Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nothing New

I texted my colleague, “If I go to chapel, how much will I regret it?”

She responded, “LOL depends on who leads.”

She is right. Unlike worshiping in a church, which typically has consistent worship leadership, worshiping at work (I work at the Presbyterian Center) with colleagues means going with the flow. Like the seminary I attended, worship leadership is shared. In the case of the Presbyterian Center, worship leadership is divided up among the four different church agencies in the building, and different ministry areas within the largest agency. I do not know who is leading each week. And the real kicker for someone like me (Uptight? Structured? Type A?) is that worship is set for 30 minutes, but the adherence to the time frame depends 100% on who is leading worship. A typical sermon plus communion usually equals more than 30 minutes.

The delightful thing about worship here (and at the seminary I attended) is that worship can be meaningful no matter who leads it. It can be a nice surprise. It also ensures a wide diversity of themes and styles. What I find stressful is that not all surprises are good surprises. There is a wide variation, shall we say.

I love many different kinds of worship, thanks to a wide-ranging exposure to different denominations and traditions, as well as different cultures and languages. But the kind of worship that stresses me out usually involves me realizing that I am thinking a lot, from the pews, about worship logistics, because it’s clear that those leading worship did not think about worship logistics. This is fairly rare, but when it happens in a church or a workplace chapel service, I question my decision to show up.

After worship, I texted my colleague: “That was depressing.”

Not because it wasn’t worshipful. Because it was real.

Worship was a service of empathy centered on the Ebola crisis. The church has a lot of connections with countries most impacted by the Ebola virus, so we do not have the luxury of seeing it only as a vague threat. And I was reminded, even after having a great new year, with a couple of weeks to be with friends and family, whatever was going on in the Gregorian calendar year of 2014 is still going on in 2015.

I knew that, of course. But I had that feeling again, that Ecclesiastes feeling that makes me the resident dream killer/joy buster, there is nothing new under the sun. A new year is just one way of counting time. We could count time by how long it takes for reform in the criminal justice system and in policing. We could mark the months of bigotry and ignorance here in the U.S. toward people who have been in proximity to (or are from the countries with) Ebola sufferers. If we mark time that way, we are still in the same year. We are still in Ferguson. Ebola is still around, destroying lives, families, and communities. How many school shooting since Columbine? We still have no national commitment to reasonable gun control. The church is still arguing with itself. 16.2 million children in the U.S. face hunger at home. People (mostly men) still shoot their partners or ex-partners (mostly women). We are still losing polar icecaps, with little real commitment by governments or corporations to changing behaviors that would slow global warming.

Yet, it is good to go to worship.

It is good, specifically at work. I will pass the peace with people who are different than I am, because the church (especially national staff) brings together people from many countries, regions of the U.S., racial backgrounds, languages, and theological and political beliefs and commitments. I will see colleagues I usually only see when we are out at conferences, working booths in exhibit halls. I will see colleagues, members of the same body of Christ, with whom I have significant disagreements. Yet I will not hear in worship that women shouldn’t be in leadership. I will not hear that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are suspect, or more sinful than others, or an affront to God.

We will eat the same bread, drink from the same cup. We worship the same God.

It is good to go to worship because worship just isn’t about me. And sometimes I need the reminder. God is faithful whether or not I show up, but when I show up, I’m showing up for the dialogue into which God has called us (Stevens & Waschevski, p. 3). “In worship we experience God’s welcome, grace, and love… Worship is not a time of escape from our real lives. It is not a fantasy journey into the long ago and far away. It is always a matter of what is happening now” (ibid.).

There is nothing new under the sun, but there is always something happening in the world that demands our attention as Christians. Worship is not an escape. Worship is about real life. And this morning, real life was very painful.

What shall we do with this new year?

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