Church can be provocative, but how?

One of my favorite games when I was younger was Truth or Dare.

A group of friends takes turns asking each other questions. If you refuse to answer a question, you have to perform a “dare.” It is up to you to decide if revealing embarrassing tidbits about yourself is more risky than taking your chances with a daring stunt.

There is always a little adrenaline rush when your name was called in Truth or Dare. There is some fear, and depending on the members of the group, more than a little excitement. One of the favorite dares among preadolescent kids is to make a boy kiss a girl in the group, or vice-versa. Most of the questions begin with something like, “Have you ever . . . ” thus allowing the others to learn more about where they stand with respect to their own experiences.

I’ll admit I’ve actually played this game later in life a time or two. Once, while my wife, Amy, was in seminary, our friend from Germany took a dare. Next thing we knew, he was running across the plaza of the student housing complex in nothing more than a straw cowboy hat and boots.

We were in Texas, after all.

Fortunately, he didn’t get caught, and we all had a good laugh. The next day, however, he did make the police blotter in the school paper as the anonymous streaker, seen running through the seminary complex.

It’s strangely fun to be provoked in a relatively safe setting. There’s also some modicum of sadistic pleasure in getting a friend to do something they would never otherwise do.

Though I believe that church should create a climate of provocation, I’m not sure we’re all ready for Truth or Dare. I take part in a weekly small prayer group, and, for several weeks, a certain scripture that we discussed has resonated within me.

The New International Version of Hebrews, Chapter 24, says that we should “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The New Revised Standard Version says the same thing, except that we ought to “provoke” one another. The Message, a modern interpretation of scripture, says, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.”

This idea of provoking or spurring one another hardly fits with the uber-nice climate of many churches. I’m sorry, but I don’t go to church to have people be nice to me. I can go to a restaurant or department store and the clerks will be nice because it’s their job. If all we’re doing as faith communities is spreading a little more niceness around, we’re wasting our time.

It’s our job to draw the best out of one another, encouraging others to use the gifts they have to further our calling in the community. No one particularly enjoys going up to the quiet person in the back row and challenging them to be more involved, but if we’re really a part of a loving faith family, we should feel compelled to do so.

Now, being provocative in this sense is different than what the world considers provocative. For me, the word itself raises images in my mind either of fighting or sex. Not exactly church material, right?

But as it says in The Message, it’s about striving toward a common goal. “Let’s see what we can do together better than we can alone,” rather than, “get off your lazy butt and do something for a change.” If we’re going to provoke someone to love and good works, we’d better be ready to walk the road alongside them.

Finally, in the spirit of inventiveness to which The Message refers, this call is not just about filling slots in the same old tired outreach programs. It’s about imagining bigger and then doing bigger. Some programs have life cycles that have long since passed. So let them die, and make room for someone else to be provoked to love and good works in a way you may not have even imagined yet.

There’s already enough nice in the world. As Bob Marley would say, it’s time to stir it up.

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