Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My friend Jonathan wrote

I think we need to constantly ask ourselves about the purpose of worship. To a degree it is an "insider" event for those who profess a faith and claim to be a part of the story. Yet at the same time an element of worship needs to reach out to other, to be "seeker" oriented. Currently we seem to be stuck in an either/or dialetic. Where is the both/and?

I think that both ends of the dialectic are faulty because both focus on what we are recieving from worship. The church, protestant/non-denominational, has made humanity the center of worship and when we make ourselves the focus, we have to basis upon which to assess the appropriateness or faithfulness of our liturgy, whether traditional or progressive. In the Bible, worship is something that humanity offers to God. Praise and thanksgiving, submission and petition all directed toward God, is the biblical witness and yet most of our consideration about worship is more concerned with what will interest and entertain, either the old faithful or the young and unchurched.

While it may sound like I am a guardian of tradition, I think that ref-ocusing on God in worship would challenge the 'praise' movement in ways that would make it more effective. The bible offers many examples of exhuberance and joy in worship; Moses and Miriam singing after the crossing of the Red Sea, David dancing with all of his might before the Ark. Offering God thanks for the power and strength to act faithfully and justly in the world would give praise hymns a depth and substance that is sadly lacking. It would change our focus from entertainment models in worship, to thinking artistically and creatively. Instead of putting up movie screens we would be using our creative talents to express thanks for the presence of God in our lives and in the world.

As it is, both traditional and progressive worship are weakened because we are the focus more than God. Traditionalists that don't want to change anything because they are just comfortable with the same old hymns, the same old prayers and the same old liturgical actions are more focused on themselves than on a creative expression that ushers the community into the presence of the living God.

As an example, the music minister at the church I serve told me a progressive and non-traditional liturgical act at a church he served in the mid-west. Someone actually wove a prayer shawl that 6-8 ushers would carry and surround the entire congregation in at the prayers of the people. I prayer shawl not for one person, but for the whole blessed community, surrounding everyone in prayer. I think that must have been a beautiful act. It isn't traditional, but neither is it based solely on entertainment. It is a creative and artistic offering of ones talent to God, intended to lift the whole community into an experience of God's presence in prayer.

I think that we will attract many people, young and old, when we free ourselves to creatively lead people into the presence of God. By focusing on God, instead of doggedly holding tradition or blindly accepting entertainment as our model, we become relevant and remain substantive at the same time.

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