sewing up the curtain

14 09 2014

So often it seems we celebrate the curtain being torn in two, then spend Sunday mornings trying to stitch it back up again. Maybe if your church is anything like ours, you know what I mean. We talk about being able to approach the throne of grace with confidence, then we design our churches like throne rooms with the ‘special bit’ where God is, over there, whether it’s an altar (it’s a table. A TABLE!), or the pulpit, or the worship band stage – it’s where the important stuff happens anyway. And it’s over there. Up there. Elevated.

the bishop wasn’t convinced about the reordering of the chancel

I know my denomination is probably worse than yours. We use words like altar, we have priests, special clothes… all of this serves to create this image that we say one thing, then do the other. We talk about a level playing field, whilst we build our side higher. But I guess most denominations are as bad. All church leaders know people – in church and outside of it – who think we have a ‘hotline’ to God, that we can ‘put a good word in’ because somehow our word is ‘worth more’. Like we’re some kind of religious order of butlers, taking messages and carrying the dinner and knowing the secrets of the King.

I understand why. It makes more sense to think that we all need someone else to approach God for us. Because that’s like real life. We don’t get to talk to the big wigs, we have to go through go-betweens. And God is the biggest of bigwigs. And it’s scary too, to think of approaching God. Especially if our picture of God is coloured by memories of strict headmasters or vicars who tell you off for genuflecting half a second late. So we let other people do it – the ordained, the prophetic, the musical…

But we are all welcome to approach God with confidence. His throne is a throne of grace, not malice; of mercy, not judgement. We have to intentionally choose to believe that. Choose to trust, not to fear. Otherwise it is like stitching the temple curtain back up again. 

This matters, it really matters. Because there are some people in this world who walk round with a sense of entitlement, but I don’t meet many. Most people I meet carry a sense of belittlement, of insignificance, so will hide outside the door to God’s throne room forever in fear of what he will do if he catches them sneaking around. We need to change that.

Church, let’s remember the curtain came down. Let’s leave it down. 





5 responses

14 09 2014

Interesting stuff… I have been thinking about this recently quite a lot. Often, and for good reasons like practicality and running churches, church is full of unwritten rules and secret initiations. Not just altars and priests. Heard some good stuff about empowerment through participation at Greenbelt (this is the gist anyway – it didn’t have such a neat or fancy title) which I am mulling over. Even as someone who has been around C of E for many years I often don’t know how to get on this committee or who is allowed to do x,y or z and why. I am wondering whether it’s possible to have churches that emphasise wider participation over rotas/committees etc and let God work everything else out? Whether we can have participation without exceptions? And whether that would as you say, keep the curtain down…

14 09 2014

Interesting yourself! I think there’s been many attempts to do that sort of church, from the beginning onwards. Trouble with humans is that when we get beyond a group of friends, we need organising, however informal we want to be. So, there’ll always be a leader or leadership team, there’ll be an “in-crowd”, the keen ones, the hangers-on…

So we don’t need to beat ourselves about it, but we do need to be regularly reflective so see how we look to outsiders, which may just be people outside of our particular clique/house group/team/band. God helps us to work things out by giving us spreadsheets!

14 09 2014

Yes I appreciate the importance of spreadsheets generally… And until recently I would have certainly agreed but having heard about some places where it does work in practice I would be interested in seeing how… Or trying it out every now and then. Perhaps though as you say we need to name our values (practices, rituals etc) so that everyone at least knows what they are/how you get in to the club etc…

14 09 2014

Naming the values & rituals is a good idea. So is trying out something new in practice… perhaps regularly, more than every now and then, unless one of the values is irregularity. Haha.

15 09 2014

If you watch athletes preparing for a big race. or footballers getting ready for a big match, or other sportsmen, they often have little rituals which help them concentrate and get ‘in the zone’.Many of them serve little practical purpose but do serve a ‘spiritual’ purpose of tuning in. The rituals we have in worship can, and often do, perform a similar role.The big Christian jamborees, who knock the ways of the denominations, all have their own rituals. They help us to tune in to God, concentrate and to know what we are expecting to happen, and that can be very helpful. Of course when the ritual takes over from the actual purpose it has a bad affect, so we need to keep our rituals in place and refresh them.

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