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Monday, July 26, 2010

In Defense of Christian Expression

Last year I took a writing composition class at Saint Petersburg College.  In class we viewed a YouTube video that had caused quite a bit of criticism on the internet.  One person wrote: “I don’t need any further explanation as to why Christianity sucks….”  The video is called “The Renewed Mind is the Key.”  I wrote a defense of the performance based on my view of the Christian church.  I may have overstated the homeliness of many church activities.  There are exceptions; where I attend now incorporates professional musicians that are flawless and awesome in their performances.  Nevertheless, many churches cannot afford this or they do not have the professional talent available.  My hope is that you will first VIEW THE VIDEO and then READ MY RESPONSE.


Wayne Standifer
YouTube Response
June 4, 2009

I would like to defend the “Renewed Mind is the Key” presentation as a form of religious expression.

The performance was not perfect.  But perfection can be hard to measure.  For example, I have a friend who is in the contemporary church choir at First United Methodist Church in Saint Petersburg.  He is now thirty years old and has been mentally retarded since birth.  Does he do a professional job singing and playing the tambourines?  Would he be the subject of ridicule on YouTube?  To a large extent perfection is in the eye of the beholder.  I rejoice every time I see him perform.

But I'm used to less than perfection in the church.  I have gone to church most of my life.  My father was a Methodist minister and my brother and sister-in-law are Methodist preachers.  Throughout the years, I've heard many sermons (not all of them perfect--even after I achieved a degree of understanding).  I've heard many Sunday school lessons by volunteer teachers who were not from Harvard and less than perfect.  I've heard many solos and duets unfit for the Broadway stage.  I've heard pianists and organists who occasionally missed a note. I've seen many talent shows in the church social hall that required a bit of generosity to call good.  I've even been to covered dish luncheons and suppers that, while nourishing and delicious, would not fit the characterization of fine cuisine.

But perfection in church misses the point.  The church is a human and divine institution.  It has all the foibles that afflict the human race.  It is largely home grown and attempts to call all members into service.  And since most of the congregation is doing its best, an attempt is made to substitute patience, love, and goodwill for criticism.  If this means occasionally overlooking imperfection, so be it.  It's a good bargain.  The performers of “Renewed Mind Is the Key” probably performed in front of a friendly audience.  And that makes all the difference.

It could very well be that the performers in “Renewed Mind” are not professionals.  Their regular jobs may take them far from rehearsal halls.  They may be doctors, lawyers, business people, or janitors.  If their YouTube performance represents an audition for Broadway, I would have to say “Do not give up your day jobs.”  But I do not see them as pretenders to professional perfection.  I see them as amateur practitioners of the faith doing their best to praise the Lord.

Something that needs to be addressed is the lyrics of “Renewed Mind is the Key.”  Surely we can attest to the truth of the main idea:  The renewed mind is the key.  Does anyone dispute that?  How many times have we heard that attitude is everything? We have to get our minds right and everything else will follow.  But of course these lyrics have another dimension.  They are making a theological statement.  “The Renewed Mind is the Key to the Christ in Me.”  In other words this evolves very quickly into a treatment of Christian grace.  As in the song “Amazing Grace,”grace is the phenomenon of being blind (“I once was blind, but now I see”) to our sins and then being made to see them (and be saved) by the grace of God—we have a renewed mind with Christ in us.

Here, we are talking about the power and grace of God. But the characteristics of human perception can be said to run parallel to the theological understanding.  Most everyone has seen at one time or another perception pictures in text books.  There is one that depicts a young maiden and a hag, another that depicts the profile of two faces and a vase in the center, and a third that depicts the head of a duck or rabbit.  On first glance, you might well see one figure but not both.  You might see the hag or the maiden, the faces or the vase, the rabbit or the duck.  You may be temporarily blind to other perceptions.  But on further inspection, or if someone points out the alternative figure, then you see them both and will continue to see them both.  It is mystifying that the human mind can be blind to something obvious to others.  But once the image is fully seen, it can't be unseen.  No matter when you come back to the pictures, you will now see with new eyes—you will see the whole.  This is a lot like Christian grace works. 

This perceptual phenomenon of blindness creeps over into large areas of life, and it seems strange—almost bizarre.  For example, looking back we can see the great harm financial derivatives caused.  Professional people, people who it would seem should have known better, did not see the financial havoc that the anesthetization against risk would cause.  The stock market flourished and most of the pros said “buy.”  Then, suddenly, everyone seemed to see the danger and the stock market plummeted.   Of course human emotion—in this case fear—played a part.  Emotion can be a driver of perception.  Many, no doubt, have come to the grace of God out of the fear of an empty and pointless life.

Most every perception has a motive or emotive force behind it.  In the examples of the figures mentioned above, the motive force might be an intellectual curiosity or the fear that you will see yourself as a dolt—others can see the alternative figure, so why can’t  I?  Of course, the greatest perceptual drivers of all are love and hate.  How do they operate?  We can see this through two examples.  Say there are two boys with similar bikes.  One boy loves his bike, and the other boy hates his.  We can see that perception is everything.  The boy who loves his bike will think well of it and see great potential and use still in it.  He will have patience with it.  If repairing it, he will make sure he has the right tools so as not to strip the threads.  He will maintain his bike and be kind to it while driving, avoiding potholes and road hazards.  The boy who hates his bike will see it as a pile of junk.  He will have no patience with it, kicking in the spokes with little provocation.  He will use any tool that is handy, stripping the threads of the bolts if it needs repair.  He will seek out potholes to ride over and ignore road hazards.  Such is the great difference between the modalities of love and hate.  These emotive forces are applied to many perceptions and even fields of study not usually associated with love and hate.

 It is time to revisit “Renewed Mind Is the Key” and perhaps see it with a renewed mind.  

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