Fueling the Storm

Growing up in tornado alley, I learned that thunderstorms tend to build up because of instability and they only come to an end when that instability is gone. The more instability builds up – the worse the storm gets.

My nervousness problems work in much the same way. I realized that just last night when my co-worker realized I was nervous and something about the combination of what he said, the tone of his voice, and the gestures he made while speaking made my nerves spike. I had to stop and catch a deep breath to infuse my system with oxygen in order to try to calm down a little.

It reminded me of the time I was on a long flight by myself to a foreign country. The flight attendant was a friendly guy and quite a character, it it seemed the more he asked me if I wanted anything and double-checking my response: “Are you sure?” The more my nervousness would kick into high gear and the worse they got – making him ask all the more if there was anything he could do.

Truth be told, I didn’t really know I had that bad of a nervousness problem mostly because I’d never put myself into situations to test how I would respond. But now it seems with every new thing – they’re getting worse … and the more that people try to do to help, the worse it gets.

After Earth was actually a fairly helpful movie in that the concept of taking a knee was described. It means to center yourself in this present moment, to take a deep breath and let all of the things you can’t control slip away. To decide that the fear and worry you’re fighting aren’t real – well, they are real, but they’re aren’t your real concern in this particular circumstance.

I think – I also have to come to terms with that I put way too much pressure on myself not to make mistakes; drive the car the wrong way and you get in a crash and somebody dies. Make a bad mistake at work and you could lose your livelihood. Make this mistake or that mistake and your life could irrevocably be a downhill spiral ending in disaster. Better to not make mistakes –  but all the pressure feeds into the tendency to make mistakes.

“I remember your first week of working here.” A customer told me the other day; “I felt so sorry for you, you were so nervous I thought you were going to have a break down.”

“I know – it was pretty bad there for awhile, but I eventually found my zen.” I said.

It took time and experience to take care of my first round of nerves; and odds are that’s what it’ll take to get them to go away – but until then … anything anyone does to try to make them better will likely fuel the storm. The best way to put an end to my instability is to be stable and calm when I’m around.

(Does anyone know of any good calming apps? I tried one by the name of Calm and couldn’t really get it to work for me.)

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Remember Me

“Hey, great news! I’m cancer-free!” A recent acquaintance of mine happily beamed. “I just wanted to thank you for being one of the ones who were there for me, praying for me, making sure my needs were heard up there.”

I was truly happy for her, beating cancer is the greatest of all victories. It’s just … I felt it wise to not mention that I had forgotten to actually pray for her. Don’t get me wrong, I wish her well, and hope that the blight that is cancer gets eradicated; I wouldn’t wish it to happen to anyone. But I haven’t really been on speaking terms with God lately.

I tend to be the sort of person that just falls through the cracks. I’m not that big of a troublemaker, so I attract very little attention. I’m really healthy, so I don’t need medical or divine intervention. I guess you could describe me as one of the random people you see in the background while somebody famous is giving a speech – I’m a nobody and if I weren’t there, you wouldn’t notice I was gone because you wouldn’t know to miss me. At least, that’s been the experience I’ve had from attending church for such a very long time.

Maybe God just likes being a miracle worker like Scottie; it’s not enough to do the job properly and without fanfare – maybe he just likes to estimate it’ll take twice as long so that he’ll be done in half the time. Perhaps he really shines in the big things – beating cancer, saving lives during natural disasters, and making sure the best team wins the game. It can be easy to feel that God doesn’t like to show up in the little things because then he would be something we could control and have him do our bidding.

It can be hard to find the faith when someone gets to celebrate their victory over cancer knowing that someone out there gets to mourn the loss of someone who lost that battle even though they prayed just as much. But its enough for me to know that I should celebrate with those who celebrate and morn with those who mourn. God’s going to do as he pleases with or without my input, no matter how much or how little I pray.

Every now and then, even King David would write: “Remember me” (Psalm 25:7, 106:4). Samson prayed: “Remember me” before his final act of strength (Judges 16:28). Hannah desperately prayed: “Remember me” because she just wanted a son (1 Samuel 1:11). Nehemiah also prayed: “Remember me” for all that he had done (Nehemiah 5:19, 13:14,22,31). Job also prayed: “Remember me” in frustration for all that he had been put through (Job 14:13). Jeremiah prayed: “Remember me” while asking God for vengeance (Jeremiah 15:15).

This prayer doesn’t show up much in the New Testament; the most notable example is the thief on the cross next to Jesus: “Remember me” (Luke 23:42). Perhaps that’s because the veil, the separation between us and God was supposed to be torn. With the Holy Spirit inside us, we aren’t supposed to feel so alone; but sometimes we just do and we can’t help it. Perhaps that old prayer still has some mileage in it: “Remember me, O God …”

Personality Modification

One of the more common descriptors used of me is “sweet”, I’m also “quiet” and tend to startle people when I appear unexpectedly out of nowhere. I find it easier to continue an existing conversation than to strike up a new one. I remember being taught that being modest isn’t just about what I choose to wear it’s a heart issue that also reveals what sort of person I am.

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. – from 1 Timothy 2

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. – from 1 Peter 3

Ah, but men and women are to be different. If women ought to be quiet and gentle, then men ought to be loud and strong. Any woman who grows up with a loud and strong personality must therefore battle against it and make herself quiet and gentle. Any man who exhibits a quiet and gentle nature, must therefore work constantly to become loud and strong. The only men who are affirmed as they are are the loud and strong ones, the only women who are affirmed as they are are the quiet and gentle ones. They quite naturally are who they’re supposed to be. Lucky them.

But in all this, I can’t help but wonder – why would God make a strong-willed woman or a quiet and gentle man and require them to fight against the nature he gave them? I’ve seen how a strong-willed man can be overbearing and a quiet woman can be taken advantage of when she’s not allowed to speak up for herself. Put the combination together, and a strong-willed husband with a quiet wife creates a scenario where the woman isn’t allowed to speak up, to question decisions, to do anything other than to stand behind her husband and let him do all the talking, she’s allowed to have an opinion, but not allowed to voice them when they contradict her husband. Is that the ideal for all Christian families?

There’s also this element of shame – how quiet and gentle men are less complete than their loud and strong-willed brothers in Christ. How loud and strong-willed women are too much like men to be considered a complete sister in Christ. If only God had made them naturally as they ought to be they could spend their time not warring against their own natures and do more productive things like leading or following as they ought to. Is it sin that made them contrary to how the Bible says they must be, or God who created them contrary to his own design for how they ought to be?

It reminds me of that quote from Akeelah and the Bee: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

These ideas about the appropriate personality for our gender seem to say: “Hide your light under a bushel so that the other light may shine all the brighter in the darkness.” Could you imagine just one star – one distant point of light in the new moon night sky? How lonely it must be for that single light. It’s only when all the lights from all the stars, single and binary shine brightly are we captivated by the constellation of stars even on the darkest of nights.

It seems to me that the thing to do isn’t to declare that this person’s natural personality isn’t fit for their gender to try to force them to change, it’s to draw them out and encourage them to be as they were meant to, to celebrate uniqueness and quirks, to let them be themselves – it’s when we see the whole spectrum of human personality for it’s diversity do we begin to understand that we all reflect something of God in some way or another and it’s no sin for women to be strong-willed or for men to be quiet and gentle.

On Conscience

But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

We are a guilt/innocence society. We depend our conscience, our inner sense to confirm whether or not we are wrong or right. When our consciences are clear, then we know that we are innocent. When we feel guilty, then our conscience eats away at us. Usually it takes confession and forgiveness for the burden of guilt to be removed. But when it comes down to it – we trust our conscience to guide us into the right course of action and the right set of beliefs.
My friends often tell me that you can be certain that you’re doing the right thing when you feel blessed, happy, affirmed, and even joyful. They would tell me to trust my conscience when it says to do something. But when I don’t feel my conscience telling me to do something – then I must disobey my conscience when it would have me disobey scripture. It makes me wonder – how I can be sure my conscience is right just because Scripture happens to agree with it?
Think back to the era of slavery – this institution didn’t exist apart from Scripture and Christians, but in part through it and because of it. In a documentary I’ve watched over the past week, Frederick Douglass recalls: “I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture–“He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.“” That’s Luke 12:47.
It was the realization that slavery was a violation of their conscience that drove the Abolitionists to those very same scriptures to assert the equality of all people and call for the freedom that had been so very long denied. Again, it was conscience that was the heartbeat of the Civil Rights era that put two sets of Christians against each other using the Bible as the dividing line. “Obey authorities!” Said one. “We’re all one in Christ!” Said the other.
So too, our consciences are moving in us to take stands on issues such as women in ministry and LGBT inclusion. Our consciences are guiding us in our beliefs – and it’s very much an individual thing. All of us have come to decide on an individual basis who or what God is to us, how we ought to worship Him/Her/It, what God would have us do is not necessarily the same exact conclusion a brother or sister in the faith will draw and we’re okay with that whereas in the past there used to an idea of a “one true, right way” and there was no limit to the heartbreak because of disagreements and violence that resulted from the imposition of that standard upon others.
The problems arise when one group decides that their conscience ought to be the standard that all consciences must obey, going against their own standards and bowing to ideas that are not necessarily their own. Worship is a personal thing, it cannot be made into an exercise of conformity and retain a sense of personal relationship; rather, it betrays it’s own nature to make it a ‘one size fits all’ approach. When we are told that we cannot trust our conscience, then that means that we cannot be certain our senses of right and wrong are right or wrong. Now i know most at this point would say: “Good! God is our objective standard of morality! There’s no truth in morality being subjective – then you would have people reaching opposite conclusions and you know that one or both of them are wrong. But with an objective standard of morality, then you know that God is never wrong!” The problem lies not in God being an objective standard, but that the people who interpret and apply Scripture are very much subject to their own whims and desires – that’s evident in how we have historically used the Bible to support both sides in all sorts of conflicts. And since the Bible can never be wrong, then both sides must be correct. The only thing that can decide for us which way to go is our conscience – it will either rage with a burning zeal for the truth of the Scriptures or beat with a ceaseless and tireless love for others in that living out of the Spirit of the Word sort of way.
Sometimes it’s not enough to be “not wrong” – in it’s day and age, pro-slavery advocates were not wrong, Scriptures did affirm slavery, sanction it’s limits, and instructed the masters and slaves how to interact. But they weren’t exactly right – slavery in the Bible never really was the same sort of slavery in the World. The instructions God gave to the Israelites weren’t the ones the Romans had decided to follow when they were in power. Slavery in the American South (and the rest of the world, for that matter) looked nothing like what God had asked the Israelites to do. Even today slavery hasn’t been erased from the face of our planet, in far too many lawless regions it thrives in one form or another. We can look to Scriptures – but ultimately it’ll be on our consciences to provoke us into action and wake us up from inaction – on this and all other matters of conscience.

 

We’ll have to ask ourselves on all things: “Is it right?”

Couldn’t Care Less

So many times, people tell me how amazing and wonderful worship is. Oftentimes, I wonder if they’d be as enthusiastic about the worship in my church. The sanctuary was built a few years ago, it’s a fairly standard and simple design, like most churches I’ve attended, there are two rows of pews arranged in two vertical rectangles that are longer than they are wide. The rows themselves are on a diagonal. The walls are a clean white with the occasional large window, there is light-colored stained wood for the pews (with pink or purple cushions that match the carpet, I forget which), for the pulpit, for the rail along the stairs, for the altar. That’s a pretty thorough description of the location. The atmosphere is generally one of family, friends, and neighbors catching up with each other. They certainly do talk to each other.

When it comes time for the music to start, things change. Like on Sunday; while the lyrics for the hymn were being displayed on the screen, I couldn’t help but notice that there was quite a few disinterested parties in the building. Perhaps it was the conversations in the midst of the music or playing with their hair, it seemed like people were finding other things to do than to sing along with the worship music.Singing ceases to be the priority.

I think that’s something that people aren’t always anxious to talk about. How no matter what you do and no matter what you don’t do, there will always be disinterested parties. I think that for a lot of young people in this area, going to church is expected of them and so they show up, but they don’t have to like it. The disinterested parties just check out and don’t bother to sing at all. Sometimes I’m one of them – I just do a better job of hiding it by lip-syncing. I can only imagine how churches in regions with better internet might have a number of youth texting each other, oblivious to what’s going on, be it music or preaching. Is that the case? I don’t know. As to the older ones who are disinterested, it can be for a variety of reasons: the stale routine has gotten old, they passionately dislike the music, they have a lot on their minds, anything really.

They’re not the only ones though. Every time the choir is tasked with a contemporary song, they don’t do it justice. It’s not that they don’t sing the sheet music flawlessly, they do, but they sing contemporary music in a different way than they sing hymns. It’s the difference between having to sing a song you can’t stand and getting to sing a song you absolutely love.

Next Sunday, take a look around. Whatever worship ‘does’ for you, it doesn’t do for the disinterested. And there’s no guarantee that changing worship so that it ‘does’ something for others won’t turn you into a disinterested party in the process. It’s like worship these days is a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other, but never really able to stay in that sweet spot. For those of you whose worship “works” and “does” for you, it’s probably difficult to imagine what it is to be in a church with uninteresting worship that doesn’t work and doesn’t do anything for you. It’s a lot like having to watch that movie you can’t stand because somebody you love adores it. It’s a lot like having to read that book you despise because somebody you love admires it. It’s a lot like having to do that dance you hate because somebody you love enjoys it.

I know – I’ve been told, if you can’t stand the church go somewhere else. That only works then there is somewhere else to go. Virtual worship, watching sermons and worship sets over the internet is just somehow not the same. It certainly wouldn’t be for our traditional church – just imagine it!

“Welcome brothers and sisters, and everyone else watching us over the internet! First, let’s take a moment to meet’n’greet one another, be sure to make everyone feel welcome. Then we’ll sing hymn 724, verses 1 and 4.”

The person at home has no one to meet and greet, no one to ask about their health or family, and no one to ask them how their day has been. When it comes time to sing, the echo of a lone voice from four nearby walls serves as a reminder of what isn’t there – dozens of other voices that fill up the air, altogether rising and falling in unison. The feel of worship just isn’t there when it doesn’t feel like worship or even remotely resemble it. That’s why it doesn’t work – traditional or contemporary – over the television, over the computer, over the radio.

All it really does is turn the watcher / listener into a spectator who can see and/or hear what others are doing, but cannot interact with the others that are doing whatever they’re doing. Like my church, it broadcasts it’s services over the radio – somebody at home can listen in, but they cannot become part of the broadcast itself, singing for everyone to hear, meeting and greeting one another. Worshiping at home very much becomes like being the person who worships outside of the church doors, but can bring himself or herself to join everyone else – knowing that ‘where two or three are gathered, I am there” it’s basically a church service of one.

I just can’t think of any good solutions – what works for you is what works for you, and what works for another might not be something that works for you. I think when it comes down to it, you just can’t make somebody else interested in something that interests you because they aren’t you. The problem with church worship service is that they’re pretty unchanging. It’s all about doing things they way they’ve always been done, in the order they’ve always been done, and not deviating from that as much as humanly possible. But if you aren’t going to be able to make changes happen, then you shouldn’t be surprised when one by one, disinterested parties begin to disappear. If there’s nothing for them in the church service, there’s nothing for them to stick around for and no reason for them to show up at all.

And it’s not enough to do an occasional contemporary song if it sounds like you’d rather be anywhere else doing anything else – but at least the shoe would be on the other foot for a little while and it would give you a context as to how others feel. It just makes me wonder if there was the same tug-of-war worship experience decades ago and centuries ago, as people became polarized over the subject. I know that when I read about the Great Awakening, part of the conflict was that the New Lights were getting into more emotional worship and had stepped away from the more stoic worship favored by the Old Lights. Even Martin Luther felt that music should be emotionally moving. And yet for all these swings toward allowing emotion, tradition swings back to the other extreme …

“You can’t rely on you what you feel!” “If you don’t feel God, does that mean that God has forsaken you?” “God wants you to worship him whether you feel like it or not!” “How can you be sure that Satan isn’t the one playing on your emotions right now and not God?” “What you’re really worshiping is emotions, not God.” … I’ve heard it all, and then some.

It’s worthwhile to not that some people believe that feeling any hint of emotion during worship cheapens it, so the disinterested attendees are actually offering true worship in that they are not emotional, not sentimental, and not swept up by the music (or at least, they would be if they were singing along with the rest) – at least, according to some. Whereas those who participate and are emotional, sentimental, and caught up by the music are actually worshiping their own feelings. Fortunately, the idea that “emotion cheapens the experience” didn’t really catch on. Because to anybody else, having a conversation with somebody else or playing with one’s hair when you’re supposed to be singing really wouldn’t be worshiping, it would be boredom.

Another consideration is that in this region, churches in the same denomination are just like the one down the street from it. Our church is actually two, the same people sing the same songs, one at ten at location a, the other at eleven at location b. If one person felt that the o’clock church was the right denomination but wasn’t their cup of tea, they could go to the o’clock that’s pretty much exactly like it. Why is it that churches in the same denomination do not offer a variety of services particularly when they’re in the same area?

But when you say that your worship is great and excellent, is that an empirical fact or a statement of emotion? If every ounce of joy, every drop of delight, every gram of happiness and all other emotions were zapped out of existence for the duration of worship music – what do you get? Songs with no resonance or bounce, just words sung to a tune as correctly and as unemotionally as possible. That just doesn’t sound like worship to me. I just can’t help but wonder – if some of the regulars are disinterested now, then what will worship become in the years to come? It probably won’t be much different, just as empty with just as many people not interested in what’s going on. The former solution – separate and form different services for different people works only as long as the congregation can support it (both put up with it and finance it.) But to do that, they would have to be interested in it in the first place.

 

More Than a Feeling

I’m not terribly well-versed with classic rock, but for some reason the words ‘more than feeling‘ have been stuck in my head. I’ve talked a lot about how Christianity has issues with emotions, how Christianity pressures people to show certain emotions, and how other emotions are viewed as unacceptable. As much as I often end up on the pro-emotion side, every now and then I’m not sure that I feel much of anything. Lately it’s been a major battle against writer’s block. I’m just not feeling inspired. At this point some who are anti-emotion would likely point out that just because I don’t feel God’s inspiration or presence it doesn’t mean that he’s given up on me and that’s proof enough that I shouldn’t put so much emphasis on emotion.

Then I think about what I learned about leprosy; how it deadened the body’s pain receptors so that people didn’t know they had been hurt because they couldn’t feel it. They didn’t know they needed to clean and dress a wound because they couldn’t feel it. They didn’t know that infection had set in because they couldn’t feel it. Not being able to feel slowly and surely was detrimental to their physical and spiritual health. For those who are anti-emotion, they choose to train themselves to avoid their emotions, they teach themselves not to feel and remind themselves never to trust what they do feel. That’s just how I used to be but it created more problems than it solved.

For one, I didn’t seem to find much Biblical justification for our general mistrust of emotions in Scripture. Jesus seemed to be freely emotional crying at the death of a friend or being angry that another was in his way or being the life of the party or having compassion at the plight of others, etc. Paul was pure passion – completely against the early church and then completely for the early church. Each of the disciples had different personalities that shined through the gospels – from doubt to pride to devotion and betrayal. When I stopped reading the Scriptures as if they were a black and white story, I began to see how emotion colors everything from the words the people in the stories say, the actions the people in the stories take, and how they lived life. I think they’d be among the first to look at modern Christianity and shake their heads in disappointment at how wrong we’ve gone with our quest to deny our emotions.

I know, emotions can lead us astray. Being angry gets us into all kinds of trouble. Being sad can get us lost in a deep fog. Being scared is even worse because the Bible says over and over again not to be afraid. If we let our emotions run the show, we wouldn’t much different from little children who haven’t learned how to restrain their emotions. And yet, we are all God’s children. Shouldn’t that mean that we should be somewhat freer with our emotions that we would have been otherwise? Emotions can’t be that bad of a thing – they’re part of being human.

I struggle with intentionality. I always have. Let’s say I feel like reading a book. I can devour it in three days. But when I don’t feel like reading a book – even if it’s half the size – I’ll drag my feet for weeks and maybe get through a page or two every other month. Let’s say I feel like blogging. Day after day I can write new posts. But when I don’t feel like blogging, I struggle to come up with something, anything to say. I struggle the same way with my faith. I can be all about God, or I won’t feel quite up to it and I’ll find something else to occupy my time. I know that believing in God is more than a feeling, but I have feelings that need to feel something, or else, why have them at all?

Maybe it’s just this disappointment with the Church; in a world where we should be above worldliness, too many Christian leaders are corrupt, too many protect the guilty and throw the innocent under the bus, too many lie or cheat or steal, too many take a page out of a business magazine and too few take a page out of the Bible. But there’s also the problems in the system – like trying to justify our failure to help the poor because that’s entitlement or if we fix famine and prevent hunger, it won’t be around like the Bible says it will at the end times and if it’s one thing Christians are looking forward to, it’s the end times. Why would we want to throw a wrench into God’s plans to destroy the whole world? Shouldn’t we feel bothered that we don’t mind world hunger or war or people dying of preventable causes because we’re hoping that we’ll be Raptured before God systematically wipes out the remaining population in a series of judgements that render the Ten Plagues of Egypt to be gentle in comparison? Why am I not okay with that now and why was I okay with that when I was younger?

And yet here I am struggling with the concept of being intentional. I could intend on reading the Bible through, but I know I wouldn’t make it. I could intend on studying a particular branch of theology and get myself confused before I make any amount of headway. Then I know that there are times that I can’t get enough of studying Scripture, but I know it doesn’t last. Sooner or later it fades.

All the while, those who are against emotion warn me of false positives, losing interest in the Gospel and therefore loving God less. I think they don’t understand that they days that are “downs” don’t last either. It won’t be long before I’m on the other side, up in the light, surrounded by the warmth of love and back in the zone. It sustains even when I’m back in the lows, knowing that it doesn’t last. Darkness is always defeated by the light. So I don’t worry about intentionality – it’s beyond me. But God, on the other hand, is intentional about his love for all of us whether or not we perceive him and that’s enough for me.

Shining Lights

Some time ago, I was curious about the Great Awakenings – the period of revivals that swept through America a long time ago. I learned that in the midst of revival, the churches fell into conflict. The Old Lights were the defenders of tradition, while the New Lights were caught up in the excitement of change. It never occurred to me to ask what that looked like in the churches on Sundays.

Traditionally speaking, worship services were designed to rely on logic and reason. The sermons would be planned out in advance to argue for a position and back it up with Scripture – to that end, they avoided emotions. The New Lights, on the other hand, accepted emotion over reason. They wanted people to get excited, awed, and even shocked as they accepted the movement of the Holy Spirit among them.

Back then, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. But it just so happens I’m a New Light soul in an Old Light church. Sometimes I get the feeling that Old Lights tend to look down on me because of that. Craving emotion, having to feel something, not being swayed by logic and reason, or fulfilled by doing things as they have always been done. I guess I seem immature to them.

I don’t really remember my churches from when I was very little, but I do remember that most of my churches sang contemporary songs. One of them tended toward Michael W. Smith songs such as Breathe, Hosanna, and Above All. It was all pretty low-key, we had skilled musicians perform for us, but no stage lights, no fog machines, nothing too complicated. The next church was a non-denominational church that actually had a stage with lights set up, they sang from the Top 40 worship songs list more often than not, so we’d often hear the same songs we were about to sing or had just sung on the local radio station and had become quite familiar with them. The next church fell some-where in between the two – but it didn’t last. Since then it’s been hymn-only churches.

The only hymns I really know are the old standards – the hymnal equivalent of the Top 40 list – and the Christmas songs that even my contemporary churches found time to sing in December. Even so, I don’t really like hymns. Every now and then, our church choir will sing a contemporary song that I do know – but it’s evident from how they sing them, they don’t really care for them in the same exact way that I don’t care for hymns. They sing with less passion for songs that have been written in the last decade and they sing with more passion for songs that are older than they are. It’s a typical symptom of mismatched worship.

It strikes me as a fallacy of human thinking to arrange our churches in such a way as to see to it that we’re all Old Lights or New Lights. That we’re all traditional or we’re all well, not traditional. I think when it comes down to it, we’re all complex mixes of new and old – each of us unique. So often we seem to make the mistake of thinking that other people like what we like because they grew up like we grew up and know what we know – but this clearly isn’t always the case, not anymore.

Most would tell me – “If this church doesn’t suit you – why not go to another?” That’s the problem. We’re only slightly mismatched – in another way, the church is the closest match for my theology. I might not be keen on tradition for the sake of tradition, but this church has a tradition of respecting women and men that doesn’t happen in other denominations to the same degree. Were I to find another New Light church to satisfy my need for emotional worship – I would be just as mismatched because they don’t hold with the same theology that I do.

The problem with mismatched theology is that it’s effects are more deleterious than that of mismatched worship and can poison our spirituality. Great music alone can’t overcome terrible teaching. But not getting the right kind of worship is no good either. I remember a visit we had made to a contemporary church in a neighboring county. The music was okay – but once ‘How He Loves’ got started, it brought me back to a time when worship felt pretty great. I hadn’t realized that I had been running on empty until I finally got something out of worship. I felt like the think that had been missing from worship was right there in front of me – waiting for me to accept it … to let it fill me up with joy.

Even traditional worshippers can relate – you know your favorite hymn? What happens when you get to sing it with everyone else? Do you sing it slightly louder? With more gusto? Do you leave the building humming that hymn? What about a hymn you absolutely hate? It’s just not the same, is it? Now me, as a New Light in an Old Light church, hymns take a little bit of my joy away – each and every Sunday. I thought that using my MP3 Player would give me a bit of my world – my music to bring back my joy. But I don’t always get a chance to listen to my music when everyone else around me is talking to each other so loudly. I thought that being able to stream a contemporary service in the evening would be helpful – but it’s just not the same.

I wish I could ask you to allow for blended services, but then you’d be just as miserable as I am. When I get to sing 10,000 Reasons, I’d hear the disappointment in your voices that we’re not singing How Great Thou Art. When I’m singing Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) I can tell that you’d rather be singing Blessed Assurance by the lifeless words you quietly mumble. While it’s acceptable for you to put me through mismatched worship, I just don’t want to put you through that because you grew up with hymns and I didn’t, they mean something special to you the same way that contemporary music is special to me.

Perhaps what both sides need is blended services with a music appreciation class as an option as a part of Sunday School – a time when both sides can sit down, learn a contemporary song, how it’s sung, and learn a hymn and how it’s sung – about the histories of both songs, the story of their inspiration. Who knows, we might find that were both New Light and Old Lights, we just weren’t ever encouraged to accept change and tradition without being threatened by everything they represent. Because no-one ever told us or believed that we could co-exist.