Why Worship: Old First E-pistle 05.22.14

Why Worship: Old First E-pistle 05.22.14

Last Sunday afternoon, Geneva and I attended a Gospel Concert at St. Paul’s Baptist Church. (For Old First history buffs: St. Paul’s does ministry out of the second property our church bought, where we built our fourth building… that in time we sold, to move on to the third property and the fifth building, before returning to the first property and the third building!) I was going to the concert because two friends, Freeman Palmer and Sam Bracheen, both sing in the Swarthmore College Alumni Gospel Choir.

I enjoyed the concert immensely — the music was beautiful, heartening, inspiring. But the concert — it was worship really — also reminded me — as had a revival service that I participated in at Living Water UCC last month — how much I appreciate and am enriched by worship experiences very different from “my own.” By which I mean, what we do together in our community, its styles and traditions, where I most often find myself worshiping. Old First’s isn’t the only kind of worship where I can experience God, but it is home these days!

Worship in Black Church traditions is always moving for me. I could try to describe it, but if you don’t really know what I’m speaking about, I’d rather invite you to go and see for yourself. I can even make recommendations and introductions, if you wish.

But my point today isn’t about Afro- and Euro-American Christian services. Rather, I’m thinking about the whole spectrum of worship. So varied, I suspect, that it’s hard to come up with an inclusive explanation of what “worship” is. Even within Christianity the practice of worship varies widely…can even be contradictory. What a privilege to visit, witness and experience those differences.

I love the quiet mystery and sacredness of Catholic worship. I appreciate how in Taize and Eastern Orthodox worship, the meditation comes of musical repetition. I like traditions where people dance in worship, that “holy dance,” or of the more secular hip moving sort! Even worshiping with Christians in languages I don’t understand sometimes feels like a revelation! I actually find, the longer I serve the church, I believe I can notice subtle differences of ethos — faith nuances — among the mainline’s worship styles.

I have similar experiences when I move into other faith communities as well. Since my family is Jewish and Christian, I’ve been in a synagogue service or two… or many. And a few times I have worshiped with Muslim communities. I have been at services informed by Haitian Vodou and a witches’ coven. And though my few experiences of Hindu worship (I have done a Hindu-Christian wedding and even once did a joint Hindu-Christian funeral with a pundit for a Guyanese family of Indian descent) have been mostly over my head, I try to figure out “how that experience might be for the people of that tradition.” Likewise, if I ever get the privilege of worshiping with an animist faith community…

As you can see, I’m not concerned with any one worship tradition. Or which is right or best! Or even what works for me. Rather, I have been wondering more generally how worship adds to human life? After all, I think it was Mircea Eliade who referred to our species as “homo religiosus.”

I don’t mean to suggest we all know one God but in different ways. While well-intentioned, I think that’s ultimately over-simplistic and disrespectful of the ways various religions really are different.

But I’m guessing that regular practice of worship causes us to see and experience the world around us differently. What perspectives or values does worship bring to your life? Do we share some of these with others who worship regularly, regardless of their traditions? Is there something added when we slow down and ask ourselves reflectively the deeper questions about that which matters most and is also mostly beyond us?

I googled these questions a bit. And came across a project in Birmingham, England that is trying to get neighbors to appreciate how religions offer a rich treasury of human vision, practice and experience.

This effort, called “Faith Makes a Difference,” is not suggesting that anyone take on a certain faith or practice. Rather it points out that, amidst that city’s various ethnic, cultural, racial and religious diversities, it’s enriching to have knowledge for the various different spiritual traditions that are parts of people’s lives. And some respect for the difference they make.

The Birmingham group has developed a list of “twenty-four dispositions” that they believe are shared widely. I’m not claiming, this list is accurate for the whole breadth of human religious experience. But it made me think. And prompted me to appreciate the challenges my faith keeps before me.

I might not state each of the values exactly as the Birmingham effort did. “Living by Rules,” for example, strikes my very UCC self as not how I understand things, but I can imagine “searching for guiding principals to live by” as a similar substitute. But I find them helpful as I reflect on the value of my own faith. And what worship reinforces.

I want to share them with you. Do the twenty-four dispositions resonate with what you believe worship helps you practice in order to keep them in the other hours and places of your life?

Being imaginative and explorative.

Appreciating beauty.

Expressing joy.

Being thankful.

Caring for others, animals and the environment.

Sharing and being generous.

Being regardful of suffering.

Being merciful and forgiving.

Being fair and just.

Living by rules.

Being accountable and living with integrity.

Being temperate, exercising self-discipline and cultivating serene contentment.

Being modest and listening to others.

Cultivating inclusion, identity and belonging.

Creating unity and harmony.

Participating and willing to lead.

Remembering roots.

Being loyal and steadfast.

Being hopeful and visionary.

Being courageous and confident.

Being curious and valuing knowledge.

Being open, honest and truthful.

Being reflective and self-critical.

Being silent and attentive to and cultivating a sense for the sacred and transcendence.

How do they sync with what your faith occasions? Could worshiping more often strengthen their play in your life?

See you in church,

Michael