Script vs. liturgy

My family has recently begun visiting an Anglican gathering — a very new and different experience for us. I’m still wrestling through liturgy and ritual, and the appropriate place for it in the Church. On the one hand, ritual is everywhere — our morning routines, business meetings, social gatherings. Ritual gives us structure — a baseline that we can then use to branch out of. It’s much like Jazz — it cannot be random, otherwise it would be chaos and cacophony. Instead it has a basic structure that allows the musicians to try variations. Individuality comes out — yet in harmony with the group.

On the other extreme is lip-syncing — you are just playing a part and are making no contribution to the music in any way.

So which is liturgy? Some people certainly see it as dead ritual. But I am also seeing how a “contemporary” church service can become dead ritual. Worse, it becomes manipulative and false. The choice of songs just before the sermon about tithing? Scripted. That emotional music that plays over the final heartfelt plea of the preacher? Scripted.

With a true liturgy, we are all — leaders and congregation — focused on the words and meaning. We are having a shared experience, not passively consuming. Any emotions I feel are my own, they are genuine.

And we need a church that is genuine.

The rise of the dones

I read this post with a growing feeling of “This is me!” My current church — like many others — has become scripted and manipulative.

It isn’t deliberate. It’s the result of a thousand small choices combined with a few basic philosophies. For example: The “everything is in support of the sermon” philosophy. Everything from the choice of music to the emotional plea at the end is to hammer home how important it is to take this sermon seriously and to repent and change our ways this week. And then next week it’s a different thing we are doing wrong. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned, but it’s exhausting.

It also contributes to a very passive “The senior pastor preaches, we listen” mentality. Our pastor occasionally says, “This is a dialogue!” — but all it means is he wants an “Amen!” at the right time. Would he welcome the clarification of a point or someone questioning his conclusion? Unthinkable.

I don’t mean to bash the senior pastor. He is under a lot of pressure. He’s basically the CEO of a business. And businesses tend to be concerned about the bottom line. Not necessarily profits, but vision statements and alignment and staff meetings.

The church should be a family, not a business. And that’s why we’re leaving.

Forgetting

I watched Click (the Adam Sandler movie) a few years ago and it immediately struck me as a powerful picture  of depression. I’m going from memory, so I may have a few things wrong. SEMI-ACCURATE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The basic story line is that Michael (Adam’s character) wishes for a way to skip through the boring bits of life and get on to the next exciting thing. This being a fantasy, he encounters a magic salesman who provides him with a remote control that he can use to fast-forward real life whenever he likes. What he doesn’t expect is that he would lose control of it and suddenly end up 20 years in the future at his daughter’s wedding. Stunned, he tries to reconnect with his family and finds that they are all estranged from him.

He finds the salesman who sold him the remote and demands an explanation. The magical salesman explains that during the fast-forward process, you are sort of running on “automatic.” He shows Michael how to “flashback” to the last time he spoke to his daughter. Michael watches as she visits him at work; she clearly wants to speak with him about something important.  His “automatic” self just mutters and keeps working. She leaves, crying.

“Talk to her!” Michael tells his auto-self.

“I don’t remember any of this!” he tells the magical salesman, who just shakes his head and says, “Of course you don’t.”

Sometime around 2009, I was on the road to recovery, and I started feeling normal again. I was happy (or happier) and ready to get on with life. My wife was pleased that I was better, but had been suffering as much — or more — as I, and wanted to talk about what had happened.

But every time she brought up a time where I had responded roughly or had said something hurtful — I simply did not remember it. It was difficult to get closure, and it took some time for us to work through the pain and rebuild the trust that had been lost.

One thing I will never forget: How she stood by me.

10% Happier

Last week I started reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It’s a good read, and I find myself identifying with his thought process and journey. I also have no interest in becoming a Buddhist (though he doesn’t either, at least at this point in the book). It’s giving me hope that a “normal person” can quiet the voices and find peace. I also am finding it frustrating that I have never heard such practical advice in mainstream Christian churches. It’s always, “Just pray and read your Bible more.”

Peace in the shower

During the “long dark” of my severe depression, one of the only ways I could find a measure of peace was to sit (literally sit) in the shower. I would let the water pour straight down on my head and plug my ears. It sounded like rain on a wooden roof. I would sit like this for 10+ minutes until the panic and fear subsided enough to face the day.