Sunday, August 10, 2008


Glibity. Probably not a real word. On the other hand, it certainly seems to be a leading characteristic for worship leaders. It seems that the primary quality for a worship leader is glibity = the ability to get up in front of an audience and not put people to sleep within ten minutes.

Not a bad quality, of course. But when it becomes primary, or even solitary, we gots problems. And oh, do we gots problems!

We want our worship NOT to lead us into contact with God, but to be "worship lite": we want to praise God from a great, great distance. We want to maintain our dignity! True worship might rob us of dignity because we might be forced to do something, well, UNDIGNIFIED!

I can just hear the protests: "God wouldn't ask us to do anything undignified!" Which is, essentially, to believe that God is a good American who wants and requires a good American response to him -- a good American encounter that is superficial and ends with "lets do lunch!"

But I see Abraham, asked to sacrifice that which was most precious to him. I see David dancing around the Ark of the Covenant. I see Isaiah falling on his face, sure that God should kill him. I see Peter bowing down in the bottom of his fishing boat and asking Jesus to go away. I see the apostle John even bowing before an angel -- not even GOD! -- and having to be told not to do that (so: even being in the near vicinity of holiness ought to cause us fear!).

But instead, we prefer glibity -- because we don't want to encounter the living God. We do "worship lite," then do lunch.

It means we don't take God seriously. First, we probably don't even really believe God will show up. Does anything really happen when the church gathers for worship? Or are we just meeting together because God told us to do it and we have to get our card punched each week? I don't think God is about that. God wants us to worship, not because he has an ego problem and needs our praise once a week or so in order to maintain his fragile ego, but because he wants to be with us -- and not with us in the usual manner (along the lines of "lo, I am with you always"), but in some kind of special -- in fact UNusual -- way. But most Protestants stopped believing that long, long ago (in the bid to reject the RC doctrine of transubstantiation, most of us decided that Jesus doesn't really show up in the Lord's Supper at all; did the baby go out with the bathwater?).

Second, we probably don't believe that God's grace and love are large enough to allow him to show up and pay any attention at all to us. I mean, after all, we're a pretty stinky people, right? And God should probably kill us all because of our sin, right?

Right. He should. We deserve it. On the other hand, his grace and love ARE big enough to allow him to forgive and to pay attention to our feeble, paltry efforts to praise him. It is WE who have the ego problem, then: we think this whole thing depends on us! We've made OURSELVES the centerpiece of the whole operation, and Luther's dictum is true again: homo incurvatus in se (roughly, we "curve" everything back on ourselves, again and again making ourselves the center of the universe).

I love how Annie Dillard put it: if we really believed God, we'd come to church wearing crash helmets. We are, she says, like children playing on the floor with our chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. Do we really have any idea of who God is -- the God we ask to be present with us?

But we don't wear crash helmets. We want our worship to be lighthearted and glib, with just a faint whiff or goldleaf thin layer of holiness in order to make us think we've done something right.

Please do away with glibity and begin to employ the reverence due to the Creator! I'm so tired of going to church and coming away feeling like I've been to a Rotary business meeting (with apologies to Rotary Club members!) or to a group hug and/or group therapy program. Those things can be ok, but the only healing for what really ails us is the encounter with God. And that will force us to our knees or flat on our faces. It won't be pretty, and it won't be glib.


Christi Bowman said...

Very well said!!

Ben said...

I agree with you completely, but what should worship look like? It can't just be an "Everyone change their minds" thing can it. Sometimes, I feel like we are very good at describing what is wrong, but don't know what to do about it. Kind of like being able to diagnose a disease, but never knowing the treatment. This isn't the terminal cancer of Christianity I assume, where there is no treatment. Or is it, and we need a miracle?

Derrick said...

i don't think ive ever read anything that youve written... so i wonder what grade should i give you?... I'l just give you the B- that you always gave me :-)

Derrick said...

just kidding well said

Sammie said...

I've been feeling the same way, especially since taking Curt's Psalms class. Have you read "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down"?

chip said...

Ben -- good question . . . too much to address here in any adequate way. But, briefly, I think Christian worship must closely reflect who God is, and as a Christian I have to say that God's character is most fully expressed by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. So, Christian worship must be centered on/in that event -- the central event of all human history. 1 Cor. 14 states that worship must be orderly because God is a God not of chaos but of order. Worship therefore must be orderly. Both of these also contribute to the idea that worship must have a rational element and can never be completely given over to the emotions. At the same time, God has emotions (anger, love, jealousy, etc.), so worship that embraces only the rational shortchanges the character of the God who not only HAS emotions but created them in human beings. If the events of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus don't evoke emotion in us, I would say we don't really believe them. So worship must also incorporate human emotion, but in doing so can never eradicate the rational. No better guide for this enterprise can be found than the traditional liturgical forms the church has employed over 20 centuries, beginning in the Bible (of course -- and yes, there are liturgical forms to be found in the Bible). So, though a miracle would be nice, we probably already have the resources necessary to do what needs doing. On the other hand, maybe that IS a miracle.

Sammie mentioned Marva Dawn's *Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down.* Good book -- highly recommended. I used it for my grad course on the theology of worship this summer (that will be taught next summer as well -- an online course. Sorry for the shameless advertisement.).

Derrick -- I probably put more effort into that post than you did into your papers. :-)