I was on my hands and knees under some playground equipment looking with some amusement at the neatly arranged line of small rocks set up underneath it. We were getting ready to put a heavy layer of high quality mulch onto the church play yard and I wanted to make sure everything was ready. Because of a drainage problem, we'd been delayed doing this, but once the french drain was dug and working properly, the time had come.
What touched me about the neat row of rocks is that I knew those rocks had come from the newly laid french drain. Some children had picked them up, carried them to the equipment, and probably made up a story about them as they placed them in that row. A simple act of creatively flowing imagination, using the materials at hand.
There was no guided play there, no one telling them what to do or what the rules are or putting them in organized "rock lining up" leagues. No scheduled practices, no uniforms, no fees, no parents trying to figure out how to manage three practices and two games a week for several children and youth. No carefully selected, age-appropriate non-toxic toys, no impenetrable packaging to penetrate (as an aside here: I am convinced that the person who invented that clear heavy plastic packaging that takes sharp knives to open and which then leaves nasty edges to tear at exposed skin will at some point suffer torments in the seventh circle of hell), no assembly required, no trash cans to fill.
Less is so often more.
When my children were little and we took them on long car trips, I learned in time that the less I provided for them to do while confined in the automobile, the more creative they were with that time and their minds, and the more relaxed they were. When I felt that I had to make sure they were entertained every moment, the quarrels began, and the level of discontent rose exponentially.
Less was very much more.
Come with me on this analogy to the nature of church life itself. The "church" is at its best a group of people who gather to worship and praise God together--something done poorly, if at all, in isolation--make friends, teach their children the nature of real goodness and the reality of a holy God, and live out their salvation as they care for one another and joyfully invite others into a life of forgiven grace. The "less" in this scenario is the good news: "Christ died for us while we were still sinners. That proves God's love for us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven." A simple sentence that opens to everyone willing to receive it the fullness of God-with-us life, both here and hereafter.
We've complicated it, added our rules and leagues, almost organized it out of existence, needed to tame it so that no one is really challenged by it, and packaged it in such a way that hardly anyone can actually get in. In many denominations, mine very much included, it takes so many years to ordination, years full of confusing, multiple and often contradictory requirements, that the only ones who make it are the somewhat obsessive-compulsive folk who just can't say "no" to the impossible challenge. With some churches, it becomes necessary to pass a litany of doctrinal hurdles in order to make sure only those in perfect agreement get a seat in the house. Meetings are conducted by Roberts Rules of Order and its multiple layers of motions, sub-motions, amendments to motions, and amendments to the amendments, as though such rules display the nature of God, rather than rich relationship that encourages us to honor one another.
The more layers we add, the less it is the church.
Personally, I'd like to halt this madness. I'd like to see creativity flow again with our children, and our relationship with God and one another become the rule of the church. Anyone with me on this one?
Less really is more.