26 thoughts on “On Meaningless Praise

  1. Morphea

    So, uh, [shuffles feet] how was church for everybody yesterday?

    Thanks for this, Michael. It reminds me of a story, which I will share later when I’m settled at my desk with coffee. You will all be mightily blessed.

    OK, probably not.

  2. Morphea

    OK, the story: When I was a sophomore in high school I was attending a Christian academy in Eastern Washington, which is where my family lived when we weren’t in Africa. It was a conservative school and pretty much ruled by a sort of wild-eyed four-square megachurch that the coolest kids all attended. Oddly enough physical beauty, athletic prowess and general popularity, while still terribly important, took second base in determining how well-liked you were. How “on fire” you were took first – I happened to be 0-4, but I digress…

    So, the four-square church was pretty damned charismatic, and since everybody on the praise and worship team (except me) were from this church our weekly chapels were also charismatic. And being the typical Gemini I am I could either fake it or work up enough fervor to do it right. If your hands weren’t in the air in chapel you could be sure to be determined “not on fire” (or alternately “lukewarm”) and your popularity would decrease proportionally. Even the most hard-bitten, sullen, ultracool basketball players kept one hand in the air, eyes upward, during chorus time, though they retained their nonchalance by keeping their faces blank and the other hand stuffed in their pocket. But I’ve bloody well digressed again. Focus, Cerise!

    So, one chapel service during announcement time our headmaster got up to announce that someone had stuffed gum between his car door and the frame on a hot day and that he had a big mess and could we please stop the hooliganism? Our reaction: immediate cheering, laughter, and clapping that went on for something like a minute. The headmaster looked around, bewildered, then smiled a little, tucked his chin into his chest and returned to his seat.

    [Lest you wonder why we were so universally heartless let me say that he was not well-liked. I wish I could tell you why. He was kind, thoughtful, earnest and hard-working - just the sort of adult that gets teenagers all prickly. The fact that he was the headmaster and always pushing, pushing, pushing servant-leadership (therefore imposing the weirdest new rules every week) AND taught Geometry (unforgiveable in my book) exacerbated his unpopularity. And we were, all of us, some of the most cynical Christians I've ever met - to this day.]

    After the laughter and eye-wiping died down the worship team kicked it off and we got into our usual furor of “Shine Jesus Shine” and had a truly transcendant time of praise. 3/4 of the way through the set list our basketball coach and Bible teacher (you know how private school staff have to double up) got up, waved the team to silence and moved to the podium. And this is what he said:

    “You all make me sick. How can you stand there singing love and worship to God when you’ve just hurt my friend possibly more than he’s ever been hurt in his life? You’re all Christians – say you have the love of Jesus in your heart. I see NOTHING of it today. You should all be ashamed.”

    …and walked out of the auditorium. Our headmaster was still sitting, elbows on knees, head hanging. Poor Nate, the worship leader (this last bit is actually kind of funny), had to put on his prayerfully thoughtful face and say something, anything, to segue us back into worship. Thank god we all knew “Change My Heart O God”, since we’d been thrown completely off our slam-bang praise finish. We sang it for like 10 minutes, and I was so ashamed of us collectively that I didn’t even do the pretty vamping between lines.

    Proof positive, yet again, that those of us who flip off The Church for our sad spiritual childhoods are usually as much or more to blame for our own bitterness.

    Hope I haven’t killed the blog. [smiles apologetically]

  3. Stick

    Wow, yeah… that feels a little like my early youth group experience in the Assembly of God that we went to. Craziness. No wonder there’s an Emergent movement.

  4. Chad

    sometimes I shake my head and wonder when people criticize emergents… it’s like… what the F*** did you think was gonna happen?

  5. Morphea

    I’m glad my sad/freaky/bizarre story has validated my emergent friends’ decisions to be…emergent. Since I still have yet to attend any service rumored to be emergent, I rest in your collective greater wisdom. Indeed, when a religion resembles in any way Stepford Wives and Pleasantville, it’s time to shake things up.

  6. [jesse]

    I love the intensity of those verses, it speaks to me of loud drunken honesty that on the surface is merely a rant but upon a closer listen is crying the truth that usually goes unsaid or that of the timid speaking words which we are to insecure to say but speaking none the less, all rolled into a sort of carpe diem esque challenge. A few Sundays ago upon coming out of an experience with God during a sunday worship set where I was both convicted and transformed I opened my eyes to a woman infatuated with getting a wrinkle out of her husbands dockers. Flick, flick, pat she went about her mission as the congregation sang on. The crease that danced down from the left pocket just wasn’t in tune and she saw correcting this a fitting use of her time. Shocked and feeling enlightened by my recent connection with the almighty, appallment set in as i went from being lost in worship to being lost in judgement when god spoke to me again about how i, just monents before, was that same lady. Well maybe my hands were raised and I was singing and I wasn’t even thinking about her husbands annoying pants, but i wasn’t worshipping like I should of been, worhshipping with the full throated cry of fools and lovers.

  7. Stick

    I think jesse really hit it on the head. Your church may be “emergent”, the band might be tight, the leader might have chosen the best song for the moment, but unless I engage individually, worship doesn’t happen. For me, that engagement doesn’t happen by closing my eyes and raising my hands, or feeling something in the moment… it happens at the piano, trying my best to glorify God by playing well enough to help others find a place for worship in song, but not so well that I get noticed from the congregation.

    And for the record, the church I go to really isn’t at all “Emergent”, though I bet a lot of the people have had experiences in their past like my A of G nonesense, Morphea’s “Saved” chapel, and everything from “let’s all get along libralism” to “my God is a Fundy” which have caused them grief to be lumped in as “one of those Christians”.

  8. simone

    Okay. At risk of displaying my ignorance in a really big way… what are the distinctives of emergent church music/worship? How is it different from Morphea’s “Saved” chapel experience? Do you have distinctive repertoire?

  9. Morphea

    Well, for one thing I hope no emergent church has piddled around with Shine, Jesus, Shine. I also claim total ignorance, Simone.

    Jesse, I know exactly what you mean. Usually my distraction/judgement comes when I hear people singing obnoxiously. Not people singing off-key, loudly – that I enjoy as authentic and joyful. It’s people singing louder than everyone else and really well. Really pretty. That drives me bonkers.

    Those of you who know me will know that this is the severest kind of hypocrisy on my part, but there it is.

  10. Stick

    Simone, I’m no expert, but I don’t think the Emergent movement looks or sounds like anything in particular. In fact, that’s where I’m the foggiest on what it means to be Emergent. Maybe the trend is for “contemporary” worship music only because that’s what’s hip, but I think there’s also a trend back toward hymns and more traditional music too.

    But, if they do Shine Jesus Shine, it’s really slow and meaninful, with acoustic guitar, cajon, shaker, and some guy that looks like a model singing. (just kidding… Shine Jesus Shine needs to go away forever).

  11. corey

    simone, I hafta sidle up next to you on this one and wait for the answer. I have a few experiences with the charismatic fundy worship crowd and I have a bunch of experiences with the charismatic emergent worship crowd. From the outside (or the stage), they look the same to me. My personal view is that “emergent” is just a corrective classification. Synonymous with “we’re not that… we’re this.” It often feels like THIS christian generation’s notification that there’s a new sherrif in town. But it’s still the same trappings as the sherrif before him (or her… sorry, Aly).

  12. aly hawkins

    There is no such thing as an emergent worship “style,” only an emerging worship philosophy. The whole idea behind emerging worship is that method and style are of value only so long as they reflect the surrounding culture. That means that if your worshipping community is in a neighborhood that identifies with punk rock and body piercing, you would have punk worship music and a (qualified) volunteer who does piercings during worship. Or if you worship in a racially-diverse urban area with a lot of underground hip-hop, you would have a club atmosphere with DJs, rapping, dancing, etc. Or if you worship in a new-agey artsy neighborhood, you might incorporate trance music and meditation. Or if you worship in a rural area that loves, loves, loves country-western…well, you get the idea.

    This is not to say that every worshipping community who claims to be “emergent” is getting this right, or that every worshipping community who equates “emerging” with “apostate” is getting it wrong.

    Does that help?

  13. Chad


    Another thing to consider is that, of the four of us who contribute, none of us actually attend an emerging church, for reasons of employment. We’re very much in the discussion… but we’re not actually in the thick of it yet, with the possoble exception of Aly and Ash and their stack of MacLaren books that they give away… :)

    I can’t speak for the others, but I think if I were not employed by a traditional evangelical church, I would be in an Emerging Church. I am ready to bail… There are some things happening that are simply in the DNA of the Evangelical movement that I cannot reconsile with who I think Jesus Christ needs me to be.

  14. simone

    Thanks. That does help. Particularly Aly’s comments about the musical genre matching the surrounding culture.

    But given that, what are emergents actually trying to do with music. Where I live (in Australia) there has been a long running debate over the purpose of music in church. Is it worship – primarily a vertical thing between me and God? Is it a community expression of faith – kind of like saying a creed together, but more fun? Is it essentially a teaching tool? Or a meeting vibe-creator?

    So is the repertoire you select mostly love songs, theologically dense hymns, memory verses with a beat behind them …

    Or are these questions totally missing the point of the whole emerging church thing. Perhaps what you sing is a very secondary issue and the main thing is identifying with the local culture…

  15. Chad

    Corey -

    Well… it’s basically the same stuff that most people who are struggling with the Emerging thing are dealing with.

    Do I have to be a social conservative to be a Christian? I think I am a social moderate, which puts me way left of most evangelicals, so much so that they have started questioning the integrity of my thought process.

    Why do we have to bolster our correctness with the slamming of other people outside the “holy huddle?” Why is there such a distinction between clergy and lay leaders, thus setting up clergy (and their kids) for false and unreasonable expectations?

    Why can’t we be respectful of science? Why have we allowed the study of God’s world to be something that is used as a weapon against us, rather then the other way around… what are we afraid of?

    Why are unborn babies the only babies we’re willing to sacrifice to save? Why are there certain social and justice issues that are popular within the church, but we don’t have to bother being careful of this earth, cause… you know… Jesus is coming next Thursday.

    Why is sin such a difficult and shameful problem to address… everyone has it and has to deal with it! Why is guilt and shame still in our toolbox of teaching?

    So… that’s a start.

  16. corey

    I hear where you’re coming from, and I share many of those same questions. But in my own life, I regard those questions as being on a different plane. That’s why I see the “Emergent” title as more of a naming convention than anything else. I don’t see those answers coming any quicker from emergent mouths. Those are failures that permeate all of christianity because within the core of us is a little, petty, needy turd of a human being.

    Perhaps there’s a stronger tendency towards political (or pop socio-political) action with today’s christian youth, but is that a function of the emergent philosophy or an extension of the new, hip, our-president-(or, the Man)-sucks party line from the pages of Rolling Stone?

    Thanks for the explanation, Chad. I always appreciate yer thoughts.

  17. Sharolyn


    I so identify with your last post.

    The last preseidential election was like the elephant in the room when it never came up (or perhaps very briefly) with our conservative (and I guess unwilling to dialogue) friends. Let’s just say they don’t quote “The Daily Show” to each other.

    My husband would so identify with your post that he subscribed to Sojourners magazine. Now we get all kinds of mail from the ACLU, Jimmy Carter, etc. along with mail from MOPS, Focus on the Family, etc.

    Maybe our friends are as confused by us as our mail. But reading your thoughts I feel more understood.

  18. michael lee Post author

    Sharolyn, you’re what we call “pre-emergent” – you intuitively feel all of the same frustrations and hold the same values, you just didn’t know what the thing was named.

    And by “we call”, I mean I just made it up.

  19. Sharolyn

    Oh, yeah? Well let me tell you things you didn’t know…
    was named…
    oh shoot.

    “Emergent” seems to be a buzz word.
    Do you think it serves as a label for the un-label-able?

  20. Sharolyn

    It occurred to me that one of the misunderstandings of non-Christian friends is that they would look at all of these publications and say that they are all Christian. In other words, they would say it is not a diverse group of reading and I would say it is. I hope that made sense.

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