Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Worship, the Democratic National Convention and Spectacle

This post isn't actually about politics.

Home eating lunch today I watched the daily show with Jon Stewart. The show included a really funny and interesting piece which highlighted what some called the 'spectacle' of the convention. Stewart had a correspondent running around the convention dancing and chanting and clapping with people. At one point he is dancing with a woman and asking her questions about Obama's policies. at one point he questions the substance of her answers which was particularly funny as they were 'getting down' while discussing political policy.

I didn't watch much of the DNC and the spectacle was my problem. I must be turning into a crumudgeon, because I kept thinking to myself, 'is this the method and the context in which politics should be done in the US? It looks like a Jimmy Buffet show or a Tail-gate party at a football game. Is this really the only way to involve the American Public in such important decisions and processes, by providing loud music and fire-works? I must be growing old or something because I keep thinking to myself that occassionally there are times and places for serious discussion of serious matters, but aparently the DNC wasn't it.

and I wonder too about worship. I just wrote to my church about the changes I see in worship around me. Praise music and Praise bands. congregations choosing to elliminate the Lord's Prayer, the Gloria Patri and the Doxology from worship. Large screens installed for Power-point sermons, religious symbols put int he basement, hymnals in the attic. some even changing their names so that you would never actually know they are a church. All so that worship can be a spectacle, so that it is more entertaining to Gen Xers I guess.

The concern that these churches are hoping to address is the steep decline in attendance to worship. Perhaps if worship were more entertaining, less formal, and more like other experiences, like movies and pop concerts, more people would come.
but that leaves two questions unanswered:
1. Once they come, what are they learning? Praise music is notoriously influenced by pop-music, including its disposability. Praise music is written to be easily learned and sung, quickly sold and therefore quickly replaced. Most praise songs have little theological substance. So, we get young folks into church and they enjoy singing, 'Come, now is the time for worship' but what have they learned about who God is, what Christ did, what the church believes or what discipleship means and looks like. 'Lo He Comes on Clouds Descending' may not lend itself well to the electric guitar, but at least you have learned something about Christ, Salvation, Crucifixion and Resurrection after you have sung it. so they like to hang with us when we sing praise, but are we passing on a faith with any depth or substance to them? and if we aren't passing anything of substance on to them, why are we so concerned about their presence? Are we more interested in success than in being faithful to Christ and the Kingdom?

2. should church and worship look and sound like the world around us? Are we not meant to provide the world with an alternative, THE alternative which is the gospel? Worship, at least in my understanding of it, is meant to be an experience, perhaps ever so fleeting, of the presence of Christ and the reality of the Kingdom. that will NOT look like the world around us. Our values will not be the worlds values. So if we accomodate so much to remain 'entertaining' we run the risk of accepting the values of the world that we are meant to subvert not support.

These are serious times we live in. And we need a serious devotion to the gospel in order to remain the faithful witness that Christ has called us to be. Spectacle in worship, it seems to me, teaches is the wrong thing about worhsip and faith.
First it teaches us that worship is meant to make us 'feel' something. while worship, in the Bible, is first and foremost meant to be an offering of the individual and the community to God, not the recieving of happiness or entertainment. Worship, in short, isn't about me, its about God. Entertaining worship is about me.
Second it teaches us that a relationship to God is about me. I am meant to recieve happiness, peace, prosperity from this relationship. There is little to no 'service' in praise music or entertaining worship. this worship does not push us to 'take up our cross' or explain to us how we do that. Instead we repeat a few simple phrases 'Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes, Yes Lord' and slip into a pop-candy induced stupor.

It isn't that I don't think there should be some changes in worship or an attempt to be relevant.
perhaps my next post will talk more about that should my millions of adoring fans clamor for more.



VanceH said...

Hi Darin,
I would like to hear more of your thoughts about church & worship. I think the two churches I attend semi-regularly (one in California and one in Colorado) both are struggling with the issues you mention. I can certainly see a possibility that God just wants diversity in how different groups approach Him (e.g. praise songs vs. hymns, liturgy vs. casualness, worship vs. entertainment, fellowship vs. spectacle). But what bothers me the most is a sense of irrelevance and disconnectedness from the world that I feel in most churches. Maybe that is just the nature of the narrow way, but somehow I think our fellowship should be future pointed rather than past pointed. It feels to me that most churches are trying to preserve a worldview of science, culture, philosophy, and an attitude towards God that doesn't work anymore. As I write this, I realize that I am probably just projecting my own frustration onto the church--so please excuse my generalizations.

pastormalone said...

Wow dude, you are starting to sound like Hauerwas.... lex orandi, lex credendi.....

we need to remember that the "good standard hymns" were for the most part the popular tunes of another time. With all music, the good songs will rise to the top and the crap will go down the drain. I think we should use new music, but I agree that it needs depth. If only there were some.

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?

press on, press on