Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Incarnational Living
I'm thinking about incarnation living. At least that's what I'm calling it. Let me explain.

This begin a couple of weeks ago with an advertisement flyer:

Are you ready for worship beyond the walls of the church? Come and worship with us at the Dame... Worship that will awaken your soul

And the location will be a club. A bar. A live music venue. The kind I wouldn't invite Mom along to. I'm intrigued. I talk this up for two weeks. And so Sunday comes along and there are seven of us seminarians who make the trek downtown.

I've been asked numerous times since, "What'd you think? How'd it go?"

Ahem, um, they meant well.

What I felt I don't know how else to describe but as a dis-incarnational experience. I'm looking at the flyer again now:
...we have a growing relationship with a Lexington nightclub to hopefully have a weekly location... so that we might partner with local churches to reach college students and young adult outside the walls of the local church.

What I witnessed struck me more like a grown-up youth group than the indie rock concert I attended in a similar venue a few months back. What we watched--an admittedly sang along with--felt like a worship cover band. Darrell Evans. Chris Tomlin. The standards. Complete with Powerpoint presentation with song credits. Nothing quite like seeing "Darrell Evans, 1992" projected on the wall of a club.

I counted 37 total in attendance. That included the seven with me, the three other seminarians we met outside and the employees of the establishment. The place could probably pack 150-200 sweaty bodies. Just imagine 37 spaced out like the electrons on those junior high chemistry film strips of atoms. One of us came up with the image of eighth grade dance where everyone stands around awkwardly waiting for someone else to get into the music first.

On stage was a band of five, the stereotypical praise and worship band setup. There's a law--I'm guessing somewhere in 1 Thessalonians--that says the lead singer must play acoustic guitar, there must be a lead electric, rhythm electric, bass guitar and drum kit. And if you want to go out really trendy and edgy, you get a jimbe. And each song, instrumentally speaking, was played exactly the same.

Furthermore, it appeared as though ever trace of alcohol had been wiped clean from the place. The ornate faux-ivory tap handles had been removed. A red cloth covered the bar with bags of chips and bottled water. A sign read: "Doritos - 50 cents." It was comical, really. Gotta clean the place up for Jesus to show.

We tried to process all this on the way home.

"It was like somebody thought, hey, wouldn't it be a great idea to do worship in a bar?"

"Anybody know what they do in bars?"

"Yeah, we could totally reach those people and witness to people at the bar!"

We played this conversation out to its sad, sarcastic and cynical conclusion. I hope I'm not being a bad influence.

I can write and joke about this because I know for a painful fact I've done this myself. I've sat in on enough leadership meetings and planning forums to see that point when the Body falls more in love with the program than with the Christ and his Bride.

Do we think it will make us cool in the eyes of the world to bring our church service to a bar? Is it a sordid curiosity to see how the other half lives? Do we do it to justify our guilty conscience to "go out into all the world"? Is it even possible to do something like this out of love for a Beautiful Savior, for broken people and for good music?

What I saw missing Sunday--and what I see missing from much of the efforts of Christian evangelization in my world--is Incarnation. The best example of Incarnation I know is found in Phillipians 2. Paul describes Jesus, "who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (2:7, NIV).

I'm supposed to be reading Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan right now. It's after 2 am and I've a 100 pages to go with a page review due in 12 hours. What Donovan speaks about is right in line with this idea of Incarnation as he describes his experience attempting to express the Gospel to an East African tribe:
I had no right to disrupt this body of customs, of traditions. It was the way of salvation for these people, their way to God. It was one of the nations to whom we had to bring the gospel--bring the gospel to it as it was. In those lay their possibility for salvation" (24).

Incarnation means existing in two spheres simultaneously. Jesus embodied the completeness of God. He also embodied the frailty and vulnerability of a man. Good luck wrapping your mind around that paradox. Perhaps it's the logical conundrum that so vexes us and prevents from being both the children of God and human beings at the same time.

But Paul's immediate preceding words to his declaration of the double nature of Christ are, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." We are to be a Body Incarnate. We are to live in two worlds simultaneously. When Christ removed barrier between men and God, he also demolished the wall between secular and sacred. They are one and the same.

However, what I saw Sunday was a failure to speak the language. I saw the Christian sub-culture artificially transposed onto a foreign context. It was an ill-fitting suit. I try to imagine what such an event might look like if it were organized and composed by people who lived incarnationally, by people who spoke the language of both Jesus and the post-college indie rocker crowd. Could it be different? What would it look like?

And I try to imagine what I might look like if I truly lived with one foot firmly in the Body of Christ and one foot firmly in the world around me. What would I look like if I could live incarnationally?

posted by Peter at 1:17 AM
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