On Outgrowing Worship
It’s 10:58 on a Sunday morning. Clean church people are milling about, smiling brilliantly, loving the opportunity to see one another, catch up a bit, smell each other’s shampoo.
Two minutes later now, and the band has assembled. Denim and flannel abound.
SPRANNNGGGG…. A single note is cast from the lead guitar: Marty McFly’s first chord at the Undersea Dance. A murmur ripples through the milling congregation, and I join the tide of 12-to-20-somethings descending to the front of the sanctuary. We are getting ready to DANCE!!!
Oh, the blissful abandon of that dance. People said my feet seemed never to touch the floor. They wondered at my apparent weightlessness. I didn’t mind or crave their comments. I was just thrilled to dance in celebration of the God I was finally getting to know. "God, you’re all I need! You can have my life! No one’s as awesome as you!" The worship anthems were enamored and lovey and so wonderfully over the top.
In the years since then, life has taught me some things. Good people lose children. Praying people get cancer. Everyone suffers heartbreak, even after they “heard from the Lord” that they were on the right track. Parents who (like me) don’t smile and don’t dance during worship are not necessarily unhappy people; we are tired people. “The Truth” is less cut and dried than it once was. And yet, like the creepy Dave Wooderson and those high school girls…I keep getting older, but worship music stays the same age.
Eldredge calls it the Cowboy phase. Rohr calls it the Heroic Journey. It’s the young age of missions trips to poor, mountain villages. It’s the time of stern declarations of right and wrong, of individualization, of iconoclasm. Rohr points out the “necessary egocentrism” of this very important stage of development. “Not in love with God,” he writes, “but in love with the idea of being in love.” I spent my time in that phase. It was amazing and life-affirming. I hoped it would never end. But a grain of wheat cannot live in one season forever.
This is why I have such a hard time connecting with a lot of modern worship. The songs (like many sermons) are in love with the idea of being in love, but their lyrics still reflect the shallow, untempered optimism of youth. They demand that heaven come down, Jesus come into the room, or all creation dance and/or bow (though no one usually does). They declare the power of Jesus name over evils and ailments and all feelings of loneliness. But those clouds look a lot less fluffy once you’ve fallen through a few. Dating Jesus is a younger man’s game. The music is great, but for me, right now, it’s mostly past tense.
So please don’t be offended if I remain seated through your modern worship set, skip tracks on Crowder’s new album, or sigh, “What does that even mean?” halfway through a Watermark offering. I do not disdain the music; in fact, I marvel at all who have the music in them, who create it not because they can, but because they must.
But such anthems no longer belong to me, nor I to them. I’d love to hear a maturing voice of Christianity when I turn on K-Love. Until then, I’ll be at home listening to Nouwen and Manning and Lamott sing their silent songs of not knowing, and of being ok with not knowing, and of learning to be loved, and hopefully loving someone else somewhere along the way, maybe.
Because it’s 10:58 again, and I am sitting down.
I don’t want to small talk with friends or full-body hug my bros until I feel people starting to stare. I’m lucky to have made it to church at all, and I’ve come craving rest.
I’ve come to rest from the weary work of growing up.
I’m outgrowing modern worship.
And thank God for that.