New Year –  an occasion for celebration, and wishes of good health and happiness, but also for fireworks! Seeing the beautiful displays around the world and in town, and talking about them, got me finding parallels with religion. Here are nine:


Photo: David Dixon, reused under CC license

  1. There’s the beautiful fireworks, and then there’s the firecrackers: all noise but no show. The former are put out for the enjoyment of all around; and, yes, some level of noise is necessary  – sometimes even welcome, as it draws the eye to whatever display is on.
    But then, the latter are only there for the enjoyment of those who use them. They are selfish, puffed up – and the noise they make is rather annoying to those around. Worse, they are a distraction from the real thing.
    Just so with religion and religiousness. Some liturgy is helpful: it reins in the spirit (without restricting it) and directs to, for instance, beautiful prayers and allows the mind to focus on what is important. But when liturgy is done for its own sake, or when the focus shifts from God to puffing oneself up and making as much noise as possible; loudness becomes a distraction and serves or amuses only the person who is speaking.
  2. It is very easy for fireworks to turn into a challenge as to who is putting on the best display. Even with sanctioned liturgy, even with stuff that we know works, it is possible to focus too much on aligning your rocket perfectly, or having the perfect 16-part harmony for your choir music, or play your worship song in 15:16 (cos 15:16 is cool), or with 15 key changes. Or you could have sermons which are longer than the church next door. Or better signage. A better website.
    Measuring yourself against others can be helpful, but if your motivation in doing things well is rooted in doing it better than your neighbour, then there is a problem.
  3. If you don’t point your firework towards heaven, then you’re doing it wrong.
    Religion should point towards God, not towards ourselves. But, equally, it should come from us.
  4. If you don’t have your gaze fixed on heaven, then you’re doing it wrong.
    This is for the audience first. Imagine a fireworks where the audience is looking at the ground, rather than at the sky where they explode? Imagine a church where the congregation is looking at the preacher rather than at God?
    But it is important for the preacher too! Yes, the down-to-earth stuff is important too, and you should make sure that the service is well-prepared from that perspective too, but if you don’t have your eyes set on God throughout the service, then you just cannot deliver!
  5. Vanity. Tis all but vanity. The fireworks only last for so long. The church service only lasts for so long. Placing our trust in that is pointless, we need to look beyond the fireworks, to look beyond the service and to find something else to sustain us.
  6. What’s left over the next morning is not very pleasant to look at. Seriously, the streets littered with soggy cardboard cartridges that were used for the fireworks aren’t the most beautiful thing to see.
    Just so with religion. If all you look at is the mechanical means used for worship, if all you look at is the dead order of  service, well, they feel rigid and useless – rubbish, actually. Worship is meant to be lived, and shared – not to be looked at the next day.
  7. Organised fireworks look better! There’s a lot of effect that can be created from making different fireworks set off at different times, and the wisdom from pyrotechnics is not to be frowned upon to organise firework displays.
    Just so with religion, it is a congregational experience, and organisation of religion is a support, rather than a hindrance. Structure can be good.
  8. That doesn’t mean fireworks outside of the big, organised displays, are bad, or to be frowned upon.
    The two can work hand in hand. Just so with religion: it does not need to be grand, or “high” church, or even organised.
  9. There will always be someone to point out how much money is spent on fireworks, going up (literally) in smoke.
    But fireworks are still enjoyed by many. It’s one of the very few forms of entertainment free at the point of use; and are put on for the enjoyment of all, regardless of socio-economic status. And while some may think that money may be put to better use to sustain the physical needs of others, that’s not to say that the physical needs are the only needs to be considered.
    Churches are also open to all. Religion is there to serve the poor and needy, not to be served. And, hopefully, in their action, they serve their physical needs; but also their spiritual needs.

Are you behaving like a firework or like a firecracker?

Note: with this post, we’re coming back to the normal schedule of weekly updates on Sundays!