I listen to the music. I stand when told to by the leader of the small ensemble on the stage. The words to the songs are emblazoned on large screens throughout the auditorium. Sometimes the songs are familiar hymns from my youth. I always like that since I know the words, and sometimes a particular hymn will bring with it a vivid memory from the past. Just about the time I become entranced in a memory, suddenly the tune veers over a cliff into some strange incongruous chorus full of upbeat baselines and lyrics that I've never heard before. Then, just as quickly as this rude departure was made, suddenly we are back at the second, familiar verse. It's a little like musical whiplash.
More often than not, the songs are newer, more contemporary offerings. The singers try desperately to encourage a building full of middle aged white people to clap their hands, preferably in rhythm, but their efforts are largely ignored. Some of these newer songs are very nice and all of them are very well executed by the ensemble, the choir and the instrumentalists, who have clearly worked hard to prepare the music. Oddly, I am seldom moved. Part of the reason is that many of the newer songs, when stripped of their religious surroundings, could very well have been written by a love sick teenager about their one true love. There are a lot of strange passages which speak of pseudo-romantic encounters, "...the first time I was embraced in his arms..." It's all too much for this 57 year old man who longs for..."A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing..." Which brings me to the point of this particular blog post, which is not church music, but rather...church and what it has become.
As a man, and I am not ashamed to say so, I long for adventure in life, always have. There's something inside me that longs to be a part of some heroic thing. Yes, I know, that this particular male instinct is probably at the root of most of history's wars, and I'm really sorry about all that, but it won't go away. I want to be heroic, or at least to feel heroic. From the moment that my children were born, I felt that way every day. I had brought two beautiful people into the world and now it was going to be my job...my quest even, to provide for them, to protect them, to see to it that they grew up strong and healthy and that they became good people. It felt like a daunting task most days, grueling work. But it provided me with a heroic mission for over twenty years. But now they are both all grown up and being heroic in their own right. I need another quest, another adventure.
Business used to provide that for me. But that was during the years when I was struggling to build the thing. Now that it's built and self sustaining, it's not much of a challenge.
So, I've been hoping to discover the next big challenge in life, the next battle to fight, the next heroic adventure. What better place to look than...church.
Only, something weird has happened, not just at my church but countless others. Church has become an entirely feminine enterprise. Sure the leaders are all still mostly male, at least at my church, but make no mistake, it's a completely feminine project now. From the love song lyrics of the praise choruses to the breathy incantations of the speakers, I feel like I'm at a book club discussion group instead of church half the time. Even the vocabulary of church has gone feminine. You want to find a place of service? Volunteer in one of our encounter teams. Even traditionally male jobs at church like working the parking lot has been transformed into something called...first touch. We are all about touching and sharing life, and being sensitive. If you want to "man" the phones during our televised service, you can sign up as a caring listener. Not that there is anything at all wrong with being sensitive and caring, you understand, but if your life was on the line and there was incoming mortars landing all around you, who would you honestly want in your foxhole...your sensitive, caring preacher, or your mechanic? If you're trying to gin up your courage for a difficult encounter, who do you want on your iPod...David Crowder or a little Martin Freaking Luther??
Listen, I have nothing against things feminine. I have been surrounded by strong women all of my life. I'm married to one and have raised another. But, the feminization of the Christian faith has rendered it incomprehensible to me. It has been stripped of its heroism, robbed of its adventurous spirit, and replaced by an encounter group vibe that has me glancing at my cell phone every Sunday morning.
And sitting on the aisle.