Friday, December 03, 2010

Let all mortal flesh keep silence....

okay, I admit it...this is my favorite advent hymn

Here's part of the reason why.

I recently went to an interdenominational evangelical Thanksgiving service in one of the largest, newest churches here in Eugene. I really appreciated the segment where we we divided off into random groups of three or four to pray together. But it seemed that even then, there was not a moment where there wasn't music! Of course the worship team was centerstage (not an altar or pulpit in sight!) but someone was noodling on the keyboard the entire time, even during prayers.   I remember this occurring in the church that in grew up in...except the "background music" was on an organ, not a keyboard.  

As Brian Thomas writes below, it is as if we are ignorant of how to be silent, or unwilling to be silent. We are so culturally conditioned to expect noise and activity, even in worship. We crave amusement, novelty, celebrity, sensation and immediate gratification of our every desire. We are expected to be "productive."

Advent stands in stark opposition to all that. It is a time for hollowing ourselves out: for  waiting, watching and listening, rather than scrambling, consuming and producing.  It is a time for being patient/patients. May the Holy Spirit bore through our defenses and bare our souls to His still, small voice.

One of the Best Things Our Sunday Morning Gathering Can Do Is Bore “The Hell” Out of You
writes David Fitch  (via Brad)

Recently, I was meeting in the corner booth (of the local McDonald’s) with the men in my triad (spiritual formation group) and we were talking about our Sunday morning gathering. I said “one of the best things our gathering can do for people is bore the hell out of em.” Sorry if this seems counter intuitive but I nonetheless believe it is true – literally true. Let me explain.

We had just finished discussing the intense pressures of managing all the details it takes to make it through a typical week in our American suburban lives. Some of us discussed how we can’t sleep because we keep remembering things we need to take care of in the middle of the night. We discussed the many mundane little things we have to do just to live normal everyday life – including sending in receipts for expenses, sending in receipts for healthcare flex accounts, filling in never ending forms for a mortagage re-fi, take children to the doctor, sign them up for sports/music programs, and so far we haven’t even got to what we need to do to fulfil responsibilities for our jobs. We’re not complaining so much as reflecting and evaluating. For many of us, this the state of our tormented lives.

Then what about church? Well, it seems church demands some additional things of us well? yes? Or is church the means by which we make God fit in to this crazy pace? For many, I fear, church has become a Christian necessity we perform on Sunday. Sometimes we pastors try to make it more appealing by selling it as a goods and services of the religious kind that might help each person better sustain what has become the rushed existence of our suburban lives. As a side note, sometimes, even more “stupidly,” we try to make church a place to take care of our kids, attract them to Christianity. We actually choose a church because of its appeal to our kids in the midst of this hectic American life because we do not have the time to patiently connect with and present with our kids. Church becomes an accoutrement that enables our families to survive the empty pace of Americana life.

In response to all this, what we may need is the opposite. We need a place where we gather to be trained out of these cultural insanities to encounter the living God.

It is stunning to me how many many people I encounter in a month who cannot even acquire even a modicum of mind space cleared of societal clutter to meet God. We live in a society where God is being organized out of our life experience (and this is most certainly true of our young people). If we don’t have the means to discipline our lives from societal noise, real living with God, listening and responding to his voice is lost from our horizon. God becomes an item to believe, an obligation to take care alongside the many others. And then, and I am dead serious here, other demons take over our lives. Our loneliness/our emptiness becomes filled by multivarious forms of fake pornogaphic substitutes. Demons take over. I see it everywhere.

In the midst of this, sometimes the best place (the only place) I can point people to is the gathering on Sunday morning. Go to the gathering. Not to get pumped up and inspired. Not to take some notes on the three things you can do to improve your Christian life. NO! Go to the gathering to shut down from all the noise – to submit yourself to Christ – the practice of confession – the listening to the Word – the submission to the receiving of the gift for life at the Table – to then once you have seen God again, praise Him as the one true source of your life in Jesus Christ. Go to the gathering to connect to the world that is all around you but somehow you have completely become lost to. Here is where the demons can be revealed and expelled. It is with all this in mind that I suggested that maybe the worst possible sign that our Sunday morning has got off track is to see that our youth are mesmerized (in the wrong way) and actually love listening to an entertaining sermon. For there is some learning here that we must lead out children into if they are not to fall victum to the “demons.” This is when I dared to say that sometimes “one of the best things our gathering can do for people is “bore the hell out of em.”

The challenge at Advent is not to have a show that will entertain everyone into romanticizing Jesus (although celebration is very important – we’re partying at Life on the Vine this weekend). Instead, the challenge at Advent is to learn how to wait for Him. Learn patience and wait. Prepare the place where He can come into our lives. It is in this Spirit that I say, one of the best things our Sunday gatherings can do for us this season is to “bore the hell out of us.” What say you?


I really appreciate Brian Thomas' comment:

I love the idea of going to church to shut down from all the noise, but when I have planned for this as a part of our service it is incredible how uncomfortable it makes people. I used to think it was because we have lost the art of being silent in our verbally intoxicated world. Yet, as i was reading this I was thinking about the ways that we as a society tend to shut down from all the noise (alcohol, pornography, mindless video games, movies, books, shopping, etc.) I wonder if our discomfort comes from the fact that we don't know how to shut down in healthy ways or if its because we are afraid that in our silence that God might speak to us, and that is what really scares the hell out of us. Maybe that's the real reason we feel compelled to be so polished musically or so entertaining in the pulpit. We just don't know what we might do if God actually showed up. Scary things happen when he shows up and you just never know what he might say.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.


 Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

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