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Tiny Dancers: The Foil of Churchianity

I was listening to the original recording of Elton John's 1972 song "Tiny Dancer" not too long ago, and, for the first time ever, I experienced it on a pair of really great studio headphones. In so doing, I realized that the producers never removed Elton's respiratory inhalations, lip "pops," and other audio artifacts, which are clearly audible between lyrics. Admittedly, I was a bit dumbfounded by this observation. Music and video editors today typically over-process audio to the point that it barely sounds authentic. Reverbed and auto-tuned vocals create only caricatures of the original artists' voices. Indeed, we are so accustomed to the various artificial purities of modern life that we barely know the practical definition of "genuine" anymore. But not so in this case of ol' Elton...we hear everything in "Tiny Dancer," from the beauty of his soaring choral melody (only slightly processed, I might add) to the faint whistle of his quick breath between Lines 3 and 4 of Verse 1. Add to this the wanton authenticity of the song's muse--the free-spirited Californian woman who stands in direct contrast to the idyllic, refined English lady of co-writer Bernie Taupin's childhood--and "Tiny Dancer" is a full-throttle exposé on the human experience and "real life." Such 360-degree rawness is no doubt why it is one of Elton John's greatest hits.

With this thought tucked neatly in the back of my mind, I participated in an online meeting of local-church pastors yesterday. One might have envisaged us as a group of "tiny dancers" in our own right...Bible teachers, spiritual leaders, and moral guides who are but shallow caricatures of God's ideal for the same. That is to say, each one of us who attended that meeting knows he is a sinner, knows he is saved by grace, and is fully aware that he fails to meet God's high standards for a shepherd every day. We are decidedly free-spirited Californians, the lot of us! Yet I was amazed to witness how many of my brothers hide behind facades of success, semi-holy perfection, and supposed spiritual strength and maturity. I was also disappointed by their lack of zeal for grappling with the problems of modern Christendom. At one point in the meeting, I made a candid (though entirely balanced) statement critical of an acclaimed Christian leader, and one would have thought I had just identified myself as the shooter on the grassy knoll. A palpable hush came over the group, and the group leader began to apologize for and defend the Christian leader. I obviously breached the comfortable bubble that protects this evangelical hero, and my fellow pastors were poised to have none of it.

Folks, I submit that one reason we are having such trouble attracting people to the faith these days is that we've over-processed the church! We’ve made Christianity less about Christ and more about the institution of the church, its traditions, and its hero-leaders, thus producing something that many refer to as “Churchianity.” People don't hear our breath sounds anymore; they only hear our artificial vocal treatments. And these attempts to hide our individual and corporate weaknesses and sin and to woo the world via the trappings of charisma only serve to highlight our inauthenticity! Everyone...even the most wayward unbeliever...knows that Christians and Christian leaders are fallible and can sense when we are attempting to make ostensibly right what is clearly wrong. To be sure, any attempt to hide the rawness of faith and humanity merely encourages spiritual rot. I'm not proposing that we laud sin or find contentment in our fallenness. But I am proposing that we own it. The psalmist declares in both Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1, "There is no one who does good." It is time to embrace this reality…along with the important corollary that we are saved by grace from our wickedness through the cross. Indeed, as Christians, we must realize that our allegiance is solely to Christ, not to any tradition, institution, or worldly or ecclesiastical leader. That is to say, it is time to turn away from the falsehoods of Churchianity and turn back to the true Christian faith given to us by our Lord. It is time we dance the right dance!

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