Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Elemental Symbols

Before I begin to chat about elemental symbols today, I just wanted to add a link to a blog post by author/blogger Sarah Bessey that I think provides a moving picture of what it means to worship intergenerationally.

In which the Kingdom of God is also a small family leading worship

And now to elemental symbols. 

What do I mean by elemental symbols? I mean those physical objects and metaphors that grow out of what is most elemental in our world: water, wind, rock, fire, earth, plants, animals. They are the symbols that are used throughout the biblical story. God appears to Moses in a burning bush, Elijah experiences God in a gentle breeze, Isaiah invites the thirsty to come and drink, the Lord is referred to as our rock, Jesus writes in the dust, heals with spit and earth, and washes feet. Even though we are now a people far more "grounded" in concrete and bottled water, we remain a people of the earth. We are part of creation, we are ourselves composed of a great deal of water and we will eventually return to the dust. These symbols speak because they are a part of our very being, no matter how hard we try to sterilize and distance ourselves from the messiness of life on earth.

And because of our common humanity these symbols speak to us regardless of our age. I have watched a young boy stare into the depths of a flame and an elderly woman turn a stone over and over in her palm. These symbols are deep, wide and mysterious. They speak of things far beyond our present knowledge. 

These symbols are not a violent shade of pink or blue, they are not gender specific, they are not made of plastic or foam, they are not things to be used and tossed in landfills, and they do not rely on specific levels of cognitive or emotional development. And as much as it is possible to believe something with certainty, I believe that elemental symbols are universal. 

I believe that when we seek to make our worship intergenerational the answer is not to bring in more plastic toys or gimmicks to entertain.  The answer is not to compete with Disney or Pixar, or to make things more fun for the children. Because whatever is cute or fun when you are 4 is not cute or fun when you are 8, or 12, or 18, or 25, or any other age. Consumer culture, which attempts to entertain and to sell us on all that is fun and immediately gratifying has figured out how to do that very well. They target us. They know their target audience inside and out. And so they create toys of all kinds and corresponding advertisements that target a very specific group. They make toys for girls aged 3-6, and for boys aged 7-9. And they make it impossible for us to play well together. Boys can't play with girl toys, because the toys are pink. Girls can't play with boy toys because they are violent. Teens and adults cannot play with children's toys, because they are simplistic and juvenile, and let's face it, really really annoying (I know this is a broad generalization, there are certainly some toys that do cross age and gender categories). The consumer culture that we inhabit is exceptional at dividing us into categories as they seek to sell us on that which will make us "happy."

Worship is not about what is "fun" or "happy", it is about what is life-giving. It is about joy, sorrow, compassion, justice, peace, reconciliation. Worship that is intergernational is about being the reconciled body of Christ gathered together to worship and be a light to a world that places people in boxes, boxes of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, all with the explicit or implicit understanding that some boxes are worth more than others. In the reconciled diverse body of Christ we all have worth. Each one of us. And as human beings we are worth more than plastic and throw-away toys. We are worth water, wind, rock, fire. 

These are symbols that are deep, wide and mysterious and these symbols speak.

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