I’ve been listening lately to an African-American gospel radio station in the mornings and a contemporary Christian station in the afternoon. The music plays in the background while I work, but, every now and then, a song will demand that I pay attention. Sometimes it is the irresistible tune or beat. Other times what catches me are the words or message.
I grew up in a conservative church in the South. I came along during the revival of the church called “the charismatic movement.” I loved those times of ecstatic worship in which a community of people got caught up in worship and let go of their self-conscious inhibitions and just expressed their love for God.
Of course, if they had known a gay man was worshipping in their midst the music would have stopped mid-note. I came to realize that the deep devotion of that spiritual movement was almost entirely self-absorbed. It was/is all about our experience with God and what it can do in, and for, us. The connection is NEVER made between a mystical experience of the Holy, and healing the environment, or reducing consumerism, or addressing homelessness.
For the past 30 years, I have found myself worshipping mostly with the folks on the other end of the theological spectrum. We sing mostly white, Western hymns and anthems that use proper grammar and more correct theology. These churches have worked hard to care for the poor and to ask “why are they poor?” They have taken social justice seriously, and I love them for that. Yet …
In most of these churches Sunday worship leaves frost on the stained glass and icicles on the altar. Cool, cerebral services are held for increasingly empty pews. The decline in worship has resulted in less and less care for the poor being done by mainline churches.
Maybe we “intellectual, sophisticated, erudite” Christians need to defrost our devotion before it is too late. If our love for our spouse is as emotionless as our relationship with God then it is little wonder half of all marriages end in divorce.
by Michael Piazza
Center for Progressive Renewal