If Jane Austen was alive today she’d shudder at the notions that some people view her (both favourably and unfavourably) as an old fashioned romance writer. Jane Austen was a ‘people watcher’. Her writing is about everyday people exposed to ordinary emotions and events (including love) and her novels rather than being romances, are reflections of reality with a good dose of comedy. Her characters are believable because they’re just like people we all know and have met regularly through daily living. The settings and social rules change from where we are today, in time and place, but in essence, people are still people, flawed and imperfect. With such material, found all around her to base her writing upon, Austen created her imaginary characters, paying delightful attention to the humorous possibilities they created.
A few weeks ago I went to see the movie “Love and Friendship” based on the novella “Lady Susan”. The promo material says, “Based on Jane Austen’s comic gem”. A review from Tim Robey, The Telegraph, says “Flat-out hilarious.” And it was flat-out hilarious!!!! At one stage I found myself laughing so much that I was crying, as did some of the others in my group. One person in our group who has an infectiously delightful loud laugh, roared heartily throughout. As the movie ended, our group of five started talking animatedly about the movie. And then… !!!!
In front of us were a group of ladies who clearly take Jane Austen as a not to be laughed at, serious writer of good old-fashioned tradition. They turned to our group, in particular to our hearty laughing member, and one lady amongst them launched into a tirade of negativity about how it was a serious movie, and one for grown-ups to attend, and how the laughter had spoiled their evening, particularly the loud laughter. She went on and on. Her friends nodding and agreeing, huge frowns on their faces. I was shocked and speechless. The people behind us (who had also been laughing) were also shocked. How anyone could miss the humour device Austen clearly uses was a shock in itself. A greater shock was their rudeness in assuming their entitlement to have everyone else in the theatre appreciate the movie in the way they wanted it appreciated.
My biggest worry which niggled me for ages afterwards, was for my friend of the hearty laughter. I love her laughter. I love watching movies with her especially if they’re funny! I love the way she brings sunshine with her wherever she goes because she sees humour around her. She’s not actually a Jane Austen fan, but I loved the way she came to the movie because she wanted to spend time with us and because it mattered to those she loves. I love her generous spirit and her spontaneous delight. I personally think Austen would have been very happy with her delight and laughter!
On reflecting about all this further, it made me think about how we express ourselves in worship settings. How often in Churches and Christian worship settings do we find those who think their way to worship is the only way? Having been involved in ministry settings across a variety of different styled churches, I have experienced first-hand the intensity with which those who will not be changed view the sacred rules of worship in their place. From the ‘traditional liturgical hymn singing’ to the ‘hanging from the rafters, rock-star concert’ there are those who say, “my way is the only way”. And when someone new comes along, who perhaps is a new follower of Jesus, and who doesn’t quite fit in to “the worship way of the place” but who is enthusiastic and delighted to be there, often they’re chastised into fitting in to a particular mould which suits the gathered group. Why would they hang around or come again and bother with that lack of encouragement?
The reality is that there is no right way to worship. ‘My way’ isn’t the only way. ‘My way’ isn’t the right way. It’s not how we individually or corporately choose to worship – it’s about who we worship, why we worship and what we bring in our worship. Our worship should be open and generous, ordinary and accessible, imperfect yet willing, enthusiastic and delighted. We should be like little children coming to our heavenly parent with our arms stretched out for a hug and our God responds with an engulfing bear hug giving us love and forgiveness in return.
Hmmm…. didn’t Jesus say something about us being like little children when we come to him?
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:35-37 14 (New Revised Standard Version NRSV)
Hmmm… and didn’t he also say something about not stopping little children from coming to him?
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 19:13-14 (New Revised Standard Version NRSV)
Mirror moment – when in front of you, you see reflected your inner self staring back at you. And sometimes what you see makes you stop and think and change!