Grace - fresh vital worship since 1993

March 2013: Goldfish

march 2013 grace flyer

We swim around the goldfish bowl with ourselves at the centre of every narrative. But if we choose to view this as the ultimate truth, we fail to see the glory and complexity of the people we swim past. Can we learn to see something of God in everyone we meet as well as ourselves?

the service is based around this speech by american writer david foster wallace.

see the flickr gracelondon group for photographs.


radio-controlled giant inflatable fish - three required. for this service we bought two clownfish and a shark, to act out the introductory paragraph.

order of service:

1. give a mask to everyone as they enter

give people blank full-face masks as they enter. each mask has the name of a well known person [present or historical] written inside. tell people to remember the name inside but not show anyone else.

hello and welcome to grace slide

2. introduction:

read out first part of david foster wallace speech:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

the inflatable fish are brought into the space as this is read - the two goldfish and the shark.

"what the hell is water" slide at punchline

3. swimming around the goldfish bowl

david foster wallace quote #2 [precis of the part about the goldfish bowl]

if hell is other people slide

tube station silent film with voiceover of internal monologue - #1 irritation at horrible people

4. simplifying people

talk about how political cartoonists find the feature that stands instantly for a range of characteristics - the feature that illuminates the person rather than oversimplifies them. the good political cartoonist finds a truth rather than reducing distinctiveness. steve bell has written well about this process.

show cartoons on screen, with photos of the people for comparison [eg blair, major, thatcher]

5. don't you know who i am???

don't you know who i am??? slide

consider the person whose name is written inside your mask
think of four words to describe them. don't put facts [eg their job, physical appearance] - use adjectives or metaphors, describe their qualities as a person.
write the words on sticky labels
put on the outside of your blank mask
then ask other people to guess who 'you' are

6. stereotyping

movie clip: 'frontier psychologist' by the avalanches - edited to concentrate on the rorschach test sequence - no sound

speak over the movie:

Our brains make patterns – it’s how we make sense of the universe
I ate that plant yesterday and the day before: it didn’t kill me; perhaps I’ll eat it again today.
Card 7: a grey smear that looks like the leavings of an inefficient window-cleaner. But say that and you’ll be put in a straight-jacket – the correct answer is Vagina.
Card 8: two pink cats climbing some furniture: apparently 'people who find processing complex situations or emotional stimuli distressing or difficult may be uncomfortable with this card.'
Making patterns swiftly is a survival instinct. We tend to sit next to the person on the bus who looks least likely to stab us. This is not needless paranoia. Tragically, last Thursday in Birmingham, a 16 yr old girl did sit in front of someone, who killed her with a single blow, before being taken off and sectioned.
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a good Bible believing evangelical and the other a critical realist liberal. The Evangelical stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other worldly types or even like this Steve Chalke loving liberal. I give a tenth of all I earn... before tax... and I don’t compromise over the fashionable ideas of the day."
But the liberal stood at a distance... He didn’t really want to be in the same building as these crinkly eyed God-bothering charismatics so he hid behind a pillar. And he quietly, contemplatively thanked God that though he used to believe this clompingly literal flat earth stuff and sing all these fist-bitingly naff songs called 'Jesus is my boyfriend' – well he was all better now.
Jesus observed them both and, shaking his head, nipped off to Wagamama while they were still serving.

Who do we want to reduce to negative stereotypes?

write it on a postcard and then shred it
"Thank you God that I am not like..."

congregation write and shred postcards

confession of a bigot slide

we confess our bigotry by joining in with the chorus of the following hymn:

Avenue Q movie clip - "everyone's a little bit racist" song

7. changing our default settings

Become aware of others. Even if you have to make snap judgements – be aware of their provisional nature.

being the centre of our universe doesn't make us the most important thing in it [slide]

powers of ten movie - edit, no sound - underneath the reading

david foster wallace #3:

"I get pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my default setting is that situations like this are really all about me, my hunger, my fatigue and it seems like everybody else is just in my way.
Thinking this way is so easy and automatic it isn’t a choice, it’s my natural default setting.
But there are different ways to think about these situations. The Audi that just cut me up is being driven by the father of a sick child trying to get to hospital - it is actually I who am in his way.
This fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up woman who just screamed at her child in the queue - maybe she's not normally like this; maybe she's been up three nights in a row holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer.
It just depends on who you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that your reality is what is really important then you won’t consider possibilities that are pointless and annoying. But if you've learned how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. You get to decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship."

8. that of god in everyone

reading: adrian plass 'everyone is I' [bus journey slide]

reading: cs lewis quote from 'suprised by joy' [image of blakean angels]

'It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.'

reading: Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ John 20:28-30

9. confession:

[slides on screen]

For every time we have looked at people and seen obstacles in our way
Lord forgive us and lift the veil covering your glory
Each time we have turned the complexity of another person into a tired old stereotype
Lord forgive us and lift the veil covering your glory
When we turn discernment into judgement and dismiss a vessel of God’s Spirit
Lord forgive us and lift the veil covering your glory

And what if the veil is never lifted
Allow us to be one of those that you spoke
People who have never seen
And yet believed


tube station silent film with voiceover of internal monologue - #2 same film, deeper realities of people previously seen negatively

'this is all water' slide

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