Oct 9, 2006

Church As A Form Of Torture

My husband's friend Karen has gone on her own odyssey, looking for a church to call home. For a while She tried a place that fancied itself a post-modern, emergent church. Filled with hip 20 somethings, they lit candles, provided easels for people to paint during the service. But then came the sermons: "The verse, by verse, by verse, by verse Expository Preaching kind of sermons. I swear, this should be a new form of torture … expose terrorists to Sunday Morning Expository Preaching and they'll spill all of their secrets after an hour ...

Her entire post is funny and heartbreaking and so close to what so many of us have experienced. Church as torture.

That's what church has grown to feel like: torture. And it's heartbreaking, because church is how I've connected to God and to community over the last 20 years. Same with Larry.

It seems to be a trend among the people I know who were "on fire" at 20, and burned out at 40+. The guy who runs a Christian counseling practice called it "disenfranchised, disillusioned, and disinterested." My friend Kathy in New York was always the faithful God girl. She hasn't been to church in months. "I guess I'm officially a backslider." It's a lot of us. it's epidemic.

Before I met my husband, he too felt estranged from church, but didn't want to be. So as newlyweds we've been looking for our 'tribe,' our spiritual place to call home. We tried Basileia community last week and liked it. There's an Episcopal church we went to for Easter, which we want to try again, but not before we've checked out the other possibilities.

Then there's this church Larry's visited a few times in the past, and which a number of my long-term freinds have ended up. I've resisted for so long because everyone's hailing this place as the "the next big thing." I've been on that ride: Loops and turns and then someone throws up.

But, we needed to try it. If it sucked, at least we could cross it off the list.

We got there really early. People came up to talk to us. That was nice. The demographic was really really young. Well that's what happens when you get older. People get younger. I was looking forward to seeing the people I know show up. All of them did. that was nice, because we got to sit with a few of them and not feel like total strangers.

It met in a school auditiorium so it didn't have the benefit of ambient light. But that's OK, most of the churches I'vee gone to met in school auditioriums. I prepared myself for light deprivation depression.

During the service, their modern dance group did a number. I don't understand how dance shapes correspond to lyrics. But dance is a mystery to me. I turn off the Nutcracker. However, I liked how they all moved. Also during the service, a woman stood at an easel and painted on a canvas. In the end it looked like an 8th grade art project, and I didn't get its connection to the sermon. But that's cool, it meant something to her. I don't know how the "Paint By Sermons" Thing has come into vogue, but that's fine. I'll make sure never to sit on the right aisle if I come back.

The LA Times did an article about the church, and they had color laser copies of it on display at the pack of the church, so I read it. It was a favorable article. This church was a cool place for people who didn't like church; a place where seekers and skeptics could ask questions, doubt, and not feel wrong or awkward. That was great. But then I read what the pastor said about their worship music: "We don't do hymns. European music has no place in a multi-cultural church." That sounded prejudiced, in a cocky kind of way. But I needed to see what they did instead.

I'm not some uptight jerk who doesn't appreciate new music. I already have Beck's new CD. I like Sigur Ros and Interpol and "And You Shall Know Us By Our Trail Of Dead."

But this music was torture. For me anyway. Maybe it was fine for everyone else. I realize it comes down to a matter of taste, or whatever music you heard when you had your first spiritual experience. This wasn't mine. This music was 7/11 music: 7 words repeated 11 times. The musicians were probably good. But I couldn't get past the lyrics.

A line in one of the songs was: What can I say?
As in:
You made a way, what can I say?
You turned night into day, what can I say?
These lyrics are gay, what can I say?

To the lyricist: if you are writing, "What can I say?" Please, get up from your desk, go ask yourself, "What CAN I say?"
When you have an answer, come back and write it.
Until then, don't put it in a lyric. And don't make me sing it.

I'm also not a total worship music snob. I like Delirious? and Brian Doerksen, David Crowder when he's not played to death. I love Robin Mark's Revival in Belfast. Because there's melody and lyrics that are good.

I'm more likely to worship when I'm singing

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

As opposed to lyrics that are ALL ABOUT ME

When I think about today, hey, what can I say?
When I think of me, it makes me think of you
And me, loving you.
And I, Yie, Yie, Yie.
I’m so in love with me, Loving you,
what can I say? These lyrics are blasé.

The sermon was great. Faith is nonsense, he admitted. But faith comes from knowing through faculties other than the five senses. Like intuition is not from the senses. Just because we don't perceive God plain as day, doesn't mean he isn't there plain as day. We must admit our faculties to see or know God are broken: by sin or addiction or pride or fear. (Or as I saw on a bumper sticker once: "Don't believe everything you think.") So yeah, the sermon was great.

Overall we had a good time but we didn't coonect. and this is whewre I have to say, "it's not you, it's me." That church is perfect for so many people who don't want to walk into a 'church.' who don't mind the auditorium, who are totally fine with that music. WHo need a palce to ask questions and be skeptics.

But Larry and I didn't connect, and maybe it's just us. Both of us feel like maybe we don't fit with the usual church service anymore. That 45 music -45 sermon thing. We connect better in smaller groups. We connect in something that's more interactive: not sit and listen. Maybe we could get involved in a small group related to this morning's church. Or we could download podcast sermons and listen to them together or with a small group.

Or find our own tribe and utilize resources from this church, like their sermons or whatnot. Who knows?

That night we barbecued at our friend Doug's. Martin and Debbie brought their three daughters, the oldest is 14. Tristyn talked about life in public school, how her friends' parents neglect them, her freind had to ride teh bus home from a quinciñera at midnight because the mom didn't want to pick her up. Her freinds do drugs and drink and have sex because it's fun and cool. And kids at 14 are already saying they're bisexual.

Tristyn recalled a time when she was young. "We could laugh and say boys had cooties. Or switch clothes with my girl friends and walk arm in arm. If I give my friend a hug, someone shouts out, "kiss her, kiss her!" You don't get to be a kid anymore

Tristyn gave us a clear picture of what it is to be a kid. I realized how important it is for us to love and encourage Tristyn and her sisters. Remidn them of how valuable they are, teach them to guard their identity and talents and sexuality and body for the treasures they are worth.

Last night felt more like church to Larry and me.

Karen's search for a non torturous church led her and her husband to a vibrant Catholic church. She loved the liturgy, the sacraments, and the art. Maybe that's Larry's and my next visit: old church. Or maybe we do our own small group thing, and then a different church on Sunday. Or have a barbecue and invite Tristyn and her friends.

I still mourn the loss of that Sunday morning thing. But maybe it has to go.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I can certainly understand your feeling worn out from that "Sunday morning thing". We too, have left it for a house church gathering of believers who love Jesus and hope to support, admonish, exhort and mostly love one another while joining in heart-felt worship together and eating meals, playing sports, laughing together, etc. Feel free to visit our blog: www.ministryhouse.blogspot.com! We'd love to hear from you guys and what you are doing...

Doug Perkins said...

I enjoyed having everyone over last night and I thought it was amazing that Tristyn was comfortable enough to tell a bunch of adults the stuff she did - I certainly wouldn't have done that at 14, but then again, my parents weren't a cool as we are ;-)

I think that I see Sunday morning church as much about meeting new people that become friends and then come to the evening "party church" - one sort of feeds the other. And I have to say that having teaching from someone that has studied the Bible a lot more than me is something I wouldn't want to give up either, it's when people go off on their own that cults are born - so I don't think that it should be an "either - or" relationship between a small interactive group and Sunday morning big church, it should be both.

BUT - I loved your horrible version of the lyrics - they sure ARE gay, you couldn't get me to sing that dribble - and I'm sure glad that I don't play in that band!

Anonymous said...

Great post -

- I agree with Doug that a body needs someone who knows more than them to teach/preach to them. The best teachers can do it without looking up the Greek for every article.
- One of the things I can't stand about home churches and similar experiences is that it can tend to be teaching by consensus. People with some education give their best guess and personal experience, and some relativity (non-light-wave variety) and voila! you have aberrant teaching.
- Good art is worth using to worship God. Good art is to do in an hour with a lot of people watching.

Soulpadre said...

oh, friends! I'm hearing more and more every day about believers in Jesus who are like fish out of water in church. Church has become so many things, but fewer of them are becoming Acts 2 communities. I pray that the Body rediscovers that Word and receives a fresh grace from God to walk in it.

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