Friday, October 2, 2009

Church as Entertainment or Entertainment as Church?

Last night, thanks to the generous help of Tom Foley of Christians Educators Outreach (major thanks Tom if you are reading this!), Mrs Velkyal and I went to see U2 in concert here in Charlottesville. I very rarely go to concerts, but the opportunity to see such an iconic band was too good to pass up. One thing I wasn't expecting though was a reminder of one of my reasons for leaving the evangelical world.

Before we get there though, a little back story. When I was studying at the Birmingham Bible Institute, students would lead the worship in chapel every morning, I still pity all the people who had to listen to my abysmal singing whenever it was my turn. Anyway, I always liked to include some older and traditional hymns into the mix, rather than repeating the same 9 line chorus time after time to achieve full hypnotic effect. Among my favourites were "The Old Rugged Cross", "Be Thou My Vision" and pretty much anything by Charles Wesley. Generally speaking, I have never been a big fan of the catchy one-liner for the unthinking generation. One thing I would have loved to do would have been the sacking of the "worship band" and just to sing Psalms like they still do in the Free Church of Scotland back at home (though obviously the Gaelic would have been tricky!). Really then it is no surprise that one the things that drove me into exploring the historic traditions within Christianity was not feeling comfortable with rock-lite worship styles, and the iconisation of "worship leaders".

Anyway, back to U2. Watching them last night reminded me of my biggest gripe with alot of modern worship fads, how easy it is for a charismatic, in original sense, leader to bend crowds of thousands to his will and to manipulate a person's emotions, and I guess that is the rub, how can I know the difference between a spiritual experience and an emotional high parading as a "charismatic moment"? At one point in the show, Bono sang the first verse of Amazing Grace, and you could have heard a pin drop in the stadium - I half expected Billy Graham to magically appear and do an altar call at that moment, except there was a mosh pit where he would have wanted people to gather - we did eventually get Desmond Tutu on the big screen thing though (and my cynical nature wondered how many people knew who this phenomenal man was).

Don't get me wrong here, I had a fantastic time at the concert, but as someone who thoroughly distrusts emotion it was interesting to watch the crowd and how Bono held them in the palm of his hand. Perhaps it was this distrust of emotion and seeing worship leaders having a similar sway over a congregation that led me to doubt the validity of a worship event so closely modelled on the modern rock concert (even the phrase "worship event" is ridiculous as worship is supposed to be lifestyle rather than an event). Perhaps I am just being a curmudgeon and should come out with some platitude about everybody worshipping in different styles, which may in fact be true, but having spent many, many worship services questioning the reality of my faith because I don't connect with the rock-lite approach so common throughout the church today in an attempt to be "relevant" makes such platitudes hard to bear, and even harder to spout.

Anyway, just some thoughts inspired by watching a master at work - and it what magnificent work it was, less a concert and more a spectacle, and one which I enjoyed immensely, especially the retro disco balls at one point of the show.

Again, thanks Tom!

1 comment:

Matt said...

I haven't checked in on your site in sometime.

I had similar thoughts at a U2 concert in 1987.