Guys, I’ve been working on writing my current book project, which means I’ve been reading blogs and checking Facebook more than I ever do. Why? Because writing=2 hours of putzing around/2 hours of actually writing. Obviously. Therefore, wonder of wonders, I am actually INFORMED on a blog conversation regarding Christianity, which I make a habit to purposely avoid. Why? Because blog controversies=eye-stabbing/sarcasm/thinking-less-of-people/becoming-my-most-argumentative-self/God save us from the comment section. Exhibit A: whatever happened between that crazy creationist guy and Bill Nye, which please do not tell me.
Anyhow, it just so happens that I’ve been chewing on the question of what church is (again) over the last few months, so I was very interested to see what Donald Miller had to say about not attending church and then I curiously watched a whole bunch of people dog-pile-tackle him for it, and now he’s written a follow-up post I much appreciate.
I just want to point out one undercurrent of thought that was hinted at but never spelled out completely, and it’s something I feel I’ve had to say over and over and over again as someone who’s an emerging church person: It is a very patronizing kind of thing to require all Christians to find meaning in the same kind of worship that you do. Donald Miller does not find meaning in singing praise songs or hymns or listening to sermons. That is not some kind of moral crime; it is a preference. To say that this means he is somehow more selfish or stubborn or less dutiful a Christian that those of you who DO find meaning in it is, in a word, hypocritical. Because if the tables were turned, and you were stuck going to a worship gathering that you didn’t find helpful or enjoyable or inspiring, you wouldn’t want to go, either.
Who of us spends our weekends playing on a sports team in a sport we don’t enjoy? Who does that? Who sits down to watch a movie and time and again picks one in a genre we despise? Who goes on multiple dates with someone with whom you don’t click? Who of us, when taking a class on a subject we find boring or uninspiring or not our kind of intelligence, thinks, yeah, I’m going to get my degree in that and just keep taking more and more classes in it and then get a job doing it? No- what we do is we switch majors. We pick someone else to date. We do things that we enjoy. We build a life around what makes sense to us.
I don’t think that’s selfishness. I think that’s sanity. You show me someone who isn’t living life this way and I will show you someone who is depressed, or repressed, or a sado-masochist.
It does not follow logically that all people who eschew traditional worship should be thrown into the same camp as people who are actually selfish. There are some people who think life is all about them and what they want. Some of these people are also the type that say things like, “Yeah, church just isn’t for me. I’d rather read the Times and drink my coffee, you know?” And believe me- I think these people should learn how to be about something other than themselves just as much as you probably do. I just don’t think all the people who don’t connect with traditional worship are by default these kind of people. I certainly don’t think Donald Miller is this kind of person.
Being faithful is an act of sacrifice. It is. It means you accept priorities that rule out a lot of things. It means you live your life in service to values that can go against the prevailing culture or sentiment. Following God requires you to live beyond yourself in service to others, in service to the good of the world. Following God faithfully means you develop spiritual practices that help you become better at this service. It means you seek out the help of others who will practice these things alongside you. It means you recognize the importance of community. It does not mean you must absolutely and without question find meaning in one version of church worship.
As a brief aside: One of the things I used to hear often during the early years of the emerging church conversation is the idea that when we “young people” grew up, we would get more mature and therefore start falling in line with traditional worship. It was as if our desire to create meaningful worship was some kind of rebellious immaturity that needed to be endured but also eye-rolled. This, also, is unflinchingly patronizing and smug. Because the truth is this: when I decided to cultivate, curate, support and encourage the kind of worshipping community that I hoped would be meaningful to people like me, that was the day I grew up. It was the day I took my faith the MOST seriously.
I’m lucky enough to have a community like that in Journey. Maybe Donald doesn’t. Maybe he’s not keen on weekly worship in any form. Ok, I find meaning in that and he doesn’t, but I can say this: he’s living his life in service to his faith. He’s doing what he feels called to do to live in service to others and the world and to be a good steward of his gifts. He may not “sacrifice” by going to church every Sunday but he sacrifices by ruling out a lot of lives he could have other than the one he’s chosen to live. I think we should give him props for that, instead of assuming he’s selfish, or stubborn, or unfaithful, or undisciplined in his faith life.
The bigger questions to me are: 1) what is church? and 2) what is church for?
I’m going to write about both of those questions in separate posts in the coming days. Much to say!
In the meantime, can we all just agree that there are lots of ways to worship God and that perhaps our time and energy would be better spent respecting one another and being delightfully in awe of the many ways Christians have worshipped over the centuries, right up to the new ways we are faithfully creating today?