And to think it all began with The Church Without Pants

Monday, August 29, 2011

Love, Jesus (Un-invited, Part 2)

We (She, Another, Another Other, One More and I) were parking the old Honda in the big Big City Church parking lot (as far away as possible, near their Youth Complex, so as not to embarrass ourselves) when She blurts out that she visited a church in Georgia that didn't allow children in their worship services.

"Really? says I.

"Too distracting," says She.

"Unbelievable!" says Another.

"Did you take a picture of the sign?" asked Another Other.

 We're out of the car and walking by now.

"Yup. Big signs right there at the doors," and she holds her hands out in front of her as if to demonstrate "plain as day."

"Signs signed: 'Love, Jesus?'" I ask.

(glaring from everyone directed at me)

The talking stopped there as we were overcome with a sense of ... maybe we should stop talking ... as we approached the Doors of Big City Church.

"If there is a final judgment, Americans will need to go through twice," says She. (We didn't even know about the Nordstrom's, yet!)

We took a breath and entered into the cavernous entry space where She noticed the Bistro and ordered a "Death by Caffeine" Latte. (Formerly known as the "Final Judgment Latte." Says She, "A little caffeine is always a helpful precursor to a sermon.") She sipped and we noticed the brushed stainless steel lettering above us:

"Serving the Poor, the Homeless and the Unloved"

We looked around ...

"Hmm... maybe. Just not right at this minute," says One More.

"And probably not right here," says Another.

"Maybe they're talking about us," says She.

"I'm taking a picture of this sign!" says Another Other.

We survived the drinking of the deadly latte and subsequent judgment and walked past the worship area.

And there was Big City's version of the sign (using the same blog friendly font):

Children Accompanied by Adults are
Welcome in the Sanctuary.

It wasn't signed by Jesus, but it still made it quite clear that there were to be no distractions during worship and that any potential distractions were to be accompanied by an adult. That, or maybe worship here is R rated.

"Really?" says I.

"Too distracting," says She.

"Unbelievable," says Another (but using her sotto voce so as not create a distraction.)

"I'm taking a picture of this sign!" says Another Other.

"Don't forget to turn off your flash," says I.

Two nights later Still Another friend joined us and would share the musings of Rachel Held Evans about a child with Cerebral Palsy who was escorted out of a worship service (reportedly on Easter Sunday) for being a distraction (You can read Blessed-are-the-uncool here.)

"You know, of course," says Still Another, "worship wasn't always cool ..."
The first occurrence of the Hebrew word that is translated into English as "worship" is found in Genesis as Abraham is taking Isaac up into the mountains for a little father-son time. The Hebrew word is a verb and it means "to fall down" as in fall on your face before your god. A few translations toss in a "worship" as early as Genesis 4 when people "called on" the Lord. But most translators hold off on revealing the "W" until the well known story in chapter 22.

You can read it now if you like, but here's how the story goes:

Abraham and his true love, Sarah, finally have the child that God promised them so many years ago. The boy is named Isaac and while he is still a child Abraham is told by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. At that time, some 4,000 years ago, that meant there would be a lot of blood and a lot of fire (very uncool worship). But, Abraham silently obeys. So he takes Isaac, along with some of the men from his household to a place God had appointed and there he would offer Isaac as a burnt offering to God. (As you can already tell this is another one of those I just want to feel good about my worship experience stories.)
 When Abraham comes near to the place he takes the fire wood from the donkey and tells the young men from his house to wait while " ... the boy [Isaac] and I go over there. We will worship (there it is, the first appearance of the "W" in Scripture) and then we will come back to you."

I know this is hard to do, but from here on we need to look at what we know of the story from Isaac's point of view, remembering that Isaac doesn't know what Father Abraham has in store for him ... we need to forget for a moment the plan to roast the only son. Today this story is about a boy and what he understands about worship.

Isaac thinks he is going with his father to worship and so he has certain expectations. He also has certain responsibilities. Let's begin with the fact that Isaac is only a boy, a "lad" according to some translators. He is going to "worship" with his father. He is carrying the wood. And Abraham is carrying the fire.

As they walk together toward the place appointed by God Isaac interrupts and asks, "Father?"

"Yes, son?"

"I was just wondering ... you've got the fire and I've got the wood, but where is the offering?"

Abraham simply says, "God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice." He probably said and did more than that, but the two of them went on ...

So this very first depiction of worship in the Scriptures involves a father worshiping with his young son. It is obvious that either Abraham has thoroughly prepared Isaac for what they're about to do (minus one little detail), or they've done this before because the boy is able to detect that something's wrong. Something's missing. It is Isaac, the child, who recognizes that their worship will be incomplete because there is no offering.

Isaac knew what was supposed to happen. Worship involved a journey, a destination, an offering and some sort of action. Worship was messy and hard. It involved blood and guts and fire and smoke and smells that would tighten our throat holes and turn our stomachs inside out. By our standards it sounds gruesome and barbaric and not very pretty and probably not very "age appropriate." Hell, I'd probably be arrested for making my kids witness such a ritual. (And we think worship today isn't kid friendly...)

Yet none of this was strange to Isaac because he understood what worship was.

There was no sitting, no entertainment, no performances. It was hard work and all about what you put into it. The only thing anyone would "get out of it" was the satisfaction that they'd been obedient to God. And most important is that the boy, even if he didn't understand all the nuances and significance of worship, knew enough about what was happening to recognize something was missing.

hip was never, ever an "adults only" endeavor.

When it came to worship there was no such thing as "no children allowed" even if the activity might seem a bit grisly.

So what happens in our worship today that seems to make it so universally kid unfriendly? The copious amounts of spattered blood in our Sanctuaries and the sacrificial killing of virgins? (This might also explain why 80% of unmarried Christian adults in America are sexually active*.) Or is it candles? Maybe the announcements? Or possibly the fog machines and worship bands? Or maybe the prayers and sermons? Hymnals? PowerPoint presentations? Passing the plate? Just what goes on in today's worship services so that children (and their families) are considered distractions?

I wonder if today's brand of worship service might focus too much on us being served by talented professionals. I wonder too, if we're so consumed with consuming a brand of worship that makes us feel good about God and what God does for us that we've forgotten that the foundation of worship is us bringing something, offering something, to God.

I wonder, if our children can't get what's happening, or if their presence is going to be a distraction to us and the professionals serving us, are we missing the point of worship?

What would happen if we re-constructed the whole worship thing so that children and their families could be participants rather than distractions? No need, though, to turn everything upside down all at once. Let's take small steps. Maybe we could start by welcoming children without disabilities. 

 Or maybe it would just be easier to invite all of them to use their own space, perhaps a Youth Complex, to do their own thing.

* "(Almost) Everyone's Doing It," Relevant Magazine, October 2011


  1. My Granny wouldn't stand for not allowing childrens and cripples in church!
    I don't think Jesus would either, but who cares about him anyway.

  2. I never thought about this... I was part of the problem... crap.


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