As I was reading back a few posts on this seemingly abandoned and all but outmoded blog, I was struck by how my own worship journey has evolved and transformed in the last three years. In my post about the redirection of this blog, the words were almost prophetic in that even though I haven’t been writing about the deep and dark corners of worship, I have been living in them. It has at times (in fact, most of the time) been uncomfortable and unconventional.
It is common today to not tolerate stances that are between the lines, on the margins or in the grey area. It is popular to view issues as black or white, on or off. Folks are not allowed to struggle with an issue…they must have a conclusion and work it out in silence, only surfacing to awkwardly spout a worn-out argument that is the equivalent of a punchline to a joke. No buildup, no process. Just the end result.
Frustratingly, I find myself constantly in that intermediate quagmire…constantly developing the argument while not ever being fully satisfied with its potency (or legitimacy).
On the topic of this page, that quagmire is that of both personal and corporate worship. Much of what I read about worship doesn’t have a problem with the interpretation of Scripture but rather the application of it. The more I read the Bible, the more I understand it as a descriptive rather than prescriptive document. That is to say, it is not some guide book with rules laid out clearly. At least not mostly. Instead, I am more convinced that it describes the actions and revelations of God through the ages in concert with his people. Life on this side of Jesus is a lot like sailing mysterious and unplied waters. There are some basic guidelines for not capsizing, but eventually you are going to have to improvise. That is the beauty of a relationship; each one is unique and carries its own charm.
And so we come to this thing…this “w” word. Needless to say (but I’m gonna say it anyhow), it carries so much baggage in the Western Christian context that I almost hate saying it. It has been diminished, unfairly categorized, misunderstood and brutalized by so many for so long that I can barely recognize it sometimes. Not that it’s my job.
Instead of claiming, henceforth, the new definition of w…wo…worship in some grandiose pretending-to-be-humble statement, I’ll say with greater confidence that we just don’t get it. We don’t understand it…maybe we CAN’T understand it. Try as I will (and have), the art, science and mystery of acting out my devotion to God is so utterly beyond me that I am not even sure I am willing to try and understand it more.
Don’t take this to mean I am giving up. I mean to communicate the exact opposite. I revel in the mystery. It is the unknown that makes it so much bigger, and with much greater possibility, than we have given it credit for. Instead of studiously filling in the blanks on my worship application form (please be accepted, PLEASE be accepted!), I am content and actually elated to fling the outpouring of my soul to God off into space. Out over the edge of the waterfall with the rising mist obscuring its final destination. Let it fall where it may.
The truth is, anything I give him is filthy rags without Jesus. He is the one who makes things right. A perfectly planned set list with the list of ridiculous rules that come with it. The right prayer at the right time. The best sermon. Nice lighting. Good coffee. Suitable artwork. Filthy rags without Jesus.
OK, so how do we get Jesus into that stuff? Aside from how wrong that question is, I would argue that the best way to approach corporate worship is not to see to it that people are adhering to our codes of compliance, but rather look for and recognize that worship in other people and subsequently join them in their celebration. What makes something both corporate and wonderful is not the unification of multiple previously-divergent people under one rule. It is the embracing of differences with all of its difficulty and struggle and ugliness and allowing its chaotic beauty to overshadow all of those things.
Said much more simply, you are awesome. God made you that way. I am awesome. God made me that way. Together, we are two very different and very awesome molecules in the church. I will celebrate you for who you are, and by definition celebrate the creativity and wonder of God, who made you so awesome. Briefly go back to the common but unspoken way of doing things today. “Come join us, do things our way, join our culture, and nobody gets hurt.” That’s stupid.
If you are waiting for me to give you a punchline, an answer to the buildup and the pomp…welcome to the deep and dark corners of worship. There is no punchline except the following: Love God. Love others.