it all began with some crumbs


Last week I got into a facebook argument with some friends and colleagues.

The argument was about communion and crumbs.

This week I read one of the same friend’s newsletters.  *sidenote, on this new blog attempt I will shirk my midwest roots and be open and honest*  It was from Matthew Voyer, a seminary friend who often times finds himself on the other side of just about every issue from me.  In his newsletter he says, “Congregations that turn sanctuaries to entertainment halls will not look different from the world.”  Now this, piggybacked with the discussion on his facebook wall have left me doing a lot of thinking this past week.  Here is my conclusion – well right now at least.

In 2016, all worship is entertainment, all worship is made up of many small consumerist choices.

I just do not think we can get away from that fact.  I am about to make my argument and before I do so I want to make a few things known before I get attacked by more traditional folk who seem to be irked by my existence in the church.  One, I have a BS in History, and I minored in Art History and English.  I have an Md.Div from Wartburg Seminary where I was blessed to spend a year in Germany at the Augustana Hochschule where I took classes in German, and my internship was with the Episcopal Church on the Leech Lake Reservation.  I spent my second call working with Dr. Michael Burkhardt, one of the world’s best organists, whose patience and spirit made me fall in love with the instrument.  I say all of this because I think people assume that either I dislike “traditional/orthadox/whateveryouwanttocallit worship” or they think I am an unthinking idiot (they are only partially right, I am a thinking idiot).

On to my thoughts then.  All worship is entertainment and all worship is made of many small (or big) consumerist choices.

Much of what makes up what people would call traditional worship today has less to do with theology, historically speaking, and much more to do with historical cultural norms.

In 2016, candles are an outdated technology.  We no longer need candles to illuminate space.  For over 100 years, lightbulbs have done s spectacular job of doing this.

In 2016 we have pasteurization, we have preservatives, we have sanitation we have screens and we have hvac systems.  The world (which we inhabit) no longer has so many curious odors lurking about.  We no longer need antiquated ways of preserving things or attempting to make life more pleasant.  Thus we no longer light incense to make the smell of a space bearable, and we no longer cover our glasses with cloth or ham to keep bugs out of our wine.

In 2016 we have steel beams and fascinating new construction methods.  Stone arches are no longer necessary to  create large open spaces.

In 2016 we have amplification systems based on speakers and microphones and wireless networks.  We no longer have to physically elevate a human above a crowd of people for said humans voice to be heard.

In 2016 the same old arguments are hauled out on what right/proper/orthodox etc. worship is or is not.  Many on the side that describe themselves as orthodox are quick to judge choices deviant to their choices, as based on entertainment.

Historically speaking, many, not all, of the choices the church has made in regards to worship over the centuries were based on practicality, the needs of the time.  Over time, layers of theology and liturgy were overlaid upon these choices.  I do not believe that this was done nefariously or flippantly, but I do believe that often times they were done, post decision (if there even was a decision).  At Wartburg we learned the Alb was the sleeved tunic of the Empire.  Later on it became a symbol of Baptism.  The chasuble was a travelers cloak, later on it became a vestment of the eucharist.

So then, in 2016, what is entertainment and what is not?  What is a consumer choice and what is not?

If technology has rendered the use of incense superfluous then how does it differ from a fog machine?  They are both used to create and aesthetic  experience.  Doubtless you will quote some Psalms to me about incense rising up, but how does that actually differ from fog in a machine?  If candles were used to illuminate a space, and we have lightbulbs, why do we actually need candles?  Is their use not actually a consumer choice?  If the pulpit was created to allow a human voice to carry, but we live in a world of microphones, why is wandering from the pulpit criticized as caving to talk show culture (which it was at Wartburg) but standing in a pulpit seen as the proper way?  If the alb was an everyday garment, why is its use seen as the standard, but my wearing of a flannel shirt (my literally every day garment) seen as the consumer choice?

Entertainment is wrapped up in all we do.  Consumerism is wrapped up in all we do.  If you build a new space for your church, and you spend lot’s of money replicating the architectural necessities of Gothic architecture, you are making the more consumerist choice.  You are spending a lot of money to replicate that which is no longer necessary.  Sure its awesome, and cool, but you are doing to create a “feel” for people who walk in to your space.  When you break out the candles, you are helping create a “feel” for your space.  When you put on an alb, you are helping to create a “feel” for your space.

I am not saying any of the above choices are wrong, I am saying they are choices.  They might be the default choices for liturgically bent churches, but they are choices.

I love candles, I love the organ, I do not love the alb, I do not love fog machines, incense makes me sick.

At Common Ground, like the church in ages past, our reality dictates many of the choices me make.  We use candles and turn the lights off because we think it helps create an intimate space where people can encounter God and each other.  We use acoustic instruments so the human voice is allowed to be the primary instrument.  We commune at many tables because we cannot move everyone through our space well, it’s a little coffee shop.  It’s a coffee shop not because that is trendy, but because that gives us an opening to the campus community, and it allows us to be good stewards of our finances .  We have a coffee shop so we can use the space the other 82 hours of the week that students are awake, and for the sake of the population we have been called to serve.  We make an awful lot of crumbs because we use real bread, and our community is packed like sardines and we believe that people should commune each other so the words “the body of Christ given for you and the blood of Christ shed for you” are on their lips, in their ears, in their fingers and on their palms.  We use a screen because it saves us a lot of money and allows us to react fast to a swiftly changing world.  A worship printed on Tuesday in a bulletin can’t react to the campus suicide on Friday, for Sunday’s worship.  We make many, many consumer choices in how we approach worship.  We make choices in the hopes to engage people, many of these choices are based on entertainment.  We sing songs with garbage theology on occasion knowing that songs students know help them feel welcome in our space and that one song with garbage theology but a damn good melody won’t derail everything else we do in that hour on Sunday, in our small groups throughout the week and on our life changing service, mission, adventure opportunities.  We hope our consumer and entertainment choices lead us to understand the Gospel deeper.  He hope that people are drawn into a deeper relationship with God and each other.

In 2016, all worship is entertainment, all worship is made up of many small consumerist choices.

We try to be honest about making our choices, and we make ours for the sake of those who do not know the love of God through Jesus Christ.  We think that by looking like the world, we can subvert the world.   My question for you then is, “For whom do you make your consumer choices?”





5 thoughts on “it all began with some crumbs

  1. Incense was commanded by God in the Old Testament, so comparing it to fog machines is a bit of a stretch. I also think you need to grapple with the thought that ‘the medium is the message.” Blessings


    1. Thanks for the comment Jon. My initial response would be that we are not in the Temple. We are not commanded to use these things. I would ask in our current setting, what is the goal or purpose on incense? At a funeral the purpose was practical, non embalmed smelled bad. So if God has not ordained it in the worship of the church, and bodies no longer rot in our presence, why have incense?


  2. Ben, you’ve given me some things to think about here. I hadn’t considered your premise that all worship is entertainment, but you are right! Rather than to ask what is “right”, faith communities could be challenged by honestly considering for whom and for whose preferences they are making their choices. It also stirs in me the question: What are the central things? And what message is conveyed by our use of language, symbol, action, space, etc. Truly, everything has meaning, too often left unexamined….


  3. Hey, Ben
    Enjoyed your thoughts on creating worship space and found myself agreeing more often than not. As long as worship points toward God and the gospel of Christ it can happen anywhere and take any shape. As we have conversation about worship in my call the sticky point becomes in keeping the proper focus. I’d rather sit in a nave choking on clouds of incense singing a hundred years old hymn listening to a sermon from a pulpit that all points toward the gospel of Christ, than be entertained for 45 minutes by a house band playing music that says nothing substantive other than what we want God to be and do for us. Worship, in whatever form it takes, has to be more than Christian entertainment. If it is not, then it is not about God, it’s about us. True worship can be created through a pipe organ and sensor or by electric guitars and trap set it just has to point toward God. My two cents at 5:00am.


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