Here’s the rub:
Should we as good Christadelphians-in-the-pew allow ourselves the indulgence of hobbies or pastimes, especially when they may involve contact (gasp!) with those ‘in the world’?
When I was a member of more traditional meetings we used to get our quota of ‘being separate’ exhortations. Holiness was a word often used. I grew up trying to be ‘holy’. I spent three years at college locked away because I didn’t want to soil my perfect little life by mixing with my college friends ‘out of hours’. I’m not regretful of those decisions I made or the things I did because I now value the gift of human company so much more.
These days I do wonder whether other voices need to be heard. This isn’t a call for wholesale sellling of our principles for the sake of creativity or personal satisfaction, but instead doing all things ‘for the glory of God’, with a thankful heart for skills gained in out-of-church activities.
One thought: I don’t want to ridicule those who spend a life in service to the Lord or those because of the circumstances under which they live have little but the certain knowledge that scripture brings. This blog is for the rest of us.
At this point I feel I must tell my story.
Suppose you have a skill that doesn’t fit in with the culture of Middle-English Christadelphia, do you quietly try to forget you have this skill?
Growing up in the 70’s if you were at all musical it meant piano lessons. and sooner or later the black hymn book would magically appear on the music stand. I wasn’t very good at piano, let alone sight-reading. But I would give it a go.
While at college I moved away from my home town to a city where there was a small elderly meeting. They were lovely people and very kind to a young man away from home for the first time. I wanted to contribute in some way so I volunteered to play the organ every other week at Bible class. This would give me two weeks to learn the hymns for my next duty. That way I could gradually work my way through the hymn book – if you’re not a musician – that’s a tall order! It all went well, some weeks better than others. Until one Thursday when we had a visiting speaker from a much larger meeting. I admit I didn’t play as well as could be possible, but we got through. I thought no more of it until a week or so later when I attended that larger meeting’s Fraternal Gathering to be greeted by the loud comment, “Here’s the Brother who can almost play the hymns!” Needless to say I curled up inside, with the result that the young man who I was closed the hymn book and turned my back on the organ and all it stood for.
I couldn’t keep silent. My energies were focused on other instruments – 6 and 12 string guitar. I started writing songs. Every time I finished one it felt like Christmas. Not exactly Black Hymnbook. Not Middle Christadelphia. Then there was my Damascus Road: Scanning the radio I heard a song that had me reaching for an empty cassette to push into the recorder. It changed the way I thought about music – John Martyn’s Spencer the Rover. This was living, breathing music. I had discovered folk music, and nothing else mattered.
I continued to explore music including a brief foray into Irish traditional music. I learned the uilleann pipes, the whistle, bodhran, accordion and melodeon. I went to folk clubs and gigs. Not very middle Christadelphia. Not very black hymnbook. But neither is playing for a Morris side. That’s where I am every Monday night, mixing with those ‘of the world’, having a lovely, joyous time. I play tunes such as ‘William Taylor’s Tabletop Hornpipe’ passed on down from generation to generation of musicians and when my time comes, I’ll pass it on too.
So where was God in all this? Let me tell you, He doesn’t let go that easily. He took me to the recording studio few times. He frequently takes me to perform to those who will listen. He found a place for me in my meeting sat next to the pianist for our Sunday services playing one instrument or another.
When I failed to bring my accordion to another ecclesia’s outreach festival I was taken aside and given a stern talking to not once, but five times. Apparently background Morris music is conducive to ‘the right kind of conversations in this context’. That was me told off.
So what about lessons learned?
You could argue that such activity brings fresh, relevent skills into our community at a time when our ‘Black Hymnbook’ Christadelphian culture can sometimes hide God’s presence from those around us.
You could counter-argue that it threatens the separateness of our community.
My own view is that the culture we have within our community is very special. What has made it that way is that it has changed with the times while still keeping its core values as defined in the scriptures. Trying to preserve the culture of a fixed point in time is like a dragonfly in amber: you can see the dragonfly but you can’t touch it; break the stone open and the insect crumbles – it is in effect, an illusion. With something that insubstantial we need to address deeper issues of culture versus conviction.
To answer my own question: Yes, we can and should bring in skills to our community, bearing in mind our roles of being Christ to one another. We need to encourage one another, we need to make room for our young people with their needs and skills. We need to let God be God.
Our future as a community depends on it.