Saturday, February 24, 2007

Media Comment- Righteous Fish

Yesterday NPR ran a news brief about KFC's new fish sandwich, which is being added to the menu in an attempt to get Catholics and other Lent observers to keep the cash flowing through their franchises during this meat-less season. In a PR move(or who knows, maybe a genuine shot at reaching for the divine touch) the company solicited the Vatican for a Papal blessing upon the new fish sandwich. Perhaps hoping that the 25% of Americans who are Catholic will favor their "fast spiritual food" over that of their competitors?

Perhaps it would be good spiritual exercise for Lent observers to abstain from giving money to all corporate giant restaurant chains for the season. But my pride might be showing here...

NPR went on to wisecrack that KFC needs all the blessings it can get following the outbreak of e coli that recently affected 100 or so customers at one of their Taco Bell franchises, denting their reputation. Hah.

But then, I doubt NPR would be making cutting jibes and insinuating hypocrisy about a business in the same bacterial/spiritual predicament if it were locally owned and peddled only organic produce. Though the unlucky circumstances be the same. Maybe NPR needs a Papal blessing.

Maybe I do.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Bunch of Words I Would Like to Abolish

Or at least completely redefine because their meanings have been disfigured into tools whose primary use is the subtle manipulation and control of people.

  • Christian
  • Spirit/Spiritual
  • Saved
  • Church
  • Community
  • Holy
  • Righteousness
  • Heaven
  • Word of God
  • Gospel (actually, this one I would be happier if people started saying it. As it is, it's currently is such disuse that many people probably can't even pronounce it)
  • Love
  • Blessing
  • Grace

Maybe I'm being too righteous by even presuming to suggest the abolition of words. But I cringe at their usage most of the time.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Singing So Hard

I never really want to pick fights with anyone here about their worship preferences in terms of style, newness vs. oldness, structured vs. free-form. Perhaps our first mistake was to link the words "worship" and "music" so tightly in the first place. I'm just going to ramble a bit, and probably not edit myself too much afterwards.

I got really tired(quite literally, tired) of practicing worship as if I was doing some great spiritual work of holiness for God. The typical session would look like this: Get into a group of people. Pick a bunch of songs that were sure to be picker-uppers, appropriately tapering uptempo rockers into downtempo "intimate" songs. Sing proudly that you love God forever, that you will give him everything, and perhaps that he is your "song" or your "light" or some such spiritualized metaphor. If the group is functioning as it should, get an emotional charge and maybe wave your hands around(especially as the song bursts into the rousingly anthemic, major-key chorus where the lead singer aims for that inspiring, sustained, high note right on the word "I" or perhaps "give." As the session progresses, lower your energy, close your eyes, and slightly incline your head towards the ceiling. End with eyes closed with a constipated look on your face as the leader says a prayer that God would "be with us," today and show us ("illumine" if he/she has a particularly big vocabulary) what he wants us to learn from the word.
I am not complaining, honest. I just see a pattern here, and like with all repetitive behavior I see in people, I just have to start laughing at some point. Can the worship experience be so literally the same for so many people, church service after church service? Is God doing the exact same thing in everyone's life, all the time? Why did I get so tired? Why did I start feeling like a total, predictable goose every time the music started?

Am I responding to God's unceasing approach to me, or am I trying to initiate a spiritual behavior that I believe elevates me into the category of "very sanctified," or "godly?" And the more people watching the better. Then later, maybe I'll make a few surreptitious comments to my friends about "those [fill in the blank] Christians" who don't worship right.

Could I just be real with you for a second? A lot of the times that I've been seen at worship services, I haven't actually been worshipping God. I'm not going to beat myself up for this, but I think I might have actually been worshipping my love for God instead of God. Let me take a shot at what I could do differently. Sit down. Open my eyes; or close them. Whichever is most honest. Stop singing. Close the Bible; or open it. Whichever is less of a result of my pseudo-spiritual predisposition towards getting everything straight. Stop evaluating the musicians and the people around me. Say to myself "Abba do you love me?" Say "Lord, have mercy on me." Or don't say anything, and just sit there in silence. Maybe, if something clicks, my spirit will begin to worship, unstoppably, and then maybe my body would follow. I'll stand up, start singing.......

But hell, I might daydream or think about the movie I saw last night. I'd just like to be able to be honest about it afterwards. Then I don't think I would get so tired.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

17 Questions About Worship

In the style of my previous questions on prayer, here are some questions I have about worship, especially in a time where worship "renewal" is loudly proclaimed.

  • Is worship a response to God's presence, or does it conjure up God's presence(may I coin a phrase- "Alladin's lamp worship"...)?
  • Does the genre or style of worship in the body of Christ necessarily have anything to do with the level of grace, abundance, and love practiced by the body of Christ?
  • Does the grace, abundance, and love adminstered by God diminish or increase because of the wrongness or rightness of a body's worship?
  • In what ways does the contemporary worship movement remind us of the mainstream music industry with its hype, glitz, over-marketing, vapid lyrics, perfect-looking people, overpriced concert tickets, artlessness for popularity's sake, god-like status of performers, corporate control, and massive profits?
  • Are we repelled by stylistic/creative worship elements simply because we're not used to them?
  • Is "relevance" best indicated by stylistic points of church worship and culture, or by the pervasiveness of a Gospel that is preached and incarnated in such a way that access to the Father's love and blessing is denied to no one, implicitly or explicitly?
  • Would a body that is authentically worshipping God necessarily be compelled to address issues of justice among the poor and rejected?
  • Would a person that is authentically worshipping God necessarily be compelled to address problems of unforgiveness and bitterness in their life?
  • Is it more important that worshippers serve God, or that God serves them?
  • To one worshipping authentically, does it matter how long ago a worship song was written?
  • Is it okay to mentally critique another's worship, while in a worshipping group?(I suspect it happens rather often, if my mental processes are anything like the norm)
  • How does the Biblical phrase "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" apply to our worship experience in the body of Christ?
  • Which is primary: the experience a body has while worshipping God, or the fact that God receives worship?
  • Does God "come down" because our worship has been good(read: on fire, emotional, loud, hip, relevant)?
  • What does it indicate that 90% of our worship songs get us fired up about our love for God, and 10% of them get us fired up about God's love for us?
  • Is worship more liberated simply because it adheres to fewer traditions or customs, or because it looks different? Is worship less free simply because everyone in the group is conforming to an accepted model?
  • Could it ever do us any good to....hold on tight now.....stop worshipping God and just think about God's devotion to us, or even beg complete stillness of mind and body?

I find that there's a lot of evaluating going on in and among churches, and I wonder if the right questions are being addressed. With the way we often talk, I sometimes wonder if church-people have totally forgotten what is at the root of renewal, authentic worship, and abundance of whatever shade a given church espouses. My sum-up-all question could go something like this:

  • In what ways are we acting as if the Immanuel Gift and the Resurrection reality are dependent on our spiritual performance?

Ask it of yourself even more emphatically in situations where everyone's looking. I guess we're looking at the same old problems as ever. Thus making the (underpreached) Gospel ever-timeless, ever-relevant, ever-necessary, and ever-central.