I don’t watch much network television. I do, however, have my few guilty pleasures that I record and watch later. One of those is Shark Tank. I come from an entrepreneurial family so I love to evaluate the opportunities presented and have bought some of the products pitched on the show. Today, the episode included a pitch by a father/son team for a guitar with a folding neck. I immediately called my son in to watch with us since he is a musician and has been obsessed with guitars since age two.
A couple of the sharks ended up making an offer which the team refused. It was a licensing deal where they would sell the patented hinge to the established guitar manufacturers. The father would have had to give up 51% control of the company, however, and so he didn’t accept. I asked Benjamin if this guitar was on the market anywhere. He wasn’t sure and he questioned the practicality since the guitar sounded out of tune before and after they folded it (I couldn’t tell) and that folding guitar strings is like folding a paperclip back/forth – not good. But what inspired me today was the rest of our conversation. He said plainly, “The guitar industry sucks.” He went on to explain that the guitar industry is built on tradition so innovation is not valued. Even if a guitar is designed to address say, the problem with reaching the frets easily, musicians are skeptical. Apparently, Gibson built such a guitar for a few years, sold the heck out of it, and then discontinued it. Maybe they are creating scarcity. Benjamin said the most expensive guitars are the replicas of the older designs.
This made me think about scotch. I know what you’re thinking – where’s the Jesus? Stay with me. At one time, I really enjoyed drinking scotch. If you are a scotch drinker, my favorite was Oban, one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, started in 1794. When I drank Oban, I expected it to taste consistently the same year after year. As a consumer, I would have probably stopped buying Oban if they did anything “innovative” with their product. So it is with guitars, apparently. Everything about the way guitars are made produces a very unique sound: whether the neck is glued on or screwed on; whether the wood is solid or composite; whether there are three springs or five springs on the bridge, etc. [I know more than I really want to know about guitars but I totally support my son in his passion.] As I listened to my son, I understood that so much of the value comes from consistency and not innovation. The car industry is built on innovation but not guitars or scotch. I named it the Stradivarius Syndrome – that unless it’s done exactly the same way it’s always been done, it’s not worthy.
That’s when my palms started to sweat. Isn’t the church something that we value for its tradition and we become skeptical when it doesn’t look/smell/feel/sound like it always did? When I said this, my husband commented that Jesus and God don’t change – they are supposed to be the same forever. I agreed. The Trinity – God, Jesus, Holy Spirit – are constant. That’s the beautiful and comforting thing. But how we expand His kingdom is always ripe for experimentation. There are no limits as to the many ways we can reach out to people and connect them to the church. God gave us the gift of creation – the ability to create something from nothing. We aren’t creating the Trinity; we are creating a community.
Does the experience of church look the same as it did years ago? No. Does it feel the same from church to church? No. And it is still worthy. As I talk to our younger newcomers at St. Mary’s, I am surprised by their desire for reverent worship, time for prayer, or organ music. They say they are tired of 30 minute rock concerts. As I write this blog, I can smell my mother’s communion bread baking for tomorrow’s Holy Eucharist. Our liturgical tradition is a real and physical experience in a world where we constantly need to filter truth from fiction.
Traditionally, we have waited for someone to decide they wanted to join the church before helping them connect in any significant fashion. I believe in the opposite. People don’t join anything before they have a connection to it. Our first Seekers Forum concluded a few weeks ago. This was a blend of some in-person fellowship and a private Facebook group. Personally, this is not the way I would connect to a new church but it was very meaningful to these participants. That is one example of innovation and we didn’t have to abandon our Anglican roots to do it.
It’s scary to experiment and try something new. But if we try something new because we are truly listening to others and trying to meet them where they are, the church becomes real and relevant. And that is both traditional and innovative.