Performance vs. Worship: When Keeping It Real Is Wrong [4/5]

[Word count: 635. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]
Wrong1

“Here we are now. Entertain us.” —Kurt Cobain

In music ministry, we’re instructed that our worship should be extensions of our authentic relationship with God. However, your authentic expression may be to fall to your knees and cry uncontrollably for 15 minutes at a time. When on stage in front of people, this becomes unacceptable.

As I understand it, worship is about genuinely loving your god and expressing that love in song, dance or whatever. But… there is an element of performance to it. God requires sincerity, but if the presentation isn’t right, people will turn their noses up.

ideal (adj)
1. conceived as constituting a standard of perfection or excellence.
2. existing only in the imagination; not real or actual.

We set an ideal example so people will join in. We are cheerleaders. And we are actors. Our worship on-stage is not unlike a TV dramatization. What’s being portrayed actually happened, but we only want to show the best scenes. Wait. I thought it was supposed to be authentic though? Continue reading

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So You Think You Can Worship? [5/5]

[Word count: 487. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Prayer, in its simplest form, is communication with God. Some prayers are spoken, some not. I can recognize a prayer anywhere. In church or out of church. But I have no idea what worship is anymore.

Peoples’ definitions often conflict. Some see others lifting hands, shouting, singing, and dancing in church and that’s worship. Some speak broadly and say everything they do is worship. The Bible even says giving tithes is worship. It’s hard to get a reliable authority to nail it down. The more people badly define worship, the less I understand what it is.

And then some big prophet flies into the church on a hot air balloon, with a new revelation about an old scripture few have read or understand. And he or she will announce:

“Stop! You’re worshipping God wrong!”
Yikes! I am? Well… how do I worship him right?

“Worship is not mere words, it’s the intention of your heart.”
But I thought my intentions were good.

“It’s service to God. It’s how you live your life.”
Do I need to live… better?

“No, you just need to surrender more!”
Surrender more what? How do I put that in practice?

Continue reading

Do Christians Have To Be Mad At “Black Jesus”?

[Word count: 734. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

BlackJesusWhen Joan Osbourne’s hit song asked what if God was a slob like one of us, I was outraged. She was making a point about humanity, but I stopped at the surface of my offense. “God is not a SLOB,” I shot back. By the time I saw the good in it, the opportunity was gone.

20 years later, there’s a new threat. From the creator of the always respectful and family-friendly The Boondocks comes Black Jesus. In this, the titular character lives in Compton, CA, curses heavily, smokes weed, and runs with a ragged posse of pseudo-disciples. Because you can’t tell if Black Jesus is supposed to be real or just some crazy who just thinks he’s Jesus, you really don’t know how offended to be. Continue reading

Cast Away II: Life After Leaving Church

Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in Cast Away

[Word count: 1026. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]

Since my blog entry Cast Away supposed Christianity without church, it’s become the third most viewed post on Junkyard Salvation. (These are #1 and #2.) On several occasions, people asked, “So how is that going?” It’s been 3 summers since I left the church I co-founded. So I thought I’d revisit the topic by answering some of the questions I posed.

Are you a Christian?

Yes?       …I say yes with a question mark because as usual, I am awash in doubt and second guessing the efficacy of faith. The realness of faith. I still don’t feel like I really “know.” And G.I. Joe says knowing is half the battle.

Do you go to church?

Usually not.     I sometimes visit small ministries (“fits in a living room” small). The bigger the church, the less I’m amused. They’re like kids. They’re cute when they’re small. But they get bigger, taller, and hairier, their voices deepen, and they think they know more than you about everything… at which point they must immediately be socked in the face.

Without the constant support of people who believe what you believe, have your beliefs changed?

My beliefs haven’t been changed… only revealed.     I’ve become more honest about them. The people who support those beliefs have changed though. New people—help I never expected—met me in the middle of the ocean. Some people from my old church never stopped supporting me on this journey. Others… never started. Continue reading

Hopsin’s Song of Lost Faith Hits Close To Home

[Word count: 464. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

Rapper Hopsin in "Ill Mind of Hopsin 7"

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”

—Psalm 139:1-4

In a post on JFuzion.com, I discovered a music video for the recently released “Ill Mind of Hopsin 7” from former Ruthless Records rapper Hopsin. The Los Angeles native became a born again Christian 2 years ago, but now finds himself doubting his beliefs. With its starkly honest lyrics, a video set against a barren desert panorama is only appropriate.

If you can wade through the expletive-heavy verses without grimacing from offense, you’ll find the song is essentially a mournful prayer. Similar expressions of disappointment and lost faith might be found in Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, or Lamentations.

An orthodox Christian might declare this irreverent and unacceptable, but if Psalm 139:1-4 is true and you’ve ever prayed while in anguish, your distressed prayer probably sounded to God much like Hopsin’s may sound to us. Beneath the bared teeth of his words is a heartbreaking expression of hurt. Continue reading

[Status Update 7/6/2014 – Write The Ugly]

WriteTheUgly

[Word count: 303. Approximate read time: 1 minute]

In Christianity, one tends to clean up before going on stage. You want to make people proud. Be encouraging. Make sure your story ends with “but that’s when God came and saved the day.” Tell testimonies that end in redemption because you gotta give people something to clap for, right?

I have to do no such thing. In fact, I wrote a reminder on my dry erase board to WRITE THE UGLY because it’s necessary. If you don’t talk about failure and tragedy, you think all the victories came easily. If you don’t know the lowest points I swing through, then my high points have no value, perspective, or impact. If I don’t “write the ugly,” someone may read the published highlights of my life and think resolution, penitence, and clarity are how every day ends. Not so.

EMOTIONALLY:
Today, I am depressed, melancholy, and isolated. The feeling has been increasing for the last 2 weeks. I don’t know why it started. I am extremely irritable and have cursed and snapped at friends and acquaintances. There is a long list of apologies to give. I am not ready to give any of them.

SPIRITUALLY:
Today, I am not full of faith. Today, I believe God is going to do neither the wonderful things he promised nor the awful things he threatened. I don’t know where God is. And I hate when people say “you have to seek God.” This makes me angry because I don’t think he should be hiding. Why isn’t he seeking me? Whatever happened to going out and leaving the 99 sheep to find the 1 that’s lost?

This is not the first time I’ve felt like this. I hate being angry and lost, and I hope it changes. I feel ugly. But for what it’s worth… at least today, it is written.

***

Why Do Christian Artists Need To Lie?

Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying

[Word count: 577. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]

Billboard reports that Timothy Lambesis, lead singer of Grammy-nominated Christian metal band As I Lay Dying, now admits his band faked Christianity to sell records. Lambesis, who became agnostic while in college, says the ruse is not uncommon. “In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands.”

How did no one notice? I suspect a familiar naïveté helped this to happen. Worship leader Michael Gungor described it in a viral blog post:

We really want the people on the stage…to have it together more than we do. Because we are messed up, we need them to be a sort of savior and hope for us. The result of this is…the people who are really good at pretending that they have it all together…make it to the stage and the book or album cover and the radio stations…

Rather than just being honest about where we are at and what we all struggle with…we look to our gatekeepers to…live morally vicariously for us.”

If you were to ask why Christian artists need to lie, the answer would be because Christians require it. When a believer asks you if you believe too, a plaintive puppy-dog-eyed “please say you do” is always implied.

The What Not To Say section of SuicideIsPreventable.org warns you not to ask questions in a way that indicates which answer you want to hear. It nearly invites dishonesty to say, “You’re not thinking about committing suicide, are you?” You might as well say, “This is what I want to hear. Please don’t tell me anything else, even if it’s true.” These are the things we like Christian artists to say… Continue reading

Saints Betta Have My Money

[Word count: 695. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

ODB_GotYourMoneyMy first car was a rust-colored super-oxidized ‘89 Pontiac. My papa got it for me the year before he passed. I loved that car, and drove it everywhere ‘til one day on the 405, the inevitable happened. It grabbed its chest and kneeled in pain as white plumes of smoke rolled from under the hood. Blown head gasket. My car was done.

I took the nearest exit, rolled down to a stop light, and got out to ponder my next move. Just then, a middle-aged Black woman pulls up next to me nodding her head, her larger-than-life church lady hat rocking back and forth in agreement. As she draws closer, I realize she’s talking to me.

Yep. Yep. See? That’s what you get. You should’ve paid your tithes.

But I did pay them. I stood, perplexed, expressionless, enraged, my temperature rivaling the overheated engine in my dearly departed car. So much I couldn’t understand. Is she saying this because of the Jesus fish emblem on the back of my deceased car? And why is this happening now? It’s the middle of the week. Who wears a hat that big this close to Hump Day? While driving. How can she see out of the rear view mirror? She must be a professional church lady. Continue reading

Joe’s Cafe — and Here We Go Again

[Part 1 — Word count: 372. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
[Part 2 — Word count: 333. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]

1. Joe’s Café

IMG-20140216-00065

“We were unbreakable. We were like rock and roll.
—Janelle Monae

Breakfast from Joe’s Café just does something for me. Its tight crew of bright-faced, happy people prepare food like they know how special it is. The place is hard not to like. Light fixtures made out of colanders and cheese graters. Whimsical chalk-drawn menus. There’s love in the details.

The staff seems focused and confident as they move about in a small kitchen space openly visible from the dining area. It’s crowded, but the 7 or 8 of them are comfortable as they graze (but never bump) each other. The chaos is almost choreographed. Continue reading

Dreams and False Alarms

[Word count: 630. Approximate read time: 3 minutes]

Joni Mitchell's Hejira album featuring "Amelia"

“Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

A friend once told me, “Mark, you’re emotionally unavailable.” I resented both the remark and its laser accuracy. I would meet a girl who piqued my interest, but it would die out like doused fireworks. I started to believe I was emotionally defective, and incapable of falling in love. It seemed to closely mirror my difficulty walking in faith.

“The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you.”

And then something awesome happened. A girl flew in from nowhere and descended over me with her soft skin the color of strong coffee. Smiled like she brushed her teeth with sunshine. Moved like a ray of light, electric, blinding, jittery, and larger than life. I couldn’t take her all in, but I didn’t want to miss a thing. I don’t fall in love readily, but this girl got to me faster than I was ready to get got.

“And looking down on everything
I crashed into [her] arms…

Continue reading