There is a popular genre of television and movies that involves comedy through putting a character in extremely uncomfortable situations where the embarrassment of the character is the source of the comedy. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a prime example. I strongly dislike this genre. I feel such empathy for the character that I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. I recognize that this does not make this genre bad or that it should not get airtime. A very large portion of the viewing public finds it entertaining. And they are not taking some sort of evil delight in the suffering of others any more than I do watching slapstick. It is simply funny and meaningful to them.
There is a parallel here to church which I will get to.
I go to a great church. (http://cornerstonelebanon.com) We preach the gospel from the Bible, but we don’t forget our history or theology. We love our neighbors in word and deed (and not just the ones we are comfortable with). It is diverse with different income levels, races, and Christian traditions represented, along with a lot previously unchurched people. If you are not a believer, that’s ok; you can be there and you can ask all the questions you want. If you are out of a house and didn’t take a shower that week, that’s ok; you can sit next to me. You want to raise your hands, wave a flag, or dance while you worship, that’s ok. You want to stand or sit still and just consider the words or what God is telling you, that’s ok too; no one has ever looked at me doing so as if they were better than me. We also have a lot of artists. Now when I say artists, I don’t mean Thomas Kinkade types. (There is nothing wrong with Kinkade- his art is pleasing to the eye and accessible/understandable to most people.) These are artists that one needs to consider their work for a long time and even then sometimes I don’t get it. Our church is filled with art. So on any given Sunday, one can experience God through the Bible, intellectualism, serving, music of various styles, and art. It is not perfect, of course, and I could list areas for improvement, but this is not the place.
I suppose since I love my church and feel at home there, I should be able to say that I love everything about it, am excited about every outreach project, and find every service ministering to my soul and deeply satisfying. But I don’t. And that’s ok.
You see, there is a challenge with a diverse church that involves large numbers of its members in worship planning. There will be diversity. Not every person will find every aspect resonant. And some things will make no sense or be just plain annoying. And even in a not so diverse church, not every person will find every aspect resonant. When a service that is somewhat… different from what we are used to comes along, there will always be a group that doesn’t get it or feel it. For example, we had a Lenten service that focused on the evil, decay, and brokenness in the world that utilized a lot of liturgy, integrated sensory experiences by incorporating darkness, candles, bitter food, and ashes mixed with scented oil put on our foreheads. This was all to lead us to meditate on the need for Jesus and not to simply skip to the good part where he redeems the world. Many people do not care for that service and skip it each year. Or an art piece depicting the destruction porn brings into lives that uses headless Barbie dolls, broken glass, and other dark imagery to make it’s point can offend or even scare some people. A short play might be part of the service that requires a person to interpret the symbolism which is not understood by some. For myself, there might be a powerpoint of imagery set to music that I don’t get and I don’t care for many worship choruses:”Jesus I loooove you; Jesus I looove you; Jesus I loo-oo-oove you” repeat ad nauseum.
This is the point where we find some like minded individuals and complain to each other about the disfavored aspect. Maybe we talk to others too and try to convince them that this is a terrible thing and should be done away with. I must confess I have been part of this at times. When I am my better self, I would say that this is an opportunity. An opportunity to love my brother or sister in Christ.
The thing is, what may be lost upon me may be incredibly meaningful to you. And what is lost upon you may be incredibly meaningful to me. So sitting through a service or a series of services that are less than meaningful to a person, does not mean there is something wrong with the church or even that the church is a bad fit. There is more to a church than the church service. The church is after all, the people, not the structures. You can’t please everyone all the time and when a church does try, it becomes so bland that there is no point to it. So I try to have a good attitude (not exactly easy since I am naturally cynical) and look for Jesus rather than my own desired style, hoping for my sisters and brothers to be encouraged or to connect with God, whether my personal preferences hinder or help for my own experience, every Sunday and those other days we occasionally have a service. And despite my personal preferences, there have been times when a worship chorus has lifted my heart.