Thursday, July 31, 2008

Escape Into Worship

Every now and then you read something that actually takes your breath away. This morning I had that experience, thanks to my friend Beth who sent me a link to this article from The Lutheran.

A Truly Political Liturgy” by Mark Galli

It came out of a question Beth has been mulling over just lately: “When did worship become a ‘break’?” As in, should we think of our corporate worship time as an escape? The context for the question was a comment about how babysitters were needed during worship in order to “give parents a break.” Hence the tangential question, Is worship a “break”?

If so, what is it a break from? What is it an escape to?

In the article, Mark Galli affirms that worship is an escape from one world into another:

Our sense that worship feels like an escape is in part a good thing. “The liturgy begins … as a real separation from the world,” wrote Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann. One of the points of liturgy is to take people out of their world and usher them into a strange new world. The world the liturgy reveals doesn’t seem politically or socially relevant at first glance. But the world it reveals is more real than the one we inhabit day by day.
The “strange new world” of God’s reign on earth is revealed in worship, like pulling back a curtain and taking a peek out a window. And the world that is revealed, the place to which worshipers escape on a weekly basis is miraculously “more real than the one we inhabit day by day,” which gives us hope. God has something else in mind for creation, something other than hatred, violence, poverty, hunger, prejudice, and all of that nastiness we witness all the time.

So church should be different; worship should offer an alternative; maybe liturgy should feel a bit strange … or unusual. As in “not usual.” By definition, it is. Galli:

In other words, the liturgy immerses us in the society of all societies, the kingdom of all kingdoms, the community of all communities. Whatever we long to see in our nation or community is only that much more in God’s order. We are often tempted to shape our churches to look like the culture or to change the service so it feels more socially relevant. It is logical at one level, and there is no question that we have to be culturally and socially sensitive. But the liturgy shows us a deeper logic and relevance—the world that is dawning and will never end.
I’m always asking, “What makes a church a church?” In other words, how is a church different from a club or a business or any of a list of social institutions that crowd our mailboxes with flyers and letters asking for contributions and other assistance. It seems to me that for a bunch of years in recent memory, the Church’s central question was, “What do people need?” Community demographics were diligently studied in order to answer that question. And when the “felt need” of the community was identified and expressed, the church allowed that need, whatever it may have happened to be, to co-opt the Gospel in priority.

That isn’t always a bad thing, in and of itself. But it edges up against a kind of “bait-and-switch” evangelism that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If the church draws people in with a promise that their needs will be met, then starts talking about discipleship which entails thinking not of one’s self but of the needs of others, are we truly being faithful to our mission? My fear is that the church is so over-concerned about drawing people in, that we are just so happy when they come we tend to de-emphasize or flat out ignore the call to discipleship, out of fear that all of those people will leave.

I do not believe that worship and “real life” are two completely separate spheres of existence that never meet. I believe that worship happens in the midst of our lives, at any time and any place. My point is not to separate Sunday morning from the rest of the week. But there is (and should be) an element of other-worldliness to worship. Galli:

If not for worship, our vision of a good and just world would slowly fade. We would begin ever so gradually to believe the world’s lies, that this is all one can reasonably hope for, that we must accept life as it comes to us. After participating in worship, we see this lie for what it is and re-enter the world with a vision of the way it’s supposed to be.

So I thing worship is a break, Beth, in a way. Worship is an escape from the world as it is into the world as it should be, as God wants it to be. Whether or not that “break” really means a break from your kids, well, that’s another question, isn’t it? Worship is about celebrating the Divine/human encounter, and responding to that encounter by announcing and embodying a strange and wonderful new way to live.


kc bob said...

For me, to enter into worship is to enter into God's presence.. I may not always sense Him but I often do.. and it is life changing.

eb said...

My mind keeps singing "...a foretaste of the feast to come."

I think part of the bait-and-switch is in suggesting that we (our church) can meet their needs because we're just so enthusiastic about it. Instead I think we need to be upfront about how we meet needs by helping each other. Otherwise it's a bit like Cousin Joe taking half the bowl of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving when he's the first one served. Maybe you're that hungry, but you need to be aware (maybe taught?) that there are other hungry people around you, too.

Perhaps some parents (and others) do need a break from dealing with children just to focus on that Divine/human encounter. Or perhaps we need to not exclude children from that encounter. I don't have answers, just more questions, as usual. :-)

I think one of my favorite parts of the article was explaining the importance of the passing of the peace, of that need to reconcile relationships.

Thanks, Andy!

Anonymous said...

On a personal level, I have often found myself saying "making music, being in worship... this is what keeps me sane from week to week." I don't think there's anything wrong with that; on the contrary, I think there's a lot that's right about that.

The broken world I'm living in doesn't acknowledge my greatest gifts as indicatory of what I should be doing day in and day out. So why shouldn't my bringing these gifts (which are from God) into his house to share with his people be the proper order of things? Yes, this is clearly an escape. But as you put it, in a way, I'm escaping the world as it is and entering the world as it should be, where we really believe that for every need, there is gift given in kind.

To me, the historical struggle seems to be entering worship in desire for the gift-giver rather than the gifts. After all, I don't believe we're escaping into worship from the world becuase the world doesn't want our gifts, but because it doesn't know what to do with them.


Anonymous said...

A comment about your bait-and-switch statement. I think people DO (and should) come to church to have their needs met. That’s a normal thing. Why would people do anything that does not meet some need? The transition to discipleship and the needs of others is a logical and forward step in one’s faith journey (each at their own pace). That’s what we want to happen! Are we truly being faithful to our mission? If the ‘church’ helps people make this transition, then YES.

Andrea said...

Thanks for the link to "The Lutheran." We SO appreciate it when bloggers link to us.
Amber Leberman
Web Manager,

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Good stuff. I'm reading Galli's Beyond Smells and Bells right now; also good stuff.