When I was in divinity school, the twenty-one-year-old singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette released an album titled Jagged Little Pill. It was a tremendous hit, yielding six singles, charting at number one in the United States for twelve weeks, and selling 33 million copies worldwide. If you remember those days, you have probably heard at least one song from the album. In the days before YouTube and streaming music services, Jagged Little Pill was played on practically every radio station, it seemed, all day long.
One of the best-known songs from the album is titled “Ironic” and it is known for, among other things, the lyric “It’s like ten-thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.” In many ways, this lyric succinctly describes how church life and pastoral ministry feel in a postmodern age.
Allow me to explain: For centuries, the cultural landscape in this nation was like a seemingly infinite field of bowls of soup that stretched all the way to the horizon and the church possessed a seemingly endless supply of serving spoons. When I was a young person, like so many of my colleagues in ministry, I felt a calling to serve soup. I graduated from college and enrolled in seminary. I was ordained, graduated, and received my spoon, just as I expected based on what I witnessed in the lives of those who led me to the soup in the first place. I was a soup-server, and I anxiously awaited a lifetime of service to the people and communities to which I was sent; communities I believed would be hungry for soup for as long as anyone dared imagine. The soup line seemed to stretch forever. Besides, you basically had to eat soup in order to fit into most places.
And then, it seemed, the world lost its taste for soup.
It did not happen overnight. Sometimes people simply grew tired of soup and sought other forms of sustenance. Other times we only served the soup to people who looked and lived like us, and not like our communities. Still other times, we simply served bad soup that made people so ill they were done with soup forever, no matter how we changed the recipe.
We kept making soup for a world who switched to steak, and eating steak with a spoon is, let’s face it, something few are interested in doing.
It’s like ten-thousand spoons when all you need is a knife.
Even before the pandemic, the Christian church in America was in desperate need of revision, renewal, and revival. Without the prevailing culture’s underpinnings, it has been difficult for the church to find its voice amidst the cacophony noise vying for people’s time and attention.
I am not saying that the church needs to change its fundamental character. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. We do not need to become a steakhouse simply because it might be popular. No, we need not change who we are. However, we absolutely, urgently, passionately need to reclaim who we actuallyare, who we were created to be: the set-apart body of Christ, his hands, his feet, his voice, an embassy of the Kingdom of God in the midst of a broken world.
I believe it is possible, if we are willing to surrender our spoons and all of our antiquated notions of what church was and give ourselves permission to accept the freedom and power God gives us to be all that we can be: the community of the baptized, a foretaste of all that can be by the means of God’s grace, the God who sojourns with us always, even until the end of the age.
The God in whom all things are possible is with us, even here, and even now, in this odd and beautiful common life we share. It is hope for today and good news for the world for all of our tomorrows as together we die to the old and are raised to something vibrant and new.