Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Noise by Mo Morgan

This morning my 2 ½ year old son popped into my bed at around 5:30am. He chattered away to me for an hour or so before convincing his Dad to go downstairs and get breakfast on. I dragged myself downstairs a short time after. A shower and coffee usually perks me up and gets me going. On a normal day, the next hour or so goes pretty quickly. There’s lunches to make, chores to be done, a piano to be practiced, a husband to kiss good bye, homework bags to find, uniforms to pop in the dryer because you forgot to bring the washing in last night, bags to pack, 3 kids to strap in to car seats, kids to deposit at school and kindy... then I try and put that to one side to focus on what I might be doing that morning.

That’s the start of my day. It’s always busy often noisy. Sometimes the noise is happy and that’s ok. On a good day, my children embody the passage ‘make a joyful noise all you people.’ Sometimes, not so much. There are days when the noise my children make is the sort that wears you down. Sometimes I wish they would be still and know that I (I mean, GOD) is God.

And my children are just one of the noise makers in my life. Everywhere we go, there are noises filling up the airspace, images looking to catch our attention. Some of it we have little control over. Whether we like it or not, there are companies and organisations everywhere, trying to catch our attention. A recent study demonstrated that on average we see 600 advertising images per day. We notice probably 75 of them. Our brains can’t truly notice or process as many at 600 messages a day, so we instinctively skim the surface, browse, graze, take in a glimpse. Most things, even if they relate to values we find important, will evaporate into the busyness of our day. Marketers know this. It’s common knowledge that people today are dealing with absolute sensory overload. So these days marketers go to extreme measures to attract our attention. They know that they only have our attention for a second, if that. If they want us to remember their product, they need our emotional engagement to buy or at least investigate the advertised product or service.

There are other forms of noise and distraction we do have more choice over. These days we are living in a world where mothers take pride in multi-tasking, busy-ness is a virtue, teenagers talk to each other across the room on their cell phones and everyone’s willing to be interrupted by a Facebook update. Our lives can easily become distracted and disconnected, and how we handle the noise and distraction around us is changing our culture.

People of the new generation are busy. Busier than ever before. As the church tries to connect with people in the community, should it join the competition for people’s attention? Tempting. But I don’t think so. One of the unique things the church has to offer people who are overwhelmed by busyness and disconnectedness and distraction, is an alternative. Opportunities and spaces to ‘be’ as well as ‘do’. Moments which allow people to ‘let go’ and experience the peace that can be found from just ‘being’. Time to dig a bit deeper, reflect on The Story, think about what’s meaningful and important – not just to us personally, but to the world around us.

It is a counter-cultural idea but that’s what our leader specialises in. In the gospels, Jesus consistently advocates for being a counter-cultural example in the world. ‘Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think.’

But as well as offering an alternative to the distracted disconnected lifestyle, the church has more to offer people in our communities. The church is called to do more than just connect or engage. We can leave that to advertising agencies. What the church has to offer is the same thing it has always had to offer: Love. I am convinced that God’s love is infinitely more satisfying than anything money can buy on the internet. The story we live by is all about love. And I believe we are not only called to offer it, but also called to generate it in the community. That is our challenge, that is our call.

What does love look like? Well the answer to that’s going to look different depending on your context, depending on the people in your community. I belong to St James in Whanganui East. Something special has been happening at St James recently. New people have started coming to church. I don’t just mean people defecting from other churches, I mean people who haven’t been to church before.

Recently we had the wonderful, wise, Jill Kayser visit us to start us on the journey to become Kid Friendly. Jill reminded us that if we wish to offer anything to people in our communities, then children are a good starting point, because of all the generations, they are the ones with the least inhibitions, the least sceptism. We spent the evening talking about the why and how of ministering to children in our church and wider community, and various issues and challenges were raised, including the issue of children making too much noise during the services.

One of the greatest gifts Jill gave us was reminding us what love looks like to children and their parents. It’s been so long since there’s been a decent child population at St James, people have forgotten what love looks like for the children and parents in our midst. We need to rethink and relearn what love looks like in our church and how to generate it in the community. What occurred to me as I listened to the discussion was that noise is really a red herring issue. If we get on with the core business of loving people, not attracting people, not converting people, not keeping people entertained or busy, REALLY loving people, issues like noise take care of themselves.

Jesus knew this of course, that’s why he made his greatest commandment all about Love. As the great cartoonist Michael Leunig puts it: Love one another and you will be happy. It is as complicated and simple as that. There is no other way. Amen.

Mo Morgan is married to Kirk and lives in Wanganui with their three beautiful children.  Mo is a leader at St James Presbyterian Church.  She and her team lead intergenerational worship twice a month and a variety of ministries serving their community of children and families.  Mo will begin her training to become an ordained minister in 2015.  This blog is an extract from a sermon shared at a worship service led by Mo at the Central Presbytery's Gathering in Palmerston North in April 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! Thank you for speaking to my heart, Mo!
    --Kaila Pettigrove