Sneak Peak

Here is a sneak peak from the chapter talking about worship in “The Girl With the Grace Tattoo”. I hope you like it, and I hope it inspires you to share my work.

As I’ve been thinking about worship, both individual worship and communal, corporate worship, I’ve had several epiphanies (I just like that word).
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV.
Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 The Message.
I used to think that these verses meant that I had to dress in socially awkward ways to please God, (you know, long skirts and dresses and those awful culottes only) that I had to have a neat and clean and perfect appearance, only have one set of piercings (ear lobe only, the rest is ungodly ya know), never get a tattoo, and people who had tattoos were supposed to be ashamed of them (because, you know, they can totally just get rid of them), and dress in approved clothing, being careful of styles and appearances. However, I recently began thinking of these verses in relation to individual, personal worship. 
The Bible says elsewhere that God basically handcrafted us (well, that’s my paraphrase of Psalm 139:13-16 at any rate). Things that are handcrafted are unique; no two of them are the same. And that’s how it is with us. What this means is that I am the only me that will ever live. God handcrafted me, I’m authentically me and I’m an original. (I hear you all saying “praise God!” Ha). I am supposed to honor God with my body, and worship him with my body. The way I express this worship is going to be different to how other people express worship. I’m moving beyond the definition of worship as simply being participating in a praise and worship service at church on Sunday. It’s great that I participate and worship in those, but worship is so much more than that.
God is a creative God, and he has bestowed upon the human race many creative expressions with which to worship him. Some worship God by dancing, some by singing, some by playing instruments, some by writing songs, some by writing plays, some by writing novels, some by drawing, some by gardening, etc. God has also given us our own unique tastes and our own unique styles. He’s a creative God, and he’s given us a gift in giving us so many ways of expressing ourselves and making sense of him and ourselves through art and creativity. 

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Unity and Worship

I don’t want to write this, I’ve tried to avoid writing this and coming up with a post on any other topic except for this, but that is not working for me. Over the past thirteen weeks, I have worked on an in-depth research paper for my undergraduate degree about worship and communication technologies. In the process, I learned a lot about worship and I’d like to think that I perhaps now know a little more than the average person does about the subject. Also during this time my church was undertaking a creative project, an act of worship, in the form of a complete new stage design. I say all this to say that both these projects taught me a lot about worship. Helping in the small way that I did with the project at the church, I learned about how important unity is.

It’s the subject of unity that I want to talk about, something that is discouraged in fundamentalism unless the person or organization believes exactly the same way you do on every single point of doctrine. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I should be making peace rather than strife, that it doesn’t matter if people believe differently than I do on any subject, that I should be pursuing peace with everyone. During both these projects relating to worship, God brought some things to my attention.

One thing that I really have trouble with is forgiveness. I want grace for myself but am often hesitant to give it. I want people to judge my motives as good when I do not judge other people’s motives as good. So I was mad at a few of the precious people that I go to church with. For me, God used something that Jesus himself preached in the Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave you gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV).

Most Sundays you will find me working at the church doing visual media for worship, and I really was convicted about using my talents in media and offering them to God for an offering of worship, when I was holding onto hurt feelings and grudges towards my own brothers and sisters in Christ. I knew that God wanted me to be reconciled before I continued to worship him in this way.

Over the past two weeks I began going to people that I had harbored hard feelings against, for whatever reason, and told them I was wrong and asked them to forgive me. On Sunday, during the service, I left from my seat in front of the video mixer for a few minutes while I quietly spoke to my pastor, telling him what I had learned, and asking him as the pastor of the church to forgive me for using my talents in worship while not being reconciled, and for affecting the unity of the church, because even if most people were oblivious, this stuff does affect the unity of the church. I said much the same thing to the worship pastor. For me I felt like this was a necessary step in the process, and while I felt like an idiot, I also felt like a weight had been lifted from me.

So with both the worship projects, God really taught me a lot about unity and living at peace, and it’s something I’m still working through because I know where this is ultimately going. God wants me to totally forgive everyone who has ever hurt me, even those that did the unspeakable. I’m learning as I go along that bitterness and unforgiveness hurts me more than it hurts anyone else, in fact this is a huge lesson that I am taking away from this whole series of events. I’m trying to clean up and take out my trash, as it were, as we approach lent so that I can go into lent focusing on Jesus and I’m sure he’ll have a lot for me to learn during lent.

If we have something against a brother or sister in Christ, it will affect the unity of the church whether we think so or not. It hurts the entire church if two people are mad at each other, and it should not be like this among the church. Part of my responsibility in corporate worship is to be reconciled with everyone I am worshipping with, because if not, it will affect the corporate worship.

The Importance of Community

While studying for my dissertation about worship experiences and the technology involved in producing worship, I have learned a lot about worship that has been beneficial to me personally.

‘In matters of worship, community is no less important. In combining of our collective voices in song and prayer, we assure one another that God is present among us and that God is about God’s work in the world. When we sing, we are often singing ourselves into belief. As we repeat words and hear them repeated by the community, our faith is strengthened. However, when our voice has been taken away by the shock of grief, the disappointment of promises not kept, or the anger that still rises in our throats, the community sings for us and offers to God the words that we are unable to utter. When we are too bitter to pray, the community prays for us and lifts us up to God. In community we intercede for those around us and carry them to God when they cannot carry themselves.’ (Segler & Bradley, 2006, p. 87).

I have had worship experiences like this, experiences where I sang myself into belief, I remember doing so with ‘Like a Lion’ by David Crowder Band and ‘We Crown You’ by Fee, around this time last year right after I tried to become agnostic, but the fact is that Jesus wouldn’t let me because I kept being reminded of what he had done for me. Before that time, I had never before heard either of those two songs, and I sang myself into belief and declared the truth in those songs with tears running down my face.

My faith has been strengthened many times by singing worship songs in church. It’s also true that many times I have been hurt and upset and have relied on the faith of others to get me through. It’s why I gather with my church family in family in worship every week. Sometimes my faith is a little stronger and I can declare my faith, or sing myself into belief, but there are some times when I have been hurt or whatever when I have to rely on others.

We are relational creatures; we were created to be relational, that’s why worshiping with other believers is so important. Going to church is important so that we have a group of believers that we get to know. I need to remember that sometimes people are hurting and they are relying on me to declare and praise God for them while they feel like they are drowning in their hurt. When tears well up in my friends eyes I can put my arm around her and pray with her, right in the middle of church. People have done it for me, even people that I didn’t even know. They saw me break down in tears during the service and they put their arms around me and prayed for me. We share our faith with each other, not just with unbelievers in hopes that they will come to Christ, but we share it with believers for when their faith is weak.

Community is vital to my faith, and I believe it is vital to everybody’s faith. Community is why I drag myself to church on the days when I just simply don’t want to be there. Community is why I go to church happily on the days that I do want to be there. Feeling God’s presence as a community is a totally amazing thing, experiencing him together, it’s awesome. It’s one of those things that has to be experienced as it’s indescribable.

We need each other, despite our differing beliefs, despite our different circumstances, despite our different issues. We need to confess our sins to each other, to pray for each other and with each other, to declare our faith with each other, to share our story with each other, to serve each other, to be strong when the other is weak, we need to praise with each other. We don’t exist in a vacuum, and we were never designed to. We need community.

Reference:

Segler, FM & Bradley R, 2006, Christian Worship: It’s Theology and Practice, B&H Academic, Nashville.

Worship Experiences

Several times during the past year I’ve mentioned worship experiences from church that really spoke to me. I am blessed to be able to help behind the scenes in Sunday morning worship at my church. I operate the video mixer or run media or lights for our services, with a great team of other people and an awesome band and worship pastor. Surprisingly, helping with production has also created a couple of great worship experiences, and taught me some things about worship. Running equipment to help in worship means that I am there for a practice on a weeknight, a practice on Sunday morning, and two worship services, and I can tell you that even though the band is singing the same songs in worship and the pastor is preaching the same message, I often get different things out of each of those two services even though they are basically the same.

It is with the production knowledge I have been gaining, along with some reading and studying that I have been doing, that I offer the following thoughts. The general idea was coined from Jeremy Begbie who contributed a chapter on the future of arts in worship in a book called “For the Beauty of the Church” edited by W. David O. Taylor. Jeremy Begbie said that “the Spirit unites the unlike”. (Begbie, 2010 p. 167). He talks about the miracle on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 where Peter was preaching and many people of many nations were together, and each heard the message in his own language, and comprehended it, and 3,000 people accepted Christ that day. This was a crowd of people who had nothing in common and couldn’t even speak the same language.

This happens in modern churches as well. God uses different things to speak to different people in different ways. Words and music are the “languages” that I speak and understand, and so God usually speaks to me through either of those. I have a friend who dances. I personally don’t really understand dance, but that’s the “language” that she speaks and God can speak to her through dance, and other visual displays, whereas visuals often just leave me confused. Anyway, Begbie says to take the Biblical account in Acts 2 and insert the word “media” where the word “language” is used. (Begbie, 2010, p. 170).

So, that passage would look something like this (passage from the NIV with my changes in italics):

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be different media that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to produce other media as the spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one saw them performing in the style of media that they most understood. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are performing Galileans? Then how is it that each of us sees them in our own media? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judiaism); Cretans and Arabs – we see them performing the wonders of God in the way each of us understands it most!” Acts 2:1-11 (NIV), italics mine.

Please know that I am not trying to change the Bible and make it say something else here, I’m merely trying to illustrate a point. I have spent the last two years studying different media and writing techniques, and I have spent the last couple of months learning how to operate production equipment in the context of worship services. I’ve been studying technology and culture and I’m interested in its uses in Christian culture, for the benefit of the church, and for worship. I believe I want to focus my master’s degree research in this area.

The thing is different types of media speak to different people in different ways. None are “better” than the others; the fact is that God uses all forms of media and popular culture to speak to people. While we corporately worship together in church and sing praises to God, our acts of individual worship may indeed be much different. Only God could bring together a group of people who are so different, who have different lives and different stories and from different socio-economic backgrounds and have different preferences and different ways of understanding things, and have one worship service speak to many people in many different ways. 

Begbie, J in Taylor, W 2010 For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Individual Worship: Being an Individual

Lately as I’ve been thinking about worship, both individual worship and communal, corporate worship, I’ve had several epiphanies.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV.

Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 The Message.

I used to think that these verses meant that I had to dress in socially awkward ways to please God, that I had to have a neat and clean and perfect appearance, only have one set of piercings (ear lobe only), never get a tattoo, and people who had tattoos were supposed to be ashamed of them, and dress in approved clothing, being careful of styles and appearances. However, I recently began thinking of these verses in relation to individual, personal worship.

The Bible says elsewhere that God basically handcrafted us (well, that’s my paraphrase of Psalm 139:13-16 at any rate). Things that are handcrafted are unique; no two of them are the same. And that’s how it is with us. What this means is that I am the only me that will ever live. God handcrafted me, I’m authentically me and I’m an original. (I hear you all saying “praise God!” Ha). I am supposed to honor God with my body, and worship him with my body. The way I express this worship is going to be different to how other people express worship. I’m moving beyond the definition of worship as simply being participating in a praise and worship service at church on Sunday. It’s great that I participate and worship in those, but worship is so much more than that.

God is a creative God, and he has bestowed upon the human race many creative expressions with which to worship him. Some worship God by dancing, some by singing, some by playing instruments, some by writing songs, some by writing plays, some by writing novels, some by drawing, some by gardening, etc. God has also given us our own unique tastes and our own unique styles. He’s a creative God, and he’s given us a gift in giving us so many ways of expressing ourselves and making sense of him and ourselves through art and creativity.

Lately I’ve started to feel freer about expressing myself through my fashion style. It’s been difficult because of the rules and regulations that I used to live by about clothing and style. I like a classic, preppy style, but I also love the punk, Gothic style. I used to subscribe to the notion that liking the Gothic style was wrong and that I could not express myself in that way, but have in the past couple of weeks realized that I am a unique creation with unique likes and dislikes and that it is ok to express myself and present myself to God in worship in a style that is authentically me, the me he made me to be.

I’ve realized that I can worship God with one hole in each ear or three. I can worship God with a tattoo, in fact, having a tattoo is art, and that is one of the gifts in which God has given us to express ourselves, and so body art can be an expression of worship. (I know some will disagree with me here, and that’s ok). I recently had a period of a few months where I had bright pink hair, and I found out that that was ok with God. It was an expression of me, the me he had made me to be.

I’m not claiming that one has to have hot pink hair or a bunch of piercings or be covered in tattoos to worship God. On the contrary, I’m saying that I learned that one can have hot pink hair, a bunch of piercings and be covered in tattoos and not only be right with God, but for some of them it could be an act of worship and they might have a very vibrant relationship with God. Which then leads me to the topic of communal, corporate worship…when all kinds of handcrafted by God people gather to worship together, their uniqueness and individuality are an asset to the corporate worship rather than a hindrance.

And for the record, I haven’t gotten either my tattoo or my second lobe and my cartilage piercings yet. :p

Thoughts on Prayer and Worship

Since leaving fundamentalism, I have struggled a lot with prayer and with worship. I do not write this to mock at any expression of Christianity whether it is fundamentalism or evangelicalism or Catholicism or whatever. I write this in order to write about my experiences and the things that I have learned that have helped a great deal.

 I have struggled to understand prayer and its purposes, as it seemed to me that many used prayer as magic, in that they expected to pray for something and God would do what they wanted. That idea of prayer always bothered me, and many times I would pray for things that were very important to me, big things that I thought would matter to God, only to have them not work out for me. It left me wondering if prayer really “worked” because my whole life I have heard clichés like “prayer changes things”.

Sometimes, I buy a book and read a paragraph that makes the entire book worth the money that I paid for it. “For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts” edited by W. David O. Taylor is one such book for me. In the first chapter, Andy Crouch says:

“What if God is more utterly, completely for us than we could ever be for ourselves? What if we no longer have to offer a sacrifice that might waft up into his nostrils and compel his distracted attention – what if he himself has taken the initiative, become the sacrifice, torn the temple veil? What is left but gloriously unuseful prayer and praise?

What we do in our churches, when we do what we should be doing, is unuseful! It is better than useful. The economy of grace overflows with the unuseful. Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade. It aligns our life with the one who suffered most deeply on behalf of all that is broken in the world, and through whose sufferings the world has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved.” (Crouch in Taylor, 2010 p. 39).

This was my “duh” moment about prayer. Maybe prayer is not supposed to “work”, because it isn’t a magic trick or a spell. Maybe I have had the wrong idea about prayer all this time. Perhaps prayer is about God rather than me, perhaps “answers to prayer” is not what I should be looking for. It’s entirely possible that prayer really is conversation with God. When I have a conversation with friends, I don’t come to them with a list of demands that I expect them to fulfil, and I guess it is the same way with God. Prayer is about God, prayer is about talking with God and having a relationship with God. It seems that I have to learn all of this slowly…that none of this God-stuff is about me. It’s all about God.

Worship too has been a struggle, where I often wondered if worship were an individual thing, or a communal thing, until I suddenly two Sunday’s ago while sitting in church and listened to the preaching it suddenly hit me…worship, in fact, my entire faith, should be both individual and communal. I ought to worship God on my own, and I ought to worship God with others. Faith is a very individual experience; it’s about my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith is also a very communal, corporate experience; it’s also about my relationship with others, and other people’s relationship with Jesus Christ. I am meant to have my own walk with God, and I am meant to support others in their walk with God.

I have also continually struggled with doubts and questions about God and Christianity, thinking that I was a terrible person who could not worship God with all the doubts and questions that I had. I felt guilty about claiming to be a Christian while I struggled to believe it and struggled to live it. But again, two Sunday’s ago in church, my pastor said something that just resonated with me. He said to bring my honest questions and doubts to worship with me. God doesn’t want me to pretend, and he knows that I have questions, so I might as well bring them when I worship. I have been struggling, but I have been worshipping anyway, and God has been meeting with me especially when I make the effort when I’m just not feeling this whole God-thing.

In the times I have struggled, I have sometimes wondered if this whole God-thing is really true. The reason I have clung to it so much is that I know that something happened when I got saved, and that things have been happening since in my life, and that I cannot ignore those things or chalk them up to coincidence. But sometimes the exact intersection of faith and science confuses me. I am a person that likes to research and to ask questions and gather evidence and find answers. People say that seeing is believing. However, my pastor said that with faith, believing is seeing! (Hebrews 11:1-2). Basically, I have been choosing to believe in God and who he says he is and who I understand him to be even though I have had my doubts. As I have done this, I have had my eyes opened to more truth. In this case, believing has come before the seeing. I felt such great comfort when my pastor said that.

My pastor also went on to say that if we could prove God and prove his existence scientifically, we would have no choice but to believe because it would be blatantly undeniable. But God has always wanted us to have a choice, it’s what he did in that fateful moment in the garden of Eden allowing Adam and Eve the choice whether to obey him or not. We believe in gravity because we can prove it, we don’t really have a choice but to believe, because the concept of gravity is obvious. Society would think someone crazy who didn’t believe in gravity. But God is unproveable by design so that we have the opportunity to choose to believe, or not to believe.

Reference:

Crouch, A in Taylor, W 2010, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, Baker Books, Grand Rapids.