Friday, January 15, 2010

Church Stuff

In church, I am outwardly the proverbial bump on the log. Since my younger days, my reticence extends to arguably obstinate eccentricity. I don't exactly feel comfortable not responding when the preacher says, "Everybody that's happy in the Lord, raise your hand.", but I prefer the discomfort to the manipulated feeling I would suffer if I complied.
It is nothing personal to the preacher. His urging may be an earnest attempt to engender a consensus of corporate worship, and not a deliberate contrivance for control. But I know myself, and I know what one step down that road of, "It can't hurt." can lead to.
When it comes to impressions from God, erring on the side of maybe is dangerous. One too many times, I responded to ambiguity, and so doing, followed the trail of crumbs just far enough. The door slammed shut and the lights went out and I suddenly had no idea where I was.
If looking in the mirror one too many times was a sign of vanity, which time was too many? Before long, it becomes vain to comb your hair, and your appearance degenerates into that of a very sanctified bohemian.
If you can never pray too much, what minute is just enough? After a time, you begin to dread morning devotions and every moment spent in any activity other than prayer or Bible reading carries with it potential guilt.
If fasting one meal a week is good, then why not one meal a day, or two? God will surely see to your health even if you cease eating altogether, and the protestations of common sense are marginalized and evicted and stand outside hammering on the door demanding to be let back in.
If music can be a vehicle of the devil, then not listening to it at all must be the safest route.
If the sight of a woman can arouse lust in your teenage hormones, then casting your eyes down in public will preclude any possibility of sinning with your eyes.
Before long, you are completely neutralized as an effective saint, miserable and hopeful only of death, and even here, doubt prowls. If I were to die, would I really go to heaven?
But, I digress. And digress. And digress.
So, how important is harmony in corporate worship?
Belonging to a very small congregation pastored by a man with which I'm completely comfortable (except when I'm used as an illustration) isolates me somewhat from the issue.
But I remember what it is like. And being so accustomed to sitting under the ministry of a pastor whose tastes and deportment are so oddly like my own, I squirm all the more when I'm in an unfamiliar church setting and the pastor or song leader (worship leader to you contemporary worship parishioners) asks for a show of hands on anything from loving the Lord to being happy in the Lord to being happy to be in church tonight, amen.
And the cheerful suggestion of a nice round of hand-shaking and one-arm hugging to the tune of "I'm So Glad I'm a Part of the Family of God," is enough to turn me into an absolute extension of the seat itself; a veritable pew ornament as wooden as the hymnal holders and as stuffy as the padding.
I feel manipulated, and I think it's corny. If I really wanted to go tell Bro. So-and-So how glad I am to see him and how much I appreciate him, I'd go tell him without any prompting from pulpit authorities and if Bro. So-and-So isn't a dim-bulb, he'll get a lot more out of the involuntary appreciation as opposed to the church-sanctioned variety.
Advocates will tell you it's just an opportunity for everyone to take a break from the ordered portion of the service to greet everyone and foster camaraderie.
I say, then what is all that jawing in the back thirty minutes prior to and following the service? Warm-up and after-glow, I guess.
And the "How many (insert platitude), raise your hand and say amen" thing is a complete mystery to me.
When did this start? And why?
Are they hoping the wet blankets will out themselves? Looking for lightning rods? Looking to bolster their own stage confidence?
How much of corporate worship is uninhibited burden sharing and accountability and how much of it is peer pressure?
I know there is a place for one and none for the other, but I'm beat if I know how to tell the difference. And don't we need to somehow distinguish the sometimes uncomfortable moments of one from the sometimes embarrassing fiascos of the other?
I know that in church you have people which can occasionally lead to messy, merely sentimental situations and not every moment in church can be deeply, quietly spiritual.
But I also feel that somewhere along the line we've allowed a lot of stuff to attach itself to our church practices and it has weighed us down, like those ads keep telling me that hamburger I ate two week ago is weighing down my colon.
So, anybody else out there?
Or, am I just being a stick-in-the-mud?


wnc said...

I am with you brother.If I had the ability and could spell I wish I could have written this myself.Everyone who agrees with me raise your hand and say amen.

Nathan Carpenter said...

I take back what I said about being completely comfortable with my pastor. I have a feeling I just doomed myself to a few Sundays of "Everyone who-"

Mom said...

This ought to be interesting.

Mom said...

P.S. Very good blog, but I'll be surprised if you don't get some protests on this one.

Devan said...

Hey, stick-in-the-mud, I know how to get the hamburger out of your colon! ;o)
Seriously though, I feel the same way, more or less. I tend to overlook a lot of human "corniness". "Bless their little hearts", there's always going to be a cornball in the bunch.

Mark Mullins said...


Did you really post that at 5:42 AM?


Nathan Carpenter said...

I'm sure he did, Mark. But you have to get up that early if you want to take a nap before 10 a.m.

Jennifer said...

I can't agree more. I don't like it AT ALL. Especially right now in a new church, very awkward. However, if you wanted an explanation of why, my guess would be because the 'leader' is wanting to make sure everyone hasn't gone to sleep or to jerk their mind back when its a million miles away. Not that I have any experience but I'm just sayin'

Laurel said...

OKay, you can all relax now because I know that you have been waiting with baited, bated, how do you spell that? anyway, breath to read my take on this controversial, if a little hilarious subject!!! I personally do not have a problem with these types of activities if used in moderation. One thing I absolutely hate, is a Sunday School class with no participation! To me, some church services are a little like a classroom setting and the leader up front is just trying to get someone to act like they are "alive". But then I am all for spontaneity and really don't like ruts. So singing and greeting one another is a fun thing to do, and I feel so left out cuz I am always at the piano and somehow the pianist doesn't receive much attention in those times. (I am kidding) I love it when Bro. Roberts preaches to the kids once a month and talks to them one on one during the message. So I think participation is good!! Now you know!

Nathan Carpenter said...

Laurel, if I'm ever in church with you and the pastor has a meet and greet, I will personally come up to the piano to shake your hand.
As I said, I know some of my hangup with this has to do with personality, and I think you tend to be a just a little more outgoing than I am.
Thanks for reading.
Been thinking about your young college student.

Robin Zink said...

You express many of my sentiments so well....also my sis in law Sharon needs to read this. I'll send her your blog address.

skz30 said...

I agree with you, especially about the hand-shaking. Usually it interrupts worship. I did not come to shake hands; I came to worship. From here on out I do solemnly swear and vow not to partake in this practice in the middle of a swervice, no matter who instigates it. Sharon Zink