I am a judgmental person, especially about church. A former parishioner once told me that she had a hard time sitting through worship without judging the experience: “The choir was off. The sermon was boring. The children’s story was about the adults not the kids.”
It was actually comforting to hear this. I also find myself distracted sometimes.
I want to worship God when I gather together with a congregation on Sundays. I want it to be real. I want to make a connection with God and other people. But certain things distract me and the worship experience then morphs into something less than holy.
I confess before you and God that my snarky judgement rears its ugly head when:
- Someone – anyone – refers to God as “The Man Upstairs.”
- Nobody smiles.
- The pastor reads the sermon.
- Everybody’s white, although the neighborhood is not.
- There is an assortment of “sermon illustrations” (baseball, Mt. Everest, a guy with one leg, a story heard on NPR) but nothing about anybody’s real life.
- The language is gender exclusive – as if only men are in the room.
- There’s an American flag in the sanctuary. (Or a Canadian flag. Or a Swiss flag, for that matter.)
- There’s no reference during any part of worship that anything’s happening in the world outside the congregation’s life. (Blood on the streets in Egypt. A verdict in Florida. Multiple kids have been shot in Chicago over the past 24 hours.)
- During the time of sharing prayer concerns, people are identified by first names, as if we all know these people. (“Bob’s recovering well after the kidney surgery. But Cathy’s cousin is still having migraines.“)
- The children’s story is way over their heads and a waste of time. (“Repeat after me, children: Sanctification.”
- The preacher seems to think we are stupid. (e.g. A reference to “Paris, which is in France.“)
- And, at the same time, there is the assumption that we are smart about particular church rituals (e.g. A bowl is passed around throughout the worship time and nobody’s explains why.)
Apparently nobody knows where Paris is but everybody knows about the bowl.
See? I can be pretty snarky.
Worship’s not always like this. All it takes is somebody – even one person – being real.
One of the reasons that Nadia Bolz Weber is such a popular speaker and her church enjoys a steady flow of visitors/tourists, is because she is authentic and when talking about her church, she describes something authentic. At Wild Goose recently, she said that her church – A House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver – is “anti-excellence/pro-participation.” They don’t do perfection. (AHFASS fondly calls itself “Half Ass.”)
Let’s not waste that precious time when the people of God gather – whether it’s Sunday mornings or Tuesday nights – forgetting to connect with each other and our Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer, rather than going through the motions. With a flag. While somebody is passing around a bowl.
Image is a steeple we always see on vacation. It blew off a church building a few years ago, and it’s still lying in the yard. I always wonder what’s going on over there.