Awesome is the only word I can think of in describing a Christmas celebration I attended yesterday. It was indeed a worship service (although some there might not have realized it) involving loud rock, long hair, and shooting jets of fire. The enlightened readers will immediately perceive that I speak of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or “TSO.”
In the midst of the lasers and fireballs and dueling electric violins, I was struck by a verse from Ecclesiastes. While The Preacher might not have intended it to be used this way, it was nonetheless compelling:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
Eccl. 1:9-11 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
While there is nothing new under the sun, many try to disguise the ways in which their creations are indebted to another. Genealogies abound, and ex nihilo is almost always nowhere to be found (at least among humans). I’m a big fan of hybridity, being a product of and participant in it’s chorus and at times cacophony. With these loyalties, I am always questioning authenticity, especially when one people claim that their X is pure, essential, original, and best when compared with the less authentic X of an other.
These are the sorts of odd thoughts I have during the liminal periods between semesters.
TSO truly has something unique–an incredible creation in an age when heavy metal and classical music aren’t usually among the popular choices. They were once described as “Phantom of the Opera meets The Who with Pink Floyd’s light show [and] a little bit of classical [music] thrown in.” In a word, they are fusion, and unabashedly so.
What on earth does this have to do with Community of Christ?, I imagine my few readers who have continued this far groaning. Let me tell you (but don’t expect the answer right away): TSO, while not necessarily Christian Rock, might be called Christmasian Rock. During what was the best concert I’ve ever attended, I was overwhelmed by all of the moving parts that fused together–musically, religiously, and pyrotechnically–to produce their renunciation against war and proclamation of the Prince of Peace. The show’s message was that the spirit of peace ought to prevail, not just at Christmas, but everyday.
Further, I was struck that, while I was engaged in a sort of worshipful experience during a rock concert, many more traditional persons of the Restoration might cry “foul,” that such worship was inauthentic. But I was happy to report otherwise, that all of these elements had come together in an amazing way, and had moved me closer to Christ.
Many forget that the Restoration is a fusion, a mash-up, although its creativity is often labeled as inauthentic Christianity by those outside of it. Yet nothing is new under the sun. Christianity itself involves the radical (re)creation of other religious, cultural, and ideological elements, until those with the most power determine that the recipe is complete. In so doing, they deem other ingredients as inauthentic, and those who cook with them as heretical, as having distorted the essential and missing the boat of salvation.
I’ll admit that Christ is the essential, and that it’s very possible to distort Christ, but submit that encountering Christ takes on many forms, for God is interested in reaching many different persons.
Please correct me if I’m wrong (and the comments box is a great place to do it) but I think that we ought to recognize the human creativity involved in the earthly (and thus limited, flawed, and developing) manifestations that are the churches. Sure, there’s a kingdom of God that’s perfect and eternal, but I have still to meet any human who lives in or represents it.
Any and all of us insist too much if we say that only our way of approaching Christ, thinking about Christ, or organizing Christ’s church is the authentic way, the right way. I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t guard their message, but that they ought to be careful of drawing lines in the sand over things that are opinions, arbitrary, and flawed; they ought to be careful in claiming too much as the only correct and authentic way, when dealing with those both inside and out of their particular brand of Christianity.
Genuine human encounters with the Divine are creations in time, and as such are always flawed. We can confirm the Divine reality and truth in Christ, but often fail when needing words to go further–and should we use words, (which we must do or else remain silent), those words are but our flawed efforts. One need only consider the multiple and seemingly contradictory accounts of the First Vision to realize this, yet each was a true representation, at different points in time, for Joseph Smith. They were all true, yet all subjective for the Eternal had entered the human realm, and humans are never quite sure what to do with God no matter how confident they might act. This is one gig that should be up!
Most often the points of contention experienced in the church have very little if anything to do with the concerns that Jesus shared during His mortal ministry. Something much deeper ought to unite us even when we disagree over particulars—and I submit that that something is Christ, even if we can’t always agree on the particulars of carrying forth his message of peace.
This realization ought to result in celebration of God working in and through some many different persons and ways. Christians of all types, and certainly those within a particular denomination, ought to have reason to come together even and especially when they disagree–unless, of course, they can’t see the human fusion and creativity involved when humans of all kinds are touched by and respond to God.
I’ll conclude where I started: Paul O’Neill, TSO’s founder, has said:
There’s only one God and he made everybody. When we die, I think he’s really going to care about how we treated our neighbor. There are always people out there who need help. I’ve been asked if I think Christmas is hypocritical in that people treat others so badly for the other 364 days of the year. But the problem is not Christmas. The problem lies in how we treat people the remainder of the year. There’s just something inspiring about Christmas. For one day a year, people just seem to “get it.”
While perhaps not everyone needs to go to a rock concert to catch this vision of treating each other as Jesus would have us treat them, the time has come to “get it” for the rest of the year. In the church, we ought to be most patient with each other, and willing to surrender our assumptions for the good of the body and to the will of God who values all and reaches out to all in different ways and times. This vision of God’s kingdom and Christ’s message of peace we of all people ought to get.
For those of you who want to both get it and rock on, I salute you with the following:
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!