Form Vs. Content

roadFirst the punchline: I personally believe form is important but does not in itself “fix” nor often answer what ails us as individuals or groups. Content, substance is the key.

What follows is my meandering thinking as to how I’ve come to believe this.

Many of you know I build cigarbox and found-object guitars and basses. There are certainly better or lesser forms for strength, or beauty, or better material for either paint, decoupage, etc., this or that form of tuner or placement of sound hole(s) and the rest. These all make a difference in both playing and sound. Yet as is often stated in “There are no rules” not meaning this may work better than that, rather that you must give yourself the freedom to try, to experiment to imagine and build in a different way. This is what brings a lot of the fun and life to sticks, strings and what-have-you.

ARE there basic rules of strength in design? Of course. But after that there is a vast, vast variety of ways of getting a valued finished product.

DOES structure, form, matter? It indeed does, but when considered (wrongly) as substance, it must not trump relationship- especially relationship with God and others. If changing a form truly changed a heart… but it cannot at core.

The fights are often about form and who got their way, not what was best or most God-honoring or people-serving, and I say this from traveling the world, meeting all sorts of people in all sorts of groups and hearing the war stories from individuals and groups, leaders and non-leaders from about every angle of a decision or conflict you’d care to discuss. SUBSTANCE is often neglected on the basis of a form somebody or a group of some bodies is willing to die for.

If our life is truly about the Lord and others, decisions must be made on the basis of substance over mere form. Does form inform (effect) substance? Certainly, but I’m convinced the accent must be on substance, or using the other term, content.

It’s early morning as I write this blog and one of my grandsons wandered in our room. My wife (Grammy) is sleeping, so he quietly came over to me and we had a hug and kiss. I silently pointed to her and made a “Shhhh” gesture with index finger to my lips and smiled. He smiled and shook his head “Yes”, gave me a hug and quietly left. He’ll be back later. We experienced substance, not merely form.

As I’ve said countless times, the majority of church fights over centuries have had more to do with form than substance, more with attitude than structure. Here are only a few verses that affect my personal thinking regarding life, community, decisions both individual and group be it band, coffeehouse, business, you-name-it, all caps are mine for the sake of highlighting:

Col. 2.17- things which are a mere SHADOW of what is to come; but the SUBSTANCE belongs to Christ.

Many if not most humans worry over change. We often fear it, run from it, cling to what is NOT foreign to us. There is a sense of control and security in this.

Musicians and other artists like myself often pioneer, launch into fresh, new, creative ideas and some of those ideas and works are lousy, not so inspiring to others, and all-sorts-of-other negative… you get my meaning! But some -some more are actually a blessing, a gift to be valued, worth someone’s time and in the end may even prove epic in their positive effect. Now, there is no certain, absolute way to know which is useless (“all things work together for good”??) vs. what’s truly a good and even long-term gift of grace to others… but someone had to come up with the fresh concept.

This is where old wineskins often burst. Pioneers often get shot. Doing things differently puts that person (or group) at risk as much as hanging on to tried-true-old-even no-longer-fruitful-methods of structure and form are. Creative types love to rebel against the same-old-same-old, sometimes merely because they’re rebels. They may cause more harm than good, problems and pain rather than healing and building-up! Sometimes they’re bums, sometimes heroes.

2 Tim. 3.5- holding a FORM of godliness, but having denied its POWER. Turn away from these, also.

Hmmm. A kind of negative here from Paul to his child-in-the-faith Tim. He’s saying “Be careful who you choose to hang out with bro., some of these people are phoneys, don’t truly follow Christ and give a surface form of being a Christian but in fact are not disciples and for that matter, care more about themselves and personal gain than about Jesus, others and trusting in the power of God the Holy Spirit to bring about a changed life”. This does not mean I choose to hang out with lazy, self-serving ARTISTES, dis-functional prima-donnas who love rolling in their own sense of grandiosity and dreams to the exclusion of loving, confessing, repenting, growing in servanthood and personal responsibility. It means quite the opposite.

SUBSTANCE does not mean looking for “the COOL factor” and making sure I’m only interested in those who have it. That would be focusing on form rather than substance.

1 Cor. 7.31- and those who use the world, as not using it to the fullest. For the mode of this world passes away.

Change will come and is coming. God really doesn’t need my nor your permission.

There really IS freedom in Christ to create, to move outside legalism while not neglecting the tithe, so to speak. Some of you know which verse it is I’m referencing here…. there are so many along such lines… The point is that human constructs of form and structure are not in and of themselves sacred though we often give them that sort of homage. “THIS style of music, THAT style of architecture, THIS is THE WAY TO DO X, Y or Z and there is NO OTHER WAY…” Ahhh, beg pardon?!

Jesus said “A NEW commandment I give you”, boiled the ten commandments down to two (wow!) without erasing the ten. Consider:

Mt. 13.52- He said to them, “Therefore, every scribe who has been made a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things.”

I started what was a heavy-metal band that sought to share the Good News of Christ via lyrics, but a band that sounded far more like Led Zep… MILES away from southern gospel music or what would have been heard as church music. There were only a handful of bands like this at the time. Some of our lyrics were evangelistic, some were very topic-oriented on things like apartheid, the failure of success, being disabled and treated poorly because of it, homelessness, on and on. Some of the lyrics were meant to challenge the lack and need of simple John 15 discipleship among believers who heard the songs.

Some folks loved it and have ever since, some wanted to fry us one way or another and still there’s “nothing new under the sun”!

I have friends (and a few enemies alike) who have constructed tombs out of this or that form of “doing church” where I personally find little biblical evidence for the template (form) of doing it precisely as they’ve done it. Does such form assure godliness? It cannot. Mere form never can.

Some basically proclaim “THIS IS THE WAY TO GO and NO OTHERS HAVE VALUE”. Really? Chapter and verse, sound exegesis please!!? “This is the way, walk in it” does not contextually mean holding to a form, rather, it’s about attitude, heart-relation to God and His way of thinking, speaking, choosing, living, loving neighbor as self.

Note, “new and old things”, not merely new, not merely old.

Most forms in life, shift, change, move. There are plenty of good and bad reasons as to why. People are often quite insecure and worried if not ready to fight and destroy over structural change.

I am in no way saying some structural change isn’t needed. Consider bridges in the U.S. road system and the fact several due to lousy and/or deteriorating structure untended have fallen -some with death occurring.

What I -am- saying is that our information, knowledge and learning increase over time and as we apply these and other elements to our lives we change, grow and yes, both lose as well as gain. There is no clean, clear way to escape perceived negatives in facing positive change. On the other hand (are you hearing the word “balance” in any of what I write?) some things truly ain’t broke and don’t need fixing. This is where creatives are sometimes more bent on personal fulfillment schemes than loving God and people. “Because I can, I WILL” is a brat-kid attitude that eats rather than feeds.

I do think competing forms (old-new, new-old) do not have to be brought about in anger, acrimony, blood and fatality. In our sick, self-serving world there are those who think otherwise.

Meanwhile, I’d say my own sense of faith, hope and love, even joy- comes from God’s grace in imagination, creativity, trying new things (and expecting to fail in many of them along the route) as well as the knowledge that life is worth living when one loves and shares gifts of value among valued friends. It’s an “up” where frankly, truly Pharisaical forms are often a bit more of a “down” as I perceive them.

So why the pic of the winding road at the top of this post?

It’s admittedly an old, worn-out metaphor… and I use it due to its familiarity. See, a sort of “form”, no? Life winds like some of the roads, up, down, over left, over right, sometimes cutting back, yet always moving forward. This is how we get from one point to another. The terrain affects how we travel. There IS good form, the safety of the road markings, signage, etc., and of course rain and snow and extreme heat all affect the way we travel (or cannot) on any given road. The form of the vehicle is important too! And yet the attitude of the driver is more important. Substance.

Some people fear this or that road. Some love the risk or sense of exploration. The same person may love the same road one day and fear, maybe even hate it the next or vice-versa. There are times and places and people in them who are called to build and create new roads. Some decide to take on the task early, some late and others will never build a road at all due to the discipline, work and sometimes risk and dangers of doing so.

At one point I was fretting over the potential of making mistakes with the discipling of another. In one of the most clear “God speaking” moments of my life, I heard Him say in my mind “If you’re afraid of making mistakes you’re afraid of making disciples”. Whew. So risk is part of the calling, eh?

It always gets back to the substance of attitude, relationship, God’s love, truth, grace, forgiveness, repentance where needed, being willing to move down the road and even create new ones fully facing the risks, embracing the crosses and focusing UP and OUT rather than “me-me-me” IN.

Content brings a contentment along with it. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” writes Paul.

Forms are not without value but the accent must be on content. This is my personal view.

Things to consider 🙂 Thanks for stopping by! -Glenn

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