Church Life, Outreach, Missions
Displacement at Large
by Ed Vasicek
New Year's Day 2000 came and left without incident. Prophets of doom who went so far as to predict "the end of civilization as we know it" were left with egg on their face. Other members of the unofficial panic club now sport generators, mounds of food, firewood galore, and gallons of lamp oil. Many of us who have been around the block a few times have seen similar enthusiasm before. (Remember "88 Reasons Why Christ Has to Come in 1988"?) These same panic-prone people will eventually take up another torch.
Why are otherwise sensible people bent to look for something to panic about? Why do some cling to conspiracy theories? Why do others set dates for the Lord's return, or adhere to a religious rabbit trail or a spiritual "secret?" Perhaps such tangents yield stimulation to otherwise bland lives. Or perchance folks are frustrated at injustice and ungodliness; they yearn to see the proud humbled and wrongs righted.
Some tangents are in themselves harmless, but what they do is preoccupy us. Because our attentions are elsewhere, we don't do what we are supposed to do. This is the concept of displacement. Webster's defines "displace" as "to take the place of." For example, candy might be a nice treat, but candy can spoil a child's appetite. The problem may not be so much what she does eat (candy), but what she doesn't eat (nourishing foods).
Many of life's decisions involve displacement. If I stay home to watch Charlie Chan (by my standards, a good movie) on Sunday morning, I displace church. If I spend big bucks on an extravagant vacation and then work overtime to pay for it, I displace family time. If a husband and wife get involved in too many activities, they often have little time or energy left to grow their marriage. The activities may be important, but then again, so is the marriage! Displacement is sometimes a matter of inverse proportion. Increasing one thing decreases something else.
Another displacement issue, although it may not seem so at first glance, is legalism. God has given us plenty of commandments; we have just enough strength to obey them. If we expend energy obeying man-made rules, we run out of strength to obey God's. Note the word of Jesus: "'You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.' And he said to them: 'You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!'" (Mark 7:8-9) Legalism is not only dangerous because it produces a complex, it is also dangerous because it displaces obeying God.
The "Seeker Sensitive" movement at one time had my sympathies. However, because of displacement I am less sympathetic toward it now. While I am by no means against creative drama, contemporary music, nor a desire to be impressive, what is often displaced in these types of churches concerns me: doctrine, depth of knowledge, virtue, simplicity, candid honesty, and relationships that last. We don't need more slick programs or beautiful people with shallow character. I recognize there is much variance between these types of churches. Unfortunately, virtues like faithfulness and contentment are frequently displaced by vices like consumerism and prima donna sensitivity. A well-done music ministry can help us worship God, but we can also focus on God in the quiet and simplicity of prayer as believers have done through the centuries. Perhaps this concept is being lost.
A devout orthodox Jew was talking to a minister of music from a large, innovative church. The minister explained, "We practice our music and drama three nights during the week so that everything is perfect for Sunday. Perfect. This helps us concentrate on God." The Jewish man replied with Yiddish accent, "What, you have attention deficit or something that you need a Broadway production for you to concentrate on God?"
Someone has said that the good often keeps us from the best. If we are in one place, we are not in another. If we use up our resources here, we can't use them there. So, be careful what you displace. You can't add something without subtracting something else.
Reprinted from the January 2000 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church