Thursday, August 17, 2006

Preferences and The Passion

The other day I was in a conversation with someone about worship, about different people’s personal preferences with worship. In the process I blurted out, “In order to truly worship, there has to be a part of the worship service that you hate.” And, I got the same quizzical look that I always get when I make that statement. (Which to a certain extent is exactly the get people’s attention). But generally as I explain what I mean, people understand, and this person did as well.

Recently, I have also been studying the book of Colossians for our churh's CHOW Bible Study. The book of Colossians is a book about the sufficiency of Christ, and the truth that Christ is worthy of first place in our lives. And as I was reading the authors of the book Colossians Remixed states that one of the faiths that competed for the Colossians attention and in our time is faith in a global economic system. This faith produces an attitude that we should demand what we want when we want it for the lowest price possible. And this all consuming consumer culture not only has sway when we shop for some bananas and detergent (bachelor shopping list...can ya tell??), but it also creeps into the church unaware. Which makes us put the same expectations on a worship service that we do a deli sandwich—that it will be what we want when we want it.

The call to take up our cross and follow Christ, to be an apprentice of Jesus, asks something different of us. It calls us to stop demanding what we want when we want it, and to set aside Christ as our master and role model. This is especially true in worship, because the focus of worship is giving back to God time, thanks, and praise in response for all that he has given us. That is not, nor should it be an
easy task. Which brings me back to the discussion of our personal preferences and feelings about certain styles of worship.

For me, part of worship is joyfully participating in those elements of worship that I are not in my preferences for worship. For instance, if I ordered up worship like I ordered up a meal at McDonalds I would ask that we hold responsive readings and the prayer hymn in our worship service, among other things. I would also order up an extra helping of gospel songs, and these gospel songs would have bluegrass or country gospel accompaniment with lots of hand clapping. The thing is, worship is NOT about me. It is NOT about getting everything I want when I want it. Worship is NOT about making me feel good.

There is a sense, in my understanding, that our worship services on Sunday morning is about going to the Cross of Jesus and remembering his sacrifice. So I read along with the responsive readings, and I make them a part of my worship. I do it because it pushes me out of where I want to be and where I am comfortable. I tell myself, if Christ can go to the cross and die for me, then part of worship is dying to my preferences and what feels good for me. Even if that is only for a few minutes. So I try and lift my voice in empassioned expression, and read with my full attention. I find that my attitude changes my outlook.

If you watch me during the worship, you will notice that I am always looking around. This is because part of my life’s worship is loving others in the name of Jesus. This is as true on Sunday morning at 10:30am as it is Friday night at 11:59pm. So, especially in those moments in worship where what we are doing does not make sense to me or align with my preferences, I focus on loving others.

I don’t particularly like the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers” at all. When I was facilitating worship at a retirement community on a bi-weekly basis, there was a woman in my congregation that loved that hymn. So I learned it, and we sang it about every other month. The fact that it spoke to her heart and the heart of others about God’s faithfulness and goodness made it worth singing. Even if I thought it was a poorly-worded, somewhat sexist hymn that was almost impossible to sing to. I could never say I loved singing that hymn, but I could say I loved Rosie in Jesus’ name by singing it.

Since I have arrived here, we have identified ourselves as a family church. Coming to worship is sometimes like coming to a family dinner on Thanksgiving. We have younger members and older members of our family. Some of us occasionally invite visitors. We want them to feel like part of the family while they are with us. At a family dinner, there is always something that I really don’t like eating on the table. I hate sweet potatoes. Grandma makes the sweet potatoes with mushrooms on top. I take a tiny bit and eat it, because I know she will feel appreciated and loved if I do. And I feel good because I have made her feel valued and special. Sometimes we need the same attitude in worship. We need to put aside our preferences about elements in worship, from the music to the preaching, from what someone is wearing to whether or not we did everything in the right order in the bulliten. And, as we close our eyes to having what we want when we want it, I pray that we will see Jesus anew.


Tom said...

I got a few blank stares last night when we looked at Amos and the passage where the Lord said He didn't listen any longer to their worship music. Acknowledging that it probably had more to do with the condition of their hearts than the music itself, I nevertheless used the opportunity to ask if the Lord listened to our music. I noted how many of the songs in our hymnal were really man-centered, not God centered and how often we sang the anthrocentric rather than the theocentric hymns. (I didn't use those terms exactly)

How I long to sing "To God Be the Glory" again. Maybe I can put a bug in the ear of the gentlemen who choose our songs.

rubyslipperlady said...

Thank you, again. So often I read what you've written and there is much in my heart and mind to say, but no time to really formulate it. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for bringing those things to the front of my attention, sometimes for just a bit, other times for much, much longer. That's one of the reasons I love ya, dear Friar!