Thursday, April 27, 2006

a collection of thoughts on Mennonites (part 2)

ARGH. I just wrote a big post with this title, just to find that it has mysteriously disappeared. Grr.

Basically, to continue the thoughts of myself, Elliot and Paul, I'd like to comment on an event I attended yesterday that was put on by a group from Bethany College. They sang worship songs at us, gave a testimony, and dramatically read this terribly written poem with powerpoint file photos flashing in the background and the percussionists shaking their rain sticks. Near the end we were invited to sing along with three songs. The basic message of this event was "God is awesome, and Jesus will make you happy."

My beefs:
- I was uncomfortable because I felt like everything was being done "at" us instead of them leading us in corporate worship. The songs they sang on their own were simple and could easily have been sung along with. It's not like this was a fancy choir performance, although their vocals were strong and their harmonies deliciously tight.
- The whole thing was a little too happy-happy-happy for me. I was reminded (by contrast) of how moved I was by the crucifix at St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal. Our almighty God and Saviour became human and walked alongside us in our sorrows and sufferings, and we are called to take up our crossed and follow him. This indicates a broader Christian emotional spectrum than just "happy" through "ecstatic".
- Direct quote from an in-between songs inspirational blurb: "You won't know joy, you won't know love if you don't know Jesus." What an absolutely snotty thing to say. I believe that God is the source of all joy and love, so in an indirect kind of way her comment is true. However, being created in God's image, we all have the ability to love and be loved, whether we consciously "know" Jesus or not, and no matter how incompletely. This statement really rubbed me the wrong way.

My ponderings:
- Evidently this kind of evangelising touches some people out there, otherwise people wouldn't still be doing it. So it must be good for some people.
- I know that when I was in my late teens, I felt nurtured by this brand of Christianity while working at camp (an MB camp), and so it is still a part of me somewhere deep down even if I don't understand it anymore.


Jan said...

I keep hearing this idea that people don't like "Happy-Happy Church" and I don't really get it. What's wrong with being happy? What's wrong with celebration and joy because we are Christians? I find it depressing sometimes when all I get to sing is sllloooowwww hymns and bland recitation. Where is the joy in that?

I'm confused at what you mean by "at" you... were you supposed to join in, or was it a performance?

Elliot said...


A lot of happy-clappy people seem to have forgotten the difference between 'happiness' and 'joy.'

I think David's a lot more accurate when he says that getting involved with Jesus is a great way to make your life very hard.

I assume some people have been converted by that approach, but I wonder if the REAL reason it keeps being done is that it gives the evangelists a warm-fuzzy feeling and doesn't trouble their pretty heads or happy-clappy 'theology.' [he said, with inappropriate levels of disdain dripping from his keyboard]

Diedre said...

Christians are human beings. So was Jesus. Part of being human is having a very broad emotional range (angry, happy, sad, confused, blah, scared, curious, etc.). Most Christian worship services address a broad range of needs. For example: gathering, invocation, praise, confession, assurance, teaching, response, sending. It seems to me that evangelism should reflect this range of Christian experience so that a fuller picture of it all is conveyed. Happy is important, but not important to the extent that it ought to eclipse all else (as was my experience of this event).

Let me try and clarify the whole "at" thing. It felt like the people up front were having a worship service of their own. As a Christian, I felt like participating in worshipping God, but there was no such opportunity until the very end. It felt weird to me that I was expected to sit and watch, especially since so many of their songs were simple enough that an audience could easily be invited to participate.

I like happy-clappy when it is well-balanced with hymns. (I'm a dedicated hymnophile.) This kind of balance doesn't have to be maintained within every single service, it just needs to happen for me overall, even over the course of a few months. Funny, just this past weekend at a junior youth retreat I surprised even myself by bursting out in actual DANCE during a worship song! It was fun.

Elliot said...

The problem with the true 'happy-clappy' people is that they have only one setting - forced brainless cheerfulness. How many times does one need to repeat "We Just Want To Say You're Awesome Jesus" or "God is Really Really Really Nifty"?

Their theology says that since they've had a conversion experience, they now must be full of happiness, all the time (if they don't seem happy, that means their conversion was fake, and people will start praying for them).

Diedre said...

What you just said is precisely the vibe I got from this evangelism event. It was one of those shocking occasions where a gruesome stereotype reared its ugly head and was perfectly accurate. I guess the stereotypes come from somewhere...sometimes it's just weird when they fit too well.

Paul said...

Elliot, I think you're doing exactly what you are complaining about here. You're attacking a straw man. These "true happy-clappy" people with only one setting of brainless cheerfulness don't really exist. Everybody is more complex than that. Every theology is more complex than "since they've had a conversion experience, they now must be full of happiness, all the time (if they don't seem happy, that means their conversion was fake, and people will start praying for them)", even if the theologians aren't able to articulate those complexities.

At the worst, what you're describing is people who think that worship needs to be happy in order to be genuine, and who confuse happiness with joy. Which I think does happen, and I do think is a mistake. However, it's no worse a mistake than assuming that a certain worship style necessarily means a certain theology.

As Christians, we are not called to explore the full spectrum of human emotion. I believe that we should, and that it is right to do so, but we aren't explicitly called to it. We ARE explicitly called to love one another. We ARE explicitly called to refrain from judging each other. And we ARE explicitly called to rejoice in the Lord always.

Diedre said...

Ahh...touche! (I don't know how to make my computer put the right accent on that.)

I have not intended to attack fellow Christian believers. My aim was to point out things that irked me or struck me as somewhat "off" in hopes of discussing them and perhaps gaining some understanding on the matter. I do enjoy a strong and good-natured debate (on occasion, much to Judi's chagrin). I feel we're being successful thus far.

I think stereotypes are funny creatures. My philosophy on stereotypes is that they're only completely true in 0.1% of all cases. This is why I'm often weirded out when they seem to be true. I strongly suspect that given a proper conversation with any of the performers of this evangelism event we would find that no single one of them fits the stereotype. However, I'm afraid to say that the program that was created for that evening really DID fit the stereotype that Elliot outlined. Hence my weirded-out-ness. (Read that in a Strongbad voice if possible...with a tinge of Chris Huebner for those who know and love/hate his affinity for the suffix "-ness".)

Without getting into the explicit wordings of our call to worship, I believe we're all on the same page when we say that at least a moderate breadth in the components/needs/emotions/aspects of Christian worship is a must, even if it be only a strong implicit. Ja?

Elliot said...

We already discussed some of this in person, but for Diedre and possible lurkers:

True, true. I shouldn't have used such sweeping language. Sorry! But I still think Diedre is totally right to be weirded out.

While I agree that: "Every theology is more complex" than ordinarly people can articulate, and that a skilled charismatic theologian could explain their practice in profound, awe-inspiring ways, the fact remains that many Christian's actions do not, in fact, seem to be informed by any theological understanding whatsoever.

If you asked them "Do you believe that you have to show happiness all the time or else it will signal that you're not truly saved?" perhaps they would tell you otherwise, and as you say, perhaps they would have good reasons for their practice but be unable to articulate them. But the half-articulated place-filler theories that they have in the meantime do cause them to act in certain ways, which are not very flattering to the faith.

More seriously, liturgy (even informal 'spontaneous' liturgy) and corporate worship are some of the most important areas in which Christians are supposed to manifest and practice what they believe, and point to the Kingdom. So too much brainless fluff borrowed from pop music ten years ago (with the word 'Jesus' inserted to make it Christian), solely intended to give people an emotional high, will be really detrimental in the long run to those people's faith and to the impressions of the non-Christians who happen to witness it. "Oh, so THIS is what Christianity is all about," they'll think - "it's a gushing feel-good emotional orgy, pointing squarely and solely at the participant's subjective feelings."

"it's no worse a mistake than assuming that a certain worship style necessarily means a certain theology."

Maybe I've just been reading too much of this Schmemann guy, but the worship IS the theology. I quite like happy, catchy tunes and hymns, but when a whole sector of the church does only that every Sunday, year in and year out... What is that saying?

I think there's a connection between the heavy emotionalism of certain styles of worship and the fact that those Christians slide into old heresies and/or New Age trash quite frequently. Take the 'Oneness' Pentecostals. Or the surveys (which Christianity Today often gets worried about) in which great numbers of self-declared evangelicals say they believe in psychics, reincarnation and crystal healing. When your experience of worship is dumbed-down, and is all about *feeling* over thought or symbol, it teaches that your faith is all about you, and all about making you feel happy today. Who cares about tradition or dusty old creeds?

Finally, even if everything I said above is grumpy-old-man nonsense (as it might well be!) Diedre's hit the nail right on the head with the distinction between worshipping WITH and worshipping AT. There's something really wrong if people are explicitly using corporate worship to chasten and evangelize the heathens... It's like praying AT people rather than praying FOR them.

Steph said...

yay! people are talking about worship!

also yay: I have smart, wonderful, articulate friends. :) all of you have made excellent points.

If I may add my own two cents:Paul makes a good point when he distinguishes what we are called to do from what is right and good to do. Judgementalism is definitely a trap I fall into when faced with stereotypical behaviour or anything else I don't agree with. That being said, it always saddens me when we, as humans, limit our worship of God. Unfortunately, we always will, so I run the risk of always feeling sad (which may be just as bad as always feeling happy!). I disagree with Paul in that I believe that this limited worship often does come from a limited theology. Our worship of God is directly affected by who we think God is and how we view our relationship with God. This theology comes out in the words we sing or speak, how silence is used/experienced, the environment that worship happens in, the physical postures we employ etc. So I think Diedre and Elliot's assumptions are valid. I do agree with what Paul said in words, which is that worship style does not mean a certain theology. But, in context, I don't think it was the style that was in question as breadth in worship can happen in many different styles. What was in question were the attitudes and thinking behind the worship that happened.