Good intentions and all that 2

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If you follow my blog at all you will know there hasn’t been much to follow as of late. And this semester is always busy for me with with graduation for honors students, recruitment of new students, and this year I was chairing the search for one Dean while we were completing the search for new associate dean. The June was going to be different! June was completely set aside for me to work on Targum Ruth.  Until I lacerated a tendon in the index finger of my right hand.

Now I am dictating a blog post to you via MacSpeech Dictate, which is working like a champ, but has a relatively limited vocabulary when it comes to Biblical and rabbinic literature. The surgery actually well earlier this week and I’m hopeful that I will be out of the cast by the beginning of next week.  In the meantime, I thought I would share a couple of thoughts I’ve had recently while in church.

Cynicism is easy

From John Steven Fernandez on flickr, used under creative commons

Two weeks ago we decided to visit a different church for an evening service that was  “contemporary and contemplative.” I was looking forward to a contemporary service and I knew the pastor was a good preacher. What we had, however, was 50 minutes of a total of three songs and one verse which lasted 25 minutes. Now I recognize that we all worship in different ways and each of us at different times worship in different ways so I sought to take this time to be in prayer and meditation, as intended by the worship leaders. Our 12-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, however, could be forgiven for becoming a bit impatient with the service. As it was, they were not and were very well behaved and our daughter paid quite a bit of attention to the worship and the sermon. The problem is, she has a bit too much of her father’s sarcasm in her.

At one point the worship leader began to improvise on the words singing over and over again “God of breakthroughs.” I had my head bowed and my shoulders began to shake lightly. My wife tapped me on the shoulder and asked if everything was all right. I looked up smiling and said, “God of our grapefruits? Isn’t he God of all citrus?” Needless to say, I was not setting the best example for our children.

I’m sure others of you have the same problem, as scholars of the Bible is not as easy to sit and listen to a sermon or worship service as it is for some. In the time of meditation I reflected on the fact that cynicism is easy.  Or perhaps it is that it is easy for me as a scholar to justify my cynicism as criticism.

It is indeed very easy to find holes in a belief system, to break down the logic of another, to find reasons why one person’s mode of worship is clearly less sincere than our own. There is nothing simpler than to look at another person’s church or denomination and explain how they are, in fact, not really following Scripture as well as we are. And of course, there is nothing simpler to do than to poke holes in religion, market for the fairy tale that it clearly is, and dismiss it in our modern age of enlightenment and reason. It all really is very easy.

What is far more difficult is to set aside our hubris and recognize that there are truths outside of ourselves. Faith is not the belief in things that are irrational or unreasonable.  Faith does, however, require us to be truly open-minded and generous of heart. Yes there are lots of pastors out there who preach horrific sermons and I understand they’re even blogs that catalogue such sins. But that doesn’t mean that truth isn’t contained within their words or even within incredibly sappy song. Sometimes listening is the hardest skill of all.

 

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2 thoughts on “Good intentions and all that

  • Bob MacDonald

    Hey – bless the ligaments. I am looking forward to your work on Targum Ruth – so get better fast.

    I have come to a conclusion recently that worship and judgment are tightly connected but not in the hell-fire and brimstone way that my teachers from 50+ years ago taught. The 24 elders (Rev 4) and King David (Psalm 51) and the judgment implied in Psalm 7 all point to the beauty of God’s righteousness – how strange. It is such beauty that allows worship. John’s farewell discourse – what the Spirit does – in showing the ‘world’ (including the dull preachers) how wrong it is about sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8) – confirms this same message.

    I am supposed to come up with some games for the 6 to 12 year olds to play at a Sunday School picnic on Sunday. (Ideas welcome.) How can we enable worship in children? Not by dumbing down, not by popular songs and bad poetry, not by conclusions without thoughtfulness – but perhaps by mysteries and puzzles which allow one to ask better questions – and perhaps just with a well timed chuckle.

    Thank God for your humour – it was the best example, a necessary cynicism.

  • Benjamin

    Thanks for the reminder. I confess that I often find myself sitting through a church service considering only that which could be better, instead of worshiping and meditating on the One who is the Best.