Is there a wospel in your gospel? How is the state of your think-thumper? Are you a happy jump-jumper? These are all phrases that one can find in a “Seusscharist.” If you haven’t heard of these before, these are Eucharist services crafted around the books of Dr. Seuss. The services employ all the typical elements of a Dr. Seuss book – rhyme, made up-words, and illustrations from the most beloved of characters. One video showed the priest sporting the famous tall red and white hat a la ‘Cat in the Hat’, with the servers dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2. The words of institution read :
‘On the night before he died,
Our Lord lifted some bread
And said with loving pride;
Dear friends, my body this is
Take it; share it
For this is part of his Biz’
(words taken from this blog)
I was initially a little shocked when I first learned of these services, until I realized I had seen these before. Does anyone remember the now-forgotten ‘U2charist’? You remember those, Eucharist services crafted around the music of U2. Roughly 6 years ago, my last diocese opened a session of synod in this manner. I remember standing in the Cathedral as a band belted the tunes of the familiar songs. We sang of Beautiful days, and a God who moves ‘in mysterious ways’ (it’s alright!). The prayers of the people, the confession and absolution, even the Eucharistic prayer were further infused with quotes and quips from the band.
Of course, the theological dimension of U2’s lyrics has been well documented. Many essays (and a few books) have been written regarding this fact. Perhaps my favorite song of theirs is the song ‘40” which is their rendition of the fortieth Psalm. As committed Christians themselves, their lyrics reflect this aspect of their lives. The same is true for Dr. Seuss. Theodor Geisel had both an active faith, and an active participation in his Lutheran church. One can see how this faith plays into his themes of justice, community, and self-worth. Who can’t see Horton the Elephant as a wonderful example of walking by faith not by sight as he struggles to protect the little people of Whoville.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for using pop-culture references in church. In fact, I believe that the church needs to work a bit harder in bridging the seeming disconnection between the church and the culture. I myself have quoted both U2 and Dr. Seuss in several of my sermons. I have written a blog for this community where I relied heavily on an image put forward by Seuss. (link). Surely, there is value in recognizing the spiritual themes echoed in the literature, music, and art of popular culture.
But are these services expressions of authentic ministry, or are they just publicity stunts? A publicity stunt is nothing more than flashy event designed to attract the attention of the public. They employ gimmicks, hooks, and give-aways. They work too . . . well, to some degree. Publicity stunts garner interest and spectacle, but not commitment. Is that the same for the likes of Seusscharists, U2charists, and other strategies employed by the church? One church in Lawrenceville G.A attempted to woo local teens to their youth group with the promise of Halo 3. Now that interest in this game has faded, has interest in that youth group faded along with it?
These efforts are often surrounded by the sound-bytes of “making the church attractive to ‘outsiders’, ‘making the church contemporary’ and ‘showing a friendly and welcoming.’ Sure, these phrases sound nice, but are they really the focus? Does having a one-off Sunday of some type of gimmick actually create a welcoming and attractive environment? Are we actually worried about being contemporary, or do we simply want to do something to make ourselves feel contemporary. What is more, do we really think that if we hook someone’s interest in church via Dr. Seuss or U2, they won’t notice that next week the organ replaces the rock band and the minister no longer speaks in anapestic tetrameter? I would think that this type of bait and switch has more negative effects than positive.
Again, I firmly believe the church needs to work hard on communicating that our ministry is intimately linked to the issues, struggles, and needs of the surrounding culture. But let’s focus on this, and not the new hook that will garner YouTube clicks and news segments. Let’s put our energy into authentically connecting with the people the surround our churches, and not on figuring out what flashy stunt may attract their attention. Because if we as a church can’t be real, authentic, and open with those with whom we attempt to minister to, how can we expect them to be open, authentic and real to us?
What do you think the difference between authentic ministry and mere ‘ministry gimmicks’ are?