One of the best metaphors I have heard for society is that of a tapestry. Many different voices, strands, colors and ideologies are skillfully woven together to make this complex and sometimes crazy picture of who we are as a people. Some tapestries are quite extravagant while others can tend to be bland. Some are peaceful and others are terrifying. But examining the tapestry that is woven by a society can give you great insight into the bigger picture of that culture.
I usually imagine that the tapestry that existed when Jesus came on the scene was pretty bland and restrictive. The Israelites had been given all of these incredibly beautiful strands to weave with. Some were easy to understand, others were hard. Some of these strands were just too much for leaders to handle. So they took the God-breathed ones they could handle, the ones they liked, the easy ones, and began to weave those together with many of their own man-made strands. Ultimately most of these strands were only of two or three similar colors, so they ended up with a bland wall of restrictions that they then pressured everyone to praise and follow.
For several years, I see Jesus walking around the edges of this tapestry, picking at the different pieces and strands at the edges and causing the tapestry to fray around the edges. Just enough to really irk a lot of the people that made the tapestry. But they saw no rhyme to his reason and let him go about it in some ways.
But then Jesus revealed his master plan – he took the Cross and slammed it down square in the middle of this tapestry. Because of the skillful way he had been picking at the edges, the whole thing fell apart in one huge mess of strands.
And what did he do with this mess? The disciples at times seemed to expect him to be the one to put it back together the way it should be. But Jesus just picked up the strands that He originally breathed into being out of the mess, gathered the ones that had been left out for centuries, handed them all to his Bride, and left it up to us to weave it back together.
Which is crazy if you think about it – we messed it up in the first place, and he gave it back to us to weave back together again.
But this is the pattern that God had been following for thousands of years.
Go back to the Garden of Eden. God gave out a few simple tools to weave the tapestry of the garden, and Adam and Eve messed it up. They wove in their own thoughts and ideas. God came in, torn it down, picked it all up and gave it back to them to work on it again. But made the whole thing a bit more complex.
And so we built the tower of Babel. God came in, tore it all down, picked it all up, and gave it back to us to work on again. And again made it more complex.
Then there was the flood, the Law, the nation of Israel, etc, etc. Every time, humans build their tapestry of society up incorrectly. They only take the pieces they feel safe with, and then add in so many of their own. And every time God comes in to unravel what we created. He then pulls out the strands that were from Him, picks up the ones we missed, adds in some more complexity, and gives it all back to us to try again.
The two things we should learn is that 1) God always wants us to be the ones to weave the tapestry, but that we always get it wrong, and that 2) what God gives us back is more complex than it was before…. the most recent added complexity being the teachings of Jesus on love.
Never easy, never simple, never what we expect – but always worth it. Love.
If you look back at the last few decades of the Church, I think we see that the edges have been slowly unraveling. So that means we have been getting it wrong. Whether we have been going to a long-established church in a very old building or a new church that started last week in someone’s empty office space… we are getting it wrong.
But are we stuck in a cycle that has to be repeated? Does God have to destroy it all and rebuild it again?
Possibly… but you have to wonder if God is waiting for us to figure out how to re-invent ourselves so that He doesn’t have to come in to tear down what we have built up.
Think back a few centuries ago. Business or governments that failed were doomed to die. Whether through revolution or going out of business, it seemed like survival of the fittest was the rule. But what do we see now? Companies can do a horrible job, restructure, go through massive changes, and come out again on top. Or they can dig their heels in and follow the same path that dying companies have for centuries. Governments are also showing that they can do the same.
So, the options are to go through an honest (and painful) re-organization to grow, change, and become better… or stick with “we have always done it this way” and die.
Our culture has evolved to the point that it is no longer survival of the fittest, but survival of the smartest. Our society has evolved to the point that even large, complicated organisms such as businesses can survive getting it wrong if they are just willing to look inside and change.
So that is the challenge of the Church – we have to realize that we are getting it wrong and will get it wrong no matter what. No gold stars for effort (let’s face it, the Tower of Babel was a good effort). We have to be willing to change. The other option is to face being torn down by God. We can cast ourselves upon the Rock, or have the Rock cast upon us.
But being honest about what we are doing wrong is hard. Every teacher knows that students won’t see the need to improve if you give them an ‘A’. No one interprets as ‘A’ as ‘we can still do better.’ They see it as ‘we got this down, so sit back and relax.’ If we want to improve, we have to get honest about how we really aren’t doing that well, and where we need to change.