Bricolage, COVID-19 and the Future of the Church (Part I)

Bricolage has become a wide term that was previously and more narrowly applied in the architectural, building and design trades.  The big idea is this; you often don’t have access or can’t afford the materials you wish you had to design or build something.  Bricolage is the creative use of materials already on hand to produce something that might even be better than what you could have produced otherwise.  In a sense, the Bible after Genesis two, is an exercise in Bricolage.  God created a perfect and pristine world that was utterly corrupted by sin.  Through the creative use of a promise to Abraham, the Law of Moses, the establishment of a monarchy, the messages of the prophets, the protective custody of exile in Babylon, the rebuilding under Nehemiah and the eventual coming of Jesus, God redeemed us with what he had on hand.  As I often say about the Bible, “I am sure God prefers to build with perfect lumber but in the absence of straight boards, God seems to use whatever he can find.”  Bricolage!

I am sure God prefers to build with perfect lumber but in the absence of straight boards, God seems to use whatever he can find.

We are now in a culture where attempts to curb the pandemic effects of the COVID-19 virus are impacting churches in ways unimaginable a couple of months ago.  I never thought that government would shut down worship services in this country during my lifetime.  Through these efforts, the number one strategic tool of the Christian faith has been temporarily removed from us (live corporate worship) and we have no real idea when it will return.  And now it has been done once, it will not be that hard to do it again.  We are now faced with the daunting task of finding new ways to fulfill the Great Commission and the missions of our local churches minus the “way we have always done it”  and minus a business model.  When you can’t do or afford to do what you have always done; you are going to have to do something else.  It may be the best thing that ever happened to the declining church; like it or not, we are knee deep in the task of bricolage!

As many of us look at our personal lives, things may not be exactly everything for which we had hoped.  People we thought would never leave us are gone.  Marriages in which we hoped things would be rich, healthy and better somehow got poorer, sicker and worse.  Careers we hoped would be fast tracking, may be bogged down or worse.  Families we hoped would bring us joy and meaning have become fractured and painful.  Dreams have become shattered, hopes have been dashed, promises have been broken and potential has been left unrealized.   John 10: 10 reads, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  In a fallen world things die.  I would venture to say that not one of us here today has every building material we desire for the construction of our lives.  My thesis is that your life can still be filled with peace, power, purpose and passion!

Let’s begin by focusing on the one building block we all share in common; we are all human beings.  Things like pandemics remind us of this simple reality.  DNA experts claim all humans are 99.9% the same.  I find it fascinating that we humans want to look to almost anything to define us, other than our humanity.  We seem most comfortable in quickly tossing ourselves into dividing groups and tragically, it is often as a part of these groups that we have our identities.  We are Democrats or Republicans, labor or management, married or single, white or blue collar, rich or poor.  We are red, yellow, black or white; hip hop or country, PhD or GED, conservatives or progressives, PETA or NRA, military or civilian and the list goes on into infinity.  These days it is as if you meet a person and the first thing you are expected to do is put yourself into a series of categories.  Hi, my name is Shane and I am a married, heterosexual, Methodist, Caucasian, Cardinals fan with two master’s degrees who loves history, really likes baseball better than politics and enjoys mid-tempo music with really good lyrics and if you are different than me on any of these things, there is a good chance I hate you.  Do you see how different this is than, “Hi, my name is Shane and I am a human being.  Can you imagine how much we have in common?”

Let’s begin with a theological baseline, I would call us “flawed and fallen.”  You are I are flawed beings living in a fallen world.  We are not just inheritors of a fallen world, we are active contributors to a fallen world.  You and I are straight up, card carrying sinners.  I know this is not exactly chocked full of optimism but it is our base default, it is what we share in common.  I am not perfect.  You are  not perfect.  This is where Bricolage in a fallen world must begin; “I have found the problem and the problem is me!  Let’s build from there.”

It seems to me that people are always blaming others for what is wrong with them on one hand and what is wrong with the world on the other.  The Corona virus isn’t killing churches; churches have been dying for decades.  This is a disastrous mindset because it leaves you utterly paralyzed and thinking you are helpless…which leaves you utterly hopeless.  And hopeless people in a fallen world act in ways that insure their cycle of hopelessness will be perpetuated.  Abdication of personal responsibility has always plagued this fallen world.  Here at church, when we have something go wrong and we often do, I am quick to say that it was my fault.  In part because I have the big office and the buck has to stop somewhere but more so because of the way I view life.  If something is my fault, then I can fix it but if something is someone else’s fault, then that situation is beyond my control.  By taking responsibility for the condition of our lives and the world around us, we place ourselves in a position to fix it, rather than be defined by it.

A few years back, Melissa and I drove through Louisville, Illinois where I taught and coached from 1984-1986.   I recalled an instance about halfway through my first year of teaching at North Clay Jr. High School.  It was time for parent-teacher conferences and I needed some advice.  I dropped by the room next door and found a guy who knew the ropes.  The kids had gone home and he had a wad of tobacco the size of a softball jammed into his left cheek and just a bit of brown juice dripping from the corner of his mouth into his beard.  “I need some advice.  This is my first parent-teacher conference; what can you tell me?”  He looked at me, thought, smiled, expectorated an eleven-inch brown stream of juice in the trash can and drawled, “Be the arrow and not the target.”  His tongue began to re-position his chaw to the right side and he turned away.  The lesson was over.  Good lesson!  When we abdicate that responsibility, we become the target and not the arrow! When we take responsibility for our situations, we become the arrow and not the target!  We can’t control many things right now but we CAN control our attitudes.

We can’t control many things right now but we CAN control our attitudes.

A few years ago, someone came into my office to inform me she was leaving the church.  This was an individual literally marinated in drama of their own making and what they didn’t make, they certainly exacerbated.  She was really like a person who complained every waking moment about how much she hated eating her own cooking.  She was one of those people with a difficult life, no impulse control and a Facebook account.  Let me tell you something; the combination of those three things is the trinity of all modern disasters.  For ten minutes that seemed like ten hours, she let me know the shortcomings of her spouse, her family, her job, our nation, our world, our church and its people and especially our Senior Pastor.  When she had finished, I replied, “I wish you well but I don’t think you are going to be happy at your new church.”  She replied, “Why not?”  And I said, “Because there is only one thing your list of complaints has in common; you!  So the way I see it, no matter where you go, you are taking your problem with you.”  And she wasn’t happy at their new church…or the one after that…or the one after that.  What might happen if we stopped running for our own shadows, stopped blaming everyone else, took personal responsibility for our own lives and began praying that God would change us?

Matthew five through seven offer the most comprehensive red letter material in the whole Bible.  This is Jesus’ greatest hits, his “go to” stuff and the play list is called, “The Sermon on the Mount.”  In this section on “Judging Others” we really don’t need an Expository Dictionary, a Greek New Testament or a history map.  It is all pretty straightforward and sits as well in 2020 as it did in 33 AD.

Let’s look at Matthew 7:

V. 1 Stop judging others and you will not be judged Any time we are told to “stop” doing something comes in direct response to the fact we are already doing it. When I used to tell my three oldest grandchildren to stop yelling “poop” as loud as they could at Chic-Fil-A, it was because they were doing it! Jesus is saying to that part in all of us that loves to judge others and says, “Stop it!  Stop it right now!”    Every now and then I will listen to talk radio.  Talk radio loves nothing more than finding a shiver of sharks, throw bloody meat in the water and offer commentary as the reddish pink waters churn.  It is never “us and ours’ that is the problem, it is always “they and them.”  Democrats blame Republicans and Republicans blame Democrats.  The city blames the county and the county blames the city.  Right blames the left and the left blames the right.  Labor blames management and management blames labor.  Illinois blames Missouri and Missouri blames Illinois, both of which blame the Federal Government.  If I had to sum American talk radio up in a sentence, it would be, “Everything is bad and it is your fault.”  I would love to see a political leader or candidate say, “I sure got that wrong!”  I think every ambulance on both sides of the river would have to be dispatched to respond to all the heart attacks.  You want to be a real radical today?  Just start singing, “It’s not my brother, not my sister but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”  That will throw the kids off…

          For others will treat you like you treat them This is not a lofty ideal like the Golden Rule which states, “Treat others as you would have them treat you” this is a statement of fact…we humans treat other people like they treat us.

 V. 2 For the measure you use to judge others will be used to judge you There is an old story about a pastor who was just assuming the pulpit in a new congregation. He asked the patriarch of the church what the people were like. The patriarch responded, “What were they like at your old church?”  The pastor replied, “They were vicious, uncooperative and generally difficult.”  The old man frowned and responded, “I’m afraid you will find the people here like that as well.”  That pastor didn’t last very long and when the next new one came to town, he asked the patriarch the very same question.  “What were they like at your old church?”  The pastor replied, “They were loving, supportive and a joy to serve.”  The old man smiled and said, “You will find the people here like that as well.” 

V. 4 Why do you think you can help others with their small problems, when you have a huge problem yourself? I think our huge collective problem, is that we don’t want to admit our sins, we want to defend them.  Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers and conceals his sins shall not prosper but he who confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”  The bottom line is that until we admit, confess and forsake our sin, there is not a thing God can do with us!  One of the symptoms of a fallen world is that we see the sins of others more clearly than we do our own.  But then again, I am 57 years old, these days I can see things infinitely better far away than I can up close!

V. 5 Hypocrite! By the first century a hypocrite was someone who attempted to appear to be something they knew they were not. You couldn’t accidentally be a hypocrite, it was an intentional thing involving deliberate deception. I define hypocrisy as the distance between the image you portray and the person you really are.

          Get the log out of your eye and then you may be able to help others Here is my observation from thirty plus years of ministry, those who truly have their hearts right before God, those who are most qualified to judge, seem to have lost all interest in doing so.  Now don’t get me wrong, everything does not just go and some have been placed in positions by God to make judgments, enforce church discipline and call people to holiness.  I have to do that sometimes as an Elder of the Church.  I am however, suggesting that the more you want the job, the less qualified you probably are to have it.

 V. 6 Don’t give what is holy to unholy people don’t throw pearls before swine This is a difficult verse and some commentators don’t think it belongs here, but I like it fine. Jesus has just kiboshed the all-time, number one pastime of self-righteous hypocrites for centuries; judging others.  And Jesus does not critique their judgments, he questions their qualifications to judge in the first place.  Holy means to be set apart, but when we behave in pedestrian ways, our holiness turns into a pig pen.

          The pigs will trample the pearls and then attack you! And now Jesus makes prophetic application of his own teaching, the self-righteous will dismiss his teaching and attack him.  We may well think Jesus did not treat the religious leaders too well here and that is where things get interesting.  There seems to be nothing Jesus loved more than a sinner or a disciple or liked less than a hypocrite or judgmental person.  Make no mistake, there is a judgment; evil will be punished and what is done in darkness will come to light but WE are not the judges, Jesus is!  The big message of this passage is, “Stop worrying about everyone else and start worrying about yourself!”  We can live our lives self-righteous, judgmental and angry or we can take personal responsibility for our lives and be the arrow and not the target.

Though we may well not have the perfect materials for fulfilling the mission of the church or building a great life in front of us; God has put things like hope, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, grace and restoration within easy reach.  Are you ready to take the first step toward the empowered life God created you to live?  Then stop obsessing on what you don’t have and begin to creatively focus on what you do!  One of my favorite examples of Biblical Bricolage is the Nehemiah story.  Nehemiah was an official in the courts of the Babylonian king Xerxes during the exile period of the Old Testament.  He petitioned his king to allow him to return to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the walls of the city.  What is interesting is that there really were no available materials other than the toppled and burned cut stones that lay in vast heaps of rubble.  And by organizing the people to use the materials they had on hand, and not focus on what they didn’t have, Nehemiah oversaw what became a living metaphor for the restoration of Israel.   And what I pray will become a metaphor for our lives as well.

Many churches are experiencing fear right now.  So are the people who attend them.  We are in a tough spot.  No way around it.  And with that reality, we have two choices; we can engage the mindset of the hopeless and insure that things will never be better or we can start rebuilding right here and now with the things we have right in front of us.  When you can’t do what you have always done, it is time to do something else…perhaps something even better!

When you can’t do what you have always done, it is time to do something else…perhaps something even better!

Where does it begin?

Bricolage

  1. Take responsibility for your life
  2. Assess what you have 
  3. Be creative
  4. Trust God to emerge from this stronger and more fit for His service

PRAYER

Creating God, free me to see my life in a whole new way.  Forgive me for obsessing on what I don’t have or what I can’t do.  Give me the creativity, wisdom and grace to allow you to build something meaningful from the things and with the people right in front of me.  Only you can take a difficult situation and make it into something beautiful.  Only you can replace fear with hope.  I place my life in your hands, fully recognizing there is no better place my life could possibly be.  In Jesus’ strong name, Amen!

Shane 2017 BW Sweater

Published by Rev. Shane L. Bishop

Senior Pastor of Christ Church, Fairview Heights, IL since 1997. I am an orthodox Christian but I am not in a bad mood about it. A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church.

2 thoughts on “Bricolage, COVID-19 and the Future of the Church (Part I)

  1. Thank you Shane. All that is going on all over the world I tend to worry about how it started and who’s behind it, as if any of this matters. I’ll stand on God’s Word and take this extra time I have on my hands to read the Bible more and connect with Jesus!

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  2. Thank you , Shane, for the uplifting, encouraging words. We all need to hear them….especiallt now when our lives are in limbo. God bless you and keep you.

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