Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Casual Christianity--or--"God, wassup?"
I have a friend who's so laid back I check his pulse every 15 minutes. Many of our churches, too, seem to have a corporate heart-rate of 40 beats per minute,so laid back, so casual--so absence of awe--I wonder if we are truly encountering the Transcendent One, or merely meeting each other. Or have we reduced God to one of us. a good, but holy "bud?"
High fives and let's bump fists with Jesus!
Don't get me wrong; I'm as casual as anyone. In the spring and summer months and as long as I can stand it in the fall I'm in jeans and sandals at the office, shorts and flipflops out of the office. I've got my hoodie on, flannels and flipflops as I type this. On Sunday morning I will stroll into church, hands in my jean pockets, grab a latte, and, while nonchalantly sipping, sing a few words of worship between caffeine uptakes. With my cup in right hand I may raise my unoccupied left in praise, or slip my left hand into my pocket and assume an apathetic-looking slouch. I'm both hip and holy, man. Flippant but faithful.
Understand, I would never want to return to the era when going to church consisted of 3 hymns, a prayer, and out by 11:00. There was a lifeless rigid conformity consisting of going through the motions while going through the rituals. The unspoken mantra was "Dress up and get there; shut up once you're there." No thanks.
However, I fear our casual attire simply reflects a casual attitude. How can we be casual-hip and nonchalant in the presence of One who, while He became one of us, is nonetheless, completely Other than us. This One is absolute beauty, the ground of being, the truth in Person, infinitely holy. God is with us yet beyond us. God is in time and space yet transcends our categories and cannot be contained by them.
Have we lost a sense of awe? Walking into most churches you'd think it was a Seinfeld concert we were attending. Everybody is loose and loud, a loud drone of banter emanating from us as though settling in for a good time. The worship leader beckons us to enter into singing our praise and rather than being consumed with and by the One in whose name we gather, we are still consumed with continuing conversation while a few attempt to worship.
The Psalms frequently speak of a posture, a response missing in our churches--awe. I'm not referring to "fear" in the sense of thinking I'm sinful and in the presence of holy God who is angry at me. Rather, the Psalms, and the Scriptures as a whole, speak of "awe." That is the response of someone who encounters One who is beyond all imagination, One who whose beauty is blinding, whose truth is piercing, whose holiness is impeccable, whose compassion is heart-breaking.
Have you ever seen or experienced something that was so poignant or tender that it made you cry? Has there been a time when you were privileged to witness or participate in something so amazing, so beyond belief that you were rendered either speechless or boisterous with celebration? Awe. Psalm 114:7 reads, "Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord. . . who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water." This One is not so much fear-inducing as He is awe-inspiring. And this is the One whom we worship. This is the One, as the Scriptures describe, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being."
An April, 2004 Christianity Today editorial reminds us of the impact that Jesus, God become flesh, had on people who encountered him. "His teachings and miracles elicit not love and peace but shock and awe. [As described in the gospel of Mark] onlookers are "amazed" at his first healing (1:27), "overcome with amazement" after he raises the dead girl (5:42), alternately "amazed" and "astonished" at his teaching on wealth. Even worse, the disciples are frightened after Jesus stills the storm (4:35-41) and "terrified" at the Transfiguration (8:6). On the first Easter morning, the witnesses respond with "trembling and astonishment," and they run from the tomb "for they were afraid" (16:8)."
Annie Dillard is a wonderful writer and crafts thoughts into words in ways few others can. She shakes the cobwebs out of my casualness. She writes, "Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews."
That's entirely too heavy. I gotta run to Starbucks. Hey, man, where's my Birkenstocks?