I am amazed by ants. Ants always seem to have a plan, and never a planning committee. They have a purpose, without a PCC. The idea of having a plan without planning it appeals to me. There is a freedom there. The ants plan is: we build ants things and we collect ant stuff without bumping into each other or getting in each others way. We occasionally allow ourselves to sidetracked by some fallen sugar. Rules: 1. Don’t eat white powder. 2. Avoid boiling water. 3. Make holes in the cement between patio slabs. 4. Collect stuff. 5. Be filmed for nature documentaries. That’s it.
Humans need plans. Even the most unplanned of us have secret plans. Take walking. Most of us walk. We walk without thinking. Sometimes we run. Where do we walk? Do we walk aimlessly, randomly, or do we walk to somewhere? There are times when we don’t know where we are walking. I sometimes go for a walk without a plan. Except not to get lost. Except to be home before I get hungry. Except not to walk under a moving vehicle or off a high bridge. So, still a plan then. We walk primarily on pavements or footpaths. We go up the escalator the same way as everyone else. We walk the underground passages on the right. There are things we must do that are not laws or really rules but things that make life flow better.
A while ago we watched some professional parcour runners doing a freestyle free-running display. If you’ve never seen it, check it out on YouTube. It looks like there are no rules and no plan. But still there are. But not normal rules. When interviewed one of them said this: “Free-running is about turning obstacles into opportunities; it is changing your view of the things around you that allows them to change you.” Things that get in other people’s way become bollards to jump off, scaffolding to swing from, walls to back-flip from. Things that keep the rest of us in line become the very things that spawn creativity and make the rest of us jealous.
When followers of Jesus meet together we make a lot of rules. My denomination even calls them laws, they are so exciting. We have rules partly because when humans get together we need them. They are not inherently bad. Ants have rules. Parcour champions have rules. They know what heights are too big or what gaps are too wide. They know how to avoid each other when free-running as a group.
The question for me is, and it’s not a new one for many – what rules do we need? And what rules are just guidelines? What rules may feel like obstacles but can be turned into opportunities? What can we see around us that if we saw differently, would change us? Many people have done thinking on this, and you can look at Jonny Baker’s site or emerging church site for some of that. But many ‘new’ church ideas involve lots of young, creative people with skills in art, design and music. How can we re-think church gatherings for the more elderly, those who haven’t experienced anything new or different, and if they have, didn’t really like it?! Should we even bother?
In my little congregation of mostly over 65’s we tried something called Bacon and Banter last week, instead of ‘normal’ church. Bacon sandwiches, discussion around tables, and then feedback and questions. It worked! Was that ‘church’? There was no singing, no confession, no communion. But there was free-thinking, there was feedback, there was hearing from people who have been following Jesus more than twice as long as I’ve been alive. Obstacles into opportunities?
I think Jesus hung out and talked with people. He did a lot of listening. He wasn’t against rules, but he wasn’t pedantic about them. Neither should we be. Rules are the scaffolding that frames creativity, and sometimes they need to be swung from.