Archive for January, 2008

What is Worship?

January 22, 2008

So what is the point of weekly worship?  Why do you go to spend an hour or two hours or half a day or a whole day each week in worship?

It’s an important thing to think about, but one that doesn’t get a lot of air time.  Most people seem to go because that’s what they’ve always done.  Or that’s what their parents did and so they do it too. 

Many do it because that’s what ‘church people’ do.  They go to church.  It means you’re a Christian if you go to church.  Regardless of what you do – or don’t do – the other six days of the week.  Regardless of whether you can remember anything you sang or heard or tasted in church by Monday morning.  The fact that you were there – that you clocked in – means that you’re ok.  Eternity is in the bag.  No worries.

Those that think about worship tend to think of it as something we do.  We go to worship God.  This is the core of the word worship – honor and reverence of something.  And yet, if you believe in God – or whatever – it would seem that your entire life should be an act of worship.  Twenty-four x seven.  Every day.  And if that’s the case, it seems odd that we single out one day and one hour as a time to especially do this. 

Well, that one hour or whatever a week, we’re doing it with other people.  That’s certainly a distinction, and a valid one.  And frankly, few of us live our lives as a continuous worship to God – or much of anything else other than ourselves.  So worship at a specific point once a week is probably important as a time of really thinking about what we should be doing every day.

But this also places all the emphasis on what we do.  And while we certainly are honoring and reverencing God, is that all that’s happening?  Is it unidirectional, our praise to God, and nothing in return?  Or at least, nothing more than any other time or day of the week? 

Or is it really what’s happening in the other direction?  What if we have the direction backwards, or more accurately, it’s bidirectional, instead of unidirectional? 

We offer our thanks and praise to God, but don’t we receive the Word of God?  And in traditional worship understanding (Catholic, and now Lutheran primarily), don’t we also receive the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine?  We’re receiving God – quite literally, if you’re able to accept it – in an amazing and unique way in worship.  Our worship and honor and praise – while important – pales in comparison with what God does, how He appears to us and even within us during worship.

If that’s the case, if our honor and praise is less important than God’s appearing and entering into us, how does this tweak our understanding of what worship is?  Does it make it less hum drum?  Could we view it as more exciting, more interesting, and more…transformative

That’s the word I keep coming back to as I think about worship, as I struggle and rage against the apathy and inertia that seems to dominate so many congregations.  If we could just remember that the Creator of the Universe is meeting us in a unique and special way.  Not symbolically.  Not in some rationalized, sanitized humanist way.  But in a very real, tangible, audible, taste-able way.  And because of this, because of this intentional gathering together in Him each week, we are transformed.  Continually.  Repeatedly. 

Cleansed.  Forgiven.  Healed.  Empowered.  Equipped.  Encouraged. 

The other six days of the week become the lab where the Holy Spirit prompts us through prayer and Scripture and Christian community as to what that transformative worship experience does in our daily lives.  How it looks in our workplace.  In our classroom.  In our home.  With our parents.  With our children.  With our neighbors.  With our employer and employees.  Every day becomes an opportunity to grapple with how God is leading me to let His light shine, the light that transforms me and calls me and justifies me and day by day, moment by moment, sanctifies me.  Makes me closer to the image of his beloved Son. 

This is what I crave for church to be.  For me.  For you.  For everyone who has lost hope and lost patience and lost interest and lost purpose. 

Birds, Bees, Dinasaurs & Me

January 15, 2008

Wired has an interesting article that popped up in Google’s basic news feed today.  The lead-off into the story links adolescent pregnancy to the dinasaurs.  It’s kind of a goofy lead-in to a more basic story about dinasaur skeletons being discovered that appear to have been pregnant at a stage in their own life-cycle roughly equivalent to what we would call adolescence or teen-age years.

Now, it’s a goofy lead-in.  And I should leave it at that.  But I was thinking about what sort of implications and assumptions lay behind the lead-in – whether conscious or unconscious to the copy editor & author.

The first thing that struck me is that this type of lead in seems to imply a relationship between humans of today and dinasaurs – and by extension, all other animal species past & present.  Humans are not a unique species, but simply one amongst many.  We don’t differ significantly from any other species – at least in an evolutionary sense.  That’s what this type of tie-in brings up in my mind.  Another argument that man is not really any different from apes or whales or dinasaurs.  We all developed the same way – just along different evolutionary branches. 

By implication then, our problems and issues are no different in some respects from those of any other member of the animal kingdom.  We struggle with the issue of teen pregnancy.  Lo and behold, the dinasaurs had teen pregnancy as well!  One big, evolutionary, dysfunctional family.  Our issues are not so different from any other species.

Or are they?

Everybody knows that human beings are capable of reproducing at an amazingly young age.  In case you’re not aware, a fairly reliable record exists for a five and a half year old girl giving birth (by Cesarean section) in Peru back in 1939.  In more recent news, an 12-year old is the youngest Britain on record to give birth, after getting pregnant at age 11.  So it’s clear that the human body is capable of conceiving and bearing a child at a remarkably young age. 

Historically, girls were married at *much* younger ages than is considered morally and socially acceptable today.  Marriage for girls as young as 12-14 years old was not uncommon for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Of course, boys and girls were also brought up more like ‘little adults’ than children.  Our current habit of treating people as children until at least age 18, delaying the acceptance of responsibility for actions and decisions to an arbitrary birthdate, is somewhat of a new concept.  It’s not surprising that we don’t tolerate the idea of young teen marriage now, since in many cases, people in their 20’s and 30’s are just beginning to function like adults – living on their own, holding down steady jobs, etc. 

Our squeamishness about children giving birth to children has very little to do with their physical capacity to do so, and a great deal more to do with their emotional and psychological capacity to deal with the repercussions.  Just because you are physically capable of bearing children (and perhaps just as important, engaging in the sexual activity that leads to pregnancy and birth), doesn’t mean that you should be doing so.  In our society, children, pre-teens, and early teens are not equipped with the skills to deal with sexual activity and potential repercussions.  I would argue that in our society, it isn’t possible to equip them for this, even if we thought it were a good idea.  Instead, our children are bombarded with images and advocacy about the coolness and sensuality and ‘fun’ of sexual activity, while being systematically shielded from the physical and psychological and spiritual effects of these things outside a loving, committed, and permanent relationship with one other person.  To borrow a metaphor from C.S. Lewis, it would be like teaching kids to enjoy the taste and texture of food, but then telling them they could just spit it out rather than swallow it.  Never mind the physical harm to their bodies from malnutrition – the important thing is that they ‘enjoy’ the taste of the food.

So, back to the cheesy article lead-in.  Teen pregnancy is not a surprise, nor an anomaly – either physiologically or otherwise.  Teens and pre-adolescents are capable of having sex and having children (and catching STDs, or developing other complications from sexual activity, as well).  It’s not surprising that they’re capable of this.  It’s just surprising that our society would choose to encourage sexual activity at a young age.  Oh, of course we officially poo-poo and discourage sexual activity among pre-teens.  But then we market Britney Spears to them bopping around in see-through clothes.  We market Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls and any number of products and images that glorify the sexuality of bodies and psyches older and more mature than their own.  Abercrombie & Fitch can market thongs to 7-year olds, and yet we’re amazed as a culture that our children are having sex so young, and many of them are getting pregnant because of it.

Humans are not simply one among many animal species.  We’re unique in so many ways – not the least is our insistence on the idea that physical capacity is separate and different from emotional or psychological capacity.  Just because someone is physically ready for something, doesn’t mean that they should begin doing that specific thing. 

So the idea – implicit or explicit – that we’re somehow similar to dinasaurs is just goofy.  Because the other thing that this kind of tie-in seems to imply is that the dinasaurs would have struggled with this issue in some way similar to us.  The social mores on this issue are so strong, that linking how we deal with it to how another species deals or dealt with it carries a lot of that baggage. 

But I’m fairly certain that the dinasaurs – like just about any other animal species you care to name – didn’t struggle with teen pregnancy.  The fact that an animal was capable of reproduction meant that reproduction was the natural thing to start doing.  So in reality, the idea of teen pregnancy is definitely not new – but our attitudes towards it could be described as somewhat new. 

An Apology to the unChurched in My Life

January 2, 2008

It’s New Years Day.  And while I’m not one for resolutions and all of that sort of thing, I feel as though something ought to be said on this day.  And it seems appropriate for it to be an apology.

I would like to issue this open apology to all of the people that have – and continue – to cross my path in life.  Particularly, to all those who cross my path without awareness of the incredible secret that I have.  People who wait tables for me or prepare sandwhiches for me or repair my car, or do any number of other things.  People that I live next to or work alongside of or share a train or plane seat next to. 

You see, I have this secret.  Except that it’s not supposed to be a secret.  I just treat it like a secret.  I know the answer to the meaning of life.  My life, your life, everyone’s life.  I know the secret to happiness.  Lasting, meaningful, life-fulfilling happiness, not just the diversion of a movie or a drink or an orgasm.  I know love unlike any love I’ve ever experienced in my life from another person.  Love that has no boundaries beyond those I myself impose on it.  Love that is uncompromising, unflinching, unfailing.  Love that has saved my life. 

I have a meaning to everything I do now that I couldn’t possibly have without this love.  I know that I exist with a purpose and a plan.  I’m not an accident of a sexual indiscretion, nor am I simply the planned offspring of my parents.  I’m not the inevitable product of millions or billions of years of evolutionary trial and error.  I’m more than the sum of my parts.  More than the measure of my output and productivity.  More than a random assemblage of atoms and synapses and trace chemicals.  I am planned.  Unique.  Unrepeatable. 

I’m imperfect.  Flawed.  Prone to error.  But also holy.  Called.  Named.  Claimed.  I am more free than I could possibly know how to act, but that freedom exists only in my total giving over of myself to the One that loves me.  Bought me.  Frees me for service to Him and those around me. 

I can’t describe to you the joy that suffuses my world.  Or more accurately put, I could. 

But I don’t.  I haven’t. 

And for that I wish to apologize.  Truly.  Vehemently.  And with great shame.

I have been willing to share my feelings about the burger I had for lunch yesterday, or the type of car I drive, or the best place to buy clothes.  But I haven’t shared this joy, this amazing, incredible, life-altering joy.  I’ve been willing to joke and laugh and discuss current events and politics and world happenings, but I haven’t shared the single most important thing in my life. 

I haven’t shared the one thing that could brighten your day, and your week, and your year and the rest of your life.  The one thing that could mean the difference between life and death for you, your family, your friends.  The one thing that could make your job more bearable.  That could make your relationship more special and meaningful.  The one thing that might alter your attitude about your kids or your wife or your drug habit or your drinking problem.  I haven’t shared the only thing that matters in my life, and that could and should matter in your life.

I’ve been afraid.  Afraid that you’d think I was crazy.  Afraid that you’d laugh at me. Afraid that you’d think me weak or foolish or desperate.  I’ve been afraid of losing a job, losing a friend, losing face, losing time.  I’ve been afraid of the twitch of your eye or the forced smile or any of a million tiny body motions that would betray your pity, your irritation, your disgust.  I’ve been afraid of your apathy, your rejection.

I’ve been afraid that you might actually want to hear more about this love of mine.  That you might start asking questions that I can’t answer.  That I might give you the wrong answers in desperation or lack of preparation.  I’ve been afraid that my desire to share this wonderful secret with you might actually push you farther away from the joy I ought to so desperately wish you shared with me.  I’ve been afraid that you might weaken my own faith with clever arguments and logical loops that I can’t untie. 

And I’ve been just plain lazy.  I’ve been more preoccupied by what to have for lunch, or whatever project I’m working on, or how to beat the next level on that video game, or any number of a million other pointless, meaningless distractions.  I’ve allowed your present and eternal condition to languish because of my fear, or worse yet, my apathy.  I’ve too often taken comfort in the thought that someone else will undoubtedly share this Good News with you, someone more eloquent, better trained, more appropriate than I. 

I’m so terribly, terribly sorry.

I’m so sorry that I have been able to listen to you speak with despair about your date last night, or the divorce you’re going through, or the loneliness, or the sickness, but haven’t had the courage to share with you the joy I have that allows me to cope with those same issues.  I’m sorry that rather than offering to pray for or with you, I’ve just offered lame platitudes about things getting better. 

I’m sorry.  I can’t undo the problems my fear and apathy and distraction may have caused in the past.  I can’t just go back to every person I’ve ignored or held my tongue with, and try to suddenly speak the words that could change their lives.  So I truly pray someone else speaks those words.  And that you’ll hear them.  And that you’ll treat that beautiful message, that incredibly Good News so much better than I have.  That you’ll share it with everyone you can think of. 

I can’t undo my failings in the past.  And I refuse to be sidetracked with guilt about that. 

But I pledge to do better.  I pledge to offer prayer, to offer the name of my love to as many people as I can this year.  Not flippantly, but with sincerity.  I pledge to hear you as we pass each other in our lives.  To ask questions.  To care.  To remember to pray for you.  And I pledge that next time we meet, I’ll find a way to let you know how happy my life is because of the love in my heart.  I’ll break through my fear or apathy to touch you with this Good News, and pray that my poor words or phrasings won’t dull or mangle the message I want to convey.

I know I can’t do this on my own.  I can’t keep much of any resolution on my own.  But I pray that God in His infinite mercy and love, will give me the strength to carry out this pledge.  That the Holy Spirit will assist me to share with as many people as I can, that Jesus Christ has saved me from death.  From unhappiness.  From meaninglessness.  From despair.  From loneliness.  From myself. 

And He can save you too.  And that can change everything. 

Happy New Year.