Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)
As the time drew near for the “main event” for Friday evening of the Alumni Weekend at our alma mater, Cincinnati Bible College (now called Cincinnati Christian University) I could sense that Jen was as indecisive about where we would end up for that time as I was. We never really made a conscious decision on whether or not to attend the worship service planned for that night, but we did touch on the fringes of the subject matter occasionally. For some reason, we just didn’t even want to go there.
First of all, we really didn’t want to spend an hour to an hour and a half sitting in a room where we were trying to corral our kids so that everyone else could enjoy the presentation on stage that we really weren’t that interested in seeing at all. Add to that the fact that we are still somewhat uncomfortable in those settings, and just in general, we – at least, I – were conflicted.
But the conflictions had only just begun.
When we arrived at the new worship center (new since we graduated 10 years ago) for the evening’s program, we saw a few people we wanted to catch up with, and then got involved in a conversation or two, and eventually ended up hanging out with a friend who was manning his CCU Bookstore merchandise table for the night. That was wonderful. And yet, inside I was still conflicted. I wanted to be in there with our friends, but I really didn’t want to be. You know? I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t “with” them… since we would all just be in there taking in the live stage presentation.
Then there is the way that we parent. That too was causing me conflict. We were there with a bunch of other friends, who are much freer with their kids, and I was wrestling with the idea of letting our kids operate by other folks rules for the evening – what could it hurt? – or, sticking to the way we usually do things. I chose to err more on that side, and the kids remained with us, somewhat to their chagrin. (Though they did certainly find some ways to entertain themselves as Mom & Dad reminisced with their friend.)
But the real conflict in my heart for the night came when I decided to enter the auditorium at the suggestion of our friend in the lobby. He said the third speaker for the night was great, and we should definitely catch him when he goes up. When I saw that he went up, I rounded up the kids and headed up to the balcony to sneak in the back and observe.
(Jen stayed to chat with our friend… perhaps she was even more “conflicted” than me?)
As I entered, I was overwhelmed by the chest-thumping sound emanating from the speakers on stage. The players were in perfect synch. There were three guitarists (rhythm, lead, and bass), a very good drummer, and the lead man – whom I entered the room for – at the piano. Add to the band four fantastic vocalists dressed completely in stylishly simple black, and you have quite a visual eye-catcher on stage.
We took our seats and tried to catch up with everyone else who had been in there for the previous 45 minutes to an hour. We knew the songs. Even the boys began singing out loud the words that were projected on the screen. Alex was beaming, and just taking every little thing in. Music speaks to him. And through him. He certainly connects with music, far more than me or Jen. Kirstie thought it was loud, but was enjoying it. All the kids were.
But I can only describe myself as conflicted.
As the song went on, and as we entered another familiar tune, all I could see was the show. I saw a performance presented as “modern worship”. And immediately as my heart identified the activity in that room as a “show” or a “performance”, my mind quickly condemned my heart for judging the motives of the people on stage. How can I know what they are feeling/thinking? How can I assume that they are “more” concerned with their performance than with an ongoing relationship with God?
I can’t. I definitely can not.
So I had this conflict brewing. On the one hand, my spirit, my heart definitely felt severely uncomfortable with everything that was happening in that room. Something was amiss. On the other hand, my mind (correctly) reminded me that I am not able to judge the hearts of anyone in that room, and though I may not like it or choose it, there is nothing wrong with what was happening there that night.
Or is there?
I left the room just totally drained from the 15 minutes I spent there. The entire time I was waging war on my own heart and thoughts, each one gaining and surrendering ground to the other’s volleys. Neither one emerging either victorious or unscathed. But after a bit of processing, and in a later conversation with my wife, I may have discovered a bit of the source of the conflict in my heart.
You see, when we (believers) gather in those rooms, in that setting, for that purpose… it cheapens, or lessens the reality of every day life with Jesus. Music in itself is not good or bad. The performance on the stage was exhilarating, and I could have enjoyed it had it not been called “worship”. It was also followed up by a short video presentation showing how CCU is raising up a new generation of “worship leaders” (which was then followed by a plea to the alumni for more funds). What made me feel so uncomfortable was that we tag this particular type of musical performance as an essential, even magical part of our relationship with Jesus.
To me, that seems to make the rest of life with him less “magical” or important.
I know, that might be a bit of a stretch, but that’s where I came to. I really don’t know the original source of my frustration and conflict. All I know is that it exists. I think the glorification of a time and a place and a “way” of worshipping Jesus (by singing songs to him at the lead of a band and/or a vocal leader(s) on stage) helps to continue the idea that our relationship with him is relegated to certain “spiritual” events in our lives.
Jesus is real. He was/is a human being, like you and me. I am trying to learn to relate to, and live with him just like that. For real. Somehow those events we call “worship services” just don’t feel real to me (anymore). Again, that’s not to say they are bad, or should be done away with. But for me… I just can’t stomach it right now.
I am hoping for a quick resolution to this. I want Jesus to fix me so that I (like he did) can be around places that feel “religious” to me, and be totally OK with that. He hung out at the synagogue, the temple, at meetings with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses… Jesus was at “worship services”.
I’m not there yet. Asking God to continue to reveal to me where he wants me, where he wants us to be as a family. I am so grateful to know he listens. And equally grateful that he replies.
I just hope I can make it through the next time I am faced with this particular conflict.
(Perhaps this would be a good time to quote Philippians 4:13?) 🙂