Paraphernalia

Paraphernalia. Another fun word, like Misnomers. Rolls off the tongue. Para-pher-nal-i-a. Someone should write a song about it.

Before taking up my current job nearly 10 years ago, paraphernalia probably wasn’t a word I would have immediately associated with drug use, as I do now. Syringes, foil, spoons, filters, etc…all the bits of equipment that go with injecting drug use, are often termed ‘paraphernalia’.

  1. 1.    par·a·pher·na·lia  

/ˌparəfə(r)ˈnālyə/

Noun

  • Miscellaneous articles, esp. the equipment needed for a particular activity.
  • Trappings associated with a particular institution or activity that are regarded as superfluous.

(Google definitions)

Any activity, hobby or institution has its paraphernalia. The other day I saw a leaflet advertising cycling gear and almost salivated as I thought, “Mm, I wouldn’t mind some new cycling gear”. I love cycling and would get a buzz from buying some new equipment, with good intentions about getting back into cycling.

Thing is, though, I haven’t used my bike for months, won’t realistically get round to cycling again till next summer at the earliest, and have all the equipment I need anyway. I engaged my brain and resisted the temptation to make an unnecessary purchase.

Unlike my sporadic cycling, I do run regularly, and there’s nothing like the purchase of new running shoes to thrill my soul.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

But those shoes would be an expensive waste of money if I didn’t run.

In the same way, drug users can sometimes develop a ‘needle fixation’ – an obsession with the injecting equipment because of its psychological association with the drug itself – leading to an urge to inject, with or without the drug. To inject for the sake of injecting.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

Isn’t it strange how, with any activity, we can become attached to peripheral, unimportant things and lose sight of the one central thing without which those peripheral things are useless, irrelevant, worthless.

But if you know me or my blog, you’ll know by now that this post is not about cycling or running. And although I’ve written before about addiction, this is not even about drug use.

I’m one of those many Christians who have spent (and maybe wasted) countless hours over the years discussing different worship styles and why one way may be better than another.

Some churches have endured debates about chairs vs pews. Or encountered divisions over service books and dissension over music styles.

Some Christians will get excited about the latest Matt Redman or Hillsong album. Others will become animated with eager anticipation about going to hear some famous, ‘anointed’ speaker. We might even catch a buzz from buying a brand-new Bible.

The buzz of paraphernalia.

OK, that’s not all bad. It’s natural to get excited about minor things. And it’s OK to be passionate about issues close to our hearts.

The problem comes when we rely on the next CD / event / book etc, or on church being how we want it to be, for our next spiritual ‘fix’.

Getting our buzz

from Christian paraphernalia.

Peripheries.

Or making the superficialities more important than the central thing. Being over-bothered about styles of service, ways of worship or versions of books.

Obsession with Christian paraphernalia creates resistance to change, diverting us from the central mission Jesus calls us to, so that churches remain inward-focused and ultimately implode.

As someone once said, “The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing”.

Attachment to church peripheries, like any dependency, erodes relationships.

In fact, maybe you’ve experienced hurt through someone else’s obsession with Christian paraphernalia – offended and damaged as a result of someone else’s skewed priorities. Then the solution, for you too, is to make the main thing the main thing.

So…

For us who call ourselves Christians, what is the main thing? What is the central thing?

My teenage son tells me that when he was younger, answering questions in Sunday School was easy, because the answer was always ‘Jesus’!

So the answer is ‘Jesus’. But what does that mean – making Jesus the main thing?

If this were an evangelical preacher’s sermon, there would now follow 3 points, all beginning with the same letter, as if the Christian life were that neat and easy!

The Bible isn’t that neat, and your answer will be different from mine. But here are a few of my suggestions, as to what it might mean to make the main thing the main thing:

Treating our Christian brothers and sisters with respect, kindness, forgiveness and generosity, no matter how much we disagree with them. Especially over worship styles, service formats or any other peripheral thing!

Doing the same for those who wouldn’t call themselves Christians, showing them how great God’s grace is.

Putting the needs of others before our own. Especially, if we’re married, those of our spouse.

Caring for those who are poor, struggling, suffering with mental or physical ill health, or in some other way marginalised.

Achieving this by drawing on Jesus’ love and strength, through prayer.

Growing in knowing and being shaped by God, through prayer, reflecting on his words, etc.

Creatively, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, finding ways to share the good news of Jesus with others.

When we get either excited or discontented by Christian paraphernalia, perhaps we could ask ourselves:

“Does this argument / debate / purchase / activity promote the main thing, or do I have the Christian equivalent of a needle fixation, obsessed with peripheral things?”

What are you passionate about? What animates you? Is it the main thing, or paraphernalia?

And (a hint to my family) will I get that new Matt Redman album – Your Grace Finds Me – for my birthday?

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3 thoughts on “Paraphernalia

  1. Mark De Fusco says:

    Hi Roger, funnily enough I was having a similar conversation the other day with my girlfriend about styles of worship (actually an ongoing conversation really)- me being more in favour of a more traditional style service, i.e. hymns sung in angelic voices (sorry, too much Songs of Praise), cold pews (it appeals for some reason rather than the more modern buildings), stained glass windows and tea and biscuits afterwards, and Jan liking a slightly more modern approach (although still with tea and biscuits) (common ground that tea always magically manages to cover)…we’ve now met somewhere in the middle (sort of)- I’ve now come to the conclusion that worship can take any form that the person is able to express (regardless of how modern or ‘untraditional’), and Jan agrees that a service should have a bit of depth and meaning rather than being too casual and modern (“dragged into the 21st century” I believe the phrase is)…you’re right though, it is paraphernalia for the most part…but sometimes it’s in the smaller details that a difference can be made with the trick being (as you say) not to lose sight of the bigger picture- or should I say “the panoramic vista” (sounds much more spectacular)…we now try and attend a mixture of both old and new…hope I haven’t gone wildly off the beaten track here…

  2. Mark De Fusco says:

    You’re most welcome..

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