May 29, 2010

My friend Katie is a champion multi-tasker with school & news & blogs. I confess, I am not (hence, I haven’t posted in several months). She sent me this article on Cyber-Worship a few months ago, in the thick of Advent, GRE, and finals and I didn’t have a chance to actually sit down and think about it on paper until recently. The article reinforces something we all probably knew deep down… the liturgical community desperately needs  to grapple with and engage the ‘online worship’ phenomenon. For the sake and love of all things apple and trendy, and for a fun play on words: let’s call it ‘iLiturgy.’

Right away, there are notable upsides to online liturgy: the biggest being that people who cannot go to church are able to participate. In this sense it functions as a tv-worship service of the same variety I used to watch every summer Sunday I spent at my Nana’s house. For some, there are physical limitations or illnesses that truly prevent their physical presence and a webcast quite frankly presences them with the community. For others though, TV or Internet worship becomes a substitute for a real, living breathing worshiping community.  Rather than building a bridge to worship, it hyper-personalizes the experience and removes any responsibility to the worshiping community.

I realize that I am toeing the Duke Divinity line here, but people outside the bubble agree: you can’t participate in Christ without participating in Christ’s people. And here is the fundamental problem cyber worship must overcome. First, we need people to remove the logs from our eyes and show us our sins plain and simple. And then we need one another to lean on as we stumble toward reconciliation with Christ.

We need a living, breathing, community of screw-ball human beings to reveal all the grotesque monsters and madness we masquerade as individuality, quirks, or (worse) “necessary evils.” Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche community, writes that in community, “we realize how incapable we are of oiving, how much we deny life to others. So community life brings a painful revelation of our own limitations.” Unless we are confronted with Christ in others: unless we are reconciled to our brothers and sisters Paul would say, all of our praise songs and bread and juice mean nothing, nada, zip, zilch etc. And believe me, if you attend a church for a few weeks, you’ll probably find somebody to forgive. Attend a church for a day or two and you’ll probably need to ask forgiveness.

But finding our own sin, we learn to ask for forgiveness from one another, from Christ. And with forgiveness comes reconciliation. When we pass the peace (which ought to come after the confession), Christians make a bold declaration: all the sin in the world cannot over come Christ’s power to forgive and restore. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, In Christ you are a new creation, and remember Paul was writing to the whole church. All this hangs on participating in Christ together, at the same table, in the same pew.

Hear me now, I am not saying that invalids and the home and hospital bound cannot really worship. Chances are, if somebody puts that much energy into watching a grainy, spotty, reproduction of worship they have known the community and all its messyness and managed to learn how to love. But for the rest of us, most of us, particularly us ‘younguns’: we’d best learn how to love each other in the pews. Because heaven knows, we don’t do  in the world.

And I am offended. My generation deserves better from our mentor and parent, the church. Because we know intuitively that the church has a backbone, and we wish she would show it. Her backbone is Scripture, and the nerve passing the Message to the rest of the body is the tradition, the liturgy.

This is where Christ’s unmasking of our sinfulness comes in, according to Barth. The only way to realize the all important “i” has taken over your universe is to come up against the un-movable, un-changable, and incomprehensible “Thou.”  Augustine described original sin- the sin inherent to all people- as spiritual scoliosis. Sin turns us inward and downward such that we could no longer look forward to behold our natural end: God. Instead we shuffle along pondering our own toes.

How to cure the spiritual Quasimodo? Ringing the bell: calling the people to worship. To deconstruct the lie of the “me” generation- a group of people  ipod, iphone, and imac obsessed demands introduction to the I AM. Teach a bent spine how to walk upright-  put it in a brace. To teach a curved spirit: brace it with praise. Teach mute lips the words of scripture. Lift limp arms and tone weary hearts. Bend stiff knees, and above all: lift sore eyes.

A down pillow will not straighten a curved spine. Neither, then, will worship that merely appeases the need to feel good. I’m not saying worship shouldn’t feel good some times, it does. But learning to become God’s disciple won’t always feel ‘good.’ It won’t fit an agenda. Worship isn’t a spa.

But it is a hospital. Jesus said he came for those who needed a physician. That would be us. Jesus shows us our scolisis of the spirit and then goes a step farther. He gives us His Spirit so we can literally straighten up. Thats why two thousand years of Christians have worshiped in His Spirit and truth. For two thousand years the church has been straightening the hunched and reviving the dead.

We are, in fact, the poor in spirit… at least most of us are. In the suffrages in the Book of Common Prayer (Rites I&II for Morning and Evening Prayer), there is a beautiful petition that strikes me each morning: “Let not the needy be forgotten, O Lord, nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” As I wrestled with what is lost by changing the liturgy in order to “attract” younger worshipers this petition kept popping into my head and heart. Christ is our hope, and we can only receive Christ through the tradition of the Church, the body of Christ. If that tradition is abandoned for the sake of the chic, we have no hope.

If the church seduces the “me” generation with a mere reproduction of ourselves we will feel comfortable, but we’ll be comfortably dead. If she draws us to our own image, we will drown in ourselves like Narcissus. But if she holds out hope for is, we may learn how to hope for ourselves. And for one whose hopes in Christ, all things are possible.

“…Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Restore in us a clean heart, and sustain a right spirit within us….” Amen.