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An essay donated by Alton C. Thompson

What the World Needs Now . . .

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What the World Needs Now ...

to implement Jesus' command to love one's neighbor is to facilitate more musical “flash mobs”!

My favorite is Morgens halb zehn im wunderschönen Bayern - dann passierte DAS!—brought to my attention recently by a college buddy, and still-good friend.  I don’t understand a word of what is being said (sung, actually—in German, I believe), but intellectual understanding is not what’s necessary to enjoy this particular flash mob.  It’s enough just to hear the excellent—and delightful—singing, and to see the smiles on the faces of the people involved.

Unlike other musical flash mobs that I have viewed, this one seems to have been organized by a mere handful of people, and once these individuals begin “doing their thing,” contagion sets in, and virtually everyone present becomes a happy, smiling participant.

Typically, when people get together in our society it is to listen to a teacher/professor, pastor, politician, etc. speak, with everyone else in the group being a listener (except for those who fall asleep!).  Also, typically, the occasion is a serious one—except when a comedian, such as the late Robin Williams is speaking—and except for some whispering that may occur, virtually no interaction occurs among the listeners.

The “theory” behind this sort of situation seems to be that:

  • Some people are more important than others—with the “important” people, because they are “authorities” on something, having the “right and duty” to speak, with everyone else—because of their lack of expertise (whether regarding serious topics, or ability to dispense humor)—having the duty of being listeners.

  • The purpose of a speaker is either to deliver important information or to make members of the “audience” laugh.

This “theory” undoubtedly has merit, but (I believe) “breaks down”—and does so “seriously”!—in the case of pastors.  If a pastor is associated with a Christian church, given that the putative (if not actual!) “founder” of Christianity, Jesus, taught—primarily taught, in fact—that one should “love one’s neighbor,” and illustrated this message in his famous Good Samaritan parable, it ostensibly follows that what Christianity should be “about” is learning how to love the neighbor, and then doing so.

The more “orthodox” among us might point out that the “love your neighbor” command was not the first one given by Jesus but, rather, the second one—the first one being “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”  But given that God is love (!)—as the writer of I John (4:8) declared—it turns out that there is just one command after all:  Love one’s neighbor.

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If, then, a Christian pastor has as his or her primary duty helping others—whether or not members or attendees of his/her church—become more loving, the question arises:  What can—and should—a pastor do to accomplish that goal to the greatest degree possible?  A good answer to that question would, obviously, be of great importance, for if all Christian pastors were able to provide good answers to this question, “what a wonderful world this would be”—obviously!

A “good” answer need not be singular, however.  That is, what is a “good” answer for one group of people need not be a “good” answer for another group of people—so that the answer provided by one pastor need not coincide with the answer given by another pastor.  Thus, “one size fits all” is likely not a good answer.

Note that the fact that there likely is no one good answer calls into question the traditional answer provided by pastors:  During a given church meeting (often termed a “service”—even though no service to others occurs during the meeting!) not only is a sermon/homily typically delivered, but there is a period of announcements, the congregants are asked to participate in certain rituals, and also asked to participate in readings and the singing of hymns (indicating a male bias!)—and also to put money in the “offering”!  Although some of these activities involve “audience participation,” little if any interaction occurs during the meeting per se, this being reserved for the “coffee hour” following the meeting.

The question that the above-mentioned “events” suggests, of course, is:  Has this set of activities been determined, via scientific research, to best promote the development of a commitment to a “love of neighbor” attitude on the part of the congregants present, which attitude is likely to be then acted upon, during the coming week, by those present?  Or, rather, has this set of activities simply become established, over a long period of time, as proper activities for a church meeting, without any serious thought being given to how they might be related to Jesus’s command to love the neighbor?

The answer to this question is obvious, of course!

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Let me, then, ask the reader this question:  Which of the following do you believe would most help a person become a loving person?:

  • Attending a Christian church on a regular basis.

  • Being a participant in a musical “flash mob.”

I would argue that to be a loving person, one must be a happy person—for if one is happy, one’s happiness will drive one to be a loving person.  In fact, Jesus seemed to realize this fact:  How else does one explain his frequent use of humor?—discussed at length in Elton Trueblood’s old (1964) The Humor of Christ, and in a number of internet articles (easily found by searching, e.g., “humor in Jesus’s teaching”).  

One will not, when happy,  need to think about whether a given action is, or is not, loving; rather, one’s state of happiness will make one sense—i.e., “know,” without thinking—what is, and is not, loving.  One will then “naturally” be motivated to do what one senses would be loving, and to avoid doing what one senses would be the opposite.

Does this mean that a pastor should abandon the structure of his weekly Sunday meetings, and refashion them as flash mobs?  Given that the churches that most pastors are attached to are associated with a denomination, most pastors are likely to say:

  • “My denomination will not allow me to change the structure of our meetings.”

  • “If my denomination would allow me to be experimental, still, I must admit that I ‘don’t know much about’ organizing a flash mob.”  (This musical flash mob would, by the way, be a good one for a church group to use as an example.)

There is, however, a solution to this problem:

Let’s abandon the churches entirely, and encourage those with an ability to plan and execute musical flash mobs to “do their thing”—because only then will Jesus’s “love your neighbor” command be taken seriously, and actually be realized!

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Originally posted: 2014-AUG-28
Latest update: 2012-AUG-29
Author: Alton C. Thompson

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