Sorry to talk about Heidi again. But I learn so much from reality TV – like Project Runway. The producers are certainly not trying to teach me how to live in Christ, but they just can’t help it. For instance, one of the things the judges on PR frequently tell designers is this: “I can’t see you in this dress.” Or “You seem to have lost your voice. I can’t tell what you are saying. You’re collection does not tell a story.” I have watched enough clever people on this show by now that I totally know what Zac Posen is talking about when he is frustrated like that (God help me).
He is talking about insecure or lazy people doing what the design book says, or mimicking something they think will please the judges, or channeling someone else’s brilliant idea. That’s not good enough. To win the show, you need to be a creative designer who takes something in a new direction, hopefully one in line with the latest zeitgeist or your own aesthetic that you hope will become fashion. You need to show up, not just sew things. You need to create with a vision, not just plug what you’ve been taught into the design you imagine someone else thinks is right.
Fortunately, I never have to sit in the judge’s seat and rate the work of people in our church, or the church in general. (I’m plenty judgmental, but that is a sin, not an obligation). Because if our work got on the runway, I am sure I would need to say about some of it, “Your heart is not in this. Where is your inspiration? What makes this as creative as your creator?”
It is the age-old question to ask oneself, isn’t it? Some Pharisees came to Jesus questioning why his disciples did not bother to ritually wash their hands before they ate. Their question was not about hygiene, it was about keeping the rules for how to be ritually pure. Jesus did not answer, but asked them why they scrupulously kept other traditions that violated the law itself. More to the point, he quoted the prophet Isaiah
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Therefore once more I will astound these people
with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” Isaiah 29:13-14
Like failing Project Runway designers of religion, the Pharisees were running out a collection that looked well-sewn and skillful, but it did not have any heart. They could apply the rules someone else had made up, but they could not create any rule-breaking new rules that reflected a heart-to heart relationship with the creator.
Jesus was trying to teach them to do that, just like he is trying to teach us. We live in a very rule-oriented society right now. For instance, Spectre which is all about who makes and follows the rules. The most recent James Bond film, is all about a shadow organization (like an ISIS that will sneak into Paris) which is out to destroy Democracy and the hero who breaks out of the bureaucracy to thwart it.
Spectre , the fictional organization, appeals to fictional people who want tough laws and armed forces that enforce them. James Bond is all about breaking the rules to protect the heart of democracy — and at the end he finds his own heart this time around! Not to be too judgmental, but there are plenty of people in our church who would love a little more Spectre. They ask things like, “What are the ‘best practices’ for doing this? What are the regulations that apply to this? What is the protocol for doing that?” Or they are afraid of the people who might ask those things. Organization is good, but the organism is a lot bigger than what organizes it — especially the church, since it is held together by the Spirit of God!
People can do a “program” like the Sunday meetings or caring for children or even debt annihilation and not really be an effective, living part of what they are doing – nothing requires them to apply their heart. They could come to the meeting and not really even inhabit it. I think some people perform the roles that keep the church organization going so they can stay committed to it in theory — but they don’t create it or inhabit it. The Project Runway people say “I want to see you in it” — and they are just talking about a dress! How much more would God say, “I want to see the true you in my church” since the whole point is for us to become more like Jesus all the time.
It has always been a temptation to follow the rules and not the Ruler, so we will need to deal with that just because we are human. In this day, however, it is even more tempting to get better rules when we are all scared about getting blown up by a barbarian. Rather than growing an expansive heart like God’s, we can hide behind a big wall of laws and law enforcers until we can’t even see ourselves as anything better than law abiding.