Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Experimental Mutiny, Take 2 . . .

I love Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  It address excesses in our daily lives while the majority of the surrounding world is pining away (um, literally) for basic necessities.  I had another thought, though.  What if?  What if we conducted a little Experimental Mutiny in our local congregations?  I mean at the very base level.  What if we stripped away EVERYTHING that is excess, and we only presented the necessities?  What if we had a music "fast" of sorts?

I think we are so spoiled and entitled, and if things don't go our way, we pitch a fit, withhold our funds, shake our fists, etc., and all the while the world around us is still homeless, suffering, dying, and longing for a Savior.  Hold on with me a bit . . . one common theme I have heard in the past decade is that music style is completely dividing churches and the scenarios (toddler tantrums) I mentioned above are part and parcel to the experience.

So, what if we all got a little dose of reality and rediscovered what worship really is, and what it isn't? What if we stripped it down to the bare bones for just a teensy bit so we could recenter our thinking on Christ?  What if??

I'm a musician, so I love music.  Period.  This would be difficult for me, and music is so vital to the faith community, it's absence may just be so shocking that we learn to appreciate what we do have a little more.  So, what if we walked into our American church tomorrow to this . . .

Enter sanctuary/auditorium/gathering place.  House lights/natural lights.  Absolute silence.  Someone begins reading passages of Scripture from the podium.  This is immediately followed by a time of corporate, guided prayer centered around unity as the body of Christ and a call to action to love our neighbors and serve our community.  The Pastor delivers a sermon, followed by a time of communion.  Closing Scripture/Benediction/Prayer.  Exit in silence.  No media.  No nothing.  God's Word.  Prayer.  Breaking of Bread.

Would we all survive it??  Could we possibly learn something from this Experimental Mutiny??  Can we be reminded that music does NOT equal worship?  I have no idea how this would work, what it would look like, or what to do after.  I do know that as long as God's people are centering their everything around the foot of the Cross, the Gospel, all else pales . . . I do know that all we need is Jesus.  He is enough.  Maybe I'm on to something here . . . . maybe we should have a little Experimental Mutiny against our very selves . . . our own desires and needs.  Strip it down so it's just us and Jesus.  The end.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Inclusivity in the Church (and how we have ended up anything but . . . )

I initially set out to write a post directly coinciding with my current frustration surrounding a child battling a moderate concussion.  I also initially set out to lightly chastise.  However, I have had some time to process my writing, get some feedback from those I trust, and re-work my thoughts a bit.  I would like to approach this "issue" from a different angle:  inclusivity, or lack thereof. 

You see, I believe we in the modern American church have a huge problem.  We have focused so much of our time and attention on reaching those who have walked away, those who are marginalized, those who would rather be anywhere else that we have done something entirely unanticipated.  We have become exclusive.  I'm speaking about our elders and those in our communities who are sensory challenged/impaired. 

Quite honestly, we operate as a production.  I realized this even more so this past week after meeting with the Pediatric Concussion Specialist for my daughter.  She was getting very ill during worship services, and we were told NOT to return if it was like a concert with lights and loud noise.  As I began to ask around about other "quiet" places of worship, I was hard pressed to find many options.  I knew we could visit our previous church since they have a traditional service, but, honestly??  I want to worship where I'm at! 

And this begs an important question.  Where are our senior citizens and those with sensory issues?  How is the average 75-year-old supposed to feel included in a worship setting that is in many ways bizarre and completely foreign?  Could I invite my 90-year-old grandmother to worship with us?  Sadly, no.  We, the collective whole of American pop-Christianity, have become a production.  We have fog, special effects lighting, a stage, theatre curtains, black out windows, voice feedback/distortion--you name it.  And I just have to ask, why?  Why do we "need" any of that?

When you look around and wonder, "Where have all the old folks gone?"  you must really ask yourself, indeed, where??  Why can't they worship alongside us?  Why have we become so inclusive that we have actually become EXCLUSIVE to an entire generation of faithful believers and followers of Jesus Christ!  We have decided that being rooted in a historic faith is less important than being a part of the here-today, gone-tomorrow philosophy of modern worship.

Look, I did NOT grow up in a hymns-only church.  I grew up in the Wesleyan church, and when you talk about a blended service, they had it down!  We sang hymns AND choruses, the student band kids played along once in awhile (thanks for telling us how awesome we were even though it was probably very painful for you to sit through), we had gospel quartets, students leading--you name it.  So, please don't read this little treatise of mine and think, "Great!  Another whacky hymns-only chick trying to tell me how to do worship!"  Nope.  I'm just a follower of Jesus greatly disturbed by the mass exodus of the elderly because we no longer have room to honor them. 

But isn't this characteristic of our culture in general?  We don't honor our elders.  Why in the world would the Church reflect the culture?  Aren't we called to be counter-culture??  Is it really horrible if we use regular house lights, natural lighting, keep those window shades up, play softer (and you don't ever need 5 electric guitars---ever!!), add hymns in their original forms, and just tone it down a bit?  None of the ideas I mentioned require a special budget, extra manpower, complicated production, etc.  It's simple!

Maybe that's why I'm so annoyed about my daughter's predicament.  I'm thankful for it, actually.  We worshipped in the Catholic and Lutheran traditions for so long, both of which always had a Contemporary (though nothing like our version of contemporary) and Traditional offering.  There was never a "unity" issue because there was a great balance, we communed together, we had classes together, we served alongside one another.  Our liturgy was united.  We were surrounded by grannies, mamas, teens and toddlers--even noisy babies!  I never felt I was missing out on the "production" because we didn't have the volume set so loudly our seats vibrated, theatrical lighting, or the hippest/latest/Hillsong number.  We just had worship, and God was at the center--not the "stage".  My daughter's issue has made me thankful because I'm opening my eyes and seeing this again--reminded of why I took a giant hiatus from contemporary evangelicalism. 

Today, it seems the church has merely become a production in a world over-saturated with productions.  We have become a stepping stone for someone on the stage who may be trying to make a name for him/herself.  We have become a place in which every new thing is a grand experiment at the expense of others (and if those others have a problem with it, they are just lacking in spiritual maturity and can find the door, right??).  We are loud, foggy, psychedelic at times (strobe lighting, anyone). 

Where have all the elderly gone?  Where they feel peace.  Where they feel included and a part of the body.  Where they feel comfort, familiarity, hope, worth.  We have asked too much.  We have asked them to traverse our strange land with foreign tongue because, for crying out loud, this is a new day!  New music!  New ideas!  Inclusivity for all (oh, except for them)!!  Out with the old!  In with the new!!

I have to tell you, I grow weary of this song and dance.  I have literally cried tears this past week trying to figure out what to do with my own child and feeling tremendously overwhelmed for those who have had no choice but to move on from all that was familiar and sacred to them. 

I guess my agnostic friend said it best after visiting a church and reading the title "Production Pastor" in the leaflet.  "See!  I told you!  It's all a production!"  Sigh . . . . I had no words then, and I have no words now.  This is one of the big reasons Millennials are leaving--not because they no longer love Jesus.  Oh, they love him, alright.  They are just tired of the production.  This is why the elderly are leaving.  This is why our families with sensory-challenged children are leaving the typical American Evangelical Church.  We have become so inclusive to modernity, we have become exclusive towards the "least of these". 

Church, please hear me.  I'm not saying only this or that.  I'm saying this AND that!!  We are told to sing hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs!  We are to be a beautiful picture of the Bride of Christ in all her Splendor!  Young, Old, Disabled, Sinner, Saint, Seeker, Contemplative, Artist, Charismatic!! 

I am a straight thinker.  If there's a problem, you fix it.  End of story.  Get rid of the production, honor all generations, end the madness.  Please.  You are losing us, not because we no longer love Jesus or His Word, but BECAUSE we love Jesus and His Word.  We don't want a production, and I want my old friends back (my literally old friends).  I want to gather in a pew (or auditorium seat--I won't even get started on that diatribe--I'll save it for later so you can process this first, wink, wink) with my granny, my mother, and my daughters.  I want to be truly inclusive of ALL generations--not just the ones we've deemed important. 

Dear Church, please.  Enough is enough. Stop singing that chorus so many times just because we are trying to get to the emotional high point.  Stop singing songs that are super fun to jam out to in the car but make no theological sense and merely entertain.  And quit changing our hymns . . . we like them just the way they are (and for those of you who think I'm being short-sighted and are missing that the church once only sang Gregorian Chants and hymns were scandalous, I welcome Gregorian--love it, in fact).

And, please.  Listen to your elders.  Honor them.  Respect them.  Even if you don't like their music, because, really?  It's OUR music. 

Together With You: A Review

Together with You by Victoria Bylin is one of the sweetest Christian romance novels I have read.  This book addresses the incredible reality of living with a child with some form of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a very difficult diagnosis you don't hear much about.  It is a book that threads together the beautiful tapestry of sin and redemption, and deals honestly with both. 

The character development is strong, and stereotypes dispelled systematically throughout.  With most romance novels, the plot can be seemingly simplistic without much reality.  Although there was a bit of that in this novel as well, there were true representations of realistic struggles as well. 

I learned a lot about the mindset of a child with Fetal Alcohol Disorder, as well as the struggle to attach with and parent a child with this challenge.  I also observed what happens when well-meaning, but ignorant, relatives try to swoop in and "save the day" only to the detriment of the child and the child's family unit. 

This is a tough read with many redeeming characteristics.  I recommend any book that not only entertains, but educates as well.  This is such a book.  It is a reminder of the frailty AND resilience of the human spirit.