Maybe I am scared of crowds, maybe I am jaded beyond normal British levels or maybe I am just a bit of a grump but no matter the reason, I am no fan of Christian festivals. I have been to them every year for a while. When I am there, I find my negativity drawn by the cheesy t-shirts playing bad puns on box office classics or the cliché soaked morning greetings in the shower queue (e.g. ‘I hope the living water in that shower, is filled with the fire of the spirit. I can’t stand a cold shower.’ Vomit!) By halfway through ‘holy week’ I am visibly distressed, searching the perimeter for some kind of escape route; one more ‘introduce to yourself to someone’ and I may just flip out. I am not going this year.
I am so clever aren’t I? No, no I’m not. You see most of my issues at these events is based on an arrogant sense that I know better. That these things aren’t worthwhile, or they are run badly, or that people’s greetings are fake. I don’t know when I realised I knew everything, but my behaviour has suggested it was at least 4 years ago. Two things happened this week that made me reconsider my attitude.
I was round at some friends house on Saturday for a barbecue (why else does summer exist?) and the conversation drifted through meats, allotments, The Lonely Island, Justin Timberlake and eventually to Christian festivals. My host challenged me with a passionate defense of the big christian gathering.
He spoke of the levels of expectancy that these gatherings bring with them. The fact that people set aside that time to seek God. One sentence he said struck me more than others, ‘people genuinely expect God to move in their lives and the He does.If only we had that level expectancy every Sunday. I didn’t mention it at the time, but I was really challenged by his faith in the God of the festival. The same God who I try extra hard to keep in my ‘small church is better’ box. The God who works in the 5000 seat venue and the 4 person cell group. I have been thinking about it ever since.
The second moment was when I read a blog on CNN’s website telling of the reasons why my generation and the one after mine is leaving the church. One line jumped out at me more than the others, ‘we’re leaving the church because we don’t see Jesus there.’ Generally I agreed with some of the sentiment of the blog, but this line slapped me in the face. What is it that makes people like me and the writer of that blog think that Jesus is more present in the church I would run than the one that exists now? What makes us think that we know better than those older than us? I am in no way calling Rachel (the writer of that blog) arrogant, I am saying her blog showed me my own.
These two moments have played over in my head this week and I think they might for a while yet. Here are the lessons I am learning mainly in the form of yet to be answered questions. What if I have decided that Jesus can only be found where I think he is? What if Jesus is showing me things about himself that aren’t the things that I want to see? What if hidden amongst music I don’t love and people not like me is the hope of the world, calling from a broken gathered community to a world that needs him as much as it ever did? What if Jesus is changing people’s lives in campsites up and down the country this summer and I am calling it hype and ‘crowd culture?’ What if every time I look at churches that don’t look like ours and decide they are wrong, judgemental and ungracious institutions that I am in fact pointing out the weaknesses in a beautiful group of people who are loved as much as I am?
Maybe it isn’t time for our generation to leave the church. Maybe it is time for my generation to seek the God of the church with those who have long before we were born. Maybe we are to listen as much as we speak. Maybe we are to hear the lessons they have learnt more than we are to teach them a lesson. What if the Jesus we think has left the church promised that He never would, and in fact he is there as much as he always has been calling us all on to grace and freedom; even those we don’t agree with.
I am a work in progress, just like everyone else. Help me Jesus to see the log caught in my lashes before I pick at the dust in the eyes of others. Forgive my arrogance.