I was chatting with a theologian friend the other day about play and theology, his comment was insightful: everybody love play theory until someone tries to live it. The reason it came up was through my reading Wolfgang Vondey's excellent Beyond Pentecostalism. Vondey is one of the best scholars on Pentecostalism today. He admits that seeing play as a primary contribution of Pentecostal theology to a global theology is really hard to talk about in a non-playful way. It got me thinking about my own reservations around play, especially in terms of living the faith life. I liked to think that Wimber's slogan of everybody plays really didn't mean play, but doing the stuff in a more serious way - but now I'm not so sure play should be dismissed so quickly. Here are a few things I think are worth reflecting on:
1) Play is messy. This is the reason we want to dignify our religious expressions, most of us have learned to dislike mess. The problem is that play captures all the things we desperately want out of faith. Things like risk, inclusion, joy, experimentation, no need for the success models that have burnt so many of us out. The reason play is so messy is that it refuses to take itself seriously, at least not in the ways that "grown-up" culture wants to think of seriousness. Certainly play takes play seriously. But it is not purposeful in the ways that are typically valued by our culture. Without play we lose our ability to dream and experiment.
2) Play is all about joy. If the play isn't joyful then it doesn't last. This doesn't mean play is never hard, but it has its own rewards. I love playing games, and the games I love most require a tonne of work to pull off well (role playing games and strategic board games). But the work is always worth it - there is nothing quite like corporate story telling or having your friends over to play the silly madness that is Killer Bunnies. Joy in this case is about enjoying each other as much as the activity. And in terms of our faith lives it is about us enjoying playing with God and experiencing God's joy in playing with us. As Rik Leaf once sang, "joy is the serious business of heaven."
3) Vondey talks about how we grow up and lose our sense of play. Play is what kids do. When Jesus talks about becoming as little children I think he might be getting at this. Play doesn't have expectations, it doesn't really have goals. If it discovers a purpose then it can quickly go from being play to something more work like. This aspect of play is probably the most risky. It means dropping a tonne of pop Christian training. It means saying we don't have to know what it will look like - instead we just have to enjoy the process of playing it out. When I was reading Vondey I kept thinking that I've yet to see this sustained but the few glimpses I've seen of playful living were totally worth the risk.
4) Play is for everybody. Back to the Wimberism, everbody plays. What I love about play is that it is not about the superstars. It is not sport. It is not drama. It is play and everyone can play. Isn't that what we really want for our churches? A place where everyone can play, where no one needs to feel left out? I think so. I know it is an ideal, but I'm willing to let my ideals get caught up in the joy of play if it means I get to play with God. How about you?