Three Years

Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!
You registered on WordPress.com 3 years ago.
Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.
Wow, I hadn’t realized how much time flies. I’m glad to have brought back this blog, though I wish I hadn’t had so many problems with writer’s block lately. It feels like I’ve lost my sense of direction and I’m stumbling around in the woods – and that tree over to the left looks exactly like the one I wandered across two hours ago. (Did I take a right or a left after that?)
Worry not, I’m a persistent person – after all, the last time I had struggled with a lengthy round of writer’s block, I came back with a good two years’ worth of posts – and I’m still attempting to keep on thinking up ideas even if most of them never really get past the vague notion stage of blogging.
For me, it starts with a vague notion. Then I mull it over. Usually things just fall into place and then I hit publish. At the moment I’m mulling over some thoughts on  … well, I’ll not spoil the surprise but it’ll be a good one if starts falling into place. Creativity is a funny thing though – one thing that sets humanity apart – and yet it comes and goes, like water in a well – it can be abundant and then run dry only to flood later on.
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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.

 

Opportunities

The last time I was presented with an opportunity to teach, it didn’t work out quite as well as I would have hoped. I remember that there was a sort of Hyacinth Bucket – a woman who knew exactly what her vision was and how exactly I ought to realize it. It was more of a ‘warm body’ that was needed to push the play button and read out the questions from the book and less of a “I need you to use your knowledge and skills to teach the class” sort of thing.

Today the pastor mentioned that he had heard that I was being considered to teach, that is, if I get involved in Sunday School a little bit more. That’s nice, really, but I’m not sure I really want to teach. Especially if it’s yet another ‘warm body’ sort of thing. So I’ve had a few brilliant insights (apparently, I wouldn’t know,) here and there, but is that enough to make me a teacher? I’ve had all kinds of teachers and I just don’t think I’m like any of them. All I’ve really done is examine various teachings through this blog – which no one in my church even knows about. If they could look through it, they’d probably realize that what I do know is enough to make me dangerous. And yet, I don’t know nearly enough to do a proper job of teaching.

If I had my way, I’d begin the class with some contemporary music to break up the silence. I’d probably have it playing on low as people walked in. I know I’m not a people person – but I have to figure that everyone else is, so they’ll talk. And talk. And talk some more about the earth-shattering excitement that has happened in the past six days. Then I’d take a Bible and question everything in it and about it. I might refer to books such as “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes” to point out that our tendency to approach the Bible from a plain, literal reading is fraught with peril. I’d look at what the original languages have to say and how what was said makes a world of difference in meaning. But this is a Methodist church, they have things like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and other ideas that I have heard of, but don’t really know what they mean. I still feel a little too Southern Baptist to do them very much good. I don’t know what I could teach them that they don’t already know.

I think that first experience also took a lot out of me in terms of wanting to teach – being told that I had an opportunity to teach was an exciting thing … but it didn’t work out. Then being told that I had an opportunity to teach – it was like … “I’ve been there before, but I was disappointed. I don’t want to go through that song and dance again.” For one, it sounded as if I’d have to get more involved in Sunday School first. I already felt a little out of my element the last time I was in a class because almost everyone who will be in it will be nearly twice my age. Not to mention that they outnumber people who are near my age ten to one. Also, there’s the problem of the church itself – it’s been getting harder to attend and I’m not sure I want to commit myself to a church that I don’t really completely like. The only part of the church that I can stand is the preaching and even then some days it’s just easier to not go.

Which is sort of why I thought the teaching thing was odd – perhaps they had read that millennials tend to disappear from churches that don’t offer a place for them and decided to open the door to me to teach just so I’d have something to stick around for? I wish they’d make it an easy decision and just add a contemporary service – then there would certainly be a reason to stick around. As it is, I just don’t know. Teaching is a big deal and it just may be a bit more than I can chew.

 

 

Voluntold

While reading comments, I noticed one of a young mother who was frustrated that nobody seemed to want to step up and watch her children during church services no matter how much she begged and pleaded for help. My first thought was an incredibly unhelpful statement which I decided not to post. I have my reasons for not doing childcare. I suspect some people think they’re too old, too tired, and don’t have the energy or strength to chase around the under five crowd. Some realize that they really aren’t that great with kids and only like their own or their own grand kids, figuring they’ve done their time and deserve to retire from the business. To be honest, when something isn’t your cup of tea, it sucks to be stuck doing it without any real choices or acceptance of the thing that you really are good at.

It was a typical Sunday, almost exactly like the ones before it and the ones that followed after it, with ever so slightly discernible changes in the songs that were song or the theme of the message being preached as the most notable. The pastor’s wife stood up and announced that a volunteer was needed to watch the children, which consisted of her three sons and no other children. During the meet’n’greet, the woman in front of me turned around and said: “You should teach the children!” How she arrived at that conclusion was something of mystery. I hadn’t interacted with the children the whole time I was at that church. They didn’t know my name and I didn’t know theirs. I hadn’t shown any interest in children or mentioned children at all. In fact, the only way she could have come to that conclusion that I was a suitable teacher was if she believed that young women are innately experts at childcare. After all, I was both young and a woman. I matched the criteria completely.

My previous church pretty much believed the same thing – that young women ought to plug-into church ministry by serving in the nursery indefinitely. Once on the rotation, there was this unspoken expectation that they would continue to serve. There were two exits – one was having a child of their own and the other was quitting the church in some form or another. To remain in a church and quit doing childcare was to be constantly guilt-tripped about being selfish, hating children, and hating our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was almost a constant imposition based on the belief that all young women ought to take care of young children. There never seemed to be a viable alternatives.

Not watching kids was turning my back on whatever was meant by biblical womanhood. It was as if I was the pot declaring to the potter: “You can’t use me like that! I won’t let you.” There was never a moment to consider what my gifts and skills and talents pointed to another reality of something else that I made for, because having been young and female, then I could only be a nursery worker because the Bible says so. These days, when I ask about what the Bible teaches about Biblical womanhood, there’s a lot of quiet, beating around the bush that ultimately says that my role is that of wife and/or mother, preferably both. It says I can be/do anything so long as I’m submitted under the authority of my husband (preferably, if I had to I could be submitted to my father as long as I remained single but ideally I’d eventually get married). It says I’m defined by my relationships – somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother and that I’m never a somebody in and of myself. Related to the video – it bothers me that I refer to these people just that same way – somebody’s mother, the pastor’s wife, the elderly woman who sat in the row ahead of me next to her husband. I couldn’t tell you what their names were. Their names are less important than their role and it shouldn’t be that way.

These days, I’ve learned not to rely on the church. They can’t see what’s in front of them. While they would have me serve in the nursery, they ignore my increasing skills with foreign languages, my increasing knowledge of church history as well as ancient cultures, the finer points of theology, and my interests in other things. Obviously, I can’t be trusted to teach other women and children because I might corrupt them into questioning what the church is telling them to believe about their role in the church. These things would make me a great candidate as a potential teacher – if I were a guy. But I’m not. So obviously, the only thing I can do, and should do, in order to serve God is to watch children indefinitely because God never made women with another plan in mind of how they could best serve the church. Except for maybe as a missionary, but the idea that women can’t teach white men because they would deceive them and yet can teach foreign men suggests sexism and racism is alive and well. But hey, what do I know?

Ash Wednesday

Lent-631x295

It’s Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. I’ve written previously that as a Protestant, the whole season is considered optional. I’ve read up on it somewhat – but I’m not sure I entirely understand the logic of it. The culmination of Lent is Holy Week of which I’d recognize Easter as being the most important. It has nothing to do with the forty days leading up to Jesus’ last week. Rather, Lent is celebrating the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness at the start of his ministry – the time in which he fasted and then was tempted as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-13, and Luke 4:1-13. For devout believers, it’s a time of fasting, of prayer, and of service.

Ash Wednesday services typically involve being marked with a cross of ashes on our foreheads – traditionally believers are reminded: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Which is from Genesis 3:19. The ashes are from the palm fronts that were used and blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

The earliest mention of Lent is at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 a.d. that suggests that long before the one church had splits and schisms, the whole church participated in Lent. While it’s true that it’s not a tradition or ritual that is explained in the Bible – it is a unique Christian practice that came as a result of being believers. I guess the early believers wanted to find a way to celebrate and live out their faith and they had to do that by writing their own songs and creating their own holy days.

In the Old Testament, ashes were related to pennance and to sorrow. Mordecai put on sackclock and ashes in the book of Esther once he heard the news that his people were to be destroyed. Job declares that he repents in dust and ashes and despises himself. We also know that 40 is a biblical number that symbolizes times of trials and testing – Moses lead the israelites through the wilderness for 40 years and he also stayed on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights and he had the spies search out the Promsied Land for 40 days as well, rain fell for 40 day and 40 nights when the whole earth was flooded, three of the Judges led Israel for 40 years – the number shows up quite often in Scripture.

Lent continued to be practiced until Martin Luther threw the practice out in the 16th century, declaring it to be unbiblical. I talked earlier about the biblical qualifier being used to limit our options to only those things directly supported or commended by Scripture, causing all other ideas to be seen as, well, unbiblical. I just wonder – is it okay to just dismiss this celebration of faith just because it’s a part of tradition but not Scripture? Should a tradition like Winter Jam also be thrown out because it’s not biblical? Can Protestants find room for a little Lent in our Biblical faith? I think so. At least, I think we should learn more about Lent and Ash Wednesday before we dismiss them entirely. For centuries, millions of believers didn’t see Lent as a conflict of interest with their faith, rather, it enhanced their spirituality. If done right, it can be a good thing and that’s worth exploring.

Worship, Your Way and/or Mine

I’ve always been curious about how other churches run their worship services. Do they have have the same order? Do they include things that we exclude? Do they sing the same songs? Sadly, it seems that there’s not much variety in denominations or styles in this region, so there doesn’t seem to be much point in trying out the different churches. Probably because we’ve sworn never to knowingly visit nor attend a complementarian church ever again and those churches are a dime a dozen out here.

It scares me how possessive people can get about worship; ‘This and only this kind of music is proper, that kind or those songs are improper.’ or ‘Absolutely nothing is more important than the culmination of worship, which is x not y and certainly not z.’ I keep on getting in the conversations about worship where it’s adherents are set on liturgy and the Eucharist as the culmination of worship. That’s true for denominations that put the Eucharist / Lord’s Supper / Communion at the end of their order of worship (liturgy.) My denomination doesn’t do that, for us the culmination of worship is the preaching of the word, it’s very nearly the last thing we do in our order of worship (liturgy.) For us, Communion comes in towards the middle of the service. Come to think of it, I’ve never been to a church that put worship (music) as the culmination of worship (the last thing on the order of worship a.k.a., the liturgy.) Sure, there’s usually final hymn, but that’s more of a closing song than it is a worship song. (The difference between a song with a reference to leaving and a song about praising God’s majesty.)

When it comes right down to it, I guess I feel somewhat annoyed with the idea that there are people out there who hate everything about how my church does worship. One of the sayings that bothers me most is: “There’s a right way to worship God and a wrong way to worship God …” Nobody out there ever seems to think that their way of worshiping God might not be the right one. If there is one right way, then theirs is most certainly it every single time. Which is why we’re so polarized about styles and preferences and traditions. We have been for centuries.

For nearly a hundred years, pretty much every worshiper in every denomination in England followed the liturgy laid down in the Book of Common Prayer. When it was updated in 1662, some believers found that they just couldn’t agree with it. These were the early non-conformists (and dissenters) nearly two thousand of them were ejected from the church in one day. Ever since there has been disagreement about forms and order of worship, of liturgy and tradition. The odds aren’t good that this will be the year that every church on the face on the of this planet reconciles their differences and unites to form the one true expression of worship, everywhere.

The only difference is that this battle is no longer just Anglican vs Protestant, but in each and every denomination fighting among itself and down to its individual churches. It’s almost as if, for some churches, they look around and wonder where everybody’s gone. They remember that the pews were more full than they were empty, that there more people of all ages, and the halls were noisier with people laughing and talking over each other. Then one day they look around and realize that the pews are almost entirely empty, that there’s fewer people and only people around their age, and the halls have become disturbingly quiet. At that point they’re willing to change, but they lack the resources and the people to make it happen. Or they could do what some churches have done, create two services, one traditional and one contemporary but never will the two halves of the church form a whole congregation. Or they could try a blended service, but too much attention to hymns might not pack in younger people who might perceive it to be a bait and switch tactic; “Come for our blended service! We sing brand new songs!” Only to realize that they have to endure three hymns before they get to one brand new song. It’s better to do 50/50 than to show favoritism.

Still, we all have different ideas about what the most important part of worship; Eucharist, Preaching of the Word, Music, and I don’t think it’ll be anytime soon when two of those camps see the light and switch the one true expression of worship (as if such a thing exists). In centuries of fighting over worship styles, it hasn’t worked out that way yet and it might not at all. I get it, the way my church does worship isn’t right for you. The way your church does worship, might not necessarily be right for me even if it is the oldest, most traditional form of worship or the newest least traditional form of worship. I just think that it’s time that we stop calling each other names for challenging our narrow views of worship. Music is music, in all it’s forms. Preaching is from the same source material, in all it’s languages. Communion, Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, same idea in all it’s variations. Worship doesn’t have to be fighting to have it your way.

Am I needed?

Remember always that people want to feel needed. They want to help out and be a part of what you are doing. When you satisfy this desire in people, you receive their admiration, loyalty, respect and cooperation.
Other people can be a powerful source of ideas, of motivation, of business contacts – if you encourage their participation. Most people are only too willing to help. Most people are genuinely flattered when you ask for their opinion or their expertise.
On the other hand, you must not take advantage of people. Asking someone for their help out of laziness on your part will not win you any points. People are willing to help you only if they see you are putting forth your own best effort. No one will want to help you if you don’t help yourself. However, if you’re striving toward excellence every day, people will jump all over themselves to be a part of what you are doing.
And always show sincere appreciation. People will want to help you only if they feel you are truly grateful.
It’s very, very difficult to accomplish anything alone. And it is quite unnecessary as well. There are plenty of people willing to help you if you will only ask.
– From: http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/leadership_reflections/making_people_feel_needed

In most of my churches, the services are simple, show up, start with the first item on the list, end with the last item on the list and then you’re free to go. There’s really not a lot of ways that you be helpful because somebody else already has. Somebody else decided what music to use. Somebody else put together the PowerPoint presentation. Somebody else already set up the tables and chairs. Somebody else prepared the coffee and brought in the donuts. There really isn’t a lot to do but to show up, listen, and leave.

But every now then there’s an opportunity, a teacher or facilitator is needed to help guide a class. You’re finally needed – to turn on the DVD player, to read a few paragraphs of the study materials, and to moderate any discussion from the participants. Sometimes that kind of being needed seems more like being needed as a ‘warm body’ to fulfill a specific list of tasks – something anyone can do. Your own ideas and contributions, and by extension, you specifically aren’t needed.

People need to be needed, but people also need the freedom to serve freely, drawing off of their own ideas and contributions and expertise in order to find satisfaction. That’s something that a lot of churches are missing. You see, there are a lot of people out there who are disqualified from serving to fulfill the church’s particular needs. Kitchens and nurseries are their domain, but that’s their limit. What chaos would break in the church if just anyone could do just anything! Why, women might even become preachers in droves! What could be worse than that?

When I look around my church, I see that some of the millennials are teachers, choir members, and sound & computer technicians, and are always on the look-out for something to do. But my church is unusually well-represented with six of us. I think that the rest of us often can’t find anything to do. Either we’re not allowed or somebody else doesn’t need help. We don’t feel needed. Then when Christian leaders say things like “… as dross is being removed from silver, the church is being refined …” millennials get the message that they’re ‘dross’ and there’s no place for the impurity they represent in perfectly pure churches that don’t need them.

Ten years ago, the movie Robots had this slogan: “See a need, fill a need.” There’s a whole generation (or two or three) who are happy to do that – but the church doesn’t need them, so they volunteer everywhere else. Perhaps it’s a good thing, there’s no limits on who can do what in the real world, they need all hands on deck.