The future of Victorian worship

For a time I was fascinated by traditional Presbyterian worship. There was just something majestic, dignified and deliciously predictable about it. That fascination slowly wore off, and for a time I could not tell why that was, and I found that troubling. I’m referring to the kind of Reformed Presbyterian worship on a typical Sunday morning in a 19th century traditional stone building, with uncomfortable pews, strange smell, pipe organs, massive communion table, elevated pulpit and sometimes a choir.

Coming from an Eastern European context where order is an exotic word, this type of worship was like a magnet to me. It is beautiful and dignified. It has a lot going for it. If I were to build a new form of worship, that’s where I would probably start. But it is not where I would end up. Not anymore.

It took me awhile to figure out why it just failed to satisfy. It just wasn’t buzzing for me anymore. What I initially regarded as different and refreshing soon became restrictive and oppressive. Trying to tinker with it as a minister lead to backlashes that shocked and disturbed me. That also contributed to my disenchantment. Continue reading

A short (fictitious) conversation with an 80 year old

“I’m worried…” John said to me, his eyes fixed on the carpet after we talked about the weather.

“What are you worried about?” I asked, shifting in my seat, struggling to find a comfortable position on his sofa, moving cushions and tucking them behind me.

“All my grandchildren were born in the church… went to Sunday School… and now they left the church. It’s just us old folk!” he replied, his face darkening.

I nodded silently, trying to be respectful to his grief even if I had 100 explanations in my mind as to why that is happening everywhere in the church. For an instant, I felt the clerical collar choking me. I know why they aren’t coming. Let me tell you!! I thought.

“Have you ever asked them why they don’t come?” I asked him breaking the silence.

“It’s not just my grandchildren… We don’t have any young people in the church!” he added.

“Yes, that’s true… to a certain extent… we do have some…” I attempted to correct him. “But have you asked them why they don’t come?”

“Yes, I did. I don’t remember exactly what they said… Oh, yes, they said it’s boring!” he recalled scoffing.

“Boring… yes. My children get easily bored too… The bored generation…” I said, enjoying a wee laugh with John.

“When I was their age I was in Sunday School, and then Youth Group and Boys Brigade, I was in church every Sunday, and I never stopped…” he told me emphatically.

“Were YOU ever bored in church?” I asked him looking for his gaze.

“What?” he asked, taken aback by my question, as if saying ‘What’s the point of that question?

“Were YOU ever bored in church growing up?” I repeated, looking straight at him.

“I… I think so… I mean… There was a lot that went over my head… I didn’t understand everything… But I still went. I didn’t give up!” he said.

“I was the same, John. I don’t remember ever not going to church. But here’s a question for you: Were you ever given the option to not go?” I asked him tilting my head.

“Huh? No… no…” he shook his head. “I know what you’re trying to say. You’re saying I didn’t have a choice!” he said with a grin.

“Did you?” I insisted.

“Of course I did!” he said with a higher pitched voice. “All my friends were there!” he justified.

“Mhm. Yes… it really does help to have your friends there, doesn’t it? I was the same. All my friends were church friends!”

“Exactly!” he said with some relief in his smile.

“Do you remember your parents ever asking you if you WANTED to go, or if you liked it?” I asked, taking him back to the initial rub.

He thought in silence, trying to jog his own memory, scratching his head. He shook his head.

“I can’t remember…” he said softly and sighed.

I nodded silently.

The Energy Meter or What I’ve learned from Halo 4

Yes, Halo 4 is a video game on the XBox. I play it with my son Marcus, and we both enjoy shooting down aliens. The only problem is they shoot back, so we need to be careful that we give our characters time to ‘regenerate’ before they can return to battle. So if the energy bar on the top of the screen goes flashing red, we need to hide from the enemy, and give ourselves time to ‘recharge’ before we re-engage in the fight.

That made me think of how we could all use an Energy Meter on the top of our screens. Imagine one day waking up, and as you wake up you notice all kinds of readings and dials in your vision, as if you were wearing a high-tech helmet. Let’s imagine you wouldn’t freak out and wonder if you had been abducted by aliens. What kind of meters or dials would you want? If you watch Continuum, you’ll know what I’m talking about; same idea.

I would want an Energy Meter at the top of my screen with the following readings: -10….-5….0….+5….+10. Wouldn’t that be awesome? When your energy level is below zero, into the negative figures, you know you shouldn’t be around people, because you’re likely to be useless to them, if not downright toxic. You need time to recharge. Before engaging with others – co-workers, clients, and most of all, family members – check your reading! Is it below 0? Are you encountering people with negative or positive energy? If you can get away with it, hide until you get the reading above 0!

But what do you do when it’s in the negative? One thing you don’t do, if you can, is interact with others. You have to get it above zero. Just being aware of it and owning the reading is a huge step. Far too often we encounter people when we’re full of negative energy without even being aware of it, and we end up damaging relationships and people. Being aware helps a lot. But then, I am told, don’t do a ‘downer’ – “Oh, I’m so negative… boohoo’ – but rather say something like “I don’t have energy, I need to replenish my reserves”. It’s a normal thing that we get tired, and we need to manage our energy levels. Lots of things can help with that: taking a moment or two, prayer (done correctly), meditation, reading, closing your eyes, smelling and drinking good coffee or tea etc.

What did you find works for you? What do you do to get a more positive reading on your Energy Meter?

Riots and youths

While watching this whole riots mess in London and other places in England, it’s struck me how often ‘youths’ are mentioned. The UK already had a problem with young people, which I am seriously afraid has become even worse now. When I lived in the East End of Glasgow I could see that wherever young people got together in the local park, a police patrol was sure to turn up and search them. Now, that could be seen as preventive action designed to keep us safe, but has anyone considered what it means to be young and constantly under police supervision? I know the feeling as I grew up under communism, and regarded the police as abusers. That is a serious problem which is getting worse in the UK.

Continue reading