I have two brothers, both very creative in their own way. One is typically creative, he works in theatre, writes plays, does improv work. The other brother works with his hands, has a work ethic like you’ve never seen, and is strong as an ox. But Scott is creative as well. One thing he has mastered is the art of repurposing. When my father sold our old home there was old furniture from our 40 years of living and in addition furniture from both sets of our grandparents. My mother insisted we keep all of it.
When my mother died that attachment to all of that “stuff” died as well. My father began the slow process of giving things away, selling things, passing some things along to people we knew. But there were many items we all knew my mother would want us to keep. Trouble was these items were beat up, they weren’t even new when my grandparents acquired them. My brother is a Tech Ed teacher and has a relatively large space for instruction. Unbelievably my brother took those old pieces of furniture and repurposed them so they were useful to his classroom. In the end each piece of furniture looked better than they ever did before!
In the world of church you tend to find two answers to the question, why do you go to church? Absent is the number one reason I heard from church goers for years, “I have to, my family expects it.” One advantage of the lack of status attached to church these days is that those who are present are there by choice. The two most popular answers I hear to the church going question these days are 1) finding comfort and 2) finding a source for meaning.
And this is why conflicts often emerge when worship is fashioned for both groups. If the folks who are searching for meaning want to change something they find overly sentimental or contrary to the meaningful message we are trying to send to our community the folks who find comfort in the way things have been done take offence. The comfort folks don’t necessarily think about what specific words mean in a larger context, only that we have said them for years and saying them in a church with an atmosphere of reverence triggers the comfort they need. The search for meaning folks are frustrated by tradition that has no obvious meaning or meaning that runs against some larger cause. And there you have the seeds of conflict.
My own approach to this age old challenge has been to take the tradition or the comforting words and repurpose them, not change or remove them, but try to infuse them with deeper meaning. An example is John 14 “In my Father’s (God’s) house there are many rooms.” Those who search for comfort find in these words an image that takes them to an old family home with many rooms, a place where their family are reunited. Comfort. The early church worshipped in people’s homes, the services were very organic. The radical part of their identity had to do with who was there, widows, refugees, the poor, the ill, the rich, women serving as leaders, etc… The language of rooms and home was meant to convey a spirit of inclusion, of welcome. So I use the text, and from it funeral participants find comfort but hopefully they also find a connection to something bigger than family, something more meaningful than a family home. Repurposing comfort for a more meaningful experience for others. And so it goes.