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Out Of The Box

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'Out Of The Box'

The new language of 'Management Speak' has thrown up some zany ideas, and some great ideas, and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which! What did we do before we had 'Facilitators' and 'Enablers'? When did Redundancy become 'Downsizing'? When did simply giving value for money become 'Total Quality Management'? 

One piece of management jargon that has lots of truth, however, is the challenge to 'think outside the box' - a challenge to break loose from conventional patterns of thought, try new concepts, explore new territory, new ideas. The harsh truth is - we're all in a box. We do need to learn to 'think outside the box' or else we will stagnate and miss out on dimensions of truth. We all need to learn to 'think outside the box'. 

The disciples were in at least two boxes - who Jesus was or could be … It was impossible for them to think beyond accepted categories. In the gospels we keep encountering the element of surprise - who is He? - a recurring plaintive cry from those who are desperately searching for a pigeon-hole into which they can put this mysterious and intriguing Son of Man. 'We don't have vocabulary or concepts for this…' they wail. So for them it is easier to get back in the box, back to the traditional boundaries, back to the library of labels that have worked so far in telling the story of the faith of Israel . 

The second box the disciples inhabit is all about Messiah - the expected and sought-after national hero who would save the people from the indignities of occupation and oppression - what it means - what expectations they bring - the clichés and the categories - and the hopes and dreams of a nation - how they were to be fulfilled - tight limits - clear delineations - to do with power mostly. That was their box. Historical factors come into play - classic lyrical descriptions kick in - old paradigms like David and Solomon - lingering legends - images of success - conquest and expansionism - national ego and belligerence.  

It was hard for them - locked into these images and used to working with these ancient models - to think outside the box on this one, and therefore to adjust their view so as to incorporate a Messiah who talks about his death as if it was the solution and not the problem, who embraces the servant-role as if it was made for him, and offers it as a lifestyle to those who would follow him. How do you get your head around that, when from childhood you have been fed images of knights on white chargers, inspiring the troops and driving out the bad guys? 

And we have boxes, outside of which we are dared to take our thinking. The Church is certainly one! We hugely underestimate how much 'coming from the inside' affects our ability to think clearly, still less radically, about the Church - the need to start afresh, to look again - even to be aware of where we are - so much baggage and so many lovely old clothes! We like the secure walls - buildings - systems - models - liturgies - styles. New eyes are hard to find on all of that. But if we can't find those new ideas, where do we find the vision? What possibilities do we lose out on? What do we become?  


Another box we inhabit is to do with Style of Church - the working model we use to be the Church - which is still more often to see it as a place, not as a people - a precious institution to be preserved - not a rag-tag family to be loved through all the rough and tumble of our shared pilgrim journey. Our thinking about church and churches is locked into notions of numbers - what is viable - what is impressive - mega-churches are admirable - little churches are worthless. In the great scheme of things size matters - not sharing and intimacy, numbers - not nearness. We have a constant struggle to propose and make real, to promote another model, for we meet resistance from within our own thinking as well as from others.  

The truth is - we like the box! Also part of that sense of being trapped and contained is to do with who we are - Scottish, Presbyterian, East of Scotland, 21st century people locked in a largely 19th century box. Some like it - some don't. Buildings, bureaucracies, methods redolent often of another time and another place speaking less and less to NOW. 

Some are also working from within a view of the Church as being a place of passivity. We watch from the sidelines, we observe, we reflect, we shake our heads in impotent frustration as the world rolls on. Should we be challenged to 'think outside the box' and embrace the notion of a Church that takes action, chooses action, who would be up for it? Who would dare be a Church where we are invited in the Spirit of God to move beyond personal piety to feel the Power, experience the Passion, make the Commitment, pay the price of Real discipleship? And how aware are we that we have allowed ourselves to be locked into the 'wordy, vocal church' box? What place silence - symbol - experience - when you can have meetings, minutes, motions? What place meditation and prayer and stillness when you can have sermons and committees and discussion? The silent church? 

I was forced, pretty much screaming and kicking, out of the box of my West of Scotland, Protestant, 60's crypto-evangelical bunker mentality into the bright light of the wider Church when I was on my travels during my study leave. I was made to see other ways of doing Christian devotion, other styles of worship coming out of different histories, just as vibrant, just as valid, just as wonderful as anything I had grown accustomed to. It was stirring and salutary, and strangely discomfiting, and it was a blessing beyond telling. Like pit ponies that used to scream in the bright sunlight when they were brought up from the mines where they had grown used to working in the dark, so we might find the dazzling light of new experiences hurting us…at first, but it is a better place to be - in the fresh sunlight of new insights, different thoughts, in the fresh air of new truths 

The tragedy and danger is that when it comes to the mission and outreach of the Church, it's the BOX that gets in the way! The box blocks and bars entire generations, acts as a barrier to understanding and response. Not surprisingly, people turn their backs on organized religion and opt for some diffuse, vague spirituality. Why? Because the things we do and the way we do them do not engage them, do not inspire them. They can't see beyond the box, inside of which a defensive church huddles. 

But that day on the mountain-top the box lid was lifted! The disciples were gobsmacked, stunned and overwhelmed by the glory of Christ in one breathtaking moment of understanding, insight and intimacy with him. Are we ready for what we might see, ready for the glory, the raw experience, the out-of-our-control religion of awe? It's as if there has been a conspiracy to suppress AWE in favour of non-stop entertainment. It's all about keeping the attention rather than captivating the heart and silencing the soul before the mystery and the numinous and the otherness of God that somehow speaks to the deep places. It's very tempting to want the reassuring sound of laughter more than AMENS. 

We can either make it a walk of faith, or opt for easy familiarity, the comfortable enslavement of the box we know and love. So how do we 'think outside the box'? How does it happen? It happens when we are willing to seek out the mountain-top experience, embrace it, risk it, allow it to happen. It's about taking opportunities to be at new places, experience new aspects of our faith - whether it be approaching a new hymn with an open mind, or a different form of service, or a style of worship that challenges our comfort-zone religion.  

It's about taking opportunities to peek out of the box and maybe, tentatively, to go somewhere new in our faith experience - be that a new experience of sharing in prayer or the intriguing experience of being in a different location - making and taking opportunities to re-locate our experience of God - somewhere new, somewhere threatening - Lindisfarne - Nunraw - the beach - Carberry Chapel - or the courageous embrace of a new closeness with each other and with God. If we don't go there, we won't find what there is to find. 

We are called to be there with Him - in the startling intimacy of the mountain-top experience. Then when we have understood the full implications of that moment, we are to tell the world that the glory of the Lord has risen upon you - the Light of the world has come. 

Rev Lawrence Twaddle, September 2004


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