I'm on sabbatical. Part of what this means is that my family and I have the opportunity to go and worship at other churches on Sunday mornings. This is nice for three reasons: we get to sit together in worship, we get to simply worship, and we get to see what other churches are doing.
Today we opted to go to a church that's part of a multi-campus congregation. I have heard good things about the church and was interested to see how they maintained a single identity at multiple campuses.
Today was a day when we went in knowing that theology would not align with where we are, but expected the worship experience to have many gifts. Instead, I walked out feeling like I needed to detox...feeling like my body and spirit had been filled with so much darkness that I couldn't see the light. And yes, they were preaching the light (Jesus) loud and clear.
There were many differences between this congregation and ours. We immediately knew this because worship was much like a rock concert (and reminded me that no matter how many times I think ours is a blended worship we're really quite traditional) - it's not my usual style, but I'm okay with that. In fact, the first song we sang had great lyrics and I'd love for our congregation to learn it. Those sorts of differences weren't hard for me. I'm not a person who thinks that there is only one way to worship.
So, what was wrong?
First, my children opted out of the children's programming. That was fine. I would have let them go or let them worship with us. But by the end of worship I wish it'd had a PG-13 warning so I could have made an informed decision about their participation. Although I'm all for people understanding the realities of crucifixion - I do fall into the camp of believing we've domesticated the cross to a fault - all I could envision was nightmares that my 4 and 6 year old children might have after hearing graphic descriptions of the process of crucifixion as well as conversation about God vomiting us up because our of lack of fire for our faith. It's not that I couldn't have some of the conversations that were being presented, but I believe they are to be had in a very different fashion depending on who is in the conversation - a four-year-old, a longtime Christian, someone looking for a new faith commitment, someone who has lived a life of violence, etc, etc.
Second, the service was focused on the meaning of the cross. And the theological canyon between the preacher and myself was simply too great. I know that many people echo what he said, but I realized today how happy I am in my bubble of a different understanding. How do I understand the cross? I understand it as a reality of human choice, not God's only option or first desire. I understand that Jesus was born to be followed not born to be crucified. I understand that the cross is only the will of God so far as God gave us free choice and so within that reality the cross happened. I understand it not as the only way God could save us from our sin, but as a reality that happened because we rejected God's better ways. And frankly, as Christian as I am, I don't think we are out of reach of God without believing that we need the cross. So, to hear about the cross as the time when God's back was turned on Jesus and as the only way we could be saved from our sin and on and on (all preached amidst previously mentioned graphic details) was just too much.
I do think we need to be more willing to talk about sin and to help each other through our sin. I don't think worship needs to be all flowers and butterflies. But I also think there is enough shame and violence, enough trash and hatred, enough power plays and force Monday - Saturday that I'm not sure it is what makes for great worship. Between vomit, urine, and feces (all words used multiple times in the sermon) and the feeling that if anyone walked out without sincerely turning to Jesus they were doomed to hell, it was hard for me to find the light.
Today I missed my church. During sabbatical it is important to take a break, to be away. But let me tell you - it took everything I had not to beg my husband to drive straight to our congregation where we could sneak in the back get a detox!