer in public.
A friend who I held very close back then and I still hold close (he’s actually family now) had an honest conversation with me. This relationship had been a HUGE part of me really sorting things out and I trusted and respected Jason. In the midst of my own inner turmoil, we had one of these honest conversations. The phrase I remember the most was
“Chad, it might be ok…but does it make you any more holy?”
I have held on to those words for years. The phrase has provided different answers during seasons of my life. I can think of three distinct phases when my answer has changed and caused me to reflect on practices in my life.
In college, this phrase made me seriously reconsider what I was allowing myself to do, watch, talk about and spend my time doing. I asked myself about many activities “Is this making me any more Holy?” and found surprising answers. I am certain this season shaped and prepared me for my future. I found the difference between acceptable and holy. I got over hang ups and what I now consider to be serious overreactions on my part. I learned about self-control. I learned the way I acted around others mattered. I learned to think about other people.
When I was in seminary the question changed. I was digging my academic work. For the first time I was doing well in school and enjoyed putting in long hours. Complicated things became easy for me. I was excelling in certain things and experiencing joy and emotions I never had before.
Was it making me any more holy?
I was realizing I was learning a lot about God. What I wasn’t doing was consistently getting closer to Jesus. My scripture reading was for academic pursuits and not for the soul. Serious examination had to happen. It was all highly beneficial.
I begun patterns of devotion, prayer and Christian relationships to redirect my focus primarily on my own relationship to God and put my schoolwork afterwards. Funny thing, my work became even better once I did this.
When I transitioned into full time ministry the question changed again. I had found myself keeping my devotional routine. I was proud of the fact it survived a really big shift in life. I found myself only having 1 job for the first time in 5 years (instead of the 3-4 I kept in seminary). I didn’t have schoolwork to do at night. I actually could relax!
The only issue was the previous ways I chose to spend my spare time weren’t really fun any more. I ended up spending my downtime time watching TV and just laying around. At this point I also started to think intentionally about the necessity of margin in life.
Wesley talks about “redeeming the time”, putting intentional practices in our moments of downtime. I needed to redeem the time. Me vegging out wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t making me any more holy. There was a difference between a favorite television show and just scanning and constantly switching between channels.
I found new hobbies that brought in relaxation and reflection. I concentrated on creating new times and practices of prayer to use.
I am sure in the future I will begin asking myself the question about holiness again. I hope I never stop asking myself the question.
So I ask it to you.
What part of your life do you need to examine?
What practices are making you more holy?
I absolutely LOVE pop culture. I write about it a lot. I also love zombies. They provide a perfect metaphorical image for many different situations, and the local church needs to listen and understand this cultural fascination with zombies.
I have a two fold approach in handling eschatology (the study of the end times), and one of them is playful. A big part of my interest in eschatology surrounds popular culture and the way it views any sort of apocalyptic situation. Zombies are hot right now. They are potentially the modern (secular) worlds favorite end times theory. Zombies have a somewhat complex fabric, with the rules written in multiple places and theories made plausible from the stories they inhabit.
3 Reasons the Church Should Understand the Genre of Zombie Apocalypse.
1. The Zombie Movie as Social Criticism:
While the average watcher or reader would doesn’t feel they are part of a fictional sociological narrative, zombies aren’t just there for story. They are giving a subversive look at our culture. Social Criticism is the guiding principle of the modern zombie. George Romero (the director of Night of the Living Dead and the zombie Grandfather) started the idea of zombie stories/movies being a form of social critique.
What directors and writers in this genre have done is to take multiple angles in story telling to point out flaws and injustices in our society. They use the response of the survivors to point towards the depths of human animistic action. Night of the Living Dead explores both power relations as well as the tumultuous events of the late 1960’s. Other zombie films critically present the idea that as humans we have dehumanized ourselves through an aggressive pattern of capitalism. Finally, Zombieland explored narcissism and the need for community from the perspective of a ragtag group of survivors on a quest to visit a theme park in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.
As Christians, zombie movies provide an interesting glimpse into the way that secular culture views itself prophetically. What might be the downfall of humanity? How do we then add input about our understanding of human nature as being created in the image of God and also affected by a fall?
2. Zombies provide a hermeneutic for understanding culture:
A good friend has an interesting way of looking at Christian life currently as residing inside the zombie apocalypse. This provides a framework of understanding the Christan life as a pilgrim people, living in a foreign world. A former pastor ran with this theme and thought the Church should understand it’s role as survivors bent on finding other survivors and safety.
I wrote a sermon a few years ago about Sacraments and Zombies; how the idea of being undead is an encouraging metaphor for devotion and formation towards God. If anything, the idea that popular culture is fascinated with Zombies, the situation (due to their nature as social critique) allows us to engage inside of it and at the same level.
This isn’t taking advantage and hijacking something for the kitsch factor (like a Lord of the Rings bible study), but realizing that the zombie apocalypse is a figurative playground were the Church can call things out, provide contrast and deal with subliminal issues.
3. Zombies as punishment:
In the now classic “The Walking Dead” premiere, there was a scene where the main character looked inside an abandoned house and found two corpses that appeared to be an assisted and an unassisted suicide. On the wall, scrawled in blood, was the phrase “God Save Us’. In many zombie movies and stories, there is the idea that the disease/virus is the result of divine judgement and the survivors either recognizing or at least mentioning it. Inside of this judgement, man is allowed to completely consume himself. It is as though God as stepped away, pulled the incarnation out of the world and taken away prevenient grace.
The desires of materialism, lust, power, food, and many other things are what disintegrate society and turn us into consumptive monsters that have reached the ultimate of sins. In our final grasp, we begin to literally feed on each other, and the remaining few metaphorically understand the ills of society and run from being consumed by them.
This gives the Church a dramatic look into how society is satirically looking at what it believes deep down. I think that the popularity of these films is Western Culture’s hidden admission of these sins. Christian leaders should be realizing what and how popular culture is analyzing open and willing sins, and the genre of Zombie films provide this confession.
How Churches Can Anticipate the Zombie Apocalypse.
The 5 Records that Saved Christian Music for Me.