Tag Archives: Propriety

Worship Like You’re Drunk at 9 a.m.

“These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
Acts 2:15 (NIV)

I grew up in a very traditional church paradigm for a midwest American Protestant. I, and my family, were expected to dress in our “Sunday best.” Every part of the church routine was carefully planned and orchestrated. The service had a certain pageantry to it. You kept quiet. You sat up straight in the unpadded wooden pew. You stood when you were told to stand. You sang the verses you were told to sing when you were told to sing them. You sat quietly and listened. It was all very proper.

In the nearly forty years I’ve been a follower of Jesus I have worshipped in a veritable plethora of environments across cultures and denominations. Catholic and Protestant, mainline and charismatic, traditional and non-traditional, I’ve had a lot of different experiences. I’ve worshipped in a poor mountain village on Mindanao in the Philippines where chickens scurried around the dirt floor and a dog wandered in to flop to sleep under the rickety table that served as an altar where I was preaching. I’ve worshiped in silence with Quakers and in the raucous call and response of an African-American congregation. I’ve worshipped at St. Patrick’s in Dublin, the National Synagogue in Jerusalem, and with a handful of Arab believers in Nazareth.

I’ve always held an expansive view of worship. There are always things I can learn from different cultures and traditions. I have, however, made a few observations along the way.

I believe that between the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Protestants by-and-large disembodied worship. The Reformation did away with physical gestures like genuflection and kneeling. The Enlightenment convinced us that our brains were the center of the worship experience, embellished by a couple of instances of standing, singing, and maybe a recitation.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t think the worship paradigm in which I was raised was wrong, but perhaps I’d describe it as purposefully limited. In my perpetual journey through God’s Message I find that the call to praise and worship is always physically active with repeated encouragements to shout, lift hands, dance, sing, clap, play instruments, lift banners and the like. I have yet to come across an exhortation in the Bible asking me to praise God with my hands in my pockets, to praise God with mumbling, or to rejoice in passive sitting.

I’ve also observed, both in scriptural descriptions and in my own experiences, that when Holy Spirit pours out on a group of people at worship things can get a little weird. In today’s chapter, casual observers thought Peter and the boys were drunk at 9:00 in the morning. When King David was worshipping in the Spirit his wife became pissed off at how publicly “undignified” he was acting.

This morning I’m enjoying dusting off some old memories of diverse worship experiences in which I’ve participated. I’m also reminded by the events of Pentecost in today’s chapter that I can’t think of one description of Holy Spirit outpouring that is described as a quiet affair of public propriety. When the religious leaders chastised Jesus’ followers for their raucous outpouring of praise, Jesus replied, “If they were silenced then the rocks would cry out.”

The further I get in my journey, the less I care about what anyone else thinks. I’ll take an outpouring of Holy Spirit anytime. I’ll worship like I’m drunk at 9:00 in the morning.



source: neratama via Flickr
source: neratama via Flickr

And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 21:7 (NIV)

The prophets had to have been a strange lot. They were prone to do strange things and act out obscure (what we would, today, call “performance art”) productions in public places. Their personal lives were often metaphors for the messy spiritual condition of the culture. Their steady stream of public messages were not known for their tact or their propriety.

Take today’s chapter, for example. God tells Ezekiel to stand out in the public square and groan. Not just a little “I think the cream cheese on that bagel didn’t agree with me” groan. GROAN like your beloved mother just died. GROAN like a husband who just found out his wife was sleeping with his best friend. GROAN like you feel a hideous creature ready to burst out of your insides as in the movie Alien. Make a public spectacle of yourself so that people will circle around you in wonder and mothers shoo their young children away from you in fear.

Then, when people start asking Zeke what’s wrong, God tells him to say, “When I tell you YOU’RE GOING TO PEE YOUR PANTS!”

While I’m not sure they would make the most enjoyable dinner guests, there are times when I find the old prophets really refreshing. They remind me that, while there is a time for propriety, there are also times in life for saying things in a way that would make your Aunt Nita blush and shrink back in shame. There are moments for communication that smacks of brash, in-your-face impropriety.

Of course, wisdom is required in choosing the right moments. The key part is knowing when to speak and when to keep silent.

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 3

Image by Kurt Christensen via Flickr

All the people boomed out hurrahs, praising God as the foundation of The Temple of God was laid. As many were noisily shouting with joy, many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads who had seen the first Temple, when they saw the foundations of this Temple laid, wept loudly for joy. People couldn’t distinguish the shouting from the weeping. The sound of their voices reverberated for miles around.  Ezra 3:11-13 (MSG)

As I read about the loud, demonstrative worship of the Israelites in today’s chapter, I asked myself when I’d felt such a rush of emotion that I felt I had to scream. Just recently I got the call that my sister’s cancer was in remission and her PET scan came back clear. That created an instant shout of joy from the depths of my soul. Sports probably creates that rush of emotions as much as any other common human experience. I remember the miracle on ice in 1980 and watching the gold medal ice hockey game with my dad. It was perhaps the only hockey game I’ve watched in its entirety in my life, but I remember screaming for joy and jumping up and down when the United States won.

From the intensly personal issues of life and death (a family member with cancer) to the things that are trivial in the grand scheme of life (a hockey game), we can feel things with such intensity that we have to let it out. I wonder why it is that over the centuries we’ve stuffed the most critical and eternal spiritual matters into a box of social propriety.

For much of my faith journey I would describe my weekly public worship experience as exactly what I was taught as a child it should be: proper, cerebral and emotionless. Then, about ten years ago or so, God started a work in me. It started with tears. Each week I found it more and more impossible to stop the tears from pouring out of me during worship. Then came singing. Not just the stand there and mumble along singing, but the “sing it at the top of your lungs with your whole heart because you want God to hear your voice all the way up in the throne room of heaven” kind of singing.

Not every worship experience is intensely emotional, but I’ve learned over time that authentic worship of God requires all of my being. Not just my posterior in the pew and mental engagement, but my entire body, my spirit, my mind, my emotions and my voice. The more I fully engage in worship, the more meaningful it becomes to my daily journey.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 23

Truth offends. For the next seventy years, a king's lifetime, Tyre will be forgotten. At the end of the seventy years, Tyre will stage a comeback, but it will be the comeback of a worn-out whore, as in the song:

   "Take a harp, circle the city,
   unremembered whore.
Sing your old songs, your many old songs.
   Maybe someone will remember."
Isaiah 23:15-16 (MSG)

Last night was opening night of the local community theatre show. It was really well received by the audience. Nevertheless, there was one patron who made a comment about being offended by something in the show. No surprise. I've served as the president of the board of directors for our local stage troupe for the past few years. In that capacity, I get to answer the letters and e-mails of offended audience members. There's always a few of them. Interestingly enough, every complaint has come from a good, upstanding religious person.

When I read passages like today's from Isaiah, I wonder how straight-laced religious people with their undies in a bunch make it through God's Message without being offended. Do they take out their exacto knives and cut out the offensive passages or just ignore them? What do they do with Isaiah? He pulls no punches. The old prophet walked naked in public to make a point. He used worn-out whores and used menstrual rags as metaphors.

So much for propriety.

One of the things I've always loved about God's Message is the way it presents Truth in all sorts of powerful ways. When you read it for yourself, you find that God doesn't play it safe. He doesn't pander to anyone. Sinner and saint alike will find it inspiring, convicting, and regularly hard to swallow. Truth, communicated through intense metaphors, will offend all sorts of good religious people. It's akin to what I've come to learn and love about art, literature, music, and theatre:

If you communicate what's true, you're always going to offend somebody.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and libbyrosof

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 20

Shocked! God told Isaiah son of Amoz, "Go, take off your clothes and sandals," and Isaiah did it, going about naked and barefooted. Isaiah 20:2 (MSG)

Picture it yourself. Isaiah, the man of God, naked and barefoot walking through the streets of Jerusalem. People's eyes growing wide as they came upon him. Women screaming and quickly looking the other way so they don't have to look at his pasty white butt. People quickly crossing the street to avoid him. Men standing outside the local pub jeering at him. Good church-going religious people screaming insults and picking up stones to throw at him to punish his despicable act of public indecency.


"Quick! Hide the children's eyes!"

Imagine the talk at the dinner table that night.

"Who does he think he is? He calls himself a prophet? A man of God would never do that! God wouldn't ask someone to do something like that!"

"He's crazy, I tell you. Completely insane. I've always said that Isaiah was a few bricks shy of a full load."

"I'm telling you right now, we're going to the temple tomorrow and having a talk with the high priest. I'm going to give him a piece of my mind. Either that crack-pot, Isaiah, gets thrown out of the temple for good or I'm not going to give one more shekel to the Temple renovation project!"

Yes, God told him to do it. God is a God of metaphor and the prophets were his mouthpiece. The people refused to heed God's words, so God told Isaiah to give the good religious people of Jerusalem a word picture they could not ignore.

The more I study God's Message the more I conclude that God is not as concerned about social propriety as many of the people who claim to be His most faithful followers. God is much more concerned with our sincere and active love - our honest and humble obedience than he is about our propriety and public image.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and dieselbug2007