A Review of Making A Mess and Meeting God, by Mandy Smith
I feel like I should confess, upfront, that I am not a person who typically looks for alternative forms of worship. If the minister says something like, “Okay, we’re going to do something a little bit different today…” my husband and I automatically look down at our little nursery buzzer, silently (or not) begging it to start buzzing. We console ourselves with, “We’re just a couple of introverts,” to squash any guilt we may feel over just wanting to avoid the uncomfortable situation that is rapidly coming our way.
Which is why I laughed out loud at the following excerpt near the beginning of this book.
“Worship planners love to talk about, and challenge, comfort zones. While there’s no doubt that bridging the gap between our physical world and an unseen God requires a bit of a stretch, not all discomfort in worship is necessarily a sign that we’re overcoming our resistance to God. Sometimes, what a worship leader would call “getting out of your comfort zones so that you can be open to God” could otherwise be called “overriding normal social and cultural mores to the point of embarrassment and distraction in the name of worship.”Experiments can be effective in worship services and group settings, but I’ve also seen them done in ways that are forced and uncomfortable. Unless they’re done with a little care, they can be done with the exact opposite of their intended purpose, drawing the worshipper’s attention to their own bare feet, rather than to God.
After reading this paragraph, I immediately relaxed, because an author who is not only aware of such issues, but has proposed solutions and adaptations is an author whom I trust. And with my anxiety pushed to the side, I was now very interested in what else she had to say. The author is Mandy Smith.
Mandy is an Associate Pastor at University Christian Church, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She did her BA in Biblical Studies at Cincinnati Christian University, and was Valedictorian. She and her husband are originally from Australia, and currently reside in Cincinnati with their two children and one dog. She is in charge of the worship service as a part of her current role, has served on worship teams in the past, and was the creator of “The Collect,” a citywide trash-to-art project that took place in Cincinnati in 2007.
Mandy’s sets out to help readers discover the potential that ordinary activities and daily life have to teach about God in a new and deeper way, and much of this discovery is done through various forms of art. She hypothesizes that, “If we explore new opportunities to find the divine in the ordinary, and through a little artful play, then we will discover new depths in our comprehension of and communication with God.”
Mandy leads the reader through a collection of object lessons for grown ups. Each of these lessons is explored in two main forms. First, there is a purposeful effort to find God in the everyday moments and activities. Second, there is exploration through art. Each chapter has a different set of themes that it explores, culminating in a re-evaluation of what one thinks about God, shifting from a working toward him mindset, to working out how to realize that he is already there.
Introduction of “Recipe Cards”
In the first chapter Mandy describes a time when her church was exploring the topic of spirituality. They agreed that spirituality wasn’t necessarily about going on a quest to find God, but about being aware of his presence in their every day lives. The ministers invited the members of the congregation to submit the ways that they experience God through the ordinary. In light of churches often putting together recipe books by compiling the members’ favorite recipes, they called these their “recipe cards for spirituality.” These recipes are peppered throughout the book, and I found them to be engaging, encouraging and often examples that I really resonated with.
Each chapter begins by introducing the themes and passages that the lesson is based upon.What follows is poignant teaching, thoughtful investigation of these themes and really practical means of application. Admittedly, with a professor for a husband, I hold education and knowledge to a very high regard; So I was encouraged to read a good balance of biblical teaching and creative challenges. Neither was slighted in favor of the other.
Awareness of Potential Awkwardness
This was a bit of a big one for me, because of the stress I described at the beginning of this review. Mandy obviously knows that there are hurdles when dealing with a subject as personal as finding God, particularly when looking for alternate means of doing so.
She discusses obstacles such as opening oneself up to creativity, how to deal with the dynamics of group settings, helping introverts to feel comfortable, varying skill levels, people who are tied to their traditions, distractions in a group setting, the “cool factor” involved in being non-traditional, just to name a few. She addresses these issues head-on and with helpful suggestions for moving beyond them. Furthermore, in each experiment, she provides possible adjustments to make it work for an individual, for small groups or for corporate worship settings.
Challenging and Relevant
Though the topic of finding God is not a new one, Mandy’s perspectives are unique and very relevant.
The ideas are refreshing; much like talking to a friend with the rare gift of insightfulness andthoughtfulness. It is written with such clarity that I found myself underlining sentences periodically, thinking, “Yes. She put that perfectly.” The experiments are applicable and interesting, and sent me rushing out to the store and scrounging around the house for supplies so that I could try them out.
Addressing the Big and Small Picture
When I originally looked at the book, the title Making a Mess and Meeting God made me think that it would be full of various creative projects to help a person become more aware of God’s presence. I was right, but there are also broader applications. “The mess” also is in reference to the mess of our world or the various messes in our lives, and Mandy leads us to find God in those as well.
Who is This Book For?
I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for encouragement or new ways to think about the Christian life. With each chapter as an object lesson, it’s a good choice for ministers or small groups.
Though it may naturally appeal to people with some interest in art or creativity, the applications are relevant to all.
For more about this book, including the option to purchase, click here.