Monthly Archives: June 2016

Lord Smiley-Face

[from the archives]

Once there was a man who lived as a worshipper of Lord Smiley-Face. He grew up singing the smiley songs to Lord Smiley-Face, and faithfully attended his weekly worship services. Lord Smiley-Face was, as you might imagine, a grinning deity, who was most pleased if during worship, his followers grinned, giggled and displayed cheerful, chipper attitudes. In fact, if his followers were upbeat, positive and humourous more often than not, they were regarded as holy.smiley

As the man lived in the world, he began to notice that the worship Lord Smiley-Face required did not seem to match the pain and difficulty of life. He wondered within if Lord Smiley-Face had any place for sorrow, distress, confusion, longing, or even hatred. Lord Smiley-Face’s simple yellow countenance seemed so inadequate to match the darkly-textured contours of life.

In desperation, he picked up the Word of Smiley-Face he heard mentioned so often, and purposed to read it sincerely and wholeheartedly. What he found therein shocked him. He found that the deity spoken of within the Word of Smiley-Face was nothing like the pictures, songs and sermons he had heard. In fact, the deity of the Word was not Lord Smiley-Face at all, even though Lord Smiley’s face was on most of the covers he could remember. This deity portrayed within the Word was large-hearted and compassionate. He was mysterious and hard to understand, and yet willing to be known. He was immensely powerful, and not to be trifled with. He was fully acquainted with human pain, and had even shared in it Himself.

The man read of this Deity with trembling. As he read further, his fear turned into a deep desire, and his desire into glad trust. He found himself bowing and kneeling before One whom He now loved like a Father, and bowed before as a Sovereign.

His new experience unnerved him, and he wondered if he hadn’t become deluded. How could all those weekly worshippers of the Big Yellow Face be wrong? He decided to read the songs, prayers and messages of long-dead believers in Lord Smiley-Face, to see if their experience was similar to his. To his delight and amazement, he found that they too had known that the deity of the Word was the Consuming Fire, and not the Big Yellow Face. He was amazed that people were using the same words to talk about different objects of worship.

As he studied, he grew in desire for the worship of the True Deity, and in compassion for his fellow humans. He felt grieved that the name of the True Deity was being confused by the grinning worship of Lord Smiley-Face. He found it harder and harder to enjoy the gleeful superficialities, the cheeriness and the happy-talk of the grin-and-care meetings.

He began to voice his views and speak to others about their songs, prayers, and messages. He found that their pasted grins remained fixed in place. They thanked him for his views and assured him that they stood in a good tradition of Smiley-Face believers, and all those people could not have been wrong. They pointed out that they were amongst the most biblical of Smilers. They pointed to all the good being done in the name of Lord Smiley-Face, and to all the formerly sad people who had joined their ranks and had become cheerful.

The man persisted in pointing out the differences between the True Deity and Lord Smiley-Face. Few understood him. They were quite happy with life under Lord Smiley-Face. When the Smilers were not amused by his questions and comments, they became confused, and even irritated.

“Do you hate us?”, asked an older man, his grin taking strain at its edges.
“No, I don’t. If I hated you, I would be indifferent to your condition, and I’d say nothing at all.”
“But you’re being critical,” he said, as if he had not heard him at all.
“Sometimes we must be critical of things that shouldn’t be.”
“What about the simplicity of just smiling at happy things?”, the older man asked.
“It exactly because I want the deepest kinds of joys for you that I point out what is a poor substitute for joy.”
“But just look at you. You’re not smiling. I am. How can you be right about these things if you aren’t smiling?”
“Perhaps a permanent smile is not the sign of true worship,” he said quietly.
“I think you’re becoming so critical that you’re losing the joy of Lord Smiley-Face.”

The man chose to hold his tongue and withdraw. As he walked away, he wondered what it would take for people to break free of the grip of worshipping their own happiness.

Chestless Churches

What would ‘Churches Without Chests” look like? To use a strictly Lewisian definition, it would be groups of professing believers without ‘the spirited element’. In plain language, that would be believers who have profoundly under-developed parts of their souls.

Chestless churches would be:

Churches Without Beauty. The music, the poetry, the rhetoric in the sermons, the architecture of the meeting places, the prose of such Christians could be laid side-by-side with Bach, Herbert, Spurgeon, Wren, and Austen and it would be obvious that a profound uglification had taken place. In place of the sublime would be the glossy, in place of the profound would be the emotive, in place of the sober would be the maudlin, in place of the simple would be the trivial, in place of the magnificent would be the flamboyant. In fact, these churches would not stop to consider if their worship was beautiful. They would ask only if it was doctrinally correct, and broadly similar to other churches within their tribe.

Churches Without Judgement. The bigger problem would be that such churches would be largely unable to tell the difference between the beautiful and the banal, indeed, they would be unlikely to even think in those categories. An atrophication of moral judgement would have created Christians agnostic on the question of beauty, shrunken in their capacities to feel and express admiration, and largely addicted to the cheap thrills of popular art.

This profound lack of judgement would show up in other ways, too. Churches with nothing to mediate between their rationalistic (head) knowledge of propositional truth, and their appetites (the belly), would be at the mercy of their appetites. In a contest between what they’d know about lust, and their appetite for porn, the appetite would win. In a contest between what they’d know about covetousness and their appetite for consumption, the appetite would win. In a contest between what they’d know about reverence, and their appetite for amusement, the appetite would win. The result would be ‘trousered apes and urban blockheads’ in the pulpit and pew.

Churches Without Imagination. The judgement would be missing because the deepest part of these Christians would be malformed – their image of ultimate reality. Having been shaped by churches without chests, these Christians would have a hodgepodge of competing ideas, unproven assumptions, and fairly secular ideas about reality. They would be the oddest hybrid of all – evangelical modernists. As such, they’d have little time for the symbolic, for ceremony, for art, for this would just be getting in the way of ‘the facts’. They’d imagine that they have unmediated access to reality, and tear aside any symbol, ceremony, ritual, custom, or art form that didn’t give them the effect of immediacy.

Churches Without Culture. The imagination would be secular because the churches would be without Christian culture. That is, their churches would be adrift in the sea of mass culture, picking and choosing bits and pieces from the anti-culture of secularism. There’d be no sense of the Christian vision of reality and its consequent judgements. Each church would be an exercise in eclecticism, home-spinning its judgements, with little idea of what Christians had made, thought, said, and decided before that moment. The worship would be secularised, the wandering star of relevance would provide navigation, and inane statements about contextualisation would prove that they had long ago been set adrift from Christian culture. Propositions from Scripture would be the supposed norming norm, but continued fragmentation in the church would prove that such propositions were little more than disembodied ideas without form, once Christian culture had been abandoned.

Churches Without Tradition. The churches would be without Christian culture because they had been seduced by modernity, and were now obsessed with contemporaneity, in love with the new, mesmerised by the latest, and slaves to the relevant. They would have little love for the Christian past, and so be strangers to their own culture. They would not measure their own judgements, ideas, affections, or works by the standard of the church triumphant. They would use the authority of Scripture as an excuse to dishonour their parents in the faith – to ignore Christian tradition altogether, or to pay it the occasional, patronising compliment. In the name of evangelism, they would ignore the collective judgements of 2000 years of church history, and use those of 21st century pagan marketers, media professionals, and celebrities.

No beauty because of a lack of judgement. No judgement because of a lack of imagination. No imagination because of a lack of culture. No culture because of a lack of tradition. These would be churches without chests.

Know any?