Archive for October, 2010

I admit it.  I am guilty of worship snobbery.  I am a selective worshiper.  A worship elitist.  A liturgical snob.  Give me a well-put together service; a theologically sound, intellectually challenging, and enlightening sermon; and a choir second only to the heavenly chorus.  I am a worshiper who dines on what fancies me the most, often leaving the remainder of the worship palate untouched.

Each week I examine the Duke Divinity School worship schedule to see who is preaching, what choir is singing, and what worship tradition is being celebrated at each service.

My favorite professor is preaching on Tuesday, I notice.  I will be sure to be there.

Oh, the contemporary praise and worship team is leading the Wednesday service.  I’ll plan to watch “Glee” on Tuesday night, and skip worship on Wednesday to catch up on reading.

It’s an Anglican service on Thursday.  I don’t have the time to spare.  But I’ve always wanted to hear the preacher.  Perhaps I can eavesdrop when the preacher steps into the pulpit.

I fear that I am not alone.  When I go into different churches the demographics and homogeneity of various worship services are predictable (if not also stereotypical).    Young people congregate with other young folks at “contemporary” praise-and-worships services.  Those who have always worshipped in a traditional manner gather to worship “traditionally.”  Different styles of worship and worshipers rarely mix, even worshipping in separate buildings simultaneously.

In the name of being “selective” or “efficient” we prioritize one worship style over another.  We believe one preacher (the popular one we like) is more likely to speak God’s Word than the less well-known preacher we’re not willing to give a chance.  We cling to old hymns and dismiss the new choruses because surely goodness comes with age.

Why do we do this?

Of course, we have our preferences for worship, but why do we prioritize?  Or is that the right word?  Do we prioritize or idolize?  Idolization might be more accurate.  It seems we lift up one style of worship above the One who is to be worshipped.  We enter into churches, sanctuaries, chapels, or other holy places seeking something that pleases us.  We use worship as a means to satisfy our own desires.

When this happens worship becomes a commodity no different than the millions of other products we consume throughout our lives.  We shop for a worship service that is comfortable and accommodating to our preferences like we hunt down a pair of blue jeans that fits just right.  We profess allegiance to a worship style the same way we commit ourselves to a certain auto manufacturer.  We say, “I am contemporary worshipper” as easily, confidently, and trivially as we say, “I’m a Ford or Chevy person.”

When our allegiance to a particular worship style overshadows our allegiance to the One worshipped we’ve missed the point.  Worship becomes our idol; we bow down to the performance and presentation of the mortal over the immortal.  Our emotional and psychological needs – and not our need to praise and glorify God- take center stage.

Jesus’ urging to Mary and Martha may help.  Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:38-42).  That one thing says the Psalmist: “To dwell in the house of the Lord…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  We don’t need worship to be many selfish and pleasing things; only one thing is needed.  Worship is not bowing down to our own preferences and losing ourselves in our own worshipful delights.  Rather, true worship is getting lost in wonder, love and praise of the God whom calls and invites us to enter God’s holy and mysterious presence always, everywhere, and in any manner.


Journey to the center of the world

In a recent class my professor raised the  question: “Where is the center of the world?”  He also asked, “Which way is north or south?  Where is the east and west?”  I admit, these are probably not questions that keep many people up at night, or questions that some feel deserve their own book.  But the questions are fascinating and worthy of an answer.  They speak about the heart of God.

There was a time long ago when the only known world was the land that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.  People believed that the Nile River in Egypt was the center of the world.  In fact, those same people believed that the world was tilted in the direction in which the Nile flowed.  (If you’re not up to speed on your world geography the Nile flows south to north, from the equator to the Mediterranean Sea.)  For these people, “up” or “north” was what we now call “south.”  The center of the world and the perception of the cardinal directions were different than how we view them today.

Still others in the early Middle Ages argued that the earth – where humanity, flora, and fauna reside – was the center of all that God created.  Many proponents of this view cited scripture that they believed supported their case.  They pointed to Psalm 104:5: “The Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”  It wasn’t until years later during the 17th and 18th centuries that Galileo and other scientists proved that the sun, and not the earth, is the center of the universe.

Other people have located the center of the world based on the Genesis story.  They say that the center of the world is in Eden, where God created the world out of nothing.  This understanding would mark the center of the world not in Egypt, but in modern day Iran and Iraq.

Where is the center of the world?

For many of us it seems that the center of the world is…well…how do we say this politely?  The center of most people’s world is…well…themselves.  The very heart of the universe is “I.”  We say, “I am the center of the world.  Life revolves around me.” The world and its waters, people, and resources orbit according to my own needs.  How can we use the earth to benefit us?  How can people act so that I am best served?  Or, if I am not to be served at least I should not be disturbed?  We are the center of our own worlds.  Which way is north?  Well, that depends on where I am standing!  We worship the unholy Trinity of Me, Myself, and I.

Might God have a different view?

Many folks know the words of Psalm 23 as intimately as a journalist knows the rules of grammar.  Over the years many have taken time to digest, memorize, and recite the famous words of Psalm 23.  But have you ever stopped to count the words of the psalm?  If not, I’ll spare you the task.  A friend once pointed out to me that there are 119 words in Psalm 23 (depending on your translation).  The very middle word of Psalm 23 is…thou.  In verse 4, “for thou art with me.”  Thou.  God.  Our Creator.  Our Redeemer.  God.  God is the center of Psalm 23.  God is the very center of the universe.  God is at the heart of all that is.  What if our lives reflected this?  What if our lives revolved not around what we want or think we need, but around the God who is our shepherd, who leads us and goes with us?  What if our words and actions centered on Christ’s life and ministry of love and mercy?  May the Spirit of God refocus and recenter our hearts and minds on the holy Trinity, one God in three persons, the very heart of all this is seen and unseen.

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