Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Church of the joyful failures

In a comment on the most recent post, the reader who calls himself The Heretic praises the idea of a "celebration of our imperfection." What a wonderful phrase!

It reminds me of a dream I had a good many years ago.

In the dream, I sat in an unfamiliar church where a handbell choir was about to play. Handbell choirs can make lovely music, of course, but I'm not a big fan of them in general. The playing must be precise; there's no room for improvisation, no way to bend rhythm or tone to express feeling. It seems stiff and unyielding.

The white-gloved ringers raised their bells and began to play. But before long, one player made an obvious mistake. That threw another ringer off. Then another. Then another. The errors multiplied until it was obvious that no one, not even the director, knew how to find the way back to the printed music.

And here's what astounded me: No one looked embarrassed or ashamed. No one seemed angry or upset. Instead, they smiled and laughed and threw themselves into the unplanned, unwritten, unimagined tunes that came out of their bells. The congregation nodded approvingly.

Instead of sinking into chaos, the music rose into celebration. A celebration of imperfection.

"What is this church?" I wondered. "What is this place that can take something that goes all wrong and transform it into something fresh and alive and so very right?"

I pulled out a hymn book from the back of the pew. The name of the church was engraved on its cover: Church of the Joyful Failures.

Too bad that church is so hard to find.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Before I moved to Charlotte many years ago, I was a member of tiny St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Great Falls, South Carolina. Great church, rector and congregation. Alas there were not many of us in that predominantly Baptist town.

The custom at Sunday Communion was, since there were probably only 35 communicants who attended regularly, to go by rows up to the altar and kneel there for the sacraments. So, the first row walked up to and knelt, resting their folded hands on the railing to steady themselves.

Unfortunately, an altar boy assisting Father Winters that day forgot to lock a portion of the railing that could be opened to admit one into the altar area. A very stout woman leaned heavily into the wood, the rail swung rapidly toward the altar, and she and two others fell flat forward on their faces.

Well, first concern of all was that our fellow worshipers were okay. The sheepish grins on their faces made it clear they were. They resumed their places. Then the snickering began. And it was contagious.

Even Father had to cease with offering the sacraments for a few moments to regain his composure. Every few seconds we’d hear a new guffaw and see someone twitching in mirth trying to contain themselves. It continued through the closing hymn, and by that time tears of absolute merriment were streaming down most faces.

I guess you had to be there, but I think that the unintended faux pas of a few did more to create a sense of joyful community that day than did our usually solemn rituals.

Liz said...

Anon, that was a great story. I have a similar one, also from a South Carolina Episcopal church, although it mainly deals with our obsession with ritual:

A disabled woman who was able to walk slowly, but could not climb steps, attended our church and usually took communion at the railing. In order for her to bypass the steps leading up to the railing, one of the wardens would move a portable wooden ramp over to one of the side aisles, near where she sat. He’d do this when he saw her enter the church, well before the service started.

One Sunday near Easter my husband and I and another couple who were good friends sat on that side. When it came time to take communion, we all stood and eased into the aisle. Just ahead of us an older couple entered the aisle, and we started to hesitate. The reason was that the elderly woman, also rather large, had complained to the vestry for years that the ramp was too hard for her to negotiate. Maybe she had trouble walking up it in heels. Anyway, she was the only person in the congregation who felt that way.

But she kept going. So, we all started moving forward. Sure enough, when the older woman saw the ramp, she let go with a disdainful and rather loud “Christ! The ramp is down!”

Our friend Neal behind us, half asleep, perhaps thought he was hearing part of a Eucharistic canticle, because he loudly responded “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Funny how little things like that permanently endear others to us.

Gamecock said...

Amen Jane, especially as to the "stiff and unyielding" as it reminds me on two things that have been disturbing about the Red China Olympics:

1) The thousands of automaton cogs in the communist machine;

2) The order that all Chinese smile 24/7; and

3) Especially the solo child singing fraud with the chiseled look lip-syncer substituted for the precious child that actually sang the song.

A memo from the commies said that they wanted to present a "perfect example of beauty".

In the process, they revealed the blindness of atheism to true beauty.

Bob said...

Maybe next time the Super Bowl could lend them Janet Jackson.

Anonymous said...

Was that bob or boob who just said that?

Anonymous said...

Gee, so much hatred.

Anonymous said...

Gamecock, your tirade against the Chinese Olympics could just as easily apply to Disneyland.

Gamecock said...

Anon, you must be anon #124 and not know me very well. That was not a tirade worthy of GC!

Did Disney also ship the homeless to Lauderdale?

Gamecock said...

Great point Bob!

Individualism can also go too far!

Bob said...

Ha! Bob or boob. Now I get it. Good one!

Iztok said...

Gamecock: "Individualism can also go too far!"

It really depends. Many things can go too far. Religion for example can go too far, however reasoning and humanism can't.

Robespierre said...

D'accord.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember seeing the "homeless" parade in any Olympics.

pornstudent said...

The Universe is unplanned, unwritten and unimagined, yet it isn't chaotic. Our failures and imperfections are part of its beauty and awesomeness even though they may now appear dreadful, immoral and evil.

The Heretic said...

Speaking of the “perfect” Chinese Communist government with their “imperfect” ideology: I read in today’s Observer (Page 2A) where they confiscated over 300 Bibles, printed in Chinese, from checked luggage Sunday night from the Christian Vision Beyond Borders group as they arrived at an airport in the city of Kunming.

Funny thing, noted the AP article, was that the state-run newspaper China Daily reported in July that 10,000 bilingual copies of the Bible would be distributed in the Olympic Village.

The article didn’t state how many members of the group were at the airport, but the Chinese said they could each have only one Bible for personal use. The rest must be left with customs officials.

Since these were not English versions or even bilingual, it seems to me that the reason for bringing them into China, which some categorize as an officially atheistic nation, was either to replace worn-out versions at existing government-sanctioned Christian churches, hand them out to new unauthorized churches, or for proselytizing individuals. Since one might think that the government would take any of the left-over Olympic Bibles not removed as souvenirs and give them to existing churches - or maybe not – then I can see why the paranoid Chinese would assume this was a proselytizing ploy. But if that was the case, then obviously they don’t understand that a true Christian believer wouldn’t even need a Bible to do so.

I mention this because under Jane’s recent topic “Rising Every Time We Fall”, I expressed a strong dislike for those who knock on my door wanting to tell me about their God, when I have my own views on that topic. After reading the Observer article, and as a fan of freedom, let me say I now understand why anti-soliciting ordinances are usually found to be in violation of our Constitution.

And you’re now welcome to knock on my door to present your message – although don’t expect a dialog or conversion.

Anonymous said...

You can easily obtain Bibles in China. If Bibles are smuttled in,
local publishers lose profits.

Anonymous said...

make that "smuggled", though "smuttled" is an interesting typo.

Anonymous said...

Heretic,

If you brought 300 copies of the DVD "Dark Knight" into the US from China, US Customs would likely snag those, too.

-anon1

Iztok said...

Well after all it is Chinese law and God forbid one would do anything illegal right? We have people here having issues with illegal aliens not respecting law so why wouldn't we have issues with US citizens not respecting Chinese law when entering China?

Anonymous said...

Some people think they should get special treatment because it's a Bible they're smuggling.

They have cheap English translations of textbooks in China.

I saw one of my business textbooks at 1/10 the price of the US version.

Maybe I could have brought in 300 copies thru US Customs without an import license...

-anon1

Gamecock said...

bravo heretic

Praise God you see the light that Jehova's Witnesses had the SCOTUS recognize 100+ years ago in the US. The most offensive thing in that Observer

AP!!!!! article was that the

AP!!!!

reported that OTHERS had

Falsly???????

reported that China was banning Bibles and free speech.

The arrogance, lying and incompetence of AP and McClatchy is legion!

Mao said...

Reglion is poison.

Mao said...

Religion is poison. Solly for spelling.

Iztok said...

Dr. Samuel Krouse has an interesting article about "New Atheism":

http://www.colusa-sun-herald.com/articles/atheism_1592___article.html/new_.html

Few thinks one can find in the article:

1. Atheism is far more predominant among the intellectual elite than the general population.
2. New atheism represents a serious and ongoing challenge to Christianity that cannot be ignored.
3. Atheists can have hope. In his words, they are “ambitious in hope.”
4. Atheists are well aware of what they have rejected.
5. There is no substantive philosophical position between biblical literalism and atheism.

Anonymous said...

Gamecock, guess where the worlds largest bible factory is located?

Nanjing, China. The company is called Amity. It can produce a million copies a month and has
already produced 40 million volumes.

There is no need for grandstanding religious fanatics from the US to make tax-exempt junkets to China to try to make a name for themselves by smuggling a mere 300 bibles.

-anon

http://www.amityprinting.com/englishweb/introduction.htm

Anonymous said...

BTW, the bibles published by Amity are available for about $1.50.

Those religious fanatics could have saved a lot of trouble by sending one guy with $500 to buy locally published bibles.

But that wouldn't have made the news, now would it?

-anon1

Bob said...

Bible manufacturing in China is state-controlled. Churches are state-approved. The Chinese government seeks to control what it failed to eradicate.

The Heretic said...

Good points, all!

Maybe the Associated Press and/or McClatchy were guilty of not presenting all the facts, or options. (And I was naive enough not to question the "facts" as presented in the tome of that story).

Yep, sounds more like a legitimate complaint from the Chinese about violation of their import laws, rather than their government persecuting a religious organization. Fine example, though, of how to spin an opinion.

Anonymous said...

It's the opium of the masses; if it can't be eradicated, then make it a controlled substance.

-anon1

Bob said...

Bet that's a knee-slapper in the re-education camps.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, right up there with:

WWJD?

10 years of hard labor..

-anon1

Bob said...

Timing, son, timing. It was funny when it was Jim Bakker.

Gamecock said...

Mao, your namesake agreed

Unless one worshiped Mao.

60 million plus died from the non-poison

Gamecock said...

Thanks Bob, you saved me the trouble.

pornstudent said...

How many have the religious killed during the Crusades, Inquisitions and Witch Hunts? A hundred thousand? Another joyful failure. If you like horror, there's plenty of it.

Anonymous said...

The real danger is not the ideology, but the fanatic who needs a Hitler, Mao, Bin Laden or Jesus to die for.

-anon1

Bob said...

The real danger is the lackwit who makes excuses for any kind of repression.

Anonymous said...

Repression is everywhere. No need for excuses.

-anon1