Thursday, November 08, 2012
Passion has always obscured and confused the notion of truth, as in your feelings trumping what you “know.” Today, we’ve gone one step further in allowing passion or strong feelings, to define the truth. And, this is not relegated to primitive religions or the long corrupted social science of liberalism. The doors to the evangelical church have been flung wide open and into its pews have come to roost those who feel and cannot think.
My wife picks out my ties, and this Sunday morning a snappy coffee and burnt sienna colored selection led my neck and head through the crowd and into the storefront church, a one-story concrete block structure that might look to passersby like a non-descript Wal-Mart. My boys were in tow and they were excited. We’d been told the congregation was young, energetic, and friendly. The image in my mind was inviting and I was looking forward to worshipping the Lord that Sunday morning in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis.
An attractive, smiling, 30’s something, woman welcomed us as we came through the door. The buzz of people on the move followed us as we snaked out way through a maze of chattering, smiling, and excited 20-40 year-olds, and even split of singles and families. They were dressed casually, many clutching a ration of coffee in cups from the church’s cafe lounge I saw at the end of the long hall. It was summer and nobody I saw was wearing cut-offs or shorts, but I didn’t see any women wearing dresses, either. It quickly became apparent and awkward to me that I was one of the few men, if any, wearing a tie.
As we entered the sanctuary, I was reminded of my rock concert days back in the 1970’s. I had the distinct anticipation of the “show.” The layout was essentially studio/theatre design, with a large stage, flat-black draped curtains behind a massive cluster of overhead lighting. Sound booths and video production areas are standard in most churches these days. Evidently, if Jesus doesn’t heal your blindness or hearing problems, these churches will take those matters into their own hands.
Our boys, Sam and Max, have gait problems because of their disabilities. Max fell and fractured his skull almost a year ago, so whenever I am walking with him these days, I hold his hand to keep him steady. Even without that detail, it would seem evident that our boys may need a little help ambulating, simply because of the loosey, goosey way they walk. So, we tried to find some safe seats, easy to get to. But, people usually like the aisle seats, so we had a bit of a stumble past a latte sipping couple, before we found our place and sat down.
A huge video screen began to descend overhead the stage, and the camera was trained on the drummer doing a sound check in a plexi-glass sound enclosure. As a drummer myself, I was interested in his technique before I caught myself; “Dude, you’re in church to worship God Almighty, not sticking patterns or the sounds of some guy’s drum set.” For the next hour and a half it was difficult to distract myself from a sometimes overwhelming sensory experience, and focus on what the preacher had to say. I wondered,” What’s going on? I’m here to worship and, in order to do that, I have to distract myself from what’s actually happening, which is supposed to be worship. Huh?”
Music has always been a strong and ordained help in worship and ministry. As such, its proper place is subordinate to the message. All is used to glorify God and in worshipping Him and serving others. I’ve played drum parts to solemn classical pieces in very affluent stained glass churches, and I’ve played power-soul-music in poor inner-city churches where we burned the place down with shouts of “Amen, brother!” So, I’m not “fundamentalistically” exclusive. If God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He also owns every note on the musical scales as well as all the time signatures and rhythm patterns of the universe.
While ministers and ministry must be oriented to the spiritual and practical (in that order) needs of others, and style can enjoy a certain freedom in expression, worship is always to be done in the manner prescribed by God himself. But, these days, music and the show frequently bleed over into the sacred and makes subordinate the message of the words of God. That was my problem with the Woodman.
He reminded me immediately of Woody Woodpecker, a cartoon character that first appeared in a movie in 1940 and on television in 1957. Described as “outlandish” and “an insane bird” his visual trademark was a great tuft of bright red hair and a staccato manic-like laugh.
He was the young staff pastor that came on stage to make the obligatory announcements from the church bulletin after the crowd had settled back into their seats. His presence on the big video screen made a part of me want to laugh, another part sad, and another part almost embarrassed. He wore a yellow bow-tie and white shirt that hung over his belt. If you go to the Caribbean, the locals don’t tuck their shirts into their pants, shorts, or whatever. It’s de style, mon. But, the Woodman wasn’t in Barbados or the Virgin Islands, even though it was summer in Minnesota. I am a forgiving man and could have overlooked his fashion faux pax. But, the young man pastor’s hair is what finally did me in, and I went off whatever reservation I had at the church’s table of teachable moments. His hair was red and jelled, combed straight up all around his head. And, it just stayed that way. It didn’t finally stop, fall over into its natural and preferred position on his skull, saying, “Whew, I just couldn’t keep standing up there! I gotta lay down for a while and take a break!”
I thought of rasing my hand and saying, “Check, please,” when I recalled that I was with my boys in church to worship God Almighty. It seemed we were surrounded by people who had come to be entertained, jump up and down, pump their fists, point their fingers, and shout their apparent approval of doctrinal assertions presented in musical verse, preferably up-tempo and with a strong back-beat. It was a powerful setting, like a carnival or the maniacal mood for Diana at Ephesus. I wondered if I would hear, “Great is the Woodman of Our Church!”
I couldn’t get some thoughts out of my head; the latte sipping couple skin grafted to their seats on the aisle (bless their beefy buttocks), the near frenzied, undulating waves of 20-30 something’s in the rows in front of us with their hands raised high and pointing to the singers, the sound and lights mix, the cameramen, the sound booth, and then the Woodman, with his stick-up hair and yellow bow-tie. And, this was all before the senior pastor came up on stage to preach the word. Whatever “word” he had from the Lord, I can’t recall. Neither can my boys. But, they liked the music and want to go back, of course.
Later that night, I thought about our visit to that church and recalled the only men I saw dressed with ties was the Woodman and myself. My wife said she thought she heard the family joiner in me saying, “Maybe that’s a conversational starting point… you know, the ties, something in common.” The joiner dude lost, though. The State Fair was coming to town in a few weeks. If you want to go to a carnival, go to carnival. If church, then let it be church, and please wear a tie.