Sunday reflections...with updates

Hmmm this could easily become a post-vacation/back to reality rant if I'm not careful...

I wonder: do Roman Catholic parishioners think that the parish priest wants/needs to know every passing thought and opinion about worship that each member of the congregation holds every week?  Probably not - and while I am clearly NOT a theological/structural Roman Catholic (I am waaaaay too Reformed in habit and commitment) - here's an insight: as a minister, I don't need to know every member's thoughts about every hymn selection, worship emphasis, sermon illustration or prayer metaphor either, ok?  That may come as a shock to some, but it is true. 

Quarterly I think it would be good to know if we're hitting a good cross section between new and traditional songs; and certainly an annual review of both how worship is working and how the congregation is participating is in order.  (Notice this is a both/and evaluation, yes?) I also think it is valuable for pastor and worship ministry team to visit and talk through the planning of each season because we all have blind spots and the more hearts and minds at the planning table the better. But that's enough:  I don't need to know how much you like one hymn over another every week, ok? 

I used to think that such a reaction was snarky, but now I believe it is a key to pastoral survival:  sometimes clergy just have to say to some folk, "Please, for the love of Jesus: be still."  That is still hard for me to do even after 30+ years of ministry, but it can mean the difference between sanity and being sucked down someone else's black hole.  Let's face it:  if you really put yourself out there - emotionally and artistically - a verbatim critique of worship is just cruel.  But some tired souls do just that - they call it being helpful - or even offering constructive criticism. 

But I've never met anyone in ministry - or a performer - that can honestly and creatively embrace a critique just minutes after a gig.  We're too vulnerable.  So I have a proposal for all the people in our churches that really want to be helpful (and not everybody does) that I would love to hear your take on:

+ First, if you don't like something in worship - a song, an illustration or an emphasis - sit on it for two weeks.  I mean it - don't blurt anything out spontaneously - but sit on it in discernment.  Don't obsess on it but let the truth of your life speak to you in this experience.  Ask yourself why this song/sermon/whatever caused you distress: do some inner work before making it the problem of your clergy.  Don't, I repeat, don't start with blame.

+ Second, if after three weeks you are still troubled, make an appointment to speak with your minister - and don't you dare do it after worship, ok?  Give yourself time to be in prayer and give your minister time to be able to process your concern, too.

+ And third, be a part of the annual worship evaluation of the church - clergy and congregation - but only if you are an active participant in weekly and special worship.  (There is an old joke about the woman who only comes on Easter who complains that, "Every time I come here he's always talking about the Resurrection."  You have to be present and engaged to earn a place at the table of evaluation.)

And you clergy people who sometimes feel beaten up - like we all do - let's make a promise to shake that nasty dust off our sandals as soon as it comes.  Let's insist that we not discuss/evaluate the specifics of this or that worship complaint on Sunday until there has been a time of discernment.  And let's train our congregations to be respectful of every one's role in the vulnerable, demanding and creative work of public worship.  What say ye all?

ADDITION:  A few hours after sharing this post, a few other thoughts are still swarming around, too so I will share them.  I was asked by a few people why I didn't say anything about the shooting tragedy in Aurora during worship.  My simple answer:  I don't have anything meaningful to say that hasn't already been said - sometimes over and over again on the TV - so I mostly choose to be silent.  The deeper answer (see yesterday's post) is that:

1) I refuse to be captive to the exploitative and sensational saturation of tragedy that defines our "so called news" in the USA.  For three days there have been special broadcasts, investigative reporting and now a program involving the President about these shootings.  Like films of the 9/11 attacks, we let ourselves become addicted to the gore and the heart break - and I think this keeps us distracted from real life and problems we can do something about.  So mostly I am unplugged, ok?  Mostly I do not believe that the most important spiritual/social matter is whatever is most sensational, yes?  And mostly I choose to grieve this sadness and trust that God is still God. 

2) My worldview accepts the reality of evil.  I want to explain it - I want to understand it - but sometimes I cannot.  Tragedy is real.  Evil is real.  And sadly, in a country born of violence and gun-mania - where simple differences are treated like reasons for polarization and combat - it doesn't shock me (sadly) when wounded people act out in evil and destructive ways.  I share a lament for the dead but I will not exploit them.  How did the wisdom preacher in Ecclesiastes put it?  There is nothing new under the sun...

And 3) Given our national character and history, isn't it time that American Christians grew up?  Do we really need to have our hand held and each horrible act of the world discussed in worship?  Isn't there a time to lament and quietly deal with our pain beyond a childish reaction to evil?  That would be... yes, I think, yes!  (Come on: Have we learned nothing since September 11th?)

After a wee nap, I spent some time in prayer and then went to visit two families in the wider church:  connecting with them fed my soul.  As the night comes to this day, I am grateful for the fullness of it all - the frustrations and the fun, the sorrow and the celebrations, the whole blessing thing - and am ready to chill for a bit with my honey and a PBS Mystery.

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