Wednesday, January 25, 2006

cross roads

what's the big deal with the cross?

i remember my pastor saying once that wearing a cross around your neck or displaying it in a church is as weird as having gold plated electric chairs or guillotines around to help us focus on God.

yep- that would be weird... but the thing with Jesus is that he brought new meaning to so many things, death by execution being one of them (not any death by execution, mind you- just his.)

i love that bit in romans (5.8) where paul points out that 'while we went on actively breaking fellowship with him, Christ died for us... that's how God shows his love.' he then goes on for the rest of the chapter talking about how death was brought into the world by adam, and how Jesus brought life in, instead, through his death. it wasn't just that Jesus lived a good life or that he died a tragic death, it was that he lived a good life and died a tragic death out of his love for humankind and then he overcame the tragedy, turning everything that we all thought we knew about everything right on its ear.

mourning to dancing
sackcloth to glory
silence to singing the salvation story

without Jesus' death, there could be no resurrection, no hope of a living and eternal communion with a perfect God. death was and is the penalty for wanting things our way and trading our eternal inheritance to get it. if Jesus were beheaded the way john the baptist was then we might have a different symbol of our freedom from mortality. as it is, being that crucifixion was the method of execution, the cross serves as this symbol for God's ability to take even the most fearful thing known to us- a painful, torturous death at the hands of those having no measure of grace or mercy to extend in the process- and give it new meaning in light of who he is rather than who we are.

in our church, we have this huge eight foot cross that stands in between the platform where the band plays and the floor where the people sit or stand or whatever. there are coffee tables gathered around that cross for those who respond better to more natural, coffee house seating than to institutional rows, and all of the speaking/ teaching takes place on that common plain, not up on the platform. in fact, the only reason that the platform is raised is that it was built at a time when the services we conducted were less interactive/ more 'performance oriented.'

a friend recently expressed a desire to see the layout change because the cross was obscuring the view from the floor of the musicians as they played. this was becoming a distraction for him.

distraction is a really good word. it seems to be realized in different people in different ways.

where one person is distracted by what he can't see onstage, another can be distracted by what he can see there. the clothing of a person onstage, that person's expressiveness (or lack thereof) when that person does worship music, or even just a knowledge of who that person is in life when he or she is not on display- they can all get in the way of a person's desire to press in during a meeting. in various conversations over the years, all of these have been mentioned to me... in most cases i've tried to remind the person to extend grace and endeavor to focus on God in spite of those serving on any given sunday. however, knowing that this is really hard sometimes because people all have their own triggers, i have privately thought of just shutting off the lights on the band altogether, so that the only things that anyone saw were the cross and the projected words that they were singing together.

even then, the sound of the music created with all the lights off might be distracting... arguably moreso than our actual presence onstage!

the problem, i think, is that people come to a worship service looking for different things. whereas it is nice to presume that everyone is there to meet with God and God's people, the reality is that there are not only almost as many ways of connecting as there are people trying to sort it all out, but there are many other reasons that the people come together which have less to do with God specifically than with simply becoming people whose lives make sense. (thank God he is able to bring sense to the apparent nonsense that we holds us in its grip- i know... a whole nother blog. i think that i will start another blog where i can develop my tangents ad nausium!)

God is immutable and perfect and is the only constant in the worship equation- he's the only one who does not bring baggage of the week and its relational faux pas and failings into the worship circle. he also doesn't bring health concerns or any other form of existential anxiety with him. in truth, he is the only one who doesn't have his own personal pathway, paradigm or formula for a successful meeting. he does not pay attention to trends and traditions, nor does he ignore them: he simply acknowledges them as being valuable as human connecting points... ways that different people connect with him, not necessarily ways that he requires to connect with different people.

he only required one way. to live here and to die here and to rise again, setting the captives free to be all that he intended them to be from the beginning.

although, even in our rather small but significant evangelical denomination, there are many different approaches to experiencing God at the throne of his grace and spending time trying to sort out who we all are in his eyes, one congregation in sri lanka did something i found interesting, mainly because it was different from the traditions that have become my stability: the musicians and those leading the singing all faced forward with the congregation as everyone sang together.

it's an eastern tradition... they faced the cross.

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Blogger Cinder said...

i like the eastern tradition! a few years back when i started back into worship, it took a little bit to get it through my head that it didn't matter what the congregation thought, in terms of my worship style or singing, that my main purpose was to be there worshipping God and in the process helping them into this amazing place as well! By having the band and vocalists facing forward to the cross with the congregation, they are leading everyone in, but they're also focusing on the the main purpose for being there!

i think certain layouts sometimes affect people differently, just because of how they are made up or because it's new...have to admit that the big cross kind of intimidated me at first and then i couldn't read the words, so i moved the next time and it also served as a reminder that if i had the words of the songs inside, then i could be concentrating on him more anyways! Now i don't notice it, except when it's moved...because i learn and am a visual person, it seems so normal and fitting to take communion at the foot of the cross, to have everything taking place there...and i'm kind of glad when it allows blockage of part of the congregation, as then it takes the pressure off in terms of ever feeling like I need to be performing (gets my mindset in the "right" place).

Sunday has finally been a true Sabbath day and day for God and me in the last little bit, for the first time in a long time. for me i know that your human nature of allowing yourself to get so busy ministry-wise, allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by life's circumstances, instead of surrendering it...these cause you to not always treat Sunday worship how it should be...honestly, some days i looked on the upcoming Sabbath with dread and a pit in my stomach...but thank God that he's always able to work things out, no matter where we are when we come into his presence! Praise Him from whom all blessings flow!

Blogger jollybeggar said...

eventually i want to get to the place where every breath is worship- not preachy (like this post was... sorry everyone) but just about bringing glory to him with every thought, action and word.

yep- obviously still working on it...

Blogger curious servant said...

I tend to get a little preachy as well.

The cross has moved a long way from the symbol of tyranny and fear it was. Did you know that in ancient Rome the cross was a symbol of ridicule pointed at Christians? It took almost two hundred years for it to begin showing up as symbols adopted by Christians.

The idea of church architecture is interesting. The church architecture after Constantine emphasized authority and was based on the basilica of the Roman court.

This design evolved into churches which had a floor plan which was in the shape of a cross.

The early Catholic church had the church focued oin the crucifixion. After the reformation protestant churches had architecture which emphasied the pulpit, the Word.

I could go on... but I'm starting to sound like a lecturer.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

i read something cool in 'the hidden encyclical of pius Xi' which i cited in a post about a century ago...

Blogger dans_inferno said...

dans says: Did you know that a former grocer in Australia has invented a machine gun that can fire from 250,000 rounds per minute upwards? Theoretically this weapon will be upgraded to fire a million rounds per minute. Now, how does a sniper carry that much ammunition? Wait. I know. He only needs enough ammo to fire for ten seconds to wipe out a football stadium crowd.

Just more thoughts from the circles of hell.......dans inferno

PS: The word was meant to be 'infinitely', and in you have made it infinitely more of a challenge to post a simple blog on your blog site. But I was in a hurry so I wrote it in rap style as 'ininitly.' Just as Florida is now known as Flo-da.....bigbro aka fred call

Blogger dans_inferno said...

dans says: The Hope word for love is the Tibetan word for hate, and the Tibetan word for love is the Hopi word for hate.........dans inferno

PS: Today's secret password for posting on your blog is zcgqmul. Is going through all this cryptographical rigamarole your way of strip searching airplane passengers?........bigbro aka fred call

Blogger jollybeggar said...

i only know two hopi words- both are names of oddly non-narrative films by godfrey reggio...

koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance
powaqqatsi: life in transformation

both words seem like anti-spam word verifications... kinda makes me wonder if wbunjglo (the word verification password written in large friendly letters below this comment i am writing) means something.

cyber-speaking in tongues or just great suggestions for the balderdash game?

Blogger SocietyVs said...

Another awesome post, I like that you kind of explain your services and identify people are coming with different ideas in these worship services...some worship and some do not? Good or bad thing? Or just a knock on your door that maybe something 'new' is happening.
My question is: what can I say about worship services...what is their point? To spiritually meet God, a cool concept at the least. I am down for that, I support that and have nothing to say against it. However, what about those folks not so 'gung-ho'? Are they missing the point or seeing something else, or even lacking something else?
'Cloneliness is next to godliness', I heard that before. It's funny how a church service is designed to meet the needs of some but not all. Maybe the path to true spirituality isn't just in the worship we are doing in church, maybe there is more to it. Maybe these 'others' have seen something that they have no outlet for.
I am saying this because many people leave the church for many reasons but it all goes back to 'not feeling a part of the structure'. They don't lose faith in God, they lose faith in the structure. Maybe there is a place for those people, not in church, but in 'sock' heaven.

Blogger jollybeggar said...

"It's funny how a church service is designed to meet the needs of some but not all. Maybe the path to true spirituality isn't just in the worship we are doing in church, maybe there is more to it. Maybe these 'others' have seen something that they have no outlet for."

yeah, but funny probably isn't the right word, is it? frustrating? annoying? predictably ethnocentric? whatever... the corporate worship experience is many things to many people.

i remember being eight years old and being shocked as my friend told me about the last time he was at church. as an even younger kid, he had had it. five years old, he had snapped one day and shouted "I DON'T LIKE CHURCH!" in a service. his parents never took him back.

i remember sitting there, my mind blown, because for the first time i had met someone who did not profess to be a christian and didn't seem to care. (yep, i was a little sheltered!)it was probably the beginning of my journey into empathy.

so anyway, what is the point of worship service? good question. answering it for themselves would probably clarify a few things about the people who run these events and those who attend them, wouldn't it?

to say that worship service is simply about meeting God wears a little thin. gary thomas wrote a really good book called 'sacred pathways' which explores the notion that different people naturally connect with God in different ways. there are people who need to be serving at soup kitchens in order to feel connected to him, while others connect best when they are sitting on a mountaintop somewhere with a journal in their hand, and still others find him in the big room with the big noise on the big day. they are all pathways to God and finding one's way usually works best if that person is on the right road for their journey. silly analogy, but you wouldn't take one of those racing bicycles with the fancy alloy frame and the skinny wheels out on a grid road... and you wouldn't take your pickup onto the wooden bicycle track either.

so if it is not everyone's pathway, then why the 'gathering place?'

because worship gatherings are also about connecting with people who are of like mind (or as like as possible, yeah?) and heart and faith. drawing strength from the group- knowing that you are not alone.

the tragedy is that this is exactly why some people leave... because they DO feel alone, misunderstood or otherwise 'outside' or 'other.' the communal need within is not addressed. they walk out into the warmth of the afternoon feeling even less connected then when they entered the place of worship.

one of the things that i've felt for years is that people should have the freedom to experience God their way without feeling like others are looking over their shoulder or whatever. God spoke to me last summer with a notion that i did not expect, but that i could not dismiss. it was simply this:

do people have the freedom to NOT connect with me? do you offer them the freedom to NOT experience a deeply moving worship experience? are they allowed to simply observe, or are you applying the pressure to meet me your way?

dialogue with God takes on many forms, and what i like about a corporate worship environment is that we are invited to experience or observe a group of people connecting in various ways and to various degrees with a God who seems to understand and love them all.


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