Monday, December 14, 2009

What is Worship?

Julia and I had a great conversation about the worship my group planned for last week in chapel. At LTS, the model goes "Students preach Tuesday, Faculty and Staff on Wednesday." The worship services can contain anything that the particular group of students plans it to be. Our group was a fab. gathering of really creative people and we really risked and went off the deep end in a lot of ways.

Our fundamental premise was to treat the worship as directed at the gathered community of LTS, not some hypothetical church. The two worships planned could not be transplanted anywhere else, but directed and speaking specifically to those who fill our pews in Santee Chapel.

Tuesday was built to be really uncomfortable... I wanted people so uncomfortable that they were puking in the pews. This didn't quite happen, but it did generate a lot of conversation. Namely "What is Worship?"  The problem with this approach, as Julia rightly pointed out, is that it wasn't very careful in drawing people in. We just hit people over the head right away and defenses went right up. She then asked "What is the difference between Worship and a performance?"

Great question!

To show my modernist leanings, let's take a look at the given definitions thanks to

Main Entry: per·for·mance

Pronunciation: \pə(r)-ˈfȯr-mən(t)s\
Function: noun
Date: 15th century

1 a : the execution of an action b : something accomplished : deed, feat

2 : the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request : implementation

3 a : the action of representing a character in a play b : a public presentation or exhibition

4 a : the ability to perform : efficiency b : the manner in which a mechanism performs

5 : the manner of reacting to stimuli : behavior

6 : the linguistic behavior of an individual : parole; also : the ability to speak a certain language — compare

Main Entry: wor·ship

Pronunciation: \ˈwər-shəp also ˈwȯr-\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English worshipe worthiness, respect, reverence paid to a divine being, from Old English weorthscipe worthiness, respect, from weorth worthy, worth + -scipe -ship
Date: before 12th century

1 chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)

2 : reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence

3 : a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

4 : extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

After looking at these two definition my question is "Is there a difference?" At first glance, I don't think there is. There is some nuance to it, but a worship ceremony is a performance that is meant to teach, inform, and generate feeling within the worshiper. How is this different from a play, concert, or another live-action event? I don't think that this is a bad thing. Worship becomes an idol if we think it does anything to God as it is my view that worship services is for the people and is meant to change us, not the divine.

My worship teacher Donna Allen stated that worship is "an intentional encounter with the divine." i like that idea, and i'll build off of it.

My definition of worship is "A Social Articulation that is Horizontal and Vertical."

The rationale behind this is the idea of a structured performance bent on generating both thought and feelings. I could do more with this definition like adding a particular structure, but that doesn’t work as there are a varty of worship styles. I could add in a phrase like “A planned Divine/human encounter” which is a really great worship definition, but sometimes worship can be longing for the divine... like in the season of Advent or Lent. Plus it is my assumption about life is to “pray without ceasing” and be in constant conversation with God, and not all of that is planned. I was going to add about people being gathered, but I’ve found that the most profound things happen when I stop and pray on purpose. ‘Two or Three are gathered’ almost guarantees worship, but some of the most profound things happened in private worship.

What I did find was that my definition works for me. It fits with my idea of God. I think that rarely do we see God operating in the present, we usually see God in hindsight. Like Jacob’s words, “God was in this place and I wasn’t aware of it.” Like Exodus 33:23, “…you will see where I just was.” We need to stop and recognize that God was in our midst and is still in our midst. Worship gives us that stop, that articulation, not only to find out what’s going on in our lives, but where God is active and working.

then i see this video by Brian McLaren:

so maybe it's not a performance... per se.. but a "corporate reaching for truth." where a gathered community (Ekklēsía if you will) tries to name a part of their reality. it utilizes elements of performance to try to name what is happening "on the ground" and yet name the transcendent reality.. the meaning as well. Christians try to use the framework of what was presented through the gospels, namely the framework and view of God as presented by Jesus of Nazareth. Like Paul stated in Romans 12:2 "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Maybe worship could best be defined like this, a testing? Or maybe as Eric Elnes puts it "I regularly meet my God, my neighbor, and myself through “the Jesus of history” or “the Christ of faith”" Check out his post "Who is Jesus For Me?" Could that be a definition?
I am no longer certain of where the line is between worship and performance? Is there one? What are your thoughts?


Anglican Gurl said...

I like what McLaren had to say, thanks for posting that video. Many churches today go all praise, and I label that "performance based worship." It doesn't meet the congregation where they are or follow the liturgical cycle. Not everything is about praise, sometimes it's about judgment, as you pointed out in your last sermon, or lament or many other emotions that you will find in the Psalms. It is my view that worship and performance are completely different and I feel like I want to vomit when they cross. I really have a problem with that. I guess that is why I'm still very much an Anglican.

Anonymous said...

True worship is not confined to what we do in church or open praise (although these things are both good and we are told in the Bible to do them). It is the acknowledgment of God and all His power and glory in everything we do. The highest form of praise and worship is obedience to Him and His Word. To do this, we must know God; we cannot be ignorant of Him (Acts 17:23). Worship is to glorify and exalt God—to show our loyalty and admiration to our Father. You would know this if you'd read more of your Bible and spend time in His presence.

Kate said...

@Anon: God must have a teeny tiny ego then. I think God wants us to gather in worship to experience community and remind us that we're not God. (BTW: Way to throw some judgement down about how much people read the Bible and "spend time in His presence" and then hide behind being anonymous. Own it, if that's how you really feel.)

Michelle said...

Luke, just a comment about chapel Tuesday: the power of "performing" was part if the message of the day. How often DO we perform to get a reaction from people? The point is worship shouldn't be about performance, yet that is what it has become. Tuesday chapel was deliberately calling attention in an extreme way to how true worship has been defamed.
I am reminded of Lee's prayers before class - how he uses his sarcasm to make a theological point. Isn't that what we did in chapel in Tuesday?
I hope people were disturbed by your service...isn't that the point? Aren't we called to repent?
Thanks for posting your thoughts. Phenominal worship week...!

Anonymous said...

"I am no longer certain of where the line is between worship and performance? Is there one? What are your thoughts?" (Luke)

For me, there is a clear line between what worship is and what worship is defined by in performance in a church service (for example).

Let me state first off, I do think songs are an aspect of worship - a form that can be used to direct one's feelings and thoughts.

The being said, that is just an aspect of worship. In truth, worship can simply be seen as following God - via the teachings we have been handed down to us (ie: Jesus' teachings).

Worship is giving, worship is loving your neighbor, worship is being repentant about our actions, worship is causing peace in the world, etc. Anything we do on behalf of the ideals we gather from the teachings of Jesus can be seen as worship to God...because of the intent behind our actions to follow the teachings (which are said to come from God).

That's my view anyways...cause I think we are all spiritual beings in some way. Our expressions will vary on this topic and music is not worship per se - it's just a piece of the bigger pie.

Anonymous said...

Constance said... I like the way he said this:
During Countryside’s “Theology on Tap” sessions this past year, I have have been asked, in a number of different ways, not simply what I believe about Jesus but what any Christian “should” believe about Jesus. I have stated that it really doesn’t matter to me what someone believes about Jesus with respect to whether he was mortal, divine, or both. What I care about is finding folks who seek a fuller understanding and experience of God, neighbor, and self, in and through Jesus regardless of the conclusions they draw with respect to his nature, and even regardless of how comfortable they feel with the label “Christian.” If they’re willing to throw their hat in with Jesus on this level, they’re worth banding together with to form a community of spirit and faith.

Luke said...

time to respond!

@AG: I too am a structuralist and need a logical process through the worship. i can't just throw my hands up and be completely "praise-y".. i can't even do this at a concert, why should worship be any different?

@Anon: you had me up until the last sentence. i would have asked for specifics but your toxic tone is a turn-off.

@Kate: you're hot.

@Michelle: thanks for your response and review of Tuesday. i'm happy to know you got something out of it and esp. since it was close to the message we wanted to get out ;-) RAWK!

@SVS: yeah dude, there are elements of performance in worship... i guess i like to use more elements than what is sometimes called for ;-) I also like the idea that worship happens anywhere! If you don't believe in the sacred/secular divide (as I do) then worship is when 2 or 3 are gathered and are doing the work of Jesus as evidenced in Matt 25. RAWK!

@Constance: thanks for sending my that blog post in the first place!