Friday, 18 April 2008

Designed to inspire. Or not?

OK guys here’s a puzzle for you. I have taken this from the advertising blurb of an organisation which I am here dignifying with three letters: XXX. What’s it about?

“The XXX vision will be achieved through XXX’s Mission statement:
  • To provide a spirited visitor experience through a range of high quality facilities and activities in beautiful surroundings.
  • To deliver this experience through exceptional service provided by a highly motivated and welcoming team.
  • To exceed our guests [sic] expectations, provide them with inspired memories and to ensure that they leave us having refreshed their inner selves.”
To put you out of your misery it is not a church but a countryside residential complex in the countryside about an hour’s drive from here. The fourth mission statement objective does talk about enjoying the local environment. Here's an image....

I have three observations to make. The first is that linguistically it is all pretty desperate; what on earth is a ‘spirited visitor experience’? What are ‘inspired memories’? What are ‘our inner selves?’ An entire herd of clichés seem to be running free and wild here. The impression you get is that the words are just piled up one upon another; their meaning is actually irrelevant. All they wanted was some phrases that sound good. I feel that something awesomely vital has been lost here: and that is the concept of words as sense. What we have here is nothing more than a mantra to be repeated until something – numbness? Enlightenment? Who knows what? dawns on us. The curse of Babel was that men lost their unity of language; is the curse now renewed so that language itself is lost? Maybe Armageddon is closer than I thought.

Secondly, it is fascinating to see how spiritual the language is. This is a countryside experience not a worship conference or religious retreat. There are several ways of looking at this but perhaps the most profitable is to say that religious experiences are now fair hunting ground for advertising men and women. In the theological void of contemporary British life, the language of the sacred is hijacked to try to make the mundane sacred. God is dead, but let’s try and make Nature/experience/the project divine.

The third point is how close the XXX mission statement is to what some churches say of themselves. We have come perilously close to aping the world here. I am preaching on Sunday morning on the third of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation that to Pergamon. The issue there was that there were a group of Christians who were going along to idol feasts and either literally (or metaphorically) engaging in adultery. Now when I do a sermon I tend to do a bit of a web trawl for other sermons on the same passage to see if I have missed anything. What is interesting here is that most preachers seem to major on the heady combination of illicit food and sex. Yet that does not seem to be the most pressing issue today; I am not aware that many western towns have a Balaam’s Bordello (with special discount rates for church members). I think we have missed the point: behind the sneaking away to idol feasts and worse, was the sorry but understandable desire to be just like everybody else. We need to resist this temptation in whatever form it comes to us: the church needs to be the Church. In terms of language, we need to set out what we are clearly and plainly and avoid this sort of touchy-feely inspirational verbiage. It is the height of irony that when the world starts adopting ‘spiritual’ language it is probably time for us to stop using it.

Have blessed, inspired and spirited week and may your inner selves be renewed. Err, whatever.