This will forever be known as the day I became a perimeter player. But first…
One of my dear friends in Austin — let’s call her Brooke — included in her comments yesterday regarding congregational singing this provocative nugget:
I’m not sure where the idea arose that worship should be “free from distractions.” I haven’t really thought it all the way through, but I think the incarnation implies distractions, even in worship.
I also have not worked all of this out in my own head and heart. But it is something I struggle with mightily. Big time.
As a deacon over worship for two different congregations and a song leader and worship leader for 25 years, I always thought I had a grasp on how worship should be structured and on what’s important and what’s not. And then, a little over two years ago, Thomas G. Long blew the doors off my worship theology at the end of the introduction to his excellent book The Witness of Preaching.
He writes of his childhood church experiences in rural Georgia, particularly of the stray dog that would wander into the sanctuary during hot summer days when the doors and windows to the building had been left open to catch whatever little breeze they could. The dog wasn’t there every Sunday, but almost. Long jokes that the “stray hound of indecipherable lineage” had a better attendance record than some of the church officers.
“The ushers knew better than to try to run him off, the one and only attempt at that having driven him bounding toward the pulpit. So, while we sang hymns, the cur would sniff curiously at the ankles of the worshipers. Deacons would step around him on their way to take up the offering, and during the pastoral prayer the dog would wander aimlessly around the room. He was an endless source of mirth for us children, and he occasionally served as a handy and spontaneous sermon illustration in such references as ‘no more sense of right and wrong than that dog there.’
Looking back on it now, I realize what a trial it must have been for our ministers to attempt to lead worship and to preach on those Sundays when this mongrel was scampering around the building and nuzzling the feet of the congregation. I readily confess that I do not covet similar circumstances for myself, but there was something wonderful about those times as well. Whatever else it may mean, a dog loose in worship unmasks all pretense and undermines false dignity. It was clear to us all that the grace and the joy and the power present in our communion, and these were present in abundance, were not of our own making. We were, after all, people of little worldly standing who could not keep even our most solemn moments free of stray dogs. I want to believe that even our dark-suited, serious-faced ministers were aware of the poetic connection between a congregation of simple farmers and teachers in their Sunday best with a hound absurdly loose in their midst and a gathering of frail human beings astonishingly saved by the grace of God, grace they did not control but could only receive as a gift. If so, then in some deep and silent place within them they were surely taken with rich and cleansing laughter — and if they were, they were better preachers of the Gospel for it.”
I had always held strongly to the belief that worship should come off without a hitch. We should have our very best songleaders leading the songs, our very best readers reading the Scriptures, and the very best speakers and orators praying the prayers. I had always cringed when I had planned a Scripture reading or a song to be read or sung at just exactly the right moment only to have the person responsible for executing my plan mess it up. What will the visitors think? How does this reflect on me? It’s not our best we’re giving to God or each other.
Even though I still struggle and wrestle with this, I see now that kind of thinking is wrong at best and idolatrous at worst.
Long describes the “poetic connection” between simple, frail humans and the astonishing grace of our Lord. Grace that is completely out of our control. It’s a gift that God delights in giving and we gladly and humbly accept.
God views, and we must, too, not the misread passage or the ill-timed song or the confusion that new members sometimes bring to the Lord’s Table, but the people. We should see the people, the church, as an amazing collection of God’s children in all of our weakness and humanness. That speaks more to God’s love and mercy on a Sunday morning than anything we can plan. Instead of looking down when Brother Sam mispronounces “reconciliation,” I should look at the courage God gives him to read the Scriptures in front of the assembly. Instead of rolling my eyes when Brother Neil starts the song on the wrong note, I should roll my attention to the joy of the Lord evident in Neil’s service. And instead of shaking my head when Brother Joe goes down the wrong aisle during communion, I should praise God that Brother Joe is a brother!
It’s not the well-orchestrated, perfectly executed worship service we should strive for. It’s recognizing that God meets us, his Church, his children, in our imperfect songs and in our imperfect prayers and in our imperfect sermons.
There is no perfect sermon or perfect worship service. There is only a perfect God who loves his Church.
Thursday is my basketball day at Fort Worth Christian with a bunch of other area ministers and coaches. An hour and a half of wide-open full-court hoops that gives me the exercise and the recreation I need to finish out the week strong. Today I was having an unusually good outing. In fact, I ended the first game by driving through the lane, around and through a couple of defenders, and scoring the winning bucket. As the second game was beginning to start, Eric, one of my teammates, and I were talking about driving to the lane and playing inside. Like Darrell Royal’s mantra that three things happen when you pass and two of them are bad, we both acknowledged to each other that good things happen when you drive the lane, and we vowed to do more of that during the second contest.
I was playing help defense early in that second game when one of the few young flat-bellies who plays with us began to drive to the hole. He had the ball down low. I stepped into the lane to take a swipe and he brought the ball up, nailing me right in the face with an 18-pound sledgehammer! I later found out it was just his elbow. But it felt like a Mack truck. I’m sure it wasn’t delivered with the same force as Kermit Washington’s punch to Rudy T. But it’s one of the first things that went through my mind.
That happened at about 12:30 this afternoon. The bleeding didn’t stop until about 1:30.
You know how a tornado can hit the rough part of town and people jokingly say the storm did about 17-million dollars worth of improvements? I’m hoping that, once the swelling goes down in my lip and my nose, I won’t be horribly disfigured but actually better looking. Right now my nose is crooked as a dog’s hind leg and one nostril is considerably bigger than the other one. My lip is busted. And I’m hoping like crazy that I’m not going to get two black eyes. I’d post a picture. But it would be so graphic that the filter on your computer wouldn’t even allow you to get to this site.
Playing down low is overrated.
I’ll be back. But today I have become a perimeter player.
The Colts and the Saints kick off the NFL season at 7:30 Texas time tonight and I can’t wait. Just a few more hours. I know they’ve been opening the season on Thursdays now for a while. And I know for a couple of years now they’ve been playing on Thursday nights during the end of the season. And I guess this is the second season for Monday night doubleheaders. I always thought one of the main reasons NFL football became the national sport is because all the games were played at the same time on the same day. You gear up for it all week. You talk about it. You read about it. You get ready for it. And then BOOM Sunday comes and it’s crazy! And you spend all the next week analyzing the outcome and reviewing it play by play and then starting the process all over again for the next Sunday set of games.
Is there any chance in the world, as popular and as unstoppable as the NFL appears to be, that the league could ever start to suffer from over exposure? Could NFL games on TV four days a week ever hurt professional football? I realize there are some who will move heaven and earth to be in front of the tube for every NFL game. But most of us (right?) can’t do that. We don’t have time for that every other night. And so we’ll miss a bunch of games and highlights. Will that ever cause us to care less? Will that ever plant in our minds the idea that we can live without it?
Go Saints. Love Drew Brees.