Sunday, January 13, 2008

The One and Only?

A few friends went out the other night in Yeovil to see an Elton John tribute act. Not being a big Elton fan, I wasn't among them, but that, plus The One and Only (latest BBC music/phone vote/Graham Norton/talent show/vote 1 person off a week/throw them all up the air and see what programme you get this year) got me to thinking about this question

Do we put up with tribute acts because we've given up on seeing the real thing?

The contestants on 'The One and Only' are tribute acts. They depend for their success on doing a passable imitation of the real thing. This is big business now - look at the programme of any provincial theatre, and you'll find a clutch of tribute acts lined up alongside the usual parade of pantos, mediums, Alan Bennett plays and Chubby Brown. Lots of people are happy to pay good money to see tribute acts. Considering the price and rarity of chances to see the real thing live (U2, Robbie Williams, etc.), never mind how hard it is to get a ticket, you can see why people settle for less.

So I wonder, do we do this with church? We know what the real thing ought to be like - it's there in the Bible, and occasionally we might have experienced or glimpsed it for ourselves, but most of the time we fall short of being the loving, prayerful, forgiving, dynamic, Jesus-centred, sacrificial, courageous, holy people of God that we actually are.

Eventually, hoping for the ideal church becomes too painful - either we join the ranks of steeple-chasers, hopping from 1 church to another in the vain hope that the grass is greener in another pew/comfy seat, or we give up hoping altogether, and settle for the tribute act. It bears a passing resemblance to what church ought to be, it sings the same songs with the same lyrics, and it's probably the nearest thing on the market. But maybe the cost of being the real church is too high, maybe it's too much sustained effort to get there, maybe what we have is 'good enough'.

But what if it is a tribute act, rather than the real thing?

In a way it's easy to illustrate this with the church, but you could apply it to anything. Your marriage, your character (is it what it could be, or just what you've settled for?), your company, your community (great word 'community' - has the amazing magic power that if we use it often enough of a group of people they will miraculously become one. Or not), your life?

and religion in general too: a question Extreme Pilgrim throws up, and which has been debated for centuries, is whether all the faiths are geniune acts in their own right, or whether one is the real thing and the rest are tribute bands. (That's what the Koran effectively claims about Jesus: you Christians think he's the real thing, but actually he's the support act for Mohammed.) Maybe the great faiths of the world all playing the right kind of music, but only one song is going to save you. It's by The Carpenter.

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