Tuesday, November 15, 2011
What I like...
I nudged her and whispered. "Don't like this one, either, huh?" She just looked at me. "I noticed that you do not sing when you do not like the hymn." She still just stared at me as if her big secret had been exposed for all the world to see. "I know you don't like it. You don't have to. But sing it anyway. God likes what it says. If not for yourself, sing it for Him." And then I left the prie dieu to enter the pulpit for the sermon...
This incident came back to mind while I read Christopher Hall's words on clapping in the church. I quote him:
On Sunday the Adult and Children’s Choir sang a difficult arrangement of “When the Saints”. While it is not my favorite for worship, they did an excellent job, and it was moving. Some people clapped. That is ok. But the next day, someone said to me, “I was going to clap, and then some others did, and I clapped right along with them! Now they know what we like!!” Comments like this is why we don’t encourage clapping. Worship is not about what you like. It’s not about what the Pastor likes. It’s not about what any one person likes, or about what we all together can agree on liking. Worship is about the Word and Spirit and the worship we have received through the Church, through the ages. It is about denying my own likes and submitting to one another in our Synod. We worship God, not entertain ourselves.
I must admit I am not a fan of clapping in Church. Maybe it is just because no one has ever clapped after one of my sermons. Maybe it is because I am Northern European and we were taught to bury our emotions behind the face of indifference for all things except Lutefisk and Coffee. Whatever the reason, I do not think clapping belongs in the worship service. The people in the pews where I serve know that. It just about kills them after the kids choirs sing. They want to clap so bad. They want to let those kiddies know that they appreciated their hard work, they liked what they heard, and they hope they will hear from them again. But instead, they turn and stare at me following the kid's choir anthems. It is their way of saying "Okay, you are the boss and we won't clap but we want to..."
If we grant the right to clap, should we grant the right to boo? Now I know that it is not good sportsmanship to boo. But if the whole point is to signal our appreciation or our lack of appreciation for what was done, then maybe we need to allow for the other side to have its opinion. If not booing, how about a thumbs down when the choir never makes it to the right note or the acolyte falls asleep during worship or the Pastor preaches a dud or the ushers drop the offering plate or the organist plays a clinker.
But Christopher Hall got it right. The reason I do not like clapping is not the clapping per se. It is about the usual sentiment behind it. Clapping expresses approval. It sends a message. "We like this. Do this again. We enjoyed this." So we clap at the end of a song at a concert or at the end of the program (hoping for an encore or four to prolong what we enjoyed). We clap at the end of some weddings in hopes that we can see again a sloppy kiss. Now if the applause were truly a spontaneous expression of joy or thanksgiving to the Lord, that might be different. But it seldom is.
I have experienced several instances in which applause was just that -- spontaneous, joyful, and expressive of great gratitude to the Lord! Once I was at an installation of a Pastor to a congregation that had gone years without a full-time Pastor. After the installation rite, the congregation spontaneously stood in applause, giving thanks to God for the answer to their prayers and to rejoice at the resident Pastor who would bring to them the Word and Sacraments of the Lord. It actually brought tears to my eyes. But that was once and most of the time we give the clap not to God but to the performer as a way of saying "well done, do it again, or I liked it." And for that reason alone, clapping in church gives me the willies.