Have you ever noticed that when Christians talk about faith-related things, it seems like they’re speaking a completely different language? Take prayer for instance. Usually, if you’re going to let people know you’re about to talk to someone, you’ll say something like “Hey, I’ve gotta talk to Fred for minute”. But, for some reason, we don’t do that when we’re going to talk to God. Instead, we get all solemn and say “Let’s go to the Lord in prayer”. Then, whoever’s praying spends what feels like 30 minutes telling God how wonderful he is, how grateful we are for all he’s done for us and all we hope he’ll do for us in the future. Once all the preliminaries are out of the way, they’ll get to the heart of the matter; whatever it is that we want at that particular moment. They’ll usually sweeten the pot by asking for some seemingly selfless things. I can’t tell you how many prayers I’ve listened to that asked God to look after and care for those less fortunate everywhere, then went on to list specific people, none of whom were among those poor and needy that we were talking about a minute ago. Funny how that works out, huh?
Another place this alternate language crops up is in worship. As a youth leader, I’ve heard kids reminded that they’re supposed to be in “an attitude of worship”. This is not a phrase I like because, all too often, I’ve seen it used as method of controlling behavior instead of teaching kids the right way to approach worship. In truth, I’m not a fan of the current model of worship that’s being practiced in most churches these days. Like prayer, it’s filled with over-the-top praise and enough pomp and circumstance to put a British royal wedding service to shame. Praise songs and hymns that constantly speak of how great God is, including some that are creepily close to modern love songs; clergy and choirs, each wearing robes worth a hundred dollars or more; the service broadcast through expensive sound systems (in some cases, with on-site TV and radio studios) and accompanied by on-staff, professional musicians, all taking place in ornate sanctuaries in impressive structures. Do you really think that’s what Jesus had in mind for His church when He told Peter “On this rock I will build my church“? I don’t think so. To be honest, I don’t even like calling it worship; do you really think God needs us to tell Him how great He is? And, if He does, what does that say about Him?
While there is a part of me that is comfortable with the liturgy and trappings of high church tradition, my more practical side gets a little exasperated with all that finery. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of things I consider bull shit. And, make no mistake, I consider most of what goes on in churches today bull shit. I think it’s bull shit because the church is supposed to be open to anyone, yet we construct barriers to keep out the “others”. Barriers like flowery language and traditions that appeal to us and those like us, but leave others standing out in the cold. We spend tons of money on buildings, sanctuaries, robes, music and other things that all conspire to draw attention to us from the “right” quarters and spend a pittance on things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless. Right about now, I’m sure there are several people thinking “Oh, we have a food pantry/clothing closet/soup kitchen at my church, so we’re okay.” No, you’re not. If there is one person in your community that is hungry, one person wearing ragged clothes because they can’t afford better, one person living in substandard housing, then any money you’re spending on a church building is money wasted. The Gospel that Jesus preached was meant to lighten the burden of the poor and the oppressed. You aren’t going to do that sitting in a fancy sanctuary, listening to a choir dressed in expensive robes, singing through an expensive sound system, accompanied by an orchestra.