Monday, February 05, 2007

Is it a lack of passion?

So, I'm back on track. Today I have been reading from Ronald P Byars The Future of Protestant Worship: Beyond the Worship Wars and some things really grabbed me. Some of it was kind of the same 'ol same 'ol discussion about why we're in the midst of these worship wars and what are people looking for and why can't the old people and the young people just get along. But, some things jumped out at me and made me think a little further than other books I've read so far.

  • In chapter 2, Byars lables a section "The Playfulness of Worship" where he compares worship to children playing dress up or acting out a drama. He says that when we play, we step out of ourselves and even loose track of time as if we get caught up in another world where we are completely present to the moment. Worship at it's best is like that - we loose track of time and of the worries of our world - our whole bodies are involved, not just our heads. Byars comparison reminded me that when I was younger (and still to some extent) I wished I were Catholic. What I longed for (and still do) is the physical nature of the worship I saw in the few Catholic services I attened with friends as a child. I wanted to cross myself, kneel when I prayed, bow before the cross before sitting in my pew, walk forward for communion, etc. I didn't really understand why at the time, I just was facinated by that kind of worship and wondered why we didn't do that over at University Christian Church. Now, I know what it was I was longing for. I've never been a very good passive obeserver. I can't just listen to music, I have to participate in it; I was always one of those annoying students that had to say something during class discussions; I have a hard time staying quiet while watching a movie at the theater. Church didn't give much opportunity for me to participate - it was just a matter of sitting down quietly and listening. I was longing for a worship that allowed me to participate fully and not just from the neck up. Byars asks the question if worship "that respects body and soul, heart and mind" in a church "which is capable of taking by the hand those who hunger and thirst, and [lead] them to the crucified and risen Savior" could be labled 'contemprary' or 'tracitional?'
  • Chapter 3 is on 'traditional' worship - and with many other voices, asks what in the world these labels can possibly mean. He holds the same idea found in What Are the Essentials of Christian Worship that the traditions that matter most, that have managed to withstand time and all the abuses we've heaped on to them are the Word, Baptism and Eucharist. These three elements are essential to Christian worship and are the 'tradition' we should be holding to. I'm going to rabbit trail here for a bit - One statement jumped out at me and allowed me to let go of a fairly strong held idea. Byars writes "Bath refers to baptism, wheter preceded by teaching or following by teaching" (Byars, 40). Last semester I did my project on baptism, helping parents to prepare for their infant's baptism in particular. One of the reccomendations I made to our session was that baptism should follow the service of the word and not come before. My argument (supported by the Book of Order and many other sources) was that baptism is our response to the Word and that by placing the baptism before the Word we do damage to the structure of the worship by bowing to convenience. However, Byars' statement opened my eyes to something I had failed to recognize, that now seems so obvious. The Presbyterian church baptizes infants with the theological understanding that in baptism (an outward sign of grace) God acts first, choosing us before we ever choose God. We recognize that while God's gift of grace and our acceptance of that grace may be separated by time, they are one and the same event. The Presbyterian church baptizes infants before they even understand a single word of the Gospel and then pledges to teach that Word to the child as he or she grows with the hope that one day that child will accept that grace already extended to them by God. Well, why then couldn't the baptism come before the service of the Word - so perfectly illustrating that God's grace comes to us before we even hear about it - THEN we hear the good news and accept it. I don't know why I didn't see this possiblity so clearly before. I was just hell-bent on the idea that the only proper place of the baptism in the worship service was after the Word.
  • One section in chapter 4, on contemprary worship, really grabed me this afternoon. Many of the arguments between 'traditional' and 'contemporary' worship that are put forth talk about how the young people today just don't like the old music, want their worship to more closely resemble the music and other entertainment items that fill their everyday life, etc. etc. etc ad naseum. And on the other side of it is the arugment that the old people are just stuck in their ways and can't understand the new paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism, etc. I'm not necessarily refuting these arguments - there is definitly truth to these statements. Has there ever been a time in the history of the world where the young had the old have not been divided over most things in life? Byars points to another reason for the 'generational divide' and that reason is passion. He sites an article by Rodger Nishioka published in the journal Reformed Liturgy and Music (vol. 32, no.1 1998) that interviewed young adults about worship. Two big themes became clear - 1) young people who were going to church were not necessarily dissatisfied with worhsip as much as the lack of connection with other members. They longed for small group interaction and relationship. This part of church life is a huge focus of many of the contemporary church models like Willow Creek, Vinyard, and Calvary Chapel. 2) and this is the one that finally put a finger on what I have not found the words to describe: passion - or lack thereof. While Byars says this is a misperception on the part of the young people in question, they say the cannot discern any passion in their parents generation. Worship is too cerebral, the faith is too 'low-profile.' "This kind of low-profile faith, tending toward a generic religiosity simply does not commend itself to people who are looking for a faith that claims them in heart and mind." I think it shows up in how church so many times is something people do for an hour on Sunday morning, but has no obvious impact on the rest of the week. Church for many people, it seems to me, is just something to do because that's what your supposed to do. If that's the case, no wonder our churches are dwindling. Perhaps that worked fine when we lived in a Christian society, but we don't any more. As each generation as grown up and seen less and less passion in the lives of the 'Christians' they had less and less reason to go to church - other ideas and religions seemed to grow and attract people away from the Gospel. I know these are rather blanket and generic statements - this is really an exaggerated focus on mainstream American Protestant churches. You know, you look at your parents and what seems to you as a huge, unforgivable character flaw, is really not as big or as bad as you think. But, then again, I think Byars hit on something important here - worship that is only cerebral, where you sit down, facing the back of someone elses head, listen to a sermon and maybe sing a few hymns, worship that doesn't get the whole person into the act feels certainly passionless. At least to me. Maybe that's why I wanted to be Catholic when I was younger - I wanted what looked like passion to me. I know now that passionlessness can take the form of extremely physical worship - it too can become routine and pointless, this time only offering worship for the body and not the mind.
Passion, participation, transformation, true communion with God and with the Body of Christ - these are elements that I pray will be a part of the worship we plan, for this project and for the continuing worship life of this congregation. I know how powerful this kind of worship can be 'cause I've experienced it at IWS, at Grace Anglican church in Florida, yesterday at the Women's Retreat worship service, and other places and times in my life. It's not about 'traditional' and 'contemprary.' It's about worship with the whole church, past, present and future and with our whole hearts, minds, souls and strengths - like David in front of the Ark.


Blogger Elaine said...

You also have to be careful about confusing an endorphin release with a religious experience.

Norman, OK

8:28 AM  
Blogger Amy Stewart said...

Very true, Elaine. That's why we must have an equal balance of each element - heart, soul, mind and strength. When those get out of balance we can fall to one side or the other: neck up worship with no heart or emotionalism with no roots to hold us up when that emotionalism wears thin. Worship only focused on the heart (volition) and we end up doing good works just for the sake of good works and not because of a response to God's grace. Worship too focused on the soul (emotion) and we get shallow emotionalism that is easily swayed this way and that. Worship that is only mind (intellect) and worship can become a strictly intellectual exercise with no lasting consequences - too much talk and not enough action. Worship that puts all it's emphasis on strength (physical movements, body) can become meaningless ritual where we just go through the motions - our sacraments can even take on a magical quality. If I pour the water just the right way and take the bread and wine in this particular fashion and bow at this time, cross myself at these words then I've got my ticket to heaven punched and I'm safe.
Everything in balance :)

10:25 AM  

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