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?
Peace out.


chliri said...

wow steve ... great articulate "food for thought"! I have not been affiliated with a church for many years now. Can't seem to find what I am looking for. Not sure what I AM looking for, but your post helps me not feel so alone in my discomfort. Thought I was just being too "picky", or trying to avoid making a commitment, or having to deal with the resistance that comes when I feel I am being "told what to believe." Keep your thoughts coming. I sure need em.

Anonymous said...

Does God really care how we dress? Does he really care how we come to him? does he want to know that in our deepest corner,inside ourselves, in our hearts that we are in "AWE" of Him? Now,the way we dress or appear to others, does that say to them that we do not acknowledge the "AWE" of God? How do we show to others The "AWE" and still be real and comfortable in our own attire?

chliri said...

Bongo ... you raise great questions I didn't even think about. I wonder if some of what I question about my beliefs is that perhaps I'm not very comfortable in not only my own "attire", but in my own SKIN! Help Steve! :)

Anonymous said...

So are you saying it's okay to wear your jeans to church or are you saying ladies would be more reverent in fancy hats? I just can't figure out what you are saying.
I do like the Annie Dillard quotes. I am not sure what she is talking about as far as religion but it fits society in general in my mind. We are in trouble!

Steve said...

I'll respond to all three of you in one effort.

I'm not referring to attire so much as I'm questioning the attitude/the mindset that is fueling or driving our attire. I'm talking about a corporate, not merely individual, attitude. Walking into so many of our corporate gatherings, i.e. church services, one does not get the sense of a permeating awe; rather, it is either an easy familiarity or outright boredom.
chliri, "Help me??" You're asking help from the founding father and captain of the titanic swim team. That's like going to coach Jillian of Biggest Loser fame for sensitivity training. I don't think so! I appreciate your honesty; I think a lot of us are uncomfortable in our own skin. At the risk of sounding "preachy" I think resolution of that dilemma is found in a restored relationship between the Creator and the created, i.e. you and me as individuals. That is fleshed out or mediated in a community of Christ followers who love and accept me in my, at times, faltering journey. For that community I am very thankful. They ARE out there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation. I wasn't sure what was literal and what was symbolic. I am an atheist and should not have come here to comment. Ironic that I was the first one to comment. Just your luck, right? small humor? Good luck in your search and self exploration.

Steve said...

Tim, I regret, but respect, your decision to discontinue. I did not have an attitude "of all the !?$*!??!! luck; I get an atheist on board!!" I assure you this isn't a blog designed for "Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus" Christians to read, but for people looking and searching, whether Christ followers or otherwise.
Grace and Peace, Steve

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine you thinking that about an atheist on board. I am not sure you get my humor always but how could you, you don't know me. I think most people are searching or should be (why do I chuckle when I say that?) I did however conclude that this was a blog for folks searching for ways to be closer to Jesus or God or some other deity (I don't want to leave any out.)
Now that I know that it is for anyone who is searching I will comment further. Please know that my sense of humor jumps in my way sometimes and that I don't ever mean to offend anyone with it. Well, except for that one neighbor that I really hate and the people who drive too slowly in front of me.
My best, Tim

JGanschow said...

First off, kudos on the new blog. I'm really enjoying your insight (and wit)!
Now onto the subject at hand (or foot). Growing up in a traditional, small farming community church involved putting on your "Sunday best". It was the one day of the week where jeans where unacceptable and your shirt had better have a collar. As a kid, this was not fun. I now see, fundamentally, how this was supposed to be a means of respect for God, entering his house. And it continues today in many churches. But is this the REAL motivation? Or by putting on a clip-on tie, do we become someone different on Sunday morning? Are we actually dressed to impress those in the pew next to us? If that is the case, I believe it is more fitting to come before God as we truly are. Be the same person no matter if it is Sunday, Tuesday, or Friday night. Worship in your sandals-or better yet-worship in your bare feet. God knows you. He's just glad you're there.
-my 2 cents.

Steve said...

I appreciate the feedback from all of you. I feel I need to make a clarification: The issue for me is not the casual attire but the casual, nonchalant, flippant underlying minset and attitude which I think underlies much of the casual attire of the contemporary church. (man, that was a long sentence.) I don't sense a "crash helmet" mentality or atnmosphere in terms of reverence and awe, and that concerns me. At times, I think the casualness of our minset borders on being disrespectful to God.
Whether you agree or disagree, I appreciate your engagement.