Sunday, June 15, 2014

Grownup church

When I was a child, I spoke and thought as a child. When I grew up, I put away these childish things...

As my friend Hannah said a couple years ago, Christian Radio are the only stations allowed to keep the same top 40 15 years later. If I land on one, I can still sing along to Jars of Clay and Silas Bald and Matt Redman. I grew up with these songs, with a praise band for youth group on Sunday morning and Sunday evening and sometimes at Wednesday night bible study.

Two and three times a week for 10 years has a shaping effect. A love of close harmony, and the ability to find a descant because the melodic line is boring after the 6th time through the chorus is only part of the result. The theology expressed in a lot of our traditional hymnody can be incredibly complex...and the reverse is also true. Unfortunately, much of Christian pop, especially that which makes it through church praise bands, are simple two or three verses of psalm and a chorus. Praise bands often turn worship into an odd sort of performance/concert, where it's not expected that the congregation participates, but they can sing along with the chorus. If they feel like it. Or they can enjoy the performance without engaging. And yes, that's comfortable. It's easy. It's inoffensive. Kinda like the expressed theology - participate, if you want to, and we're only going to present the easy/fun bits anyway.

For me, a praise band and powerpoint slides* pulls it out of being "church". It's fellowship, it's community building...but it's not a "real" service anymore. It was a big deal, being considered "old enough" to sit through a "real" church service rather than be shuffled off to children's church or youth group (again). To have enough reading comprehension to be expected that I could follow along in the bulletin, and read the words in the hymnal even if they were strange and old-fashioned. It's how I learned to read music, that following along with my mother, and how to sight read unfamiliar pieces. I learned that sermons and scripture should be challenging enough that taking notes was expected and space should be provided for it in the bulletin, even if the notes were angry commentaries about all the points I disagreed with. Being a grown up meant being engaged with, challenged by, and an active participant in the service, and that responsible adulthood meant you could manage to find the relevant page in the hymnal or the Bible, and follow along... or make the conscious decision not to.

Hanging out with church geeks means that my perspective on this tends to be skewed a bit more traditionalist and conservative. All my age cohort that I talk to agree with me - but we're all liturgy/religion geeks and very active in our churches, and so I know better than to think we're representative. We are constantly told we don't exist, at least.

Anyways, I went out to dinner with an old friend yesterday. She's a casual, cradle Catholic - probably at Mass about once a month. "You know you're desperate to go to Mass when you go to Youth Mass," she said, "not only because it's at 6p on Sunday and you've missed all the rest of the services, but because it's not really Mass. My Mass should not have guitars, a drum set, and powerpoint...You know who I see at Youth Mass? People our parents' age." She's right - mostly it's X-ers and Boomers, only sometimes with children or grandchildren in tow.

To a lot of baby boomers, growing up meant getting away from the staid, traditional church forms. Hey, look! We can do rock and roll and folk music in church and get away with it, because we're now in charge! Slides with cool graphics and lots of technology! The kids will like it! It's like eating ice cream for dinner. Things that were forbidden or frowned on are now permissible, because we're grownups and we're finally in charge. But I always feel like the 'praise & worship' services are very much like ice cream, sweet & without substance. They can be really nice, and there is a place for them - a campfire service should fall into that kind of easy, laid-back fun, but not my primary worship service. And for those of us who grew up with casualness, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way, towards the legacy and tradition of the liturgy. What L was talking about, where she doesn't like these contemporary services either, made me realize that of the age distribution, you really are most likely to find my age cohort at the more 'traditional'-flavor services, up to and including the odd ducks like Evensong and Taize.

Being a person of faith in the world today is hard. Living my faith working toward the principles of grace, love, and justice cannot be broken down into trite phrases and good feelings, and my Sunday morning needs to equip me for working in the broken world, by giving me appropriate tools and renewing me with the depths of the waters of life. Shallow isn't going to cut it, and it offends me when it's assumed that the easy bits are all I can handle. Frequently, that's what the modern 'praise & worship' services come across as doing. Ours is a simple faith, but not an easy one.

*It seems like projectors end up going hand in hand with the praise bands, which is unfortunate. There are some very legitimate reasons to have and use a large screen and power point slides.  If only they weren't so frequently used as "so now no one has to ever crack a hymnal!"

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