I recently saw an exhibition showing the work of some Auckland University of Technology Communication Design students: what happens when you swap the elements of one product’s label with those of another? I’ll tell you what happens: it messes with your head. Thinking about the future church is a bit like this.
Imagine expecting one thing but getting all the messages of something completely different. Imagine years, perhaps decades of familiarity being turned upside-down before your eyes. It was one of those exhibitions that played with my mind at every step.
The brief was to take two existing products with different target markets and values, and swap the semiotics within the labels (semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation). It wasn’t just for art, it was a test: an exercise in semiotics. The exhibition was well done, with the effect on me being a sense of twisted logic and initial confusion – and fascination – a bit like the final ten minutes of a good psychological thriller.
I wondered if this is what it was like when the Messiah turned up in a stable, when he didn’t look like a strong leader to overthrow Rome, for the hearers of Jesus when he said “…the kingdom of God is like…” and it was nothing like what they were expecting. When Jesus talked about the first being last, the poor being rich. And then the Apostle Paul when he said there was no difference in the new faith community between being a Jew or a Gentile, or a woman or a man.
It was often the leaders of the faith community that were the most thrown by things not turning out how they had expected.
The way things should be
We expect things to be a certain way – a box of toothpaste shouldn’t look like a bar of chocolate – we’re so used to seeing things in a certain way, when it’s different it’s harder to make sense of, or to interpret what’s going on.
With this art exhibition it was fun having my sense of familiarity and what I knew turned upside down for a moment. With the first swapped products I saw I did a double-take, and then I was drawn in – I looked at them all – it fascinated me.
Sometimes what we’re familiar with, or what we’ve grown up with, or the way we’ve been viewing certain things – they’re just not right and need to be challenged and turned upside down.
The future church
I imagine a future where in wider society the word church is defined by the positive transformative lifestyles and attitudes of the people following Jesus, who are both well connected in their neighbourhoods and globally aware, sharing holistic expressions of worship and faith in action.
The kind of radical stuff that at this moment, to be honest, makes me feel a little anxious and uncomfortable about: sharing my possessions so that everyone has enough, not having a home to live in, giving my wealth away, giving up my time to stand up for injustices, to visit sick and lonely people and those in prison, and to give away my cactus pants.
Is this music to your ears, or does it feel like crayons in cigarette packaging?
Are there voices in your faith community talking about a different future? Are there thoughts in your head of discontent with the status quo?
I suspect the future church won’t own buildings or pay clergy, it won’t be Sunday-church-service-centric either. Does this seem like toothpaste in chocolate packaging?
Images: In the exhibition credit was as vague as “AUT Communication Design Students 2016”. Photos: 1, taken with my mobile phone. 2, Stephanie Zwerink (photo & project). 3, taken with my mobile phone. 4, taken with my mobile phone. 5, from the Auckland Art Gallery website.