Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Sing and Call It "Worship"

Angela and I had a wonderful time hanging out with the students of the Preston Road youth group this past weekend. We went to the Winterfest in Arlington with about 5,000 other middle schoolers and high schoolers. We had great conversations with the teens who were there with us and a lot of fun hiding other youth groups' ice chests.

One thing that caught my attention and Angela's was how Jeff Walling (here's a cheesy & great old video of him), who does most of the teaching, recognized how this generation is transforming the way it views faith. In one talk, Jeff and his son, Taylor, went back and forth about about how the things that drive Jeff's faith bore Taylor; those that drive Taylor, Jeff thinks are a little crazy. It was a great job putting these two generations together to show how both are a part of the faith.

While that was very neat and well put together, the rest of Winterfest was more like a display of the symptoms of multiple personality disorder. This was the most evident when it came to worship. Rather than explain too much, I'll try to keep it brief.

In the vast majority of Churches of Christ, singing is acapella (no instruments). When Angela and I were teens at camp, one male song leader would get on stage and lead us through the songs on PowerPoint. That is basically how it was done this weekend. One exception: There was a youth group on stage singing backup for many songs. It was a little awkward. Contrast that with David Bowden, a great spoken word poet who performed several times. His poem "I Remember" is below. The main line: "Worship is not what we sing; it is how we obey."

Worship Is Not What We Sing; It Is How We Obey

I had a talk with our friend Holly about how I don't think we should call the time during church when we sing "worship." I don't think "worship leaders" should be called that. One can worship God through song, I have no doubt about that, but one can never only worship God through song. Yet that is what I see us doing every Sunday. I've struggled with this for some time now. I have no doubt that God knows our hearts, yet, as James, the brother of Jesus wrote, "If you ain't got actions to back up your heart, you ain't got no faith" (or something like that). I think of it in the same way Isaiah 58 discusses true fasting: Don't just not eat and act like you humble yourself. Get out there and end oppression, feed the hungry; take care of God's people. I'll leave the words of David Bowden below to better explain my point.

The New Revolution

The next revival as we are seeing with the Emergent Church is scaring a lot of people. And it should. Walter Wink pointed it out in The Powers that Be when he acknowledged that the movement of Martin Luther that is the basis of the modern church is no longer what will drive new people of faith. "Saved by grace alone, not by works" is still true. However, in the process, we have cut a lot of the pieces out. The new movement of faith will focus on Jesus the person. Jesus will no longer be viewed through Paul's lens, but Paul's words will be interpreted through the life of Jesus. I am hoping this will change the world.

The first step is changing how we worship our God. I hope that we will soon say, "I remember . . ."
I remember by David Bowden (

I remember
who we were before this moment

I remember
the shadow of ourselves
now overshadowed by
the shelves
on which we placed
our former selves

I remember how
each of us here
placed our past
in tears
upon tiers of them
never to be touched again

I remember
how we approached God
hands empty
plans empty
demands empty
like we’re supposed to be
emptying ourselves
on those shelves
of our lives preceding
this moment
where, once and for all,
we put to death our
superficial worshipping
And this
Is it’s eulogy

Remember with me

I remember when God was idle
American made an
American idol
Idly laid on hymn song titles
Tidal waves of tidy Sunday
Bridal Singers
Made their way to
Display Charades.
We were all
Costume swingers
Wore lips like
but we were all
One day
of the
poorest Savior
War Ships of
ignored trips
Equipped with
For this
Event called

I remember
what church used to be
Sit, sing, sit, sip, sit, silent, sermon then
from a word prearranged
to a world unchanged
our despair unnamed
our problems deemed deranged
and we were estranged
in the exchange
of our time and expectations for
prewritten lines and explanations
about guys, whys, and places
that never addressed
our ache for a real God

I remember when
worship was a period of time
outlined by bulletins
bullied out by the
“Not this again”

I remember when
worship was protected
by walls and directions
I remember
the decorations
the song books
the screens
the long looks
at my jeans
the routines
the bowing
the closing
the opening
the spouting
off of words and notes
that never broke
through the wall
standing tall between
us and a god who’s
reality we could never recall

I remember it all

I remember when worship was
contained by fear
restrained by years
of traditional rearing
rules never spoken
but somehow never broken
we were
token children
of an understood system
fearsome that we might become
too radical to
prevent our selfish intent

I remember
what worship was before this moment

I remember
how we were all under the persuasion
of evasion
evading any invasions
of commitment, discomfort, or costly
we followed
the equation
me + church – cussing, sex, and alcohol = salvation

I remember
a time when I
would shout
“He is alive!”
and not one mouth
would scream
at the pronouncement
it seamed
no one
was out,
but were streaming
back to their hiding places
where worship’s
and singing’s
and no one
is reckless
enough to stand
on a corner
or in the corner store
to sit with the homeless
or out their homes front door
and sing louder than a motor’s roar
“How Great is our God”

I remember when
all of us were frauds

I remember when
the only form of worship we knew
was what we did
following motions on motionless pews

I remember when praise
had nothing to do with the other six days

I remember when
we forgot the Sabbath was for resting
and the rest of the week
was for working

I remember when
the only service we worked
was the service in church
When worship that was pure
Did not feed the poor
Saw itself as the cure
Cared for its enemy’s needs more than yours
Found the sick, dying, and lost and with them endure

I remember when
worship was a chore
When we all felt secure
just attending
but that was before
we realized
there is so much more
than pretending

But right now in this moment
as we all gather around
and our God is present
and His son takes president
and His spirit’s our resident
we are within the descent of the triune
peasants in the tribunal land
and as we all stand
together repentant
grasping hands in our communal commitment to
clasping our plans to the eternal command
of what he meant for worship
and this is it
our opus
our openness
our hope is
our hopelessness
in everything we used to
hold as his
scope for what
worship is

Worship is love

I remember when he said
Love is the opposite
of getting
but sacrificing everything
dying, while living

I remember when
Jesus embodied it
his body embarked from
heavenly contentment
becoming this tent
of existence
God was a servant
The heavens observant
to humanity’s torment
Creator tormented
creation tormentor
And that’s the intent
of this event called worship

Worship is a cross
Worship is a loss
of everything that is not
embossed with the seal of God

So in this moment and every moment hereafter
Our praise of God will shake roofs and the rafters
Our praise will be aloof from the world and filled with laughter
Our praise will ruthlessly peruse a world filled with disaster
Our praise will unashamedly bear the proof of our master
For here in this moment and every moment hereafter
Our praise will not be contained by
walls and churches
alter calls and holy perches
busy malls and facebook searches
school halls and worldly diversions

Our praise will bleed into all our excursions
it will break free
stained glass
bible class
it will surpass
golden and brass
communion passing
trays to the next passive guest
it will clash
with standards
and traditions
for our praise
will live worship
as a mission

Now in this moment and every moment that proceeds
our praise will
flood the streets with song
shed blood for the needy and suffer along
give love to the enemy regardless of their wrongs
place above ourselves the least of these and with the weak be strong
For we will be the worshippers the father seeks, and he will have to search no longer

For Father we are your worshipers
Your unworthy dancers
we are your priasers
your passionate romancers
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
And now I stand before you and say
Your worship cannot stay the same
but you must reclaim it
Don’t just say it but today you can live it
So join with my voice and with me commit it
As we stand before you and say
Worship is not what we sing but how we obey
from Littered Liturgy, released 14 January 2011
Featuring Brett Vanderzee, Sarah McSpadden, Amy Bresee, and Keith Ellingson.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. Thanks for posting and I'm glad I checked the blog today.

    Things are changing and not just between generations. Another thing that seems to be gaining momentum are "cowboy churches." I'd like to see data on that.

    Thanks for yours and Angela's service!