Process, or product? (theology)

* This post is titled as it is because there will soon be another post under the same conceptual framework – but related to the practical business of music making (etc).

Allow me to to begin this post with an extract from Mark 4:35: “…let us pass over unto the other side.”

There have been many expositions preached and written on the specific contents of this text, and the story in general – a short story (as in, it’s all over by verse 41, and it begins in verse 35!) that on the surface does no justice to the epic events that it narrates. This leads me to the point that sometimes the Bible gives us narrative when we have become used to drama – which is audio-visual by definition. We love a story that is narrated in a way that engages our increasingly flighty post-postmodern ways of thinking and being, so we find the Word pretty dry and boring at times when in fact, if we were only capable of using our own imaginations to flesh out the literal words in a text, we’d find some things to chew on that would definitely get us going.

I’m told that one of the most crucial maxims in television and film media is: show; don’t tell. Mark’s gospel, at 16 chapters, is the shortest and most trenchant of the four. The author is not wasting time by wasting words. His job was to get the essential details down asap, get the word out and let the readers take it from there for themselves with the Spirit of God. So Mark didn’t observe the Hollywood maxim (not that the film industry even existed then!). Neither, however, did he employ the kind of superlative narrative writing employed by writers such as E.M. Forster in telling about the time when the Son of God spoke to a storm and it did as he bid. The result: our heads know that this is an amazing story, but we have been so fuddled and manipulated by a range of TV media that we can’t get the bigness of it into our hearts – especially when he tells us what happened in a few words and then immediately moves on to the next chapter!

But that’s not the full extent of the problem. What was the desired outcome, or ‘product?’  The answer: to “go to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee].” Seems straightforward enough. What’s the big deal?

Reasonable question for those don’t know the story. Those who DO know it will know that it is all about what happens on their way to the other side! As Bob Gass has put it – it’s about “what happens in between!” That would be the, er, process? Of getting to “the other side?” Hmm.

I know that I am guilty at times of wanting to get to what God has in store for me without really wanting to go through the process! But this is a joke. As a pretty seasoned music educator, I have to deal with people all the time who want great musical results (product) without disciplined hard work and perseverance (process). This seems to be even truer IN the church than outside it!

On a deeper conceptual level, this is one of the fundamental differences between musicology and ethnomusicology…the former prioritises musical products as an object of study – whereas my preferred (well, to a certain extent) discipline of ethnomusicology appraises the processes by which and in which music is made!

We are not like God, who has such creative power He can speak something into immediate existence. Within finite humanity – which is by definition bound by time and space – a product can only exist as a result of a process! So the ongoing journey to greater sanctification is just that- a journey! I have every reason in the world to remember this naturally – and yet still I forget that the process is necessary!

Today, let’s choose to not focus on the fact that we may not yet have achieved the products for which we may be hoping, praying and working for. Let us instead focus on the fact that we are on the journey – and a journey is a process. And do have a look at John 15:5 if you are not familiar with that text already! God bless you.

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