Friday, January 21, 2011

style and substance

We have written many times about our little church and the spiritual nourishment we have found there. We met in a tiny cement building. The music was soul-tearingly beautiful and we found a lot of life in a common practice of everyone praying out loud together. While the people raised their voices to God together each could find their own way to come to God. Some could scream and shout, some could cry, some could pray in the silence of their hearts. The emphasis was on no one person or on eloquent words and I could be lost in prayer in a way that I haven't experienced before.

A few weeks before Christmas, the landlord demolished the building with two day's warning. The following week we met in a tent on another piece of land. The church hired a sound system since it was a special end of the year service. The amplifier has to be turned all the way up and the microphone held right up to the mouth of a person who is used to projecting a voice with no amplification and does not tone it down for the microphone. The sound is intense but in that tent for a special occasion I was able to handle it and still enter the worship.

Over Christmas, the church put up a tin shack to meet in. It is considerably larger than the previous structure which had become much too small.

On Sunday we were dismayed to see the speaker that projects the sound out into the community already in place. It seemed that they had settled into a pattern of regularly using the speakers that had once been for special occasions. The sound was the loudest I have ever heard in five years of going to extremely loud churches. The combination of tin walls, the sound all the way up, two speakers in a small building, and the power of the voices that are shouting straight into the mic, was enough to create a sense of panic in me.

The cacophony was overwhelming and I found myself utterly unable to enter into the worship. The practice of praying together took on new dimensions while the two people with mics screamed their prayers out into the neighbourhood. I was unable to think or pray. The voices of the two women leading the songs were so distorted that I could not understand the words or participate in the singing. The electrification put a wall between people who had previously been united in lifting their voices.

This week has been difficult for me. The church that was our stability had become a place that I dreaded to be. I woke up in the night feeling the panic of Sunday all over again. Even if I can find a way to worship in the frenzy, I can't sacrifice my children's long term health.

In a setting in which I am among "my own" or in a situation with no power imbalance, I would be able to address the issue with the pastor or the people. But I am different and have different tastes. If everyone else finds life in this then I can't be the one to change it. And yet, I can't be sustained in this place without a way to worship with other people.

We all know and condemn the stories of missionaries who came into a culture and told the people that the way they were doing things was evil and that they needed to be more like the missionaries' home culture. Not a matter of the Gospel at all but of culture. Or is it always that simple?

Independent Christians in this area, AICs and Pentecostals, have grave concern that they obey the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:6 "but whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door." Although the door is normally open during a service for air and light, it is closed as soon as a prayer begins.

Now the prayers of the faithful are projected via loudspeaker into the community. They act from a concern for outreach--more people will come in if they hear what is going on. Which concern trumps the other? Which is faithful? Do we hold the people to their own concern for not being "like the hypocrites"? Or is that imposing our culture? And is it separated from our desire to worship in a way that gives life which we had previously found with them?


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