I just read two different blog posts from two very different bloggers about situations they were in in two very different contexts. Yet they both lead to this thought: People worship in different cultural contexts, and God continually shows up in ways that are foreign—even objectionable—to us.
4 years on to this evergreen/church planting/emerging church thing I’m beginning to realize just how far removed I am from the experiential side of evangelical worship.
Honestly, it’s begun to feel downright cross-cultural to me…
Yesterday was rough on that front. It’s been a while since I did the smoke-machine, colored lights moving, everyone clap your hands if you love Jesus kind of worship… since this conference last year, in fact.
And every year, it’s gotten harder to engage with that aspect of things. I’d get cynical, or just not really participate…
This year my objections were both theological (Worship Leader: “Everybody! Heaven is our home! Raise your hand if you believe Heaven is your home!” Me: “Aww crap. Hasn’t this guy read NT Wright? Or the last couple chapters of Revelation??? Aww, man. Now people think I’m not down with Jesus cause I’m not raising my hand…” ) and aesthetic (Worship Leader: “We’re gonna run! Everyone run! We’re gonna clap! Everyone clap! We’re gonna jump! Everyone jump!” Me: “Huh???”) and even musical (Worship Leader: “Okay, just the women on this verse… now just the men! Now just those who rent! Now homeowners!, etc”)
But last night, I pushed past the cynicism and realized- this really works for most of these people. It’s their style, their language, their culture. It’s no longer mine, I don’t get it, but… I’m not going to begrudge them theirs. I’ve been in enough cross-cultural situations to know how to flip that switch and just enjoy other people enjoying something I can’t access in the way they can and worship in my own way during that time.
From God’s Politics:
Prison Praise Music (by Nadia Bolz-Weber)
I’m always a bit anxious in new worship environments. As I settle into my plastic chair at New Beginnings Lutheran Church, I realize that now is certainly no different. At least, I think to myself, my cell phone won’t go off in worship; it was confiscated by the guard before I went through the metal detector.
New Beginnings is a congregation on the inside of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, and I’ve come with three others from my own community to share in their worship service. My anxiety is not at all lessened by the praise music – of which I have an almost irrational aversion – coming out of the jam box behind the purple-draped alter. Seriously, I’m sinfully snotty about this issue.
The problem is that, as the women file into the room in their dark green scrubs and black boots, many immediately pick up the song sheets and begin singing along. I’ve always associated what I call “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music” with privileged white suburban mega-churches. But here in front of me are women of untold sin and sorrow, worn, unlike many of us, on the outside; singing “Lord I Lift Your Name On High” – singing about how faithful and marvelous God is from the inside of a prison.
I feel moved – and not by the emotionalism of the overproduced praise music. I’m moved again by how God seems to continually show up in ways I find objectionable. Like John the Baptist attempting to talk Jesus out of being baptized, and the disciples scandalized by Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, and Peter’s “God forbid that ever happen to you” at the news of how his messiah would die, I too object. God forbid that God’s own redeeming work in the world be done through music and theology I find abhorrent. It’s totally annoying and absolutely predictable. It happens every time.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran vicar living in Denver, Colorado where she is developing a new emerging church, House for all Sinners and Saints. She blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and has a book for Seabury Press coming out this Fall; a theological and cultural commentary based on having watched 24 consecutive hours of Trinity Broadcasting Network and survived.