(In the Life of the Church)
May 30, 2014
(While Josh is away on sabbatical, Craig will be writing the newsletter. Which means you should expect less Harry Potter and more Hank Williams.)
Lost in Translation
Several years ago I ran into an acquaintance in town. We'll call her "Dawn," since that is her real name. Dawn is a self-proclaimed Jesus Freak. She moved to East Texas in the late 1970's as folks from the "Jesus People Movement" began to retreat from southern California and purchase land for their ministries in the Piney Woods between Dallas and Shreveport. Because this is where I grew up, we had a natural connection.
I met Dawn while working at Barnes and Noble. She was a customer. I found out quickly that she loves Jesus, cigarettes, and feeding feral cats around town. "Hey, they're God's creation too!" she would say. Dawn is a little strange, but very easy to be around, like the one who is the life of your family reunion, but no one can quite figure out how this person is related or who invited them.
When we see each other our conversation usually turns to church. She makes the rounds of various charismatic and pentecostal congregations around town. There are a few small churches in Waco made up of people who came to faith through the Jesus People movement. They don't advertise this, but they seem to find each other the way expats do in a foreign country. Many of them lean charismatic, as this was the dominant expression of faith for many Jesus Freaks.
Toward the end of this particular conversation, in the produce section of HEB, she asked me, knowing a little about the musical DNA of our church, "At UBC , do y'all have some amazing times of intense worship?" I thought about this for a second, scrunched my face, shrugged my shoulder and said, matter-of-factly, "No, not really."
Since we had a history of frank conversations, and because she had been around the "church block" a time or two, Dawn wasn't as offended at my frank reply as you may be right now. She knew that what we were dealing with was a problem of translation. SHE knew that I knew what she meant, and that I was answering "No, not really" to what she meant, not what she said. Because the truth is, I do believe we have some "amazing times of intense worship." Any time people gather with their doubts, baggage and quirky theologies and proclaim in unison that "Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again," I believe is an "amazing time of intense worship." Intense worship, for me, is when someone goes weeks, months, years without seeing evidence of God in their lives, but still manages to get out of bed on a Sunday morning because they refuse to let their feelings drown out their "Hallelujahs." Worship doesn't get more intense than standing next to someone you don't particularly know or like while you both share in the sacred meal that makes us one and makes us whole.
But this wasn't exactly what Dawn meant. In fairness, she would probably include everything I have included in her understanding of "intense worship," but she would add more. What Dawn wanted to know was this: Does our music sometimes last longer than intended? Are there extended periods of spontaneous prayer as the instruments play quietly in the background? Do a lot of us close our eyes really tight, trying hard to see something we can't see with them open?
And while all these are certainly valid expressions of worship, they just simply haven't been the dominant identifying markers of worship at UBC.
My interaction with Dawn highlights a challenge that most churches, especially evangelical Protestant ones, face-- the challenge of translation. We all draw from the same pool of language to convey meaning, but sometimes we choose words and attach meaning to them that is different from the meaning others may attach them to.
Someone asks us if we are a "Gospel Centered" or "Spirit Filled" or "Welcoming" church and we reply "Of course!," not knowing that what we believe those words mean and what the asker of the question believes about them may be worlds apart.
Or, we throw around words and phrases like "Spiritual Formation" and "Sacred Text," assuming this is the language used universally by people to describe discipleship and the Bible.
This is why dialogue is so vital and a cornerstone of what UBC has always been about. Without it we begin to speak a sort of insider language that sounds an awful lot like the insider language of other communities, even if the lexicon is different. And what happens is that people become a part of us (or any other church for that matter,) and months or years down the road those who have "worshipped intensely" with each other sit down over coffee to talk about their lives and beliefs and passions and things start to click and one or both conversation partners has one of those moments when the record scratches to a halt and they say, "Wait, you believe THAT?! I thought you believe THIS?!"
So be wary of assuming that we are all speaking the same language. And don't be afraid to ask, "What exactly do you mean when you say what you are saying?" The conversation that ensues may open your eyes to the rich tapestry of faith, and expand your vision of what following Jesus can be. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
Work is Worship for June 1, 2014
Washing Coffee Mugs After the Service: Stan and Lisa Denmon
We still need greeters and coffee makers! If you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Winn will be preaching this Sunday.
As you may know, Adam, Molly and Brennan have been a vital part of our community for several years. They will be moving this summer to California where Adam will be working at Azusa Pacific University. While we firmly believe that Adam is acting in direct disobedience to the will of God for his life by leaving Waco*, we also believe that God can make "beauty from ashes" and are excited for that to happen with the Winns.
(*if there were a sarcasm font, it would be used here.)
Summer Sunday School
We will begin Summer Sunday School this Sunday. Michael Laminack will be leading us in a discussion about Spiritual Formation and following Jesus, relying heavily on the works of Dallas Willard as a guide.
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