Monday, April 28, 2014

Over sensitized is desensitized. . .

Everywhere we read about the increase of ADD and ADHD, the explosion of medicines prescribed for these (and abused), and the itchy fingers on our technology that keep feeding our pursuit of excitement and our run from boredom.  Little do we realize that the end result of our over stimulated brains is that they are also desensitized in the process.  We require more and more stimulation in order to satisfy our quest for excitement.  This is certainly the modus operandi of the video game culture in which the pursuit is as much the attraction as the end result.  This is also the means of addiction to pornography in which the image itself means less than the pursuit of new and different images.  I have written before about how this prevents us from have normal and healthy personal relationships apart from the technology that is the middle man between us.

How this affects worship is another area that has not been fully pursued.  We already know that new churches and churches whose worship practices are on the cutting edge of change tend to attract more existing Christians (at least they claim to be) than those outside the pale of Christianity.  In part, what attracts people to the churches is the prospect of excitement that feeds into the desire for new, newer, and newest.  Often times mega churches wax and wane in size due to the movement of people in and out as they search for that which satisfies their need for new, different, and more.  This also means that those congregations in search of these people are constantly re-inventing themselves and what they do on Sunday morning.  Their pattern is to have no pattern and the appeal is to those who come on Sunday morning expecting to find something new and satisfied by that which is new and different.

An honest question here is whether we should be feeding people's over stimulated lives or not.  I have honestly wondered in my own parish about the constant quest to fill the building with activity, the calendar with events, and provide so many different places for our people to connect.  Yes, there is something good in this but there is also something not so good.  When the church becomes one of the agents feeding the desensitization of people, it does not matter the good in the content.  It will not grow deep but will remain a seed only shallowly planted and subject to every wind, rain, pest, and predator that keeps the seed from growing.  Honestly sometimes I wonder if we should not do away with everything on our calendar but worship, catechesis, and Bible study.  I would be shocked if other pastors do not have the same uneasiness about the way the church contributes to the over scheduled, over stimulated, and over stressed lives of our Christian adults, children, and families.

One of the great benefits of liturgical worship is that it is predictable, it is not exciting (in the sense of created excitement), and it has a deliberately slower pace to it.  This is the worship that is counter culture -- not the screaming bands with loud music and the pastoral monologues like a religious talk show host.  The real counter culture on Sunday morning is exactly the Divine Service, the Word breaking into the world and revealing a Gospel to spoken in the world but which is definitely not of the world and its boredom, despair, sin, and death.  Silence is key to this.  The technological toys of big screen TVs and projection systems work against this very aim.  The music designed for personal preference and mainstream appeal mitigates against the content of the church's music in service to that radical Word.  Even the pews that connect us with others (vs the individual theater seating which tends to mark our divisions from one another) is counter culture.

What good are we doing Christ and what service are we providing the Kingdom when we simply repackage the over sensitized culture and put a Christian bow on it?  What good are we doing those whom we are called to serve by creating the very kind of worship and church that desensitizes them to the Word of God, the Sacraments of life and worship, and the community created for us by our common life as the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord?

It really makes you think. . . and take stock of what we are doing and why we are doing it. . .  I cannot help but think of Chesterton again:  The effect of this staleness (boredom) is the same everywhere; it is seen in all the drug taking and drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded sense….They try to stab their nerves to life… They are walking in their sleep and trying to wake themselves up with nightmares. (The Everlasting Man, p. 291)


Anonymous said...

I once read that a church that is busy with all kinds of activities is not a church but a community center. It seems to me we should be going to church for the reasons you stated above. As usual-right on.

Anonymous said...

People need the encouragement of other believers. Our society is highly mobile and LCMS churches have been the centers of their Christian communities from the get go. The American ethic of atomizing people is unhealthy. No group of people ever lived like that and they don't live (healthy) lives that way now. The change is that now the public school sets the agenda. They recruit the kids into civic life and set the morality and the activities and the value of people and on and on. There are only about three hours of instruction in technical skills per day. I include in that PE. The rest is consumed with establishing and enforcing social norms on our kids. So, yes the church needs to have lots of activities to fill the time of families so that when the school wants to encroach, the families can honestly say they won't be there because they are have previous commitment at church. But if you don't even have a lent midweek service or a dinner on minor festivals of the church year, then no, your congregation isn't going to go to something that doesn't exist. Idle church buildings are the devil's workshop.

Janis Williams said...

Too much activity that is not Liturgy, Divine Service and worship is actually unhealthy. I don't see many children and teens giving up extracurricular clubs, sports, etc. for cold pizza and lame entertainment at their youth group. Their parents aren't coming to actifities designed for them, either. Our generation is the generation of too many choices.

The emerging church touts 'community' and the fact they are all friends accepting of each others' foibles (never use the word "sin"). All it's gotten them in the search for authenticity is confusion, false doctrine and regurgitated 20th century liberalism (that's redundant, isnt it?).

For those who are sensitive Christians, too much non-Liturgy/worship activity going on only leads to guilt if they miss something. Having something every night of the week and activities designed for specific gorups does more damage than good.

Church, after all is the body of Christ. The focus is on the crucified, risen Lord. This is certainly not popular, but then, it never has been. We will always be a remnant, not the majority.

The real medicine people need is Word and Sacrament. This is serious business; no frivolity or entertainment belongs here. We are concerned not just with this life, but the life everlasting. There will be relationship and community in the new creation, too. When we know we are forgiven sinners, we can then have real community and relationship around Christ, who is the Word and His body and blood, looking forward to the coming reality.