Entertainment is what the church does when it isn’t satisfied in God. -A.J. Swoboda
“Here we are now. Entertain us.” -Nirvana
Several years ago, Dan Kimball was looking for more in life. He had grown up without any church background, and he kept finding himself more and more drawn to Jesus. So eventually he talked his friend Randy into going with him to an old Presbyterian church by their college.
For those of you who can remember the first time you went to church, you know how foreign it all can seem. Dan and Randy didn’t know when to sit or stand. They didn’t know the words to any of the songs. They just tried their best to fit in like they belonged there.
And they seemed to be doing well, until it was time for Communion.
This church was passing an actual cup and a tray of crackers down the aisle, and when the woman next to Dan handed him the cup she mumbled something about blood and how “this is for you” and something about flesh. But Dan didn’t quite hear her. He dipped the bread in the cup, because that’s what he saw others doing, but he didn’t understand what he was doing or why they were doing it.
Then Dan handed the cup to Randy. But since he didn’t understand what was going on, he didn’t say anything. He just shrugged his shoulders and gave it to him.
The problem was that Randy had seen that the woman who had handed the cup to Dan had said something to him as she gave it to him. He could tell it was something that was important to what they were supposed to be doing, and now Randy was going to have to hand the cup to the stranger next to him.
So after Randy dipped his cracker in the cup, he handed the cup to the woman next to him and he looked her in the eye and with great confidence he told her, “Here it is: the Cup of Wonder.”
I’ve been to seminary, I’ve taken communion thousands of times in my life, and I can’t think of a better way to describe it than that.
Communion at it’s best is the Cup of Wonder
The Dull and Distracted
I’m doing a blog series on the human need for awe and wonder and today I’d like to press my point a bit more on why this matters so much.
There are plenty of things that Christians in the West could do better, there are obviously plenty of moral failings, we’ve become too political, too apathetic, too materialistic, too judgmental etc.
But that is not the greatest challenge we face. I would argue those are just symptoms of this one crucial problem we have.
We don’t see God well anymore.
I like the way the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon says this:
“… The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore; He changes them into “nice people…”
Did you know that boredom is a modern problem? It’s a word that never really appeared until a hundred years ago. It didn’t show up until we started assuming that every moment needed to be filled with something exciting and distracting.
And to solve this new problem, we’ve created lives that are filled with everything….but God.
Even our language reflects this. Did you know that the word entertainment, literally means to put something between us? The word amusement literally means “without the Spirit”
We fill our lives with noise and the complain because we can’t hear the voice of God. We crowd our lives with lights and then lament because we can no longer see the stars.
And if that rings true to you, I’d like to ask you to consider your own life for a bit.
It easy to pick on the cliche of Christians talking about having their quiet time, but…
- When was the last time you said “Wow” and meant it?
- When was the last time that you felt overwhelmed by a sense of beauty and gratitude?
- What does an average day look like for you?
- What stories are beneath all the stories that you watch/hear/consume?
Disciplines for Wonder
I once read about a man who did a social experiment where he spent an entire week in the mountains, followed by an entire week of watching cable television. At the end of his time in the mountains he felt appropriately small. He knew his place in the universe.
But after his week on the couch immersed in television, he thought primarily about himself and what he wanted. He had been taught once again that he was the center of the world.
I think the greatest enemy of our wonder is our calendar.
Every moment of every day, we are training our eyes how to see, and while it’s true that church can often feel boring, and often it can feel like a waste of time, I believe wholeheartedly that church is a discipline. It is one of the best ways I know of to train our hearts how to see the world well.
Some days of course, the church feels more like a discipline. Some days belonging to a community, singing together, praying together, taking communion feels route and boring.
Pastor A.J. Swaboda points out that in his experience, many churches answer to the problem of boredom is to manufacture something that’s exciting…but unreal:
We do Christianity the way many do pornography: glossy, shiny and unreal. And the results of both are almost exactly the same – momentary bliss followed by a desire to experience the real thing because what we just experienced was a complete sham.
At the heart of all Christian gatherings for all time, is an ordinary loaf of bread and cup of wine, and we believe that in some mysterious way, we are drinking wonder.
Just like any discipline, there are days that are harder than others, and just like any discipline, the goal isn’t the discipline, but what the discipline allows you to do, the kind of person it allows you to become.
Did you know that the word Wow, actually comes from the Scottish word for vow? It comes from the idea of binding ourselves to a sacred commitment. I believe that Wonder comes from being disciplined to see the world as it really is.
Because think back to that man who spent the one week in the mountains, and another in the television. Which perspective was really true, more attuned to reality? If the universe really is this majestic place, and I’m really that small, which story is real…and which one is not?
The classic Christian word for this is humility, and it is the pre-requisite for all awe and wonder. Humility means being small enough to see the greatness of something and to feel unworthy of it, and privileged to be able to enjoy it.
This is why Christians used to build Cathedrals, not to waste the churches money, but to help us acknowledge how small we all are. It’s why belonging to a church matters, especially one that doesn’t always do what you like and when you want it, not as a way of keeping God from sending you to Hell, but as a way of seeing Heaven breaking out right here among us.
Churches matter, not because they are the only place to meet God, but because they show us how to meet God everywhere else.
They show us we are small.
It’s where we drink from the Cup of Wonder.