I did a good bit of reading today, and bits and pieces are swirling around in my head. Along with the minor stress that comes from an upcoming (albeit brief) road trip, the current state of political discourse in our country, the future of our country in general, and why the camellia bush in our front yard is in full bloom – in February – well, add all this up and it’s quite the circus in my mind this evening.
Also -it’s not evening, honestly. It’s 1AM, and for the first time in a long while, I’m sleepless. Three cheers for the #Whole30 remedy – it literally makes everything better, including sleep. Just not tonight.
First up: A very troubling article in a magazine of good repute, detailing the actions of another leader claiming to represent Christ but demonstrating disturbing amounts of authoritarianism, greed and falsehoods. This story caught my eye primarily because of the involvement of a songwriter whose work I have always respected; he reportedly left this group/gathering/spiritual family shortly after allegations of spiritual and sexual abuse came to light, but while involved with this group, this guy was writing and recording songs that have become part of my personal and corporate worship. And so there is now an edge to this, the extraneous affairs of someone in the worship industry trickling into our local community as we sing his songs, tainting it somewhat (for me).
We are human, aren’t we? Much grace is needed.
Secondly: An article arguing that the ‘worship industry’ is driving far too much of the culture of the contemporary church. When it comes to music in church, the ‘war’ has long since ended for most of us, but as someone whose responsibility includes wrestling with what and if and how we sing in church each week, I heard a new and different call in this short piece. It was deeply resonant, and I find myself disturbed – which is, well, disturbing, but also revealing, and ultimately a good thing. To be disturbed signals that a change is coming, and change – in my experience – is a good and necessary thing.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Disturbed. Anyway, this piece explored the idea that too much of what we are doing in local progressive, or ‘contemporary’ churches serves and is driven by the worship industry. As much as we enjoy the passion of the Passion movement, or the new live recordings from Jesus Culture and Hillsong and Elevation, to focus on pulling these songs into our local communities as the best, fresh expression of God’s work in our lives leaves something to be desired – and serves an incorrect, ill-formed master. On the heels of a fascinating bit of Facebook dialogue between several fellow worship leaders and musicians, this short article struck a church. And as our church continues to grow and welcome a more diverse group of leaders (read: YOUNG FOLK), I sense the tug and pull as our culture continues to morph, and I wonder what might be ahead and how I will best serve the church and serve the cause – and honor the calling of those around me. I am disturbed and I predict change.
In addition, I also read a beautifully written break-up letter posted online by a young man I respect and admire. He wrote to reveal the ‘truth’ about why the break-up had happened, and what it would take for him to heal from how she had hurt him. It was eloquent and engaging, and at the end when he revealed that ‘she’ was the church, and he had to leave in order to be healthy, my heart cracked just a bit.
Finally: A story plucked my heart and my conscience tonight; not one that I read, but one that I experienced through an excellent exercise in movie-making. We watched Spotlight tonight, witnessing the tenacious group of reporters from The Boston Globe work to expose the massive cover-up of sexual abuse by priests and other leaders in the Roman Catholic Church in Boston. The film focuses on the work of the reporters, but glimpses into the pain of the victims adds a depth of deep sorrow and frustration. My thoughts went to this; that tomorrow morning, I’ll be part of my church’s “Change the Story” series as a member of the clergy, standing on the platform exhorting and encouraging folks to realize and remember that striving to live our lives in a way that matters can literally change someone’s story….while the hundreds of victims of clergy just in Boston quite literally had their stories changed in the worst way, by the very men who represented the presence of God in their lives.
I am heartsick. It is devastating and horrific and it weighs on me, all this pulling and tugging at what it means to be human while we still try to find some measure of faith in Something or Someone Divine and live it out in a way that has meaning not only for us as individuals, but for us together. See, I love the local church; I do. I know that not everyone does, and that’s okay – you don’t have to be like me. I respect your choice. But I passionately believe that a local church – when it’s working right – can be a place of acceptance and love and redemption, a place where sorrow and joy can co-mingle and help us be mindful of the depth and breadth of our humanity and its every-changing tides. I believe that all of us – whether or not we believe in God or church – should have a safe place to gather, in the name of Something or Someone bigger than all that we can see, Someone who represents the great mystery of creation and imagination and restoration.
Time after time – on a daily basis, almost – I see and hear of folks who are leaving church. Sometimes the departure comes on the heels of much soul-searching; sometimes there is great pain involved. Others are just exhausted; they just give up and stay home. I am not so naive to think that everyone will be passionate about spiritual things and want to explore those things in a church; I certainly don’t negate the great diversity of faith and belief in our world. It’s not that I want everyone to come to my church.
I just want us to stop screwing it up so badly.