Love Shack, Baby.
I’ve always known that that song by the B’52’s was a good song. I knew it the first time I heard it walking around the dorms at college. I knew it, but I didn’t really like it. It was 1989, I was 21, and leaning in hard to being as cool as I could be. I liked listening to the cool laid back folk inflected music of The Water Walk, R.E.M. Citrus Park, or R.E.M. when I wanted something with more energy I turned to something with synthesizers like New Order, Howard Jones or China Crisis. The B’52s were doing something different. I liked the thrift store aesthetic that pervades their music, but even that was open to what we would now call a hipster aesthetic that is more random than I was comfortable with then; or perhaps even now.
I see now that that excess is more probably thought of as abundance; glitter on the highway. Glitter everywhere!
And I think that the love shack is a perfect metaphor for both what we are doing this morning and what God is doing in our midst.
This morning we woke up, and some of us have even decided to get out of bed, but we have all chosen to be here in this new space that is only here because we are here. It is perhaps easier for us to see that our church exists first as a collection of people that choose to be here because we don’t own our building. This beautiful concrete space would still be here if we didn’t choose to come here, but when we are here it becomes Shalom community church. It becomes a love shack.
Paul Versluis, who pastored our congregation for the first 16 years of this millennium, had a favorite term for what the church was. He called it a school of love. This was the place where we would come to learn how to love, and to teach both ourselves and others about that love. I have always loved that metaphor. One of the beautiful things about a space that is only created when people choose to meet together is that it can be described in many different ways; so without leaving Paul’s term behind I want to introduce a new way of thinking about ourselves as church this morning.
We are the Love Shack. The love shack is a little old place where we can get together. What is the architecture of the love shack? It probably best follows the Dutch Architect Rem Koolhaas concept of junkspace. “Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout.” We build the love shack on the edges of society. We build it there, “set way back in the middle of a field” partly because it’s a place where we are more comfortable, but also because it’s a place where people leaving the center of society, frustrated with the grasping after power through the use of oppression, might find us. Admittedly we are better at inviting certain types of exiles into our love shack (ex-evangelicals) than others, but the beautiful thing about a shack is that is very easy to add on to.
We put up a sign that says “Stay away fools ‘cause love rules”
O.k. we haven’t actually put that sign up … yet.
But we–actually in this case First United Methodist is better at littering signs around the entry to our building than we are–we do put up signs that say “Black Lives Matter” “All are welcome here” “Church” “Thank you Front line workers” “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you are our neighbor” And each one of these signs is a version of the B52s creed. The love shack is a place that welcomes everyone; but that means that it is a place were people are welcome. The fools that want to exclude are invited to stay away. This is a rambling shack with new rooms morphing out of the existing structure including new people. Its boundaries are porous and unstable. The invitation to join, and the choice to receive that invitation is what is important. The biggest example we have of adding a room to or shack most recently is in our virtual annex. Our virtual attenders are no less really participating in our service this morning. The reality of the love shack shows up just as decisively here at Green wood as it does on each one of your screens this morning. Koolhass notes this when he says “Conceptually, each monitor, each TV screen is a substitute for a window; real life is inside, cyberspace has become the great outdoors.” We know that this is a shack not a bright shiny building where everything is in its place. We struggle to make it happen each Sunday. But we do this out of great love, we choose to do it to include everyone, and we believe that we are one community. “The whole shack shimmies when everybody’s movin’ around”
God’s love is invitational in exactly this way. We are able to choose to come here and build a love shack because God has first loved us and extends this radically inclusive love to us. This is then an advent message.
God chooses to love us, and in so doing God sends us God’s son to come and live among us. And of course this literally happens in a shack, the manger. The manger is a love shack, it is built because of the people that show up there, who choose to be there. It includes Jesus who comes from heaven, Mary and Joseph from Nazareth, Sheperds from the hills around Jerusalem and some Magi from the East. It’s a shack that is built to hold animals. But the animals understand how a shack works; they are always able to invite someone new into their midst. This space is created by God who in the incarnation chooses to be with us and then by everyone who chooses to respond to the various invitations they receive.
Just as we can see how the church is formed by people a bit more easily because we don’t own a building, as part of the believers church we understand how choosing something creates an invitation for others to choose it.
Our community is created by people who choose to be a part of it, and we have a ritual for doing this. It is baptism. Our understanding of baptism is that adults choose to be baptized upon their confession of faith.
We have long recognized that this highly voluntary aspect of our life together allows us to expect more from each other. We are a pacifist congregation because we have chosen to leave violence behind. We are a community that shares what we have–we have a mustard seed fund–because we don’t let capitalism define us. We worship in a love shack because we have chosen an informal way of being together. “I got me a ‘church’, it seats about twenty, so come on and bring your jukebox money”
What I have only been learning recently is how this choice is actually fundamental not just to every aspect of how we gather together but is also mirror how God chooses to be with us.
It is something difficult for me to remember that God’s choice to be with us is voluntary in exactly the same way that my choice to be baptized was. God enters into the world as a baby, because that’s how humans enter the world. But it is God who enters the world, and God chooses this as an adult, or whatever world for old person actually applies to God.
And that choice remakes the world. The manger becomes a love shack just as decisively as this building becomes a love shack. The love shack is where it’s at. This love is just bursting to enter into our world.
Bang bang bang on the door baby, knock a little louderBang bang on the door baby, bang bang!On the door baby, bang bang!On the door, bang bang!On the door baby, bang bang!
Another song that Max and I both really like and so it easily came to the fore when we were planning this weeks worship service is The Rebel Jesus. We get the idea of the love shack when we are in the love shack but Jackson Browne shows what this looks like when we move out into the world.
I think that the rebel jesus is someone that regularly visits the love shack. This vision of Jesus is also set up on the edge of society but eager to invite us to a vision of the future that builds a new society on God’s love and our choice.