Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Beautiful Faith and A Night at the Opera

Nancy and I went to the opera last night. It was a first for me -- someone who has always mocked (albeit gently) opera as little more than a country-western song that last three hours and is sung in a foreign language. And "Tosca" sort of fit that criteria -- it was long (2 hours and 49 minutes) and very sad (all the leads die -- "There's blood everywhere," said our docent happily prior to the show). Of course, where it differed was that there was no truck or dog or D-I-V-O-R-C-E, just death and sadness.

What I didn't expect, though, was to be so completely drawn in and mesmerized by "Tosca." It was beautiful -- the sets, the symphony, the singers, the music. Captivating. The time flew by. At each intermission, Nancy and I looked at each other with eyes that said, "Wow." No words were needed. It was amazing. And while I didn't run out and buy season tickets, you can be sure that we'll be back. It was too beautiful an experience not to enjoy again.

Which made me think about faith and attracting people to it. Lots of congregations try lots of things to bring people in the doors. We hear that conservative churches are growing, and so a group of us decides the way to growth is to be more theologically conservative. Or an expert says that "contemporary worship" is attracting new folks -- so we rip out the organ and put in a praise band. Or seeker-sensitive services. Or Saturday night services . Or Cowboy Church (I'm not making this up!). Or... whatever. Lots of congregations try these things and don't see much in the way of results.

What we don't seem to try is making faith beautiful. I've been thinking about that a lot after reading Tony Jone's The New Christians. Especially the passage where he says:

"... why in the world would you think that you can do anything to get people to come to church? Instead, why don't you worry about being faithful -- living out a beautiful Christianity -- and see what the spirit does in your midst? I think that people will be more attracted to the Spirit than anything you could ever do to "hook" them. (p. 201)

After going to the opera last night, I am more than ever convinced of the wisdom under girding Jones' thinking. My preconceptions of opera were shattered -- but not by rational arguments by leading critics, not by a pledge of rigid adherence to Puccini's original score or staging, and not because they provided an "opera-seeker-sensitive listening experience with cup holders at each seat, watered down content, and sit-com length. No. Instead they simply made it beautiful. And that beauty made me long to experience more. Our souls hunger for beauty where ever they can find it. As Jim Croegaert's song says:

Frost on the window never the same
So many patterns fit in the frame
Captured in motion frozen in flame
And in the patterns is there a Name
Why do we hunger for beauty?
("Why Do We Hunger For Beauty" ©1989 Meadowgreen Music Co./Heart of the Matter Music )

That hunger for beauty is part of who we are -- and what calls us to beauty and to God. Dare we -- conservative, liberal, seeker-sensitive, praise-band oriented, Bible-based, emergent, or whatever, dare to live a beautiful faith and thereby call people to God? Dare we not?

-- Brent

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