We all have stories, and the stories we share today are passed on through pop culture, such as TV, movies, ads, and social media. These stories shape us; they don’t just reflect our culture but project and create it. This series explore how these pop culture “liturgies” form our identity by teaching us what we should value, what should do, and how we should live.

This Part 4 of a four part series on Pop Culture Liturgies. Access the rest of the series here:

Swimming Upstream | I’m Lovin’ It | Imagine | Story & Props


 

It’s been more than a year since the movie came out, but my two daughters can’t stop playing Frozen. They saw the movie, learned the songs, and know the story line. Even better, they’ve got props: the dress-up dresses, shoes, some kind of crown, and gloves (at least for whoever is Elsa).

 

Here’s the simple formula that shapes their imagination: story + props.

 

Now imagine something with me. Imagine that they never heard the story of Frozen. Would they use their play dresses, shoes, crowns, and gloves to play Frozen? They would not. They need the story to make sense of what they do with the props.

 

But imagine the reverse. Imagine they had no props. Could they still act out the story? Sure, but I guarantee it wouldn’t come to life in the way it does with their props. They need the props to imagine and act out the story.

 

I think this simple formula applies to the Christian faith: story + props. In fact, that’s the liturgy Christians have to offer in place of the liturgy of McDonald’s, Lowe’s, and Friends. And what if God provided props that show us how to understand his story?

 

As a Christian, I’ll readily admit that our Christian liturgies often tell the wrong story and abuse the props Jesus gave us.

 

For example, think about the prop of the Lord’s Supper within the story God is telling in the Bible. The story starts with food, with humans eating food in a way that shows our distrust of God and pride in ourselves. Later, God’s liberation of the slave nation Israel centers on their eating a sacrificial Passover lamb and of God’s miraculous provision of daily bread in the wilderness. Their understanding of who God is cannot be separated from the regular eating that took place in their festivals and temple, eating that rejoiced in the abundance of Creation and in the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

 

In his life, Jesus was the bread of life who ate with sinners, tax collectors, and other outsiders. In his death, he became the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. In his resurrection, Jesus becomes the source of living water so that we will never thirst. So when the early church gathered together to feast with the living Jesus at the Lord’s Supper, they had an abundance of food so that all—rich and poor alike—should go away full. They ate together so that Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free would know of their new status as a family united in Christ (imagine if the folks at Downton Abbey had taken 1 Corinthians seriously!). And at Jesus’ return, he and his bride (the church) will celebrate with a wedding feast.

 

The Lord’s Supper should be a prop that helps tell this big story. If you didn’t get that from how your church celebrated the Lord’s Supper, I completely understand. Do pre-cut, individually split pieces of “bread” help us recognize our unity in Christ, a unity that is essential to the story line? Do tiny shot glasses of grape juice help us recognize the lavish abundance of God’s love, poured out to the point of death on the cross? Do somber warnings help us celebrate the fact that this table is for sinners? Does our fast-food approach to eating the Lord’s Supper enable us to take time to relish God’s love for us, to taste and see that the Lord is good?

 

Until Christians get the formula right—story + props—the pop culture liturgies of our day will continue to exert a pull on us. The story God tells through the Bible and displays in the props is unbelievably good news. He loves us extravagantly and wants to reconcile the human race from the things that divide us. Are we telling that story? Do our props communicate the gravity of God’s love and the wonder of joy? Why is McDonald’s outdoing Christians when it comes to showing the meaning of our meals?

 

A few days ago, my four-year-old wouldn’t finish her milk. To help her understand why she should, my wife essentially told the story of the milk. How did this come to be here? What does it mean? The grain that fed the cows, the farmers (or machines) that milked the cows, the people who transported the milk to the store, the workers who kept it cold and stocked the store shelves, Daddy who worked to earn money to buy the milk, and Mommy who made the dinner and poured the nice cold glass of milk. The story actually connected (much to our surprise). All of a sudden, drinking milk wasn’t just going through the motion on Mom and Dad’s orders but an expression of gratitude and taking one’s place within a much bigger story.

 

Likewise, if Christians have joy and gratitude for what God has done, we need to show and tell the big story of who God is and who we’re called to be. We need to live out the big story. We need to make sure our props do justice to the big story, making it real and making it present. In a world where pop culture liturgies are constantly selling us something, may we have eyes to see and the humility to receive the gifts of identity, community, and love as we receive the gift of the story God is telling us.

 


 

This Part 4 of a four part series on Pop Culture Liturgies. Access the rest of the series here:

Swimming Upstream | I’m Lovin’ It | Imagine | Story & Props