21 October 2013 You are here:

The Danger of Delightful Dinosaurs!

I love English crime series – specifically (and in no particular order), Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse…

Now, before you start writing to me with your amateur analysis of the psychosomatic significance of my getting any entertainment from watching a – not infrequently – disproportionately large percentage of peaceful pastoral populations being dispatched by disturbingly intelligent psychopaths, please note the following:

I am also entertained by watching sport, comedy, court dramas and the annual manifestation of my wife’s Christmas spirit! This blog is not about English crime series!

My reference to English crime is only because, recently, it caused me to think about dinosaurs. I was watching an episode of Inspector Morse in which the redoubtable Morse confronts the sobering truth that his policing methods have become outmoded and obsolete in a world with computer analysis, psychological profiling and the like. When asked what he would do about the tension of being someone from one era, operating in a world that has changed, Morse says: “I’ll carry on to the end, like all dinosaurs do.”

I thought about dinosaurs when I watched – with some enjoyment, considerable amazement and genuine amusement – the Band of the Royal Netherlands Army Mounted Regiments, also known as the Dutch Army Bicycle Band. Apparently, the band was formed to help encourage soldiers to enlist for war and then enthuse the population by cycling from town to town, lifting morale. There was a war on and they were performing a vital role in the war effort. They were contributing towards fighting for their country – they were engaged in a serious mission and they had dedicated their skills to the cause. The cycles were no quaint optional extra, but had the dual function of providing easy mobility and a sense of novelty to the band’s performance. The cycles served the mission!

Almost a century has passed and the band continues to exist. Writing about its performance at the 2011 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Simon MacMichael writes: “Dressed in World War I uniforms and mounted on vintage bicycles… based in the Van Brederode Barracks in Vucht, the band… can trace its origins back to 1917, although the Dutch army’s Bicycle Corps[i] is older still, having been founded in 1894.”

I registered that:

The band reminds us – informs us – about the past. The band entertains us.

It occurred to me, as I smilingly watched their performance, that they reminded me of dinosaurs. Now, dinosaurs are generally known for three things:

They inform about a lost world They entertain They are extinct...

I am sure that some who read this will be tempted to wax lyrical about outmoded dress sense and/or old-fashioned methods. I can understand people becoming passionate about such matters, but I think that discussing mode and method would be to fail to address the most significant thing about this quaint bicycle band – the core issue.

That issue is that because they are no longer engaged in a war, they have become a quaint piece of nostalgia – an amusing, amazing, entertaining relic from the past. They “dress and do the past” so well that they are worth watching. The band has become a charming concert act – delightful dinosaurs, they exist to entertain! Instead of giving up their lives to the cause as did their forebears, they get paid to do a job. They have so adjusted the purpose – the mission – of the band that they have become something other than what they started out to be.

I believe that the lack of engagement in a war and the consequent dramatic change of their mission, their raison d’etre, has brought about their demise as a fighting force – not the First World War uniforms, nor the vintage equipment. As a fighting force, they have become extinct like dinosaurs. The real difference between the band and dinosaurs is that you won’t have to go to a museum to be entertained by the band!

Speaking of bands, here’s the latest ‘good news’ story I’ve heard. At a recent band festival, a seeker knelt at the mercy seat (our place of prayer) as the band played during the devotional segment of the programme. The familiar strains from a well-known piece helped the seeker – after many years away – open up to the transforming ministry of Jesus. The style of the band’s uniforms was not the talking point after the festival, but the fact that someone had met Jesus through the music.

Mission – or lack of mission – is the point. The danger of becoming delightful dinosaurs by changing our focus from engagement to entertainment is a real one as we approach 150 distant years from our origins. So, let’s keep missional. Let’s stay engaged. Let’s keep our focus on our mandate – it’ll help us with our relevance, too!

[i] . You can observe their performance here