Do Something Outrageous--At Church

Read the book of Ezekiel recently. That book is crazy—full of totally weird performance art meets sermon illustration. We find Ezekiel eating a scroll (literally), lying on his side next to a battle diorama for 390 days, shaving with a sword, clapping his hands, stamping his feet, digging a hole through the side of his house and carrying his baggage through the street. Then, in chapter 24 God kills Ezekiel’s wife and tells him not to mourn. In chapter 37 God raises an army of dead men—Ezekiel sees them growing flesh.
This stuff is amazing. It’s spectacle—over-the-top, graphic pictures of God’s truths. Spectacle makes people look, it jars them, pulls them out of the ordinary, forces them to face God’s totally out-of-the-ordinary self.
God’s worked this way from the very beginning. Look at creation, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the parting of the Red Sea, the plagues, the battle of Jericho, Jesus’ miracles, healing, the assension, Pentecost. Sure, God could have done things in a low-key, low-impact way, but that’s not very much like God, is it?
I wonder why we avoid spectacle today. I mean, can you imagine your preacher lying on his side on a busy street corner to symbolize the disobedience of God’s people? Can you imagine a video on Sunday morning that showed a skeleton being covered in bloody muscle and sinews, graphically illustrating the movement from dead to alive? Can you see your elders wearing hard hats and knocking down a wall in the church building to show the community that they refused to let invisible walls separate them from those who need them?
We don’t do stuff like this, and I think it’s a shame. Because these are the kinds of things that stick in our heads. Spectacles shake us out of our Sunday morning stupor and force us to confront truth.
I heard recently of a church that studied the story of the prodigal son. They handed out party favors and, at the end of services, encouraged everyone to participate in the Father’s party. The point was, don’t just read about the joy that comes from a prodigal’s return, participate in it. See what it feels like to get really happy. Hundreds of people cheered and threw confetti. The picture was graphic. No one forgot it.
I’ve heard a lot about this from friends of mine, most of whom saw it as totally inappropriate. I see why they might object, but I’d ask them to consider for a moment that spectacle may actually serve God’s purposes better than monotonous repetition. When we, on occasion*, opt for spectacle, we assure that God’s message is heard. And we’re only following in God’s footsteps when we use it.
When we ignore the power of spectacle—or worse, condemn it—we miss out on one of God’s most powerful forces for effecting positive change.

*Spectacle only works when it’s not the normal method of communication. Ezekiel’s message was provocative because it was weird. When we bombard audiences with stimuli and craziness, we make spectacle impotent. So, use it, but use it wisely.