Sunday, January 08, 2006

Baptism by Praise

Well Ryan and I have been without a church ever since ours closed about a year ago for financial reasons. We haven't really been looking for a church during this time. We were so invested in our previous church that I know I personally had to take time to heal and I just wasn't ready to go back to organized religion until recently.

A few days ago some friends of ours who had gone to our previous church had invited us to go to church with them as their youngest daughter was being baptized this morning. Of course this was something that Ryan and I were proud to be invited to as we know both of their children well and we were able to see their oldest daughter baptized in our former church home.

So we show up for the 8:30 am service. I have to first explain that Ryan and I feel we are traditionalist when it comes to the type of worship service we prefer. Even though we are in our late 20s - early 30s, we seem to go against the grain of people our age who are into the praise services that seem to be so popular in churches these days. Although we admit we have never attended a praise service before, we just didn't think they would appeal to us.

And we were right. Don't get me wrong, we love our friends and are happy that they have found a worship service that fits them. And more power to the people who enjoy praise services, I just didn't get anything out of it. I'm the type of person who likes to feel like I've been to church when I go to church. I do not like to feel like I've just been to a music concert or theatrical presentation when I've been to church.

It started with the music. I'm a trained musician so I like having music in front of me when I sing. I found reading the lyrics off the wall a distraction. I also tend to not like the "form" of praise songs. The repetitiveness of them annoys me. As an anthropologist I realize that a repeated phrase of music, be it instrumental or vocal, can become very powerful in a ritual. I have even been involved in some occurences of this and really loved it and found meaning in it. However, praise music never seems to take advantage of the potential power of this type of music; to take a simple phrase like "You are the rock of my salvation" and sing it three times does not really get you to that altered trance like euphoric state that was the original intention of that type of music. I also didn't like when they finally did play a traditional hymn because they did not use the traditional rhythms for it. None of the congregation sang the song the way the band was performing it because they were all singing it the tradtional way. I say if it ain't broke don't fix it.

I also missed the traditional bulletin. I like having the worship format laid out for me. It tells you what you're going to sing when you're going to sing, what scripture will be read and when it will be read, etc. It's great cause its your little roadmap to how you should act and when, but they don't have those in the praise service. Oh and if you happened to be someone walking in off the street and didn't know you were going to a praise service, you should be able to tell right away from the graphics in the "bulletin" if you are in a praise service. In traditional services you get graphics of Mary, Jesus, the Bible, or a person in prayer, etc. For this bulletin the people were in a kind of jumping-jack pose, like perhaps they were supposed to be dancing or just waving their hands around like the footage in all those commericals for the praise worship CDs that are sold on TV. Again, not my cup of tea in my worship service.

Then it was time for the sermon and I thought, "well finally I know what to expect." Are you with me? If you are then you know I was wrong. The lights dimmed again (I can't remember why they were dimmed the first time) and I remember thinking "Why do they keep fiddling with the lights? Its not like we're in the movies or the theater where you need the lights dimmed to tell you to sit in your seat and be quite cause the shows about to start. We're in church, we are all already quite and in our sits like we have been for the past 20 minutes or so."

Then on the 2 projection screens on either side of alter came on again. And what do you think comes on? A clip from the nightly news! I have to say this upset me for numerous reasons. Again, like I've said before, I go to church to go to church. If I want to watch the news I'll stay home and watch the news. The second thing that upset me was the content and I know this is just a me thing. I actually don't even watch the news at home because I find it so upsetting. The clip was showing the reaction of the WV families when they found out that news reports were wrong and the miners were not found alive. I was extremely upset by this because I felt like I was intruding on a very private moment in their lives, not to mention the emotional magnitude that this clip had on me. The third thing that upset me was there was no warning about it. I mean you watch TV, and even with the news, they say things like "warning the following content may not be suitable for all viewers."

And I just didn't appreciate being way-laid in a church that way. Could they have not put a little note in thier "bulletin" saying that they were going to be showing this clip in worship, so that people could leave if they thought it would be too upsetting for them? When I go to church I expect to experience feelings of peace, comfort, and solace. I do not expect to feel like I'm intruding on other people's pain, frustration, and hoplessness. I do not expect to feel powerlessness, helplessness, and horror as I watch fellow Americans struggling in dispair during their darkest hour. That is just not the kind of church experience that I'm looking for.


At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Tonya said...

Hi Sis. I read your "Baptism by Praise" spot last week, but I'm just now getting a chance to comment! I think I'm with you on the whole praise worship service thing. Don't get me wrong, I love some of the praise songs. I just don't think an entire service should be made up of them. It's just too much "feel good" and not enough substance. That seems to be coming up a lot lately. It seems like so many churches these days just make you want to feel good - pastors don't want to alienate the congregation. How will people understand that Jesus died for sins if we never talk about that? I'm not a hell-fire-and-brimstone kind of girl either, though. There has to be a balance. God loves us extravagantly and he calls on us to love others that way also. How can we learn to love others that way unless we take a serious look at our personal characteristics that keep us from being able to do that? If we look at only the good things about ourselves and ignore the bad, then we won't grow. Anyway, I guess that's enough on that topic. What I really like to see in a church is a church who loves Jesus more than anything else - that's a church that will really be able to love people and help them grow away from their negatives in a loving (not judgemental) manner.


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