What was very strange about this particular zoo is that the animals were all extremely close to the front of the exhibits (The above is an actual picture I took of a jaguar). There were not just one species of animal in a cage but two or three (there were tigers with cheetahs with lions with jaguars all in the same cage). The animals were full of life. Too much so!! When you visit the San Diego Zoo, for example, you will often find that in a huge arena for an animal, you might catch a glimpse of their tail or a flash of their stripes, but that is about it. Here, the animals were on top of each other. It was as if they were performing for us. It was like a movie set for Dr. Do Little. Something was not right with this scene. Something was not right with this zoo. This was too "in your face" too "raw" too "right up close" too "experiential". (As a side note, I'm told that back in the day when people would visit Jim Jones' compound in Gianna, the same could be said...things were too perfect, too much, too....wrong).
It turns out that this zoo was in fact drugging the animals so that they were very docile and close to the cage. Also, this zoo was not feeding the animals enough food, so they were extra agitated, extra in your face, wanting to be fed. The animals were put in cages that were too small to make them forced to be near the front where you could see them. It was sort of a shocking experience...
But the thought occurred to me that many churches have a same or similar dynamic. These churches might be called:
A zoo church is one where there is too much weekly expectation for an immediate transcendental experience of God. A zoo church is where the pastors (zoo keepers...forgive the analogy) are more interested in flash and razzle-dazzle and people's artificial experience of God, than they are on the "real", deep-down..and it must be said, fleeting experience of God. A zoo church is where things are "too" rosy, "too" be-miracled, "too" happy, "too" exciting, "too" off the hook. A zoo church is not real.
The truth is that we as Christ followers are not supposed to have daily, constant, life-changing experiences with the divine. Remember, it was only three disciples that accompanied Jesus to the top of the mountain for the "mountain-top" experience - James and John and Peter. None of the other disciples went to the top of the mountain or had a mountain top experience in their entire life (not Thomas, or James Jesus' little brother, or Bartholemew or Matthew). In other words, a normal Christian experience is actually one in which we may or may not experience a true "mountain-top experience" in our lives.
I have often been asked whether I have ever had an actual audible or visual experience of the voice or the body of God. The answer is no. I have felt a very tiny turning in my soul when I was on my knees in Austin, Minnesota, turning my heart towards God during my "second saving" (see previous blog post). I have seen the beauty of God in insanely creative and vibrant ways (one that comes to mind is the sunset seen off of the southeastern tip of Africa, from Mozambique, looking into the Eastern, Indian Ocean). But I have never actually heard the voice or seen the face of God.
I want to make clear what I am saying, before closing for the week. I am not saying that God doesn't occasionally bring us huge, techni-colored, panoramic views of the kingdom of heaven. God does. I am not saying that God doesn't still speak audibly or visibly to people in this day and age. God does. I am not saying that occasionally, in the midst of worship, that it isn't possible to actually perceive the numinous face of God right in our midst. Of course it is. It's just that as Christ followers, we should always be aware of when things seem "too" manufactured, "too" manipulated, "too" constructed for our viewing pleasure, sometimes they are.
Remember, Aslan the lion wasn't ever in a cage at a zoo. Aslan was the one who appeared only fleetingly in C.S. Lewis' stories, but when he did...flowers always grew behind his great tail.
All For Now,