When I set up the computer at Kaeo on Sundays, the congregation are sitting waiting and it's difficult when there are things I'm not planning for them to see. It happened recently for the sound file for Simple Gifts, the Shaker Song. It was a video by Jewel, which ran during the service with a blank screen. Setting it up meant showing the picture on the video file – the singer wearing a rather low cut garment. As I tried to be speedy in case the sight was not pleasing to the gathered community of faith, Michael piped up: “All things bright and beautiful”. We burst into laughter with delight and relief.
A man of wit, our Michael and also, I venture, of wisdom.
How do we respond, as people of faith, to things that feel a bit problematic? Rush it out of sight, that might be the reaction. In this case, putting it into another perspective worked wonders. We were given a way to celebrate for a moment another kind of simple gift that went with the beautiful voice we would later hear.
The opening of Cornerstone – Whare Karakia o Manako – included an item that this kind of wisdom could find helpful.
DDF Dance, a locally based Hip Hop dance studio, performed for us prior to lunch. It was an opportunity to show the venue's possibilities for a different kind of community group and, when invited, the response from them was very enthusiastic. What could concern us though is that some of the girls involved are quite young and the kind of actions and gestures we saw were surprising, even disturbing. Perhaps we shouldn't have invited them. Should we not be taking a stand on this kind of dance and behaviour? Did the young girls know what they were doing?
Lots and lots of questions. Those of us who found we were simply revelling in the presence of such exuberant youth – and what's more in our building – will be especially scratching our heads and wondering what's right and what's wrong. It was a celebration of youth. And it was such a surprise to them that they would be welcome in “a church”. Could we do otherwise? How can we say “all welcome” if we judge some are not because we're not sure about them and what they do?
At the same time, we are very concerned for what young girls are being encouraged by popular culture to do and be.
So how about we do welcome all, and then be a place to talk together about what concerns us. Instead of drawing a line to rule out certain things because we believe, or guess, they don't fit the values we stand for, how about we start with the primary value of Jesus' open table where all are invited to be present and get into conversation together.
Some I know have grand-children or children in DDF Dance. Talk about it with them. They have to negotiate this culture anyway, so this is a chance to help them develop the tools to understand and make their own choices for how they relate to others. Talk about it with the dance teacher: she is a lovely woman with a beautiful heart for young people. So much youthful energy that could be let loose, causing mischief in the community, is spent on hours and hours of training at Alannah's beckoning.
On our very first day open to the community, we brought together the very kind of differences that can be divisive. The usual way is divide into our own groups where we are comfortable together. We have chosen as a church to offer community space in which differences are welcome and we'll even risk having them together at the same time (witness Winston Peters and Owen Kīngi). There is a Spirit in the place – as we sang “Holy Spirit, welcome, you are welcome here/Wairua Tapu kuhu mai nau mai ki konei”. This is the spirit that can weave differences into mutual respect. Our best role is as Spirit assistants, celebrating what is there to celebrate – all things bright and beautiful – and encouraginge what is good for people, in all our differences.
Just a thought, old time dancing could look a bit dodgy, if you weren't familiar with it.