Experiential Worship vs. Simple Living
During the Midwest Emergent Gathering, I got to attend most of Lilly Lewin's
workshop on creative worship. I am fascinated by what she does and how she uses art to help people connect with God. I wish more churches could learn from her and incorporate experiential worship into their services. We learn more and make deeper connections when we are engaged in experiences that engage our whole self instead of just passively sitting and listening to a person preach. And she helps people enter into experiences where that can happen.
All that said, as she spoke I found myself torn between conflicting ideals. One of the most common elements of experiential worship is that of giving a person a physical object to touch that relates to whatever the point of the lesson is. So as Lilly suggested, let people eat Swedish fish or goldfish as you talk about Jesus providing the disciples with fish. Or hand out cotton balls or foam cut outs - whatever can be tied into helping people remember what they are hearing. It works - it generally works quite well. The physical objects drives the abstract thought home and serves to help a person remember what they have heard. Of course that isn't the only (or best) form experiential worship takes, but it is an easily employed technique. What bothered me was how it seemed at odds with simple living.
I guess what I am wondering is if one is striving to live simply and ethically (i.e. not over consume, respect the environment, buy fairly traded items) would being able to better understand and remember a concept be a sufficient enough excuse to collect piles of junk. As Lilly mentioned (and as a former children's pastor I can attest) all those little take aways collect on your desk, the bottom of your purse, or in the back of some drawer. Lilly saw that as a collection of good memories and meaningful lessons, but try as I might I have a hard time seeing them as anything other than clutter and junk. I don't want my life filled with items made from petroleum products in a sweatshop in China that take up space and increase chaos (I have way too much of that already). I don't think that I can see something like that as an aid to worship.
But then the question gets raised - where do I draw the line? So perhaps a little plastic cross is unnecessary, but what about a stained glass window, or a cloistered garden, or an art installation? I take pleasure in such things and often see them as an aid to worship. Or what about having children making bricks as they learn about the slaves in Egypt or building a manger for a Christmas play? What about the Christmas tree itself? What is really necessary? What can be justified? Should it have to be justified?
I have never considered myself an iconoclast. I have no problem with the idea of letting art and beauty move us into worship. But I am beginning to feel uneasy with the consumeristic nature behind such things. I guess I am seeking a balance for myself here. I am not ready to throw out art or other aids to worship in favor of barren striped down intellectual encounters with God, but I am seeking a form of justification. I love music and art (and most other new forms of experiential worship), but I am struggling with supporting the expense (in the broad term). Is there a way to enjoy and employ such things justly? I know this issue has been a constant struggle for the church as a whole, for while some found the great cathedrals to lift them into rhapsodies of worship, others saw the golden trappings next to the starving masses and walked away from the faith. Is it all worth it? Can it be justified? And where is the balance?
I have no answers. I am just beginning to ask the questions. Have others struggled with this? What have you learned in that struggle?
Labels: Emerging Church, Worship