Growing up, I listened to WVUD out of Dayton, Ohio. It was an album rock radio station. Without commercial interruption, WVUD played whole albums. Listening to an album rock station is where I learned to appreciate the song “Gnat Attack” by Kansas. It was a part of “Magnum Opus” on Kansas’ Leftoverture” classic. Many would recognize “Carry On My Wayward Son” or “What’s On My Mind.” But, would you recognize “Release The Beavers?” This song was another great movement in “Magnum Opus.”
There was a time when we lingered on whole albums. Turntable needles remained in the grooves of both sides A and B. Even the artwork of LPs captured our uninterrupted attention. I smile these days as a small bin of vinyl has made its way into Barnes and Noble. Maybe there’s a grass roots effort to endure and slowly enjoy each track of whole albums. Maybe not.
My kids download singles on iTunes. There’s no slow perusing of album bins or all ten tracks There’s just no time to listen to whole albums when Power 96.1 plays only the hits. Four and a half inches of pitiful space reduces album art to something less than art. Boston album covers featured their trademark spaceship. Only twelve-inch album covers turn the imaginative spaceship into a guitar when flipped upside down. I can remember this rock and roll revelation like it happened yesterday. These days it just feels like we’re missing something.
The beautiful world, as Mark Sayers writes, centers on image, the distraction of constant entertainment, and the projection of a successful self is a world where inner life wilts.” Our thirst for superficial, quick connections drowns deeper quests. The beautiful life in a beautiful world has no room for rules, regulations, commandments, or codes. Release into whatever elevates self becomes a strong drug against any form of restraint. “Yet this beautiful world becomes a prison as humans are possessed by the things that they create,” writes Sayers in “Disappearing Church.”
I begin to wonder if “Black Lives Matter” is a cry from the beautiful world. I hear rebuffs of “All Lives Matter.” I see internet pictures of two guys with two signs. Each sign says “His Life Matters.” The concept of a beautiful world says YOU matter. You are king. Do whatever it takes to get whatever you want. Such attitudes are so far beyond a cause or movement. This is personal.
A follower of Jesus says, “My life doesn’t matter. I have died and Jesus lives in me.” This is where the power of sacrifice, service, love, and the cross make the Gospel so very effective. A Jesus follower loses his or her life and gains something far greater than anything the beautiful world can offer.
How then does spirituality seem to remain at an all time high in America? Sayers points to faith minus church being “the unconfronted life.” Church represents rules, regulations, commands, and disciplines. A beautiful world depicted so well on Facebook has no place for such tedious handcuffs. A beautiful world requires beautiful churches that people flock to, to NOT be confronted or given rules and regulations.
Sayers asks, “What if our attempts at relevance, at mimicking and outdoing the beautiful world, actually limit our ministry potential? What if our increasing strangeness to Western culture is actually to our advantage? What if the fact that you can no longer be warmly embraced in the contemporary cultural fold if you are an orthodox Christian is actually the best thing that has happened to us?”
We are, then, at a place of opportunity and advantage. The Gospel takes center stage. Only churches with a Gospel resiliency will remain. Beautiful churches in a beautiful world eventually are deemed unnecessary and fade away like an outdated app.
Gospel resilient churches see the advantage of being marginalized in our beautiful world because the power of the Gospel becomes even clearer and dearer to hold. The Gospel is the good news that can rescue a wilting, broken beautiful world.