Thursday, September 30, 2010

Church by Design

I have been searching the internet this past week for pictures to go along with the sermon for World Communion Sunday--pictures of all kinds of tables, from basic to elegant and comfortable to awkward. The design of the table matters...but also those who are gathered around it.

But in my wanderings, I came across the following blog entry about students in an industrial design class at Lund University in Sweden. Sweden, if you didn't know, is international home of the place that has given us the functional, if not high end, designs of IKEA, which grace the apartments and homes of many of my friends and family. So I thought to myself--this would be interesting to see the inner thought processes of the people who one day may be designing furniture for my dreamt-of kids and grandkids.

The challenge to the students was, however, to design components for a chair without knowing what the other components might look like. Each chair leg, the seat and the backrest were all designed independently of each other. The kicker is that each of the 6 designers in a group was given the same word to use as inspiration for their component.

See the results here:

What Can You Bring to the Table?

Sometimes church (and more specifically, the United Methodist Church) feels to me like one of these chairs. We each are given a Word...and then told to come up with a component without necessarily talking to each other about how those components can and should function together. Some of the chair components in these pictures are just silly. But some of them would be perfectly functional and perhaps even lovely if they could be worked into an intentional design with component parts that looked and functioned in similar ways.

The problem is--who gets to decide which word gets used? The words that the students were given were highly diverse: vain, voluptuous, awkward, vicious, androgynous. It would be difficult to take component parts designed around voluptuous and vicious and place them into the same chair.

And so it is with the church--especially when we get into global levels. My local congregation can choose to construct a Chair with a more limited scope--but even then there will be competing understandings of the Word that we're reading. When we multiply that by the various local concerns and the breadth of the Word that we're given (as well as its interpretation!), I wonder if we'll ever come up with a structure that resembles something that the wounded and weary, sin-sick and sore can come upon and find the salvation and healing of God.

We're going to continue arguing over which words are important. Very few of them are unimportant. But which are good focus words for the structure that need to be built?

This is the question for my local congregation. It's also the question I have for the wider general church. What chairs might be brought to the Table of Grace from the four focus areas that we have as a church? Do they work together and allow for us to have the kind of Open Table that we proclaim in spirit (if not always in practice)?

No comments: