Sometimes when I am reading a book or the newspaper a sentence or phrase catches my attention and takes my thoughts way off at a tangent, running riot in my imagination. "It is more defined by its form factor – its shape and appearance – than its use" was the latest example of this. The article in question was in the Guardian G2 section and was about Apple's latest product release, the eagerly awaited 'tablet' electronic reader. As soon as I read the quote I could not help but instantly make the connection with Christianity.
Why? All too often our collective life of faith as followers of Jesus is defined in popular perception by the shape and appearance of churchy things and doctrinal propositions, rather than by the purpose to which such faith is and should be put. In other words we are more defined by the form factor of our religion than by its use, which is why the quote in the Guardian struck home. Form factor fallacy indeed.
Which brings me to the image of the iPod sitting on top of one of my old LP records, Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions”, which I bought when I was a teenager and well into Motown Soul. Like the iMac and iPhone, the iPod is defined by its form factor, which is the hall-mark of Apple design. It is a delight to use, holds dozens of albums, is small, light and portable and can be taken anywhere. Contrast this to the LP which could only be played on a mains record deck and the music listened to in one room. The LP is for indoors, but the iPod truly frees up the music for everywhere and everyone at anytime. Wherever I am my music can be too.
In the same fashion Jesus takes the original intention of religious life and shows how the music of love is meant to be heard through our words and actions wherever we are, rather than being confined to one place or building, or limited to one way of hearing or expressing it. Jesus is not for church alone; through the presence of the Spirit his way, truth and life is in action way beyond the form factor confines of Christianity. We carry it within us. Ultimately it is the music which matters, not the device which plays it. What is the point of an iPod if I never listen to the music?
So what catches my attention as I read the gospels is not so much the faith form factor content of Jesus the Jew. It is what this belief inevitably means in practice for how he lives his everyday life empowered by and embodying the music of divine love in the Holy Spirit. To be God’s faithful people is to be in action, whereas inaction puts a huge question mark beside the assertion of faith: this is what the life of Jesus says to me. Christianity is actively purposeful. Wherever we are the music of God’s inclusive, liberating love should be heard too.