It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in the Houston airport thinking about how many people are gathered right now in this city to worship. And I’m wondering what it is that we all think we are doing.
I used to think that worship was somehow about making God feel good about himself. Well, I wouldn’t have put it so crudely. But this is a sentiment that I see in much modern church music. There’s a lot of talk about spreading God’s ‘fame.’ As though God was some wishful contestant on reality tv that really needed to get his name out there, so he’s relying on the white guys playing their electric guitars and synthesizers on church stages in their fashionable jeans as his primary PR campaign to become more famous.
The Scriptures often quoted to support this view of 'God’s glory' are usually from the Old Testament, when most people believed in multiple gods. Yahweh was one of who knows how many gods, but he was BETTER! He was BIGGER and GREATER and more glorious than the gods of those evil neighbors of ours.
This theology and language tends to get along well with American conservatism/imperialism. We are the ones who have it right. It’s those people from outside our borders (whether physical or idealogical) who are to blame for the problems that we are facing. What we need to do is really buckle down and show everyone how our ideas, our values, and our God (capital G, not small g like yours) is greater than yours. Our job as Christians is to spread that fame.
But do we really believe in this view of reality anymore? Do we really see 'our God' as some guy up above the flat circle of the earth that exists among a bunch of other gods and goddesses who needs to be reassured that he is better than they are? Maybe, if we pay attention, our worship has more to say to us about us than we thought.
What if all of our gods (even when we spell them with capitol g's) are imaginary constructs that we use to justify our own fears, biases, ideas and desires? What if any IDEA that we have of ‘God’ is nothing but a mask of reality and not the Reality beyond words that many of us hope to refer to when we speak of God? What if what we are really saying when we talk about how our (G)od needs to be more famous--what we are really singing when the cymbals are crashing and the hands are lifted and we are endlessly repeating the phrases about the difference between our (G)od and theirs is that WE in fact are better than THEY are? If that’s the case, then that’s not worship. That's narcissistic ego stroking and destructive tribalism.
At this point, I’m not interested in that sort of ‘worship.’ I don’t think God has a self-image problem. I no longer think God needs me to 'spread his fame.' Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure most people that have access to iTunes have heard the name Jesus before, (It’s a pretty famous name…) I think that view somewhat ironically puts me at the center of my worship. Now God's fate is our hands. He is the guy relying on us to make him more famous and desirable and to the ignorant sinners. We somehow become more powerful in that transaction.
What I do think could use some spreading, however, is the way of living that Jesus taught about. A life of love lived with open hands and an open heart to the divine nature found in all things. For me, worship is now about opening my eyes to reality. Opening my hands of my attachments. Opening my heart to the truth that sets me free. Opening my life to others. Sometimes that experience may go well with some music and lifted hands. Often it goes even better with silence. But I wonder how many people in Houston (or anywhere) this morning are in church trying to experience something in a worship service but coming up empty. I wonder how many people are singing words that were written from an idolistic, fear and shame based religious (and probably American) imperialism and just aren’t getting anything from it. And I wonder how many of them feel bad about that.
Well, if that’s you, don’t feel bad about it. Worship doesn’t have to be such a trivial and weird thing. Worship should feel like letting go not piling on. Worship should feel like adoration and gratitude, not duty or groveling. Worship should not boost our pride, it should destroy it. Worship should not stroke our ego, it should lead us to the path of transcending it. The worship that seeks to stroke any ego (including god’s) is probably the self-serving expression of an ego that still has some work to do on itself. Our worship tells us much of ourselves, and we should pay attention to that.