Tag Archives: Church

A Fringe review and some reflections

It’s Mad March in Adelaide again, which means the Festival, the Fringe Festival, Writers Week, the now oddly-cereal-like named Superloop 500, Womadelaide and much more. Living in the city is ideal at this time of year, and I’ve loved the opportunity to wander down to the riverbank to see the Symphony for our World (which was an outstandingly beautiful reflection on creation and creativity) and Yabarra: Gathering of Light (which is an engaging and vital project grounding the city in its long history and culture).

In terms of the Fringe, so far I have seen a truly terrible comedian (who I won’t name and shame here) and an absolutely enjoyable choir performance that I have not only been singing the songs from for days, but has also had me reflecting on some deeper themes it touched on.

So, this is my part review and part reflection on The Choir of Man.

Nine talented performers singing well known songs in impressive harmonies is always going to be a recipe for a good night out. The talent on display is pretty remarkable, including a piano virtuoso, a Dein Perry-esque tap dancer, a poet or three, comedic timing, audience participation, multiple instruments and dancing styles, all held together by nine strong voices. Songs covered include those that had the audience clapping and singing along, like Welcome to the Jungle, I Would Walk 500 MilesSome Nights, and the iconic Aussie favourite You’re the Voice; others that showcased impressive soloists telling stories through melody, like Adele’s Hello, Don Quixote’s The Impossible Dream, and Sia’s Chandelier; a heartrending rendition of Luther Vandross’ Dance With My Father during which you could have heard a pin drop; and an almost benedictory traditional closing song, The Parting Glass.

That this performance is set in a working bar, a classic English pub, where both the performers and the audience are invited to authentic fun and engagement (and to a pint or two) and is drawn together by a narrator who reflects on mateship, community, love and loss, adds to the enjoyment, but also leads me to my deeper musings.

“Some pubs have a football team or a darts club,” we are told. “This pub has a choir.”

The show is a bit of an ode to the local pub, the place where regulars can get together for a drink and share something of life. But we are also told it’s not a “boys don’t cry” kind of pub, and the idea of a community where genuine experience and emotion can be shared and supported – whether just by listening or by lending a hand – is significant throughout the storyline. To me, this is mateship. Friendship. What community should be. What for me as a Christian and a pastor, the church should be. My church is currently doing a sermon series exploring ideas of friendship and community, family, work, rest and play together, and so this show resonated with some of the same ideas, both encouraging and challenging me. Encouraging me that the church at its best has something valuable to say to our culture on this; challenging me that we can too often think we have a monopoly on it or hold it to ourselves, rather than championing it wherever we see it and inviting others into it.

This is also a show by, for, and about men. The (male) friend who recommended it to me warned that I might find it “a bit blokey.” And I did. But in a way that I loved. The characters in the pub are all pretty blokely blokes. (And yes, there is a song performed at a urinal). As a group, there’s a lot of testosterone on display. But there are men with hipster beards and man buns, as well as men with six pack muscles and classically strong jawlines. There are also men of less than average height and of over average weight. More importantly, these are not only men who sing and dance together, but men who are unafraid to both laugh and cry together. These are men who provide a glimpse into what male camaraderie and mateship can be.

And while there is some serenading of women in the audience and relationship woes played for laughs, at the end of the night I realised that they had managed to put on a public performance of broad-shouldered masculinity that didn’t need to objectify or degrade women to do so. (Unlike the aforementioned comedian, who the less said about the better). One review of The Choir of Man I read said this was a picture of the “opposite of toxic masculinity” and that’s not a bad description. In a cultural moment where there are certain voices criticising feminism for seeking to emasculate men, these guys affirm that it is a not an either/or proposition. They reminded me in some ways of my brothers and what I love about them. And in a week where unfortunately I had yet again had some (men) devalue what I do simply because of my gender, I needed to be reminded of that.

Of course, these brothers of mine, in my church family and community, go much further than a 90-minute performance. They don’t just meet the minimum standard of “not degrading women,” but champion and advocate for women, make space for us, support us and honour us, all without compromising their masculinity.  I value what they as men have to offer that I cannot, as they value what I as a woman bring. I love doing life alongside them.

As I watched this performance, in the back of my mind was the sermon I had been writing for Sunday. Perhaps that’s what put me in such a reflective mood. Talking about what ‘rest’ and ‘play’ look like for the church, I was challenged to consider how we encourage one another to explore and appreciate creativity in all its forms, and where we are talking about what we see and hear and experience in art, song, comedy, music, where it resonates with the creativity of our Creator, and how it keeps us hearing his calls to life in all its flourishing.

For me, the ongoing questions are how Jesus calls men and women to life together, and all of us to the expression of community, in ways that reflect and point to who He is and what He is bringing about.
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Today would be a good day to be at Ephesus

I’ve been marking final essays for my New Testament class this semester. So I’ve been thinking about the historical and social contexts of the first churches and the letters written to them that continue to speak into the lives of millions of Christian churches today. Its helpful to imagine walking in their shoes as they figured out how to daily live out this transformative encounter they had had with the risen Jesus. So if I could take a quick jaunt to anywhere today, it’d be great to visit one of the best preserved NT cities: Ephesus, a place where people long ago and yet not so different from me sought to walk in the same footsteps in which I daily choose to walk.

What did I love about and learn from Ephesus?

Ephesus today lies on Turkey’s western coast. It was then was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, an impressive city home to two amphitheatres, one of the world’s largest libraries, and the famous Temple of Artemis.

The apostle Paul spent two or three years here, living out the gospel among the people of this place. He preached in the large theatre and caused a riot that likely landed him in prison.

The church in Ephesus was largely made up of non-Jews, and Paul writes to encourage them by articulating who they are and how they fit into God’s plan for the world.

The letter speaks of the ‘mystery’ that has been revealed: that God’s plan is to bring all things, seen and unseen, under Christ. That’s a huge challenge when what you can see is the might and power of the Roman empire!

This revealed mystery is demonstrated in a completely unexpected and seemingly insignificant way: through a new kind of community, this group called church, where people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic circumstances, and statuses seek to live together as family.

Seeing the houses, shops, and public facilities of ancient Ephesus helps me imagine what this might have looked like. I can envision some of its its practicalities and some of its challenges.

These were real people living in a real place, seeking to embody a new way of doing life and being family together in the midst of a city that didn’t quite get what they were trying to be.

Its a similar challenge many face today. I know I do as I seek to do life with my local church community and we try to be a new kind of family to one another.

Its messy and complicated and not always easy. We certainly don’t always get it right as we sit in the tensions between our culture and the gospel.

We hope in and live out of a new story that others may not think makes sense or looks true, and yet we see the transformation it is bringing little by little in our lives and our neighbourhoods.

And we continue to walk in the footsteps not only of the millions who have come before us, but of the risen King we worship and who is making all things new.

Today would be a good day to be at La Sagrada Família

If you haven’t visited Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, you might have difficulty believing all of these photos are of the exact same building. I’ve been back from my latest holiday just on a month, and the place I have spent more time trying to describe to people than any other would have to be this remarkable church. I’d love to have a few more hours to spend there today.

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With an ambitious design by Antoni Gaudí, construction on this spectacular church began in 1882. Current estimates are that it will be completed by 2026, although that still seems to be a massive task. Barcelona is a beautiful city for many other reasons, but I think it would be worth visiting just for this one building alone.

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What did I love about Sagrada Família?

On the outside, the church tells biblical stories. The Nativity façade, the only side Gaudí saw completed in his lifetime, uses lifelike figures to present all aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah – the familiar and the unfamiliar, the triumphant and the tragic.

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The details are incredible.

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On the other side, the Passion façade follows Gaudí’s plans but with the style of a completely different sculptor.

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The story of the betrayal, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus the Saviour unfolds through figures with square-cut faces and yet amazing depths of emotion.

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The third façade, supposedly the “largest and the most striking” has not even been begun yet, but will tell the story of the risen and triumphant Jesus the King.

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The building is fascinating and complex and intricate on the outside.

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There are extra, unexpected details and symbols everywhere you can see.

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And then you walk inside …

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The interior took my breath away.

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The light.

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The colours.

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The sense of space. This is a place for prayer and reflection, to marvel at the God of creation in all His magnitude.

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A place to slow down, to wonder, to worship.

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What did I learn from Sagrada Família?

I teach a subject called “Understanding the Biblical Narrative” and in my PhD I looked at ideas of orality and embodiment in understanding the Bible. For me, this church brings some of that to life. The biblical story can be seen, felt, even interacted with, in a completely different way to reading words on a page.

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The world has changed an awful lot since 1882, and I wonder if the architects and funders of this project had known how accessible the Bible would become whether they would have embarked on this project. But I’m so glad they did.

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“Reading” the story in this way takes time, and oral storytelling to go along with it, and imagination, and engagement. Despite the overwhelming accessibility of the printed and digital text, things we can so often lose.

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The contrast between the outside and inside of the church, for me, took me to a whole other place. It is one thing to know the stories, to ponder their meaning, to enter into their emotions.

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It is yet another to be brought to a place of stillness, silence, speechlessness.

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This is not a church of my tradition, and in some ways it is more a tourist attraction than a house of prayer. And yet … sitting in the pews, taking time to tune out the voices bustling around (listening to this podcast helped me focus), for me this became a place of prayer and worship.

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To be sure, I have experienced the same wonder and worship in nature, in community, alone in my room.  I don’t need a place like this to spend time with God, but it sure is a genuine delight to be provided with one every now and then.