Friday, June 22, 2012

EasyWorship and the Environment

2009 General Assembly Opening WorshipHow does the "shape" of a person's or community's spirituality influence their perception of the natural world, of environmental issues and challenges? I've been ruminating about this for a while and I wanted to start with EasyWorship.

EasyWorship, for those who have not heard of it, is a commercial presentation software package designed specifically for churches - and typically used for projecting images, song lyrics, Biblical texts, and so on, for congregations (like my own) that don't use printed worship materials any more.  Any tech volunteer who has been using PowerPoint when the guy with the guitar decides on the fly that "we'll just skip back to verse 2 from verse 5 and then go on through the bridge to the ending repeats" will appreciate the features of EasyWorship.

Nevertheless, the name really grates.  Easy Worship?  Is it supposed to be easy? How about Challenging Worship or  Difficult Worship or even Embarrassing, Uncomfortable and Sometimes Just Plain Weird Worship?

I looked through EasyWorship's FAQ page to see if they had a response to this criticism, but I didn't find one.  However, let me guess how it might go.  "You are not really being fair", says the company spokesperson.  "Your actual worship is in your heart, between you and God.  We're not trying to make that easy, nor could we.  What we want to do is to make it easier for those who are called to set the stage for that experience of yours."

This reply makes sense from a certain perspective, and that perspective is part of what I am calling the "shape" of my Evangelical spirituality.  This "shape" bifurcates spirituality into an "inner" personal arena where the real business happens, surrounded by an "outer" world of neutral technology which carries no intrinsic message, but which can affect (for good or ill) people's ability to accomplish their God-given inner tasks.

So, for instance, when we quite unselfconsciously adopt a narrowly Zwinglian perspective on Communion ("this bread represents my body", etc), I don't think this is the voice of 19th-century anti-Catholicism speaking; it's just that our "spiritual shape" makes it seem natural and inevitable that the outer and inner must be related in this way (the symbols of bread and wine set the stage for the real inner action by reminding us of the upper room).

Now this "shape" is something I've seen in another context.  Older expositions of the creation story often framed Genesis 1 in terms of the Creator's "setting the stage" for humanity, so that the whole of the created order becomes the "outer" world and the real action takes place only when human beings appear on the scene.

More recent writers (e.g. Bauckham) have pointed out, rightly I think, that the older perspective denies created nature its own integrity and role whereby "the morning stars sing for joy" and "the trees of the fields clap their hands".  Instead, we seek an ecological understanding - humanity is part of the worshiping community of creation, "crowned with glory and honor", yes, supremely valuable and responsible, but also a member of that community, made of dirt.

Does the "shape" I've described above make it hard for us to grasp that? And are there other parts of our Evangelical "shape" that lead to unique positive insights that we have to share?

Image by Flickr user "Christian Church(Disciples of Christ)"; ,licensed under Creative Commons; click for full licensing information.

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