Dear Hank; Dear church(es)

His name was Hank (not really), and he sat in the back.

Hank never sang and pretty much just sat there with his arms folded.  He had had some particularly tough stuff to deal with, throughout the latter half of his adult life — some of it his own doing, and some of it, his “lot in life.”  (Side note:  it’s not easy to find an image of someone like Hank.  No one wants to be photographed looking like he did, and no one representing a church wants to publicize photographs of such people, either.)

I had no use for Hank, really.  He was a poor excuse for a “member” of the congregation, although he had been in a previous phase of life.  (This may somewhat explain, although not excuse, my lack of sense of mission or ministry toward him.)  He appeared to be disenfranchised, disenchanted, and deeply disgruntled.  A barely religious bump on a somewhat more religious log, he didn’t participate, and he would have been a discouragement to anyone who noticed him during the assembly activities.

Thus ends the historical caption of Hank.  And here begins the retrospective introspection.

Dear Hank,

I think I have more sympathy for you now.  It must’ve been so difficult for you to be involved when you were in a sinkhole of negative events and feelings.

I still think you were dead wrong in your shallow, uneducated, un-spiritual rant that day — a day when a good brother got excited while reading publicly about Jesus’ resurrection.  And I nearly went to you several times to let you know how you were such a regular discouragement to leaders who glanced toward your pew.  The longer I live, though, the more I find some justification for some of your dejected, human withdrawal.

Why couldn’t you be inspired along with so many others?  I have more sympathy now, because I know you were in spiritual and emotional pain.

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Dear church(es),

Please seek to understand me, because I am afraid of becoming Hank.  I have some “stuff,” too, and can justify the periodic resemblance between him and me, but I don’t really want to be like he was.

I may be wrong in my manner and approach.  It may well be primarily my own fault that I am unable to find an ounce of inspiration and encouragement in many church things; I experience so much of it as pompous drivel or misconceived game-playing or bland, social clubby nothingness.  My head knows there is a lot of good going on at the hands of church people at other times, and sometimes wish I could feel the inspiration you others seem to feel, but my heart often beats slowly, nearly flat-lining in disappointment and disillusionment, “in church.”

I think there are a lot of others out there like us.  Please empathize with us, because the experiences of our lives make church stuff seem disconnected a lot of the time.

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Proskuneo and latreian (3)

I’m thinking still about worship and its Koine Greek antecedent word-concepts.  From Roy Lanier of yesteryear, fast forward a few years.  [This post continues thoughts from two days ago.]

Max Lucado once exhorted, “Live your liturgy.”¹  In reading that, the high-church liturgists may feel validated, and we all may feel somewhat justified in continuing our patterns when we read Lucado’s words.  After all, pretty much all of us have liturgies.  Yet I think the point was that discipleship through the week is also significant.  If we could be more consistent, things would be better.  Here’s my extrapolation on Lucado’s admonition:

Achtung!

If you’re going to do worship in Q style, live in that style.  Or if you worship in Z style or Y style, live in that style.

You might think there would be more connection between life and the unimportant (in some cases, silly) liturgies pretty much all of us experience on a weekly basis.  From mountain church to sea-level church to rolling-hills church — it doesn’t matter how “high” or “low” your tradition is — our corporate patterns are, way too often, just so much fluff.

And we fiddle while Rome burns.  Our lives are pathetic.  We really don’t live “up to snuff” (that’s redneck for “consistent with standards”) with any of our would-be-transformative Sunday “worship” activities.

Something needs to be re-calibrated.  We could either cease trying to engage in so-called worship activities, or we could try to bring the other 117.5 waking hours a week into harmony.

Essentially, some cognitive consonance in this sphere would be nice — and highly advisable from the eternal perspective.

Now, to move from the inspirational-yet-human to the specifically God-breathed . . .

Romans 12 tends to come up in worship discussions among enlightened Christian-types.  Romans 12, however, does not deal with worship, strictly speaking.  The noun here is not “proskuneo.”  It’s “latreian,” a cognate of “latreuo” which speaks of sacrificial ministry (think animal sacrifice, then transfer that to the NC).  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“Little Kittel”) reports these bits:

  • latreian is used 9x in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and “refers generally to cultic worship”
  • a connection exists with OT priestly service and douleuein (general service)
  • in the ancient Philo’s writings, this word is said to “embrace the ministry of virtue and spiritual service to God” — wonder if the oft-cited Philo is why some English versions translated “logiken” as “spiritual”?

Etymologically related to the above, the root latron means, roughly, “to work for reward” and “to serve.”  This, friends, is an idea quite distinct from the meaning carried in the word proskuneo, which means “kiss toward.”   Proskuneo connotes bowing, obeisance, and reverential homage shown toward another, greater being.

The expression in Rom. 12:1 is logiken latreian; logiken is a relatively uncommon biblical word and could be said to have spawned our word “logical.”  Latreian is also uncommon in this particular form.  Its basic meaning is “service rendered for hire, ministration,” and it further is said to be related to the likes of Levitical priestly service.

Robertson’s Word Pictures  gives this further insight:

Which is your reasonable service (ten logiken humon latreian). “Your rational (spiritual) service (worship).” For latreia, see on Romans 9:4 . Logiko is from logo, reason. The phrase means here “worship rendered by the reason (or soul).”

I think Robertson may be affected by church tradition here in linking “service” with “worship”; I do not not see anything directly vertical, i.e., human-to-God, in Rom. 12:1.  I rather think Paul is suggesting that offering ourselves becomes, rationally (or even figuratively?) speaking, the New equivalent of Old priestly service.  Logiken ≈ logical ≈ rational, and latreian ≈ horizontal service, not vertical worship.  Assuming I’m right, this verse is not about worship per se but is about Christian living more generally.  Worship, after all, was never halted, but animal sacrifices were.

Paul is saying, I am convinced, that when we offer our whole selves to God, the resulting “sacrifice,” so to speak, becomes the equivalent of the priestly service that is no longer a part of how we approach God.

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¹ Here, although I highly doubt Lucado had this level of zing in mind when he wrote his phrase, I’ll acknowledge my bias against the high church.  The disconnect between corporate worship and life is exaggerated when the corporate worship is in a dead language.

By the way, the term “high church” is inherently questionable, as though other ways and means exist on a lower, undignified plane.  This reminds me of another inherently questionable term:  “Reformed.”  Yeah, I know that things needed drastic reforming in the time of Luther and Calvin, but the use of “reformed” today seems to imply a progress, a development, a reformation that no longer reflects the situation.  Today, there is not just one church institution that is reforming, or that needs reforming.  We all need reforming — certainly including the “Reformed” ones — and many other groups at least make efforts at reforming along the way.

Proskuneo (2)

So many ideas on worship, and a few do have biblical foundation. . . .  (This post continues thoughts from a few days ago.)

Eighteen years ago, the Christian Chronicle surveyed a few American Restoration Movement leaders of various, shall we say, bents.  I retained at least one response that surprised me positively, on recent re-discovery:

. . .  Worship rings out of the fountain of the soul and heart–the springing out of adoration, praise and thanksgiving to God. . . .

The internal man must be involved. You can worship internally without doing anything external, but you can’t worship externally without involving the internal.

Worship is intentional. You cannot worship God accidentally. It must be an intended act. [editorial emphasis–bc]

We only worship vertically. It is something we do in communication, adoration and praise toward God. . . .

God is not our buddy. He is deity; we are human.  Let us go back to the fact of how awesome is the majesty, power, grace and love of God. . . .  We must beware turning the worship of God into more of a pep rally than the awe-inspiring worship of the Almighty God.

– Excerpted from  Roy Lanier Jr., “My Hope for the Church’s Worship” in “Worship Today: Six Leaders Express Their Views,” Christian Chronicle, 7/94. Reprinted by permission.

Mr. Lanier, if memory serves (and it well may not!), is someone with whom I would share a fair number of historical underpinnings, but whose ideas around church functionalities and Bible interpretation would often fall to the right of my own.  He does seem to have a good handle on worship, though!  Here, I particularly want to highlight that worship is vertical, i.e., between creature and Creator.  The horizontal “life” stuff is related, and does absolutely need to be harmonized, but is not worship per se.

Moreover, specifically on an expression that leads to much misunderstanding:  Paul did not write “spiritual act of worship” in Romans 12.  He didn’t write English words at all, and the Greek words he wrote aren’t normally, otherwise translated “spiritual” and “worship.”

May we get our ideas on all “God things” from the scriptures.

To be continued . . .

Proskuneo

So many ideas on worship, so little biblical foundation. . . .

Principles of equity, academic fairness, and logic would seem to dictate that I stay out of the fray this time around:  although I had pointed a couple of toes down a worship path a few weeks ago, the toes got stubbed, and here I am again.  Here I am to struggle and wish, but not to worship very much.

Oh, the facts that demand worship remain.  For instance:  God is, God created, and God is all-glorious and majestic.  God divested Himself of deity in some sense to be with Us in the person of Jesus, the Anointed One.  These realities and others call me to worship, but I’m faced with deafness to said call:  I don’t worship as I could, or should.

Acknowledging this stark shortcoming, I’ll still dare to offer some thoughts about worship, although without a lot of current, personal praxis to back it up in this phase of life.  My hope is that this will help in clarifying our understandings and practices.

“What does worship mean to you?”  I’ve asked that in groups before, and will again, but it was more with the idea of getting our inadequate ideas on the table than with the hope of some marvelous amalgamation of stunning truth.  I uncovered a variety of responses to the question “what is worship to you?”:

  1. “People have said that even the birds worship God just by flying around and building nests and taking care of their babies.”  Umm, no.
  2. “Giving yourself fully over to God, and receiving Him in return.”  Nope.  This is important, but  it is not worship.
  3. “Giving more than begging or receiving is worship.  Sharing Knowledge.  Sharing service.  Sharing techniques to art of life.  Sprinkle the dust of joy.”  Not a chance.  This is like saying playing basketball is putting silverware in a drawer, changing a tire, tying your Converse shoelace, shooting a 3-pointer, hitting a home run, sleeping, and going to counseling.  There’s a morsel of truth there, but it’s surrounded by things that are only (barely?) related.
  4. Well, of course, “It’s not just the songs.”  Yeah, yeah.  We’ve heard this before, yet most of us continue to live hypocritically in this respect.  We’re still desperate to dovetail the musical endings and beginnings as in radio, eradicating the “dead space.”
  5. “Worship is bowing/kneeling before someone, making them the center of your existence and groveling at their feet. Honoring means accepting someone/thing as being up there in status and respecting them, but not drooling all over them and giving them useless tokens.”  Now we’re getting somewhere.  There is some very good material here!

When some people talk about worship experiences, their expressed longings seem, vacuously, to anticipate a divine, dove-like descent — analogous to what John saw at the immersion of Jesus.  Drooling and perfunctory token-giving, begone.  But bow and kneel (sometimes, physically!), and know that the One you are worshipping is by nature above all.  This is a good picture of worship.

But can God glorify Himself through a completely secular activity, as expressed in #1 or #3 above?  Of course.  But will He?  I’ll keep waiting for that to happen in any observable way . . . but without half the elpis (hope) that I have in the second coming or in my own ultimate dwelling place.

Worship, strictly speaking (and I do like to speak strictly, clearly), does not consist in serving others.  Mowing the lawn and washing the dishes and even diapering an infant do not constitute worship.  These things are horizontal; they are service actions that can become, metonymically, worship.  Worship is inherently a vertical attitude and/or action.  It is the demeanor and/or the adoring, reverent expression of a subservient one toward a greater one.

To be continued . . .

Special times

Karly says our doggie Tessa cries incessantly when I leave the driveway, or when she hears me approaching again. Sometimes in the gray of boredom she pounces on one of her toys and brings it to one of us, apparently wanting a connection. Our doggie enjoys — and appears to need — special times. Focused times of attention.

Playing in the kitchen

It doesn’t take much for her to respond, either. All I have to do is make a simple gesture with my knees or hands, and she’s off and running, barking and jumping with pleasure. She clearly enjoys it when I pay attention to her (as well as when she focuses on me). She even loves it when I throw a shovelful of snow at her. She always comes back for more of this kind of thing.

For comment: What are the signs in your life that you need connections and special, focused, “quality” times with God and/or with others? What factors might cause us to come back more often, for more?

Periodically I hear Zephaniah 3:17 referred to, in a well-placed effort to reestablish the reality of God’s loving care for each of us. Despite out-of-context usage, this verse seems to affirm a sort of “special time” of us-focused attention:

The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that I look at Tessa and “rejoice over her with singing.” But when I share a special time with her, she’s truly delighted. It’s a two-way street. This observation causes me to wonder whether worship is more of a two-way proposition than I/we think sometimes. There might be more of a listening component than we typically consider or experience.

And I’ll go you one further: if you, like me, lack this listening aspect of worship in your life, it could be related to an exclusive emphasis on corporate worship. Worship is not to be relegated solely to assembled-Christians activities; I suspect that I’ll enable myself to hear Him “singing over me” more in private worship of the living God. Call me an introvert, and you’ll be right, but that won’t take away the need for intimacy in all our relationships.

Can a concluding thought be an “aside”? This is really not like me, but I thought I’d mention that today’s my physical birthday. (I’m writing this a week before the 13th.) I’ve never been much for birthday celebrations — actually made a point once of eschewing 1/13 in favor of my spiritual birthday, and succeeded in getting at least one person to recognize the latter over the former. I have also taken pains not to have my name on birthday lists; I don’t respond well to receiving or giving socially obligatory greetings. But birthdays and other such mile-markers can be used to give us pause … to cause us to remember that we are, individually, much-loved creatures of God. May the special times of focused attention not be confined to birthdays and Sundays, but may our consciousness of His love make a perpetual difference.