I think that one of the things that bothers me the most about so much of contemporary Christian worship is it’s ugly. It’s just ugly. I don’t get why it attracts people. I don’t get it. And I worry about souls that, and I know this sounds terrible, that are so superficial they’re attracted to that form of worship. I mean, I can’t imagine. You can only be taken in by it if you want to avoid recognizing the terror and the unbelievable tragedy that surrounds us. I mean, we live in an ugly world.
If you compete with television, television in the end is going to win because it’s so good at what it does. The liturgy has got to be a real alternative to that, and if it is, then it will be in a certain sense more entertaining than television, because it will pull us out of our everyday presumptions that we know what it is we need and want.
– Stanley Hauerwas, from The Work of the People
This is an ugly world. It’s so very ugly. Just ask the family of Alton Sterling. Go ahead. Ask the family of Philando Castile.
Those of us who were born into complexionary privilege need to remind ourselves of this today. Especially those who call ourselves Christians.
It’s an ugly world.
And while we sit around in our houses of
worship entertainment, feeling good and pious and all connected with the god of our emotions, the ugliness persists. Right now, the darkness is falling and the winds are blowing. And we’re running out of excuses. With every act of violence against people of color, the contemporary church must push it’s bloated head further and further into the sand in order to continue with its business as usual.
It’s time for the curtain to fall on the way we do worship. The ugliness demands it.
It’s an abomination. The whole thing. The performance. The slate of worship options. The rock star worship leaders. The insipid psychologizing sermon series that substitutes relationship advice or moral lessons for the power of the gospel. The living room sanctuaries. The imprecise and careless language. The cute marketing campaigns. The illusion of connecting people with God, while disconnecting them from the brothers and sisters out in their communities. The
altars and chancels platforms stages devoid of our beautiful symbols; reminders of our life-long need of grace. Orders of worship that give congregations nothing to do but sing, you know, if they feel like it and love Jesus. Worship that culminates in music instead of the Eucharist. Worship that a mere few days ago harbored thinly-veiled celebrations of nationalistic fervor in honor of a land that has never fully confronted its horrific treatment of black men and women.
This type of “worship” has spawned clichés and catchphrases that have called us to go deeper, to grow more passionately in love with Jesus, but we’ve only grown more lukewarm. And superficial, like Hauerwas said.
That ugliness around us demands better worship.
Worship that won’t let us obsess about our felt needs.
Worship that isn’t driven by butts in the seats.
Worship that isn’t driven by preference.
Worship that isn’t comfortable.
Worship that calls us to question our priorities.
Worship that doesn’t unite us by a targeted demographic, but by the call of God on our lives.
Worship that calls us to put our hands out instead of up.
Worship that dares us to forsake our positions of power and privilege.
Worship that won’t let us rationalize the terror we see going on around us.
Worship that doesn’t reassure us in our self-focused anxieties.
Worship that compels us to call out injustice.
Worship that names and repents from apathy.
Worship that helps us see Jesus in those who don’t look like us.
Worship that helps us see ourselves in the oppressed.
Worship that wakes us up to our calling to live out God’s justice and mercy in the world.
Because, friends, true worship doesn’t meet our felt needs, it awakens us to the needs of the community around us. It is so disruptive that we cannot continue with our lives as planned. Something in us must change, so that we can be the change we want to see.
How much longer can we sit around and watch the jesusy show? How much longer can we arrogantly stand around and croon “My chains are gone!” while fellow image-bearers are being tackled, bound, and shot dead right in our backyards? Can we really continue to inebriate ourselves on the wine of consumeristic Christianity, and ignore the silent tears of our neighbors?
When will we realize that only through rich, gospel-centered corporate prayer, can we become God’s prayer for an ugly world?
It is to our own sin and shame that we continue worship like there’s no one around but me and Jesus, while the blood of the slaughtered runs red in the streets around us.
We need to dare to put worship and justice together, where they belong.
When the Church of Jesus
Shuts its outer door,
Lest the roar of traffic
Drown the voice of prayer:
May our prayers, Lord, make us
Ten times more aware
That the world we banish
Is our Christian care.
If our hearts are lifted
Where devotion soars
High above this hungry
Suffering world of ours:
Lest our hymns should drug us
To forget its needs,
Forge our Christian worship
Into Christian deeds.
Lest the gifts we offer,
Money, talents, time,
Serve to salve our conscience
To our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us
By the way you give;
Teach us, dying Savior,
How true Christians live.
-Fred Pratt Green, 1969