It’s Sunday morning, or possibly Saturday night. Maybe even Sunday afternoon. We’re gathered here to worship the Lord, or so we’ve been told, and have a lot of fun while we do it. The room is dark, the lights dim, the stadium-style seating oh so comfortable. I clutch my complementary coffee with one hand, and the armrest with the other, in nervous anticipation of what the Holy Spirit or electric guitar is about it do.
Jesusy music is piped in over the massive PA system, which looks as if it would be large enough for the entire state of Vermont. That’s a good thing, because with all the carpeting, seat padding, curtains, acoustic paneling, and hipster flannel, this converted Wal-Mart is about as resonant as the back aisle of a JoAnn Fabrics.
The band members appear, the stench from their bare feet rising like the prayers of the faithful. They begin to play. One chord, repeated four to the bar over a 16-measure introduction. Lyrics appear on an 8×10′ section of drywall painted ivory, or possibly eggshell, and much like the songs themselves, they disappear seconds later.
They stop singing, and their lead singer makes his displeasure known. The response from the stadium-style seating isn’t pleasing Jesus, yet, at least not enough. The dude with the skinny jeans and tattoos opens up the worship leader playbook and reminds us that God inhabits the praises of his people, but the square footage of our current effort isn’t enough for our “daddy-god” to comfortably reside in. Apparently, he own an impressive bedroom suite, and a sectional large enough for the manliest of deities to recline in while watching football.
Convicted, I try to gather myself. I contort my face unnaturally, striking the perfect worship time balance between constipation and orgasm, and try to merge the undeniable spiritual fervor of the amplified instruments with my undergraduate degree in applied voice.
Naw, I’m just kidding. This is what really happens…
(If you’re curious what I sound like singing the typical modern worship song, go back to the 2:40 mark and you’ll get a pretty good idea.)
On my best days, I’d like to think I’m like Bob, with an easygoing carefree spirit, always looking on the bright side:
La de da de dum, la de da de,
I’d like to sing right along!
I’ve heard it said, “With words and music,
A fella can’t go wrong!”
But most of the time these days, I confess I’m more like Oscar, disillusioned by the spectacle of entertainment we’ve made out of holy things:
They keep on singing that song!
They go, “La de da dee dum, la de da de,
La de da de,” then,
La de da de dum, la de da de,
They start it all over again!
“Don’t be such a grouch, Jonathan!” “Just be glad they’re worshiping, Jonathan!”
But worship isn’t about a song.
Worship isn’t about a posture.
Worship isn’t about a feeling.
It’s not found in strained brows, lifted hands, and momentary dissociation. It’s not in a performer, in a beat, in the brief high we feel in our brains. That’s only our latest attempt at rationalizing what is a great mystery. And it leads us to live silly little lives, filled with silly little cliches and silly little songs and silly little life groups.
Worship is about letting go of those emotional crutches and pressing on. By ourselves. Into the world. Without the song to comfort us. Without the band to cheer us on. Without the comfy chairs and the stage and the lights and the amps.
Worship is found on our lips. When we rush together, out of the darkness, out of the dankness, out of the violence, out of the injustice, into our Sunday asylum (because our faith is craziness!) and repeat to each other what our faith says is true.
Worship is found in our hands. Not when they’re lifted high, whether in delight or delusion or deception. No, it’s found when we take the little piece of bread into our palm.
“The body of Christ, broken for you.”
“The blood of Christ, poured out for you.”
Worship is found inside our bodies, as we consume the body and blood, and find that those tiny little elements consume us.
And then we go out, the body of Christ like a burning coal on our lips and in our stomachs, and we begin to see things just a little bit differently. Like the body and blood of our Savior, we are fractured and poured out for the world around us.
That’s where the real opportunities for worship are found
They’re found in the dirt and the waste and the noise and the smell and the blood and the tears that surround us everywhere. In our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our city streets.
So, please pardon me if my cynicism toward modern worship practices seems too Oscar-like. Truth be told, I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. But then again, I see a bit of Oscar-like doubt as a sort of holy doubt. The kind of doubt that calls “bullshit” and refuses to join in the hype. See, I’m deeply concerned about what we’ve taken to calling “worship.” And there are many, many others like me, who see the mockery of entertainment worship, but who find themselves silenced and shamed by family, friends, pastors, employers.
Friends, if that’s you, it’s time to speak up.