Conformity

I’ve been watching the Great British Bakeoff avidly this series, we love it as a family and it, along with Strictly Come Dancing is required viewing in our house. This week they were working with advanced dough, and the showstopper at the end was doughnuts…two sets of 18 doughnuts, that’s 36 doughnuts that had to be delicious, look stunning, and most importantly be uniform in their presentation, bake and flavour.

This Sunday at EBC we’re hosting a Soul Survivor Sunday. While we don’t meet in a big top, we are going to take out half of the chairs, turn off the lights, get the moving head lights to turn a bit more frantically and are even getting some tents into the hall…it won’t quite be the full experience (we have proper toilets and no rain indoors…), but it will be close…and plenty silly enough to entertain and inspire everybody. The passage that we’re using for the talk, as we continue our Story series is Daniel in the lion’s den, a familiar story that many of us will have first heard at Sunday school or its equivalent.

Daniel 6

King Darius was really pleased with Daniel, who he had appointed to administer much of his kingdom. In fact he was so pleased he fully intended to promote Daniel to oversee the whole kingdom on his behalf, which greatly displeased the rest of the administrators and governors, so they did their best to find a scandal or misdemeanour from Daniel’s past that would incriminate him…but they could find nothing. So they conspired against him, and somehow persuaded the king to issue a decree that no one in the kingdom could pray to or worship anyone else other than king Darius. And whether they were very persuasive, or the king was easily persuaded…he agreed and signed the decree.

Daniel was found praying to God, so the conspirators went to the king and told him Daniel had broken the decree and so had to be thrown to the lions. When the king realised what he had done he tried to get out of it, but he had signed himself into a corner. So Daniel was thrown to the lions, a potentially grisly end…but of course we know he continued to pray and the lions would not touch him. The king couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and the next morning as he came nervously to the lion pit, he called for Daniel, expecting the worse. But Daniel welcomed him, honoured his God and his king and stayed safe from the lions. King Darius was delighted, and had Daniel released. What the children’s versions don’t always mention is that king Darius then rounded up the conspirators, realising they had tricked him, and had them thrown to the lions…lets say (in case children are reading) the lions were less subdued than they were when Daniel was sharing their pit…

Conformity

Daniel refused to conform. Despite the pressure of his peers, despite knowing that he would probably be sentenced to death if discovered, he continued to pray openly defying the decree and being honest to who he was. In the clip from Dead Poets Society, the late, great, Robin Williams gets his English class to take a stroll outside. After a short time they drift into step with each other…marching to the same beat, in the same direction…uniformity and conformity, as the rest of the class clap in time. As he says,

“notice how everyone starts off at their own pace, with their own stride…”.

…and

“Conformity…the difficulty of maintaining your own beliefs in the face of others. We all have a great need for acceptance, but we must trust that our beliefs are unique, are your own, even though others may think them odd, or unpopular”.

Same kind of different?

If you call yourself a Christian, which I do, then this is a fundamental. We are called to be different…we should be seen as different. Not different as in beard and sandals or vegetarian; not a stereotypical movie identikit of a Christian. But different in how we react to the world, how we treat our friends, the way we speak and act. And we should be like this all of the time. I heard a great talk from John Mumford many years ago which has stuck with me ever since. He said:

Are you a grapefruit, or a milkshake?

And we all thought he was a bit eccentric.

But the question was, are you a grapefruit, in that you segment your life so that Sunday you’re a Christian, Monday to Friday you work, Saturday you have a day off…everything is kept separate and segmented. Or are you a milkshake, blended, shaken and mixed together without any seams?

It’s easy to conform, to blend in with the crowd, have a quiet weekend, watch the same TV and have the same conversations as everybody else. And to be honest, life will probably be quite comfortable if you follow that path. But isn’t that what everybody else does? Do you want to be the same kind of different, or do you want to walk with your own stride, to your own beat? The choice is yours…

The Holy Police…

BBC 2 has been celebrating their 50th anniversary, and concentrated on 50 years of comedy programming over the past week. As well as the usual talking heads and clip shows, this they have commissioned some special one off episodes of classic and cult series with the existing casts and characters. One of these is The Fast Show, something that I remember watching avidly when it was on…amazingly it only ran for three years from 1994 – 1997. It was (for me) essential viewing and its ensemble of characters and catchphrases could be heard in many offices and pubs across the land…I know that I was guilty of repeating them on many occasions…as I possibly still do…(I recommend the box set for repeated viewing).

The Holy Police was a fast show sketch featuring many of the cast, Arabella Weir has lost her dog, and so goes to the police station to report it. And is greeted by three of the nicest policeman you could ever hope to meet…

Now you may find this sketch slightly irreverent, and clearly they are taking a very tongue in cheek view of Christians. But at the same time, from the outside looking in, we can look like this to many people. As we strive to be relevant in an increasingly secular society, much of our church language and actions can seem just like this clip. How do you explain being overcome by the Holy Spirit? Why do we worship the way we do? What is the big deal about Jesus? The Fast Show crew observed this brilliantly (I am sure that some of them must have had a church background somewhere….)

Why I am I rambling on about this…

We used this clip as a part of a series titled Christianity on Trial, which did just that. We set up a courtroom, had defence and prosecution, and presented arguments for and against church and Christianity, letting the congregation decide on the outcome. It was a really well received series, giving some history and insight into Christianity while also answering some questions and raising some others. The feedback from those that were there was great, and it led to inspiration and ideas for lots of future series.

Although it’s been a long time since I’ve sung Kumbaya, I no longer own a twelve string guitar, and I’ve never possessed a rainbow guitar strap, I can still recognise some of me in this clip. At the end of the day, if we can’t laugh at ourselves a bit, then something is going wrong somewhere. And I have found (as you will, if you continue to follow this blog), that humour can be uniting, disarming, and broad, so I use it often in most of what I do at EBC.

Be honest! Have you ever been “Christian” like this?!