That heading is a “mind-full” isn’t it? And a mine field. Even without adding the words “emerging” and “contemporary.”

I enter the mine field, recklessly following in the footsteps of several theologian/authors whose books contribute to the dialogue, the conversation, the debate over how to shape our worship of the Eternal One in the context of our time. No longer tied to one parish, I travel from church to church now, finding myself uncomfortable in one, discomforted in another, rarely finding a place I find “fitting” for my own praise and prayer. I go to one church and find the service stiff and lifeless. I go to another, and the service is entertaining, but I miss even a glimpse of God. Now and then, I find myself at home with the balance of solitude and community that feeds my spirit, enlivens my faith,  and prompts my deepest worship.

I am teaching a unit on spirituality and personality types. I see that who we are in our own human skin and heart determines the shape of our offering of worship to the God who made us, who shaped our inward being. The introvert in me shrinks from services where I am invited to stand and sing and pray with arms waving and body swaying. I attended a service recently where the congregation was invited to break into small groups to discuss the sermon points. I wanted to just be left alone to meditate in silence. Yet, I do value the communion of the Christian household that gathers to join heart, soul, and voice in common worship. I don’t want to stay home and pretend that I can be a Christian in isolation, a hermit discounting the gift of fellowship and family. I value highly the inter-generational gathering of sisters and brothers who pray together, sing in harmony, share in the hearing of the word, and experience the Eucharist of common loaf and cup.

I am glad for my extroverted friends whose fellowship is noisier, whose circle is ever-broadening, and whose worship is so postmodern. I am happy for them that they like looking up at projection screens to read song lyrics, that their praise bands create joyful noise from so many instruments and voices, and that their informality is inviting and welcoming. But as an introvert I am not comfortable with, nor fed by, their enthusiasms. Part of me would be happy to worship Quaker-style, quietly and meditatively…but I would miss the music.

What kind of music? In that regard, I am easy! As long as it is well done, make it classical, jazz, folk, global. Mix it up. (I’m no fan of country and western, rap, or praise jingles;  no judgment rendered…just my personal taste.) The music that feeds my soul and makes it soar is the music I experience at the annual Montreat Worship and Music Conferences. For the most part it is “serious” music, “classical” in its many forms, but also accessible and global and inter-generational.  (More on Montreat in my next post.)

My spirit is nurtured by sermons, thoughtfully and prayerfully constructed, and carefully written, and honestly spoken. My spiritual ancestors may have been “wandering Arameans,” but I’m put off by wandering preachers, both those who think they are more in touch with their congregations if they aimlessly wander around the front of the sanctuary while they speak, and those who wander in word and thought in their content, while they wait for the Spirit to give them their message for the masses. (Does the Spirit not lead them in careful preparation prior to the delivery of the sermon?)

See, I know what helps me worship the One, True God, and I confess that there is no one, true way of worship that is right for everyone, except that our worship be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). And I know that I was raised in a straightforward “mainline” Protestant church in the Reformed tradition, singing traditional hymns and hearing sermons that were both inspiring and intellectual. And I went to a Presbyterian college where those childhood traditions were well-served. I sang “classical” anthems in the college choir, and heard some great “classical” preachers. I went to a progressive seminary where my understanding of worship was broadened, stretched,and enriched. And where I had permission to become more creative in liturgy, while still anchored in the theology of some of the older, more conservative professors.

Musically, the ecumenical Church was playing with folk music and jazz masses, and adding some religious lyrics to popular songs, much the way pub songs had provided the music for new hymn texts 350 years ago. My expertise lay in media in those seminary and post-seminary days, so I added to the newer music projected images and included audio- and video-taped segments to my sermons. Call it experimental, cutting edge, or avant-garde. Or, gimmicky. But it did recognize that what we called then the “young generation” was experiencing the world in ways far different from their elders. TV, CinemaScope, and stereo…transition from vinyl disks to tape formats…rock and roll…and, of course, the vast cultural differences between the 1950s and the 1960s. In the late 1960s, God was pronounced dead. Remember? Some of us thought livelier liturgy would  least wake the dead in the pews, if not revive belief and enliven faith.

All this is to say that today’s 21st century interest in transformational worship in the postmodern era is nothing new under the sun. If it helps someone inhale the breath of the Spirit and grow in gratitude, wonder, worship, and praise, and then go out to serve God by loving the world as God did (does) in Christ — let it be! Amen! But others must find the right “sanctuary” for their own needs, their own personalities, their own spiritual journeys. One size rarely fits all. That’s been true for every generation.

While one person thinks the “passing of the peace” builds community, another thinks it interrupts worship. While one worshipper craves long moments of silence, another gets antsy. One loves the old gospel choruses, but another prefers music from Iona or Taize. While I might appreciate a short mission video during the offering time, the person next to me wants organ music as an aid to personal prayer. Here’s a teenager who has written a rock anthem and who wants his/her guitar to explode with praise through powerful amps and speakers. And there’s a teen who would have preferred a traditional choir anthem. More personally, I prefer non-amplified voices singing strongly in harmony. But many praise leaders these days like using technology to enhance their sound. (I’m sorry, but those microphone/headset contraptions make it seem as if I’m being sung to or preached to by old-timey telephone operators!)

A quick story to conclude this entry:

More than 30 years ago, a seminary classmate was serving a mid-sized church in western Virginia. She asked me to visit one Sunday and “do my thing” (which was creative “contemporary” worship with media and rock music). Her church youth put together a rock band and one teenager wrote a couple of songs for the service. When people were leaving the church after worship, an elderly woman took my hand and said something like, “Well, that was certainly different today! Thank you for coming. I’m so glad the youth had a chance to play their kind of music in church for a change. They have to listen to ours week after week, and we should give them a chance more often!”

Then a teen-aged girl came by, one who had not led the service, but who had been in the pews. When I asked her how she had liked the service that morning, she confessed that she had been disappointed. “It didn’t seem like church today,” she said. “I missed the real church music.”

The gospel according to Sly: “Different strokes for different folks.” Even as we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.

So where do we go from here? Separate paths? Or, can we still worship the one God as one people at the same time? Surely I have some ideas.

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