Tuesday, April 26, 2005

loyalty placement

my friend dennis made an observation about why people become miserable in churches, yet refuse to change environments...

"they are victims of their own standing loyalties."
nailed it there.

it seems like people generally place loyalty somewhere... a cause, a church family, a pastor/leader, an organization, a principle...even if it is simply loyalty to their own convictions on things. this loyalty is a stability of sorts, causing one to feel grounded and sure.

the problems seem to make a break for it when the balance of reason and resolve is somehow upset by 'lower' factors (like any leadership change- particularly in style or personality) that fly under the radar and then catch us by surprise. we find ourselves unwittingly embroiled in a situation that causes us to feel compromised or otherwise inconsistent, simply due to either unfamiliarity or negative familiarity (a bad experience or strongly preconceived opinion) with the agent of change.

music, particularly worship music, is often a flashpoint because of the important role it plays in our (churched) culture and how strongly emotive a change in music can be. we get on this thing where our personal aesthetic is somehow spiritualized and we buy into the lie that there is good and bad music, when in fact music is predominantly contextual... it is a language unto itself.

the truth about most worship music arguments is that the music simply FEELs unfamiliar and people draw spiritual conclusions from those feelings.

i felt uncomfortable, months ago, attending a worship service in another (more 'mainline') denomination. the service was set up according to the lectionary, with prescribed readings and passages and hymns (the combination of which was all already light years from my personally comfortable worship zone)

now, i love hymns (particularly as a devotional or songwriting aid) but these hymns were songs that i had never heard before which were written according to a whole different set of musical and lyrical rules than any with which i was familiar. i was lost, even though the directions and page numbers and colours of the books were printed in the program that i was handed at the beginning of the service.

but it came to me, as i was about to dismiss the whole experience as 'someone else's thing' that i simply needed to sort out how to engage. i stopped singing and started reading the words while everyone around me who was already familiar sang instead. the poetry was breathtaking. the biblical truth was purely pronounced and worded in (irony of ironies) a 'fresh new way.' without the personal distraction of musical style and inaccessible melody, i was free to worship- it was a personal pentecost and i was suddenly hearing the truth in my own language.

it occured to me that this difficulty finds its symmetry whenever someone from a church like this one comes to ours to visit. it strengthened my resolve to frame things in in such a way that people are free to access an awareness of the presence of God without feeling disloyal to who they are or what they hold to be important about their own worship experience.

ultimately, as dennis put in much fewer words, we are responsible for the placement of our personal loyalty because if it is misplaced then God fails to receive the worship that is his.

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Blogger Beach gal said...

Wow, I really enjoyed this challenging entry of yours. Worship music is so extreamly powerful. It definately can set the mood for the rest of the service. There are so many different types or styles of worship music, and I believe it impossible to please everyone. And I really don't think a church should preoccupy itself with 'entertaining'. First and foremost sharing Christ needs to be the goal. But I have sat and used your words as a mirror. And I would be lying if I said I was never guilty of such thoughts. I really appreciate the part where you said you stopped trying to sing, and just read. That simple act allowed you to see the beauty in something you were blind too. I'm definately going to try that next time I find myself in that situation. Thank you.

Blogger Pensive said...

To whom are we to be loyal to? The church? Style of worship? Friends? These seem to be the stated loyalties yet ...
These last months I have been pondering the incarnate Christ including Christ as wisdom, truth, love and more. To whom does our loyalty belong? Christ and his kingdom.
What I am wrestling with at this time is appearance. What does his incarnate face look like as a church struggles with issues? Often it seems that we mistake the appearance of a narrow presentation of worship on Sunday morning for the face of Christ. How malnourished we are!
I think the face of Christ we need to be loyal to in difficult contexts is the body working together with her differences. Often it seems those in power have not moved to be inclusive nor have we moved to be included. Perhaps that is part of the difficulty. The face of Christ is in the mirror and in the face of our brother/sister and we need to be changed to accept the fullness of Christ's face.
Worship is a community event with different tensions revealing the face of God. To suggest that one group has a complete understanding of that tension, be they in or out of power, suggests a community that is not clearly seeing the face of Christ. I am sceptical that we will ever have a worship that pleases everyone when we focus only on our own faces or only on the faces of others. Why? Worship, in all of its simplicity as we come before God is too complex for us. This complexity is revealed in the different tensions found in corporate worship. The tensions, in not particular order:
Ø God as immanent and/or transcendent
Ø Participation and/or presentation
Ø Worship as outreach (seeker focused) and/or as believer focused (discipleship)
Ø Worship as edification (people focused) and/or as God focused
Ø The value of newness and/or the value of tradition
Ø Worship as culturally accessible and/or distinct from culture
Ø Form vs. freedom
If our conversations about worship focus only on what we need or our neighbourhood then we have missed the boat. To suggest that there is a process to resolve some of the aggressive conversations is to limit our perceptions. Worship is more than we bring to the table or the sanctuary; worship needs to be informed by the one we serve. That information, I think, only comes as we are like a clay jar being broken and reshaped to conform to the image of Christ. As we grapple, with integrity and get dirty, with the tensions of worship, then we have something that may smell sweet.
To conclude, if we are building something with our worship then, perhaps we are building for ourselves. But if we allow God to dig in us, to violently take the spade and step on it to dig out of us a deep well for others to drink from, then aggressive conversations regarding the nature of worship become muted.
To whom are we loyal? The change Christ wrought in us. In that ‘wroughting’ the kingdom is advanced and the church is pure and spotless.
May the grace of Jesus be with you.


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