Sunday, September 24, 2006

First time in church in, uh, five years

I darkened the doorway and entered. Church in question: the Vineyard.

Jacob (14) wanted to go to the high school group with friends. We are Vineyardites by history and it's where most of our homeschooled homies go. So we committed to taking him.

Jon took Jake last week and this week it was my turn.

I didn't actually attend the church service, but sat in the swanky atrium where hungry believers feed on cafeteria food, get free coffee from the coffee bar or check up on email on their four wired computers in "Connections Cafe." The church is set on an expansive grounds with a big pond complete with reeds and a fountain. It has taken the full seven years since they built the church for the grass to take hold and really grow in. Looks nice.

I settled myself in a chair and pulled out my reading for grad school. While I sat there, the worship leader's songs were played on monitors all over the room (words superimposed over the band). I knew all but two songs and was startled to remember that I knew the song writers (in person - used to work for Vineyard Music). "Amazing love, how can it be?" Couldn't help but sing along.

And that's why hymns are still sung today. Back when hymns were the freshest thing since tongues of fire over the tops of the apostles' heads, hymns were "real" worship. Some people still believe that, amazingly.

And so shall be the three chord worship song whose lyrics must include "amazing" and "forgiven" in at least two of the stanzas and the chorus if at all possible, amen and amen. Generations to come will be trained to believe that these songs are true worship whether or not the songs even remotely resemble the times in which future believers live. That is also amazing... and if you're keeping track, I've managed to squeeze that magic word in three times already.

It didn't really matter that the lead singer couldn't sing or that the band sounded three legged. I felt this gentle rush inside that reminded me of the thousands of hours I swayed with arms lifted to those very melodies. I save the swaying and lifted arms for U2 concerts now (incidentally - U2 and Green Day on Monday Night Football at the Superdome 9/25).

The songs ended and the Bengals-jerseyed dude who does announcements bopped up to the stage. Obligatory jokes made as well as a reference to the promise that we'd all be home in time for the truly sacred event: Bengals v. Steelers, 1 p.m.

Then the pastor gave a sermon to a congregation which may have gone unheard as visions of TJ Houshmandzadeh danced in their heads.

And that's when I tuned into my book. I can't wait to write about what I read: Sandel on the reason the ambitious project of liberalism has failed in America, and why we don't want to let it go either.

While I read, the sermon went in and out of my consciousness. At one point, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and paused. It was a kind of prayer - the kind where habit took over and peace filled me and I felt benevolence toward my past, toward all those millions of moments where I checked in with God, with myself, with the transcendent. I smiled.

I had only wanted to be good. That's what everyone in that building wanted.

And what's wrong with that really?


P.S. Damn the Bengals had me scared. But hey! They did it, as did Notre Dame. Heart stoppers. My dad and I have had two good phone calls as a result.

And let's pretend the Ryder Cup never happened, deal?


SusansPlace said...

You took me back Julie. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
The megachurch complex, complete with internet cafe, disturbs me. Perhaps I'm being judgemental and should just say "to each his own". Plus, it provided you with a place to study. Perhaps it's not so bad after all. ;-)


Anonymous said...

This is what is wrong with many people in church ...

"I had only wanted to be good. That's what everyone in that building wanted."

... when it comes to who they are at a core level they do not believe that they are good ... they do not believe that their regenerate heart is a pure one.

This is problematic because it drives the schizophrenic behavior Paul talks about in Romans 7. It also causes us to pursue "being good" through activities instead of through relationships.

I guess I still go to church because ...

"I felt this gentle rush inside that reminded me of the thousands of hours I swayed with arms lifted to those very melodies."

... 30 years later I still sway ... still feel enraptured ... still love to dance ... still cry as I pour out my heart in prayer.

My long journey from fundamentalism has changed my perspectives about church ... the structures ... the leadership ... the dogma. Most importantly it has helped me to understand that people in church need me at a heart (not head) level. They need my compassion, my understanding and my friendship.

All of that said I have to admit that, while I absolutely love ministry, I struggle with some aspects of "church" and regularly re-evaluate where I can be the most effective minister. I wish it was easier but, as you know better than I, these heart issues simply are not.

Blessings to you Julie, Bob

australisa said...

Wow, the things that we will do for our kids! :-)

Your verbal tour reminds me of my parent's church, complete with cafe and Starbucks. Sigh.

<<< I had only wanted to be good. That's what everyone in that building wanted. >>>

Oh this makes me want to cry. I wanted this for so long. And I found no hope of ever attaining it.

<<< And so shall be the three chord worship song whose lyrics must include "amazing" and "forgiven" in at least two of the stanzas and the chorus if at all possible, amen and amen. >>>

Too bad that those words don't mean more to the church.

Anmen and amen.

julieunplugged said...

The nice thing after a day like yesterday is that I felt a fondness for some of those old feelings and maybe a peek around the corner at a different way to think about church and spirituality.

There are things I miss, but not in that building particularly. What I miss is deeper than that and I'm willing to work to figure out what that is and what it will look like in my life.


Aneta said...

Very interesting article. I have a love/hate relationship with church. I love God and my fellow friends at church and know that it's good to be with other believers in order to encourage and build each other up,pray for each other, etc., but I now prefer small groups, book studies with friends, and personal prayer and readings, and listening to music on CD. I grew up in a very Conservative church for my first 13 years (I'm now 47) and the older I get, the more I value the old hymns whose words mean SO much more to me than the music we sing in church today. I feel I've ripped off my kids because they don't know those meaningful songs (not all of them, but there are some great ones). All they know is these 'lovey dovey' praise and worship choruses (some I do love, but not many). I picked up Amy Grant's Legacy CD and love it! I won't quit going to church because I do believe it's God's will for us to meet together, even if it's an imperfect place. And it's not always about me. Yet, I'm so frustrated. Your blog sure makes me think! I really enjoy it! Thanks.

Dave said...

Kind of hard to darken a doorway with all of the hi-tech track lighting and other atmospherics in today's worship center megaplex, but I get what you're sayin'...

The Cincinnati Vineyard reminds me of the Resurrection Life Church that I've mentioned in my blog a few times. The one with the 900+ students in their youth ministry. They have separate cafes for the young people and the adults, with the kids' place featuring pool tables, video arcade games and for all I know, a convertible laser tag/paintball obstacle course that drops out of the ceiling on special occasions.

I love the "Connections Cafe" weblounge concept in church. One could hang out there all morning long and never go to church for all that anyone knows.

So you are able to be in the vicinity of the worship service and maintain an irenic though deconstructive mindset. Nice. That's pretty much what I do when I attend my old church, which I do from time to time. A fascinating opportunity to do some off-the-cuff theological and sociological ruminating.

I saw the Green 2/U Day concert before the game tonight. I didn't know they were going to combine to form a supergroup! Is a tour in the works? Will they release a special edition of "Beautiful Day" like Elton John did when he reworked "Candle in the Wind" in honor of Princess Diana? (I apologize to anyone who found that remark tasteless.)

I don't think there are too many worship leaders sporting Lions jerseys around here. No one wants to associate God with LOSERS! However, I imagine a few youth pastors are donning Tigers' caps.

I'm eager to read about the failure of American liberalism. Just the kind of pick-me-up that will pull me out of the cynical funk I've been in lately!

I like your account of that little warm "prayerful" moment you experienced there. I have those quite a bit when I'm praying at work, before meetings as well as at home when we pray before meals.

Notre Dame again, huh? Spartan Fan is dramatically upping his antidepressant dosage after Saturday's collapse.

Amazing post, Julie! Awesome, majestic, and glorious too!

julieunplugged said...

Lisa, that link to your parent's church dwarfs anything the Vineyard can dish up. Wow! Flying (or floating) angels...

Dave, you won't believe this. I actually missed the performance except for the excerpt in the halftime show. I turned on the TV as the Edge was hugging Billy Joe. I feel like an idiot. In all my prep for the night, I never once noticed that U2 and GD were performing in the pre-game show!

Argh! Hoping some generous soul will post the whole thing to youtube. Looked like it was awesome!

Aneta, I was a big Amy Grant fan for years. Age to Age was the soundtrack of my senior year of college. Saw her in concert with Michael W. Smith. Nice to meet you.


Russ Noland said...

Your writing just amazes me, Julie.

And I hate it that not being a sports fan cost me that U2GD gig!