Sunday, March 23

Don't Make Worship About You

Dear Jacob,

It's Sunday morning and we're all still in our pajamas. I think it's amusing that we, a pastor's family, aren't off with church right now, but over these past years of gathering for worship on another day I've learned to love the rest that Sunday provides, the rest that Sabbath intends for us. While my last letter coached you on the merits of work, we were given a day for rest and I'm also trying to teach you what that looks like. Sabbath may be a letter for another day.

Sabbath isn't just about rest. It's also about sacred assembly. As a family, we're in this in-between time and don't have a regular sacred assembly, or worship, but we will soon enough.  In the meantime, we occasionally visit churches to remember what it is to give God worth, which is what worship means, to take part in communion as an act of re-covenanting ourselves to the story of Jesus, and to have our hearts turned away from ourselves and toward the miraculous ways of God.

On the Sundays that we decide to go somewhere to worship you fight the entire process. You should know that you're not the first person in this family to do that. Dad and I had our own moments of revolt when we were teens too. And admittedly, as a pastor's wife, I've had to force myself in the car on occasion... or for a whole season around the time that Ben was born.  Again, that's another letter.

Your reaction to attending a worship service is pretty similar to how you respond to attending the grocery store or attending the barber. You're a homebody and you don't want to leave, so this isn't unusual to just church.  But whereas you don't have to go to the grocery store and you don't have to cut the Jesus hair, worship is a different experience altogether in that, you're not attending to get something, you're being attentive to give it. I'd guess for most teens that this concept is hard to grasp.

A few Sundays ago, we went to a new church and you were so angry that you sat on the opposite side of the sanctuary and disappeared from our view. I get it. A little. You know these visits are only one-time deals, that we're not going to invest in the people or the program because we're building our own at the moment. I get that some of these sermons we've heard aren't very engaging; I've wanted to slink out of a couple myself. And I get that your insolence is a response to fear of something that you aren't familiar with, namely God. But when we go together we hear the same things, we are in a mutual experience and I'd be interested to find out what you hear and share what I hear and see just how differently one word can be communicated.

We want to be with you. We really don't like being over you or under you. We've always loved being with you. I actually don't believe that children and parents should be segregated in worship. I doubt the tabernacle in the wilderness had a kids' space.

When we went to Vintage Faith Church you had an interesting reaction: you loved to go. We'd stand you up on the chairs between us during the singing and and you'd respond to the music, read the words on the screen, ask us questions. What Dad and I remember most is that you'd get pretty touchy and affectionate. You'd rub on our backs and give us little hugs and you were in a state we rarely saw you: content. After a time of singing the kids would leave to have a lesson on their own and you and Ben were happy to trot off. The next week we'd do it again and you responded the same way.

When we were at The Evergreen Community you're reaction was different still: you loved to help. This was a start-up, a church plant, and we met in the party room of a pub in Portland. We'd move all the tables aside and set up chairs and prayer stations.  We'd light candles and set up guitars. You were all about the logistics of that.  During worship, you'd sit with us, or on the carpet set aside just for you and you'd read and lay on our laps and draw quiet pictures with our friends. When we were done, you'd lead the charge to move the chairs back. You felt like you had a place. You were a part of the community.

Now we're in this place where there really isn't a place. Church for us looks like a lot of dinner parties, a lot of whiteboard discussions and a lot of laughter. Friday night, church looked like celebrating your dad's birthday with bowling and laser tag.  Today we'll go help some friends do some repairs on their house, so today church will look like restoration.  It's hard for you to know what to expect. But you need to know that no matter what church looks like or what it does or how it behaves in the world, we always want you with us.

In wanting this, we are wanting nothing less than God wants.  He's pretty relational by nature and he created us to be in relationship with him.  He doesn't love it when we only live for him or we only get our directions from him.  He loves it when we are with him. Walking in the garden with Adam in the cool of the day had to be one of his favorite things to do.  And he gave Eve to Adam to be with him, a perfect helper for his emotions, his physical labor, his care of the animals. They were doing life together.  He wasn't over her and she wasn't over him.  That was what the fall was all about, but it wasn't what true life was all about.

Much later, in another garden, Jesus prayed that everyone who follows him would be unified, would be one in the way that God and Jesus and the Spirit are all one.  And to me that means that we are to be looking toward the same thing.  I call that thing the restoration of all things, including our relationship with God.  But when we hang out in places of dissention, we are looking in opposite directions.  It's a unity fail.  It's not "with."

We love to be in worship with you because on some level that's where I hand everything over to God again and again and again.  And since I have three sons, that means I hand you over to him every time.  It means I push a little less into my own desires and a little more into his and I'm reminded that his desires for unity are only hindered by my failures to pursue them.  Your resistance to just being with us in that context doesn't break anything anew, it just reveals that it's already, still, broken as it has been for thousands of years since that fruit was plucked from the wrong tree.

Don't be surprised when we say we're getting up and going to worship. Think of it as a parental adjustment, it's about us letting go of something, grasping onto new life again.  It can really only be about you when you determine that there's something you want to take with you and leave behind.