Worship: Redux

Schools have changed, even from when I was in elementary school. Now there are computers in most classrooms and teachers are starting to (slowly) see the benefits of child led/driven learning in some circumstances, and it’s different. Different, yes, from how I remember elementary school but still totally recognizable as an elementary school classroom. But what about looking further back? To the 1 and 2 room school houses of the 1800s, where all the children sat on hard backed wooden benches and worked out of their readers on their slate boards? Where all kids were thought to learn the same. Where individuality was not only not encouraged but a bad thing? Totally and completely different from our classrooms now, no matter what the radical unschooling bunch has to say.

Now lets look at church from that same town where this one room school house we are looking at is. I will admit right here that I read The Little House series far too in-depth when I was a child (before it was ruined for me when I grew up and learned about all those words that end in -ism). In that little town people walked, or road horses, or took their buggies or carriages or carts or whatever to church, and as they were putting their horses up they talked with people they hadn’t seen in a week or two, and then they filed into the church. They sat, they sang, they heard a sermon, they sang again, they talked with people on the way out, possibly going out for a picnic after with another family or two.

That’s not exactly all that different from our churches now. And I think that that is, mostly, ok. Sure, we don’t expect our children to sit still and quiet for hours on end, we aren’t expected to not fidget, and in UU churches and more liberal traditions you are totally encouraged to disagree with the minister. Phones may accidentally go off, and the wall that separates the minister is sometimes broken when she or he encourages a parishioner with a fussing child to stay, tells them that it’s OK, or when something spontaneous happens. And, you know, that whole women in the pulpit/no racial segregation/children can be heard thing. I’m not saying that worship is the same as it was all those years ago.

What I am saying is that I think if somebody from 1860 was to transport here that they would recognize what we call “church” a lot easier than they’d recognize what we call “kindergarten classroom.” Bright colors and children running around and playing with dress up clothes and singing songs in circles about bears and bubble gum? That is not what school looked like in 1860. But people walking into a building, sitting down, listening to a person standing in front of them, possibly wearing black robes? Even with vastly different demographics, a shorter service, and a variety of things being talked about, it’s still fairly easy to recognize a church service.

Again, I think this is not a bad thing, all in all. But I think that most of us would agree that there are tons of ways to worship. Some of the most spiritual times of my life involved driving up to sit on top of Cadillac Mountain to watch the sun rise while gently caressing a very large mug of tea. Or having just all around awesome sex where everything fits together SO perfectly and our bodies are communicating because we’re so far gone that we’ve lost the verbal ability. Or when I have been working with a kid on some new skill seemingly forever and suddenly it clicks and their whole face lights up, just SO pleased with themselves. Those things are all spiritually significant. Those things can all be worshipful.

So why should schools have changed so much and churches have stayed pretty stagnant? Of course we have the occasional service that involves interpretive dance, or children singing about their minds that think, and we celebrate every holiday that ever existed except osama’s homobortion pot ‘n’ commie jizzapalooza and that’s only because some of the older folks opposed the decorations. But people see those as special services and from what I have witnessed and read and heard that, if you have too many of those, people start getting anxious for the “regular” services to come back.

I am calling for a worship redux. Not a worship do over, not an end to worship. Redux. Bringing it back, new and digitally remastered. A redux. Bringing worship back to it’s roots and ALSO making it awesome and dynamic and exciting and having it reach everyone. In order for religion to grow into new generations things have to change. Let’s change what needs to, let’s keep what works.

Let’s keep the ritual that lets people feel comfortable enough to change. Let’s keep the things that are spiritually significant. But the things that we only do because that’s how it’s always been done and, damnit, we’re not going to change it now? Why on earth should that be the case?! Let’s look at all those “it’s just the way things are” things and say “is that working for us?” and if the answer is “no” then let’s find a way to make that thing work for us.

I’m relatively new to UUism but I am not new to institutions, or to working with a wide variety of people, or to walking into a place and saying “I don’t think that your system is working. Can I try this, instead?” When something is only being done a certain way because that’s just how that thing is done? And that’s the only justification that anybody can come up with? Then examine it, and the reasons for it, and look at trying something new. Don’t shoot down the new people just because they are new and their ideas differ from yours. Maybe their ideas differ in AWESOME FANTASTIC INSTITUTION CHANGING WAYS! And maybe their ideas are ridiculous. Let the new people be heard.

We could start by picking one thing that isn’t working. Say you HATE the set up of the sanctuary because you always feel SUPER awkward having to cut across the center of the big circle to find a place to sit. The seats by the door ALWAYS fill up first and you are perpetually late because you have a 3 year old who is Very Particular about what socks he wears on any given morning.

So what if you’ve been there for a year and that’s how the sanctuary has always looked and you figure “well, I am not going to ask them to change just for me.” so what? How do you know that 10 other people don’t feel just like you do? Or what if it was so horrifying for somebody who came once to have to walk across the middle of the big circle that they never came back? Say something! Ask to change it up! They are just chairs – they can move. The pulpit moves, too. So do the potted plants. And the chalice. Maybe nobody ever thought that it might be awkward for somebody to have to walk in late because, well, everyone on the worship committee is at church on time. Or an hour early. Say something! Let your feelings be known and let your voice be heard.

Redux it up!

But I wouldn’t use that as a slogan. Seriously, that’s terrible.

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One Comment to “Worship: Redux”

  1. Andrew–Another thoughtful, well-written post. Time = change in my philosophy and I admire how you pulled the ideas of safety, risk-taking, and encouraged evolution as essential parts of responses to what doesn’t quite work or work as well as it could. I especially like the image of the gathering being called to accommodate the parent who honors her/his three-year old’s need to choose socks. In doing that we would be helping to grow the child, to strengthen the parent-child connection, and to challenge our commitment to sustaining a welcoming community. That makes change sacred in my book. Thank you.

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