But that’s a gift from God, too!

June 30, 2011

I still ♥ Sleater-Kinney. More than church, truth be told!

I’m sympathetic with the pastor who wrote this post. He complains that Christians’ passions are rarely awakened by worship in the same way they are by, say, sports or movies. After admitting to his own passionate response to action movies, he writes:

Now the point: nobody, I notice, engages my sermons this way. Nobody seems viscerally involved, vicariously transported, by my exposition of 1 Corinthians or my teasing out of the nuances of the Chalcedonian Creed. Occasionally, on one of my better days, my humor tickles them. My urgency moves them. My pathos touches them. And, quite often, a number of people get physical during the singing—arms lifted high, head tilted back, eyes closed. Some even dance, in a Baptist kind of way, which is to say they weave their shoulders slightly and do a little two-step with their feet.

But no one seems to lose themselves. No one gets as personally involved in word and worship as my father did with linebackers or as I do with action heroes.

When I was in seminary, I pastored a small church. We worshiped between 50 and 60 on Sundays. It was small enough that I would feel the absence of one or two large families on a given Sunday.

This was a slight problem for me in the fall, during college football season. One of the families that anchored the church—a family I love dearly—were also the most passionate University of Georgia football fans I’ve ever met (which is saying something, believe me). They traveled by entourage to all the games, both home and away. When there was an away game on Saturday, I could count on their large corner of the church being empty the next day, as they were traveling home from wherever UGA had played.

I hated those away games! My only consolation, as an embittered, die-hard Georgia Tech fan, was found in their losing those away games. I wanted to say to visitors to church on that Sunday, “It’s not usually this empty! Come back next week! Georgia’s playing at home!”

But I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I became too indignant about it. “Why do so many people like sports and movies more than church?” Heck, I like sports and movies more than church! I mean, not all sports and not just any movie, but I get passionate about these things—and especially music—more than I get passionate about going to church. As a pastor, I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s true.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is, by all means, the greatest story ever told. But we know the ending already. Worship isn’t surprising or suspenseful. Besides, saying that we get more passionate about things other than church isn’t the same as saying that we regard these things as more important or more necessary. I’m not saying that our passions can’t become idolatrous, but they don’t necessarily become that way.

Moreover, I don’t like the false dichotomy that this article implies. It says that there’s this part of the world that belongs to God—like churchgoing—and this part of the world that doesn’t belong to God—like sports and movies.

One Thanksgiving many years ago, my mom tried to implement a new tradition. As we gathered around the table for the meal, Mom had each of us—children, grandchildren, in-laws, friends—say one thing that we were thankful to God for. Most of the responses weren’t very original. “I’m thankful for my family.” “I’m thankful for my health.” “I’m thankful for Jesus.” I wanted to gag!

When it was my turn, I said, “I’m thankful for Sleater-Kinney.” I had to explain to my un-hip relatives that they were (at the time; they’ve since broken up) an amazing female punk-rock trio out of Olympia, Washington, who had set my world on fire the previous year. I ♥ Sleater-Kinney! Seriously! I still do!

My sister Susan scolded me: “Brent, be serious!” But I was serious! One thing I was very thankful to God for over the previous year was Sleater-Kinney. I found God in their music.

One thing I’m passionately interested in communicating to my parishioners is this: If it’s good, it’s from God. That good game is from God. That good movie is from God. That good piece of music is from God. Every good gift, if it’s truly good, is from God. So our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude for these gifts as well.

3 Responses to “But that’s a gift from God, too!”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Very good point, Brent. Hadn’t thought of it that way, and certainly never heard it preached from the pulpit, but, as you say, every good gift comes from God. And, it is hard to maintain an emotional “enthusiasm level” for things you’ve known and heard about since childhood. The most wonderful news, but not “new” news. So, I don’t have to feel guilty about saying, “Go, Mavericks!”, while not jumping up and down shouting singing “Amazing Grace” for the 5,000th time (though that is far more important).

  2. Carol Smith Says:

    Rob Bell, in his controversial Love Wins, writes

    “Access to [Jesus] can actually function in a strangely inverse way.

    Imagine a high-school student whose family is part of a Christian church. She belongs to a Christian youth group, has only Christian friends, reads only Christian books and has to attend Christian chapel services, because it’s mandatory at the Christian high school she attends.

    The student can potentially become so anesthetized to Jesus that she is unable to see Jesus as the stunning, dangerous, compelling, subversive, dynamic reality that he is. She has simply sung too many songs about Jesus that the name has lost its power to provoke and inspire.

    The ‘nearness’ can actually produce distance.”

    The passion for sports comes from people’s personal investment in a team — when we’re rooting for a team, we feel a part of the story. I can assure you that Greg feels his yelling at the TV is inspiring and encouraging his player down the field, and the jersey he is wearing makes him part of the team. Great movies evoke our passion when we, in some way, feel connected to or a part of the story — when it touches our heart and makes us feel like someone understands us. I think passion for worship is ignited when we leave Sunday morning, go out into the world and take a risk to participate in the story. (I’m reading Barbara Brown Taylor too. Doing a lot of reading these days. ☺)

    She writes, “The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.”

    I, personally, find that passion in worship is at its greatest when I am struggling with something difficult in my life or if I’m particularly grateful for something. And because I don’t really want to invite struggle and pain in my life just so that I can experience passion in worship, I think we are required to challenge ourselves to be out seeing the face of God through our ministry to others — to make ourselves become part of the story. I think it changes worship.

    It doesn’t matter how great the music or how great the sermon if the heart is “anesthetized to Jesus.” And I would say, conversely, the music and sermon could also be pretty mediocre — but if one’s heart is filled with love and gratitude for his saving grace and mercy, there would be passion.

  3. Susan Taylor Says:

    Amen, brother, amen! BTW…Sting ’em Jackets!


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