Friday, February 11, 2005

Bad Signs

One of the most enjoyable parts of the GOE readers' meeting is mealtime and becoming acquainted with interesting people and what is going on in their diocese or parish.

During dinner one night, we got onto talking about liturgics and liturgical space, a reasonable thing to do given that one of the question sets dealt with this issue. A certain priest was talking about looking into buying chairs for a new sanctuary that was being built at her parish, and she recalled talking with a salesperson about features of the chairs. She related that the chair company representative piped up enthusiastically at one point that the chairs can fitted with cupholders. I thought to myself, "Oh, yeah, those foul little plastic cups that some churches use to distribute grape juice or whatever. I've seen those holders before. Obviously this representative had no background with good God-fearing Episcopalians." But she elaborated to say that the salesperson meant full size cupholders for lattes, not communion cups. And then the sales guy went on to say he could get her church a good deal on espresso machines to make coffee drinks for people before they come into the service -- it's the latest thing!

By now my mouth was hanging open (as were several others'), and I responded -- and who wouldn't? -- "that's it, we're all going to Hell."

I'm not even sure that I can fully articulate all that I think is wrong with this, but here's a start: the idea that someone might want a coffee beverage to sip while worshipping Almighty God, our Creator and Redeemer is unworthy, it militates against worship.(Well, first of all, Episcopalians are so busy in worship, when would we even have a chance to sneak a sip in anyway?) But the entire idea of worship is an immediate engagement with the One who is alone worthy of worship, the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, the God who created us in love and redeemed us in love. Bringing in casual food and beverage instantly adds both a mediating factor ("let me pause and consider this while I sip my latte") and a distraction from the only One who utterly merits our full attention*.

The problem is that all of our analogous experiences involve casual food and drink. We go to the movies, and now we can not only purchase popcorn and candy, but coffee, hot dogs, nachos and pizza. We watch television at home while we eat dinner or snack. We go to the ballpark and find not only peanuts and Cracker Jack, but caffe latte, sushi, and much else besides. If we go to an arena to listen to a concert, we are feted with various kinds of foods and beverage. Very nearly every venue which we might find analogous to worshipping in church is saturated with casual consumption of food and drink.(Possible exceptions would be concert and opera halls, and legitimate theatre, but of course they are highbrow.)

My point is that the sorts of analogies we draw with worship are all based on being entertained, with being (more or less) passive spectators. That is, we are accustomed to being people whose presence is nonessential to the event, and whose participation is limited or optional. The problem is that that is exactly not what worship is.We need to remember that the church is not an auditorium, but a nave, (from the Latin for 'ship') carrying the people of God on the waters of the world, and a sanctuary, the place where the people of God encounter the Blessed Trinity in prayer, word, and sacrament.

When we forget this and start thinking of worship purely in terms of entertainment, we rid ourselves of what is most interesting about the church: after all, if it is basically like going to a rock concert or a movie, why not just go see Amy Grant sing or watch Jim Caviezel get the tar kicked out of him onscreen? (This confusion, BTW, might also suggest why The Passion of the Christ did so well: Entertainment? Worship? Who knows?)

Sadly, when we confuse entertainment and worship we also cut ourselves off from what is most important about the church, which is also the only hope we have that my earlier dire prediction is wrong.

* Not that I am saying other people deserve our distracted attention, but how much more does God deserve -- as much as we can muster -- our full and undivided attention?


Blogger Emily said...

I am personally not ready for "Sip. Stand. Kneel."

Friday, February 11, 2005 9:09:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Maybe we can put that into the next version of Impoverishing Our Worship (Detrimental Liturgical Materials)?

Monday, February 14, 2005 3:03:00 PM  

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