Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Challenge" Day 22: Some more thoughts on the word "Christian"

If you're not sure what the hell I'm talking about, you could start at Day 1. You know. If you're bored. 

Last week I wrote about K-LOVE not really talking much about being Christian, at least on air. I actually wrote a quick email to the folks at K-LOVE and at 91.9 here in DC, asking for their thoughts. They haven't gotten back to me but it was only last night that I sent the emails, so I'm holding out hope for a response. I think it would be cool to hear what they say.

In the meantime, I've been pondering the question in relation to a discussion that we had last week in my Emergent Gathering class.

We weren't talking about music, per se, but we did talk about the aesthetics of church/worship spaces. For example, we talked about churches that meet in movie theaters. On the one hand, it moves church out of a specialized building--a place where only "church people" go--to a shared cultural space. Part of the idea is that church buildings--certainly the building where my office is located is a good example--can be quite intimidating:

I mean, look at that thing. It has buttresses. 
On the other hand, movie theaters are designed--aesthetically and functionally--for a purpose. That purpose is viewing a movie. So worship ends up looking kind of like viewing a movie: you are alone in your seat, with minimal interaction, watching a big image on a screen. That can make things like growing together in community a challenge. (And any other set up, from traditional church building to coffee shop, will have its own advantages and disadvantages).

So is the avoidance of "Christian" language meant to have the same effect as a movie theater setting--to be non-threatening and make it clear that this is not just music for churchy-type people?

What's interesting about that to me is, as I mentioned a few posts back, the music has overtly religious language. So the question is--if it's designed to be non-threatening, does it work? I don't know--because I'm pretty much a churchy-type person, a person who feels comfortable in church buildings.

The flip side of this is that the campus ministry I work with tends to be very traditionally "churchy" in a lot of ways. Our chaplain wears a clergy shirt and collar, and an alb in worship. We sing out of a hymnal. Our logo involves the UMC cross-and-flame.

Yet, as I shared in class last week, people with a lot of questions about their faith--and people who explicitly are not of the Christian faith--attend worship and participate in the campus ministry activities. Somehow the very "churchy" language and aesthetics create a safe space, or a safe space is created in spite of the traditional aesthetic. Not sure which. On the flip side, my undergrad's campus ministry was much less "churchy" looking, but tended to be much less tolerant of divergent views.

We talked in class a bit about the breakdown of traditional terms to differentiate churches, such as "conservative" and "liberal." Metropolitan is "liberal" in its politics and theology, but "conservative" in aesthetics and structure. My undergrad campus ministry was quite "liberal" aesthetically and structurally, but very "conservative" politically and theologically.

I guess I just want to make two quick points to close this. The first is that I think authenticity, as much of a buzzword as it is, matters. Rev. Amy Butler, my preaching prof and a pastor in DC, made the point in class the other day that someone can be transparent in a high pulpit or faking it from the floor, and I think that is true. To a certain extent there's no "should" to worship styles or aesthetics--just be real. There's room for a diversity of expressions.

The second is a bit more critical, and that's to say: there is more to being welcoming of folks who are scared off by church than trying to mess with aesthetics a bit. There is also a need to create room for doubt and pain and even anger at the church. I think that's some of what my students tried to do last semester with their "What Sucks About Christianity" tabling.

So how do we do that, more, together?


It's hard to tell what's playing right now on klove.com, because the connection keeps crapping out on me, but I think it's "The Proof of Your Love," by the oddly named for KING & COUNTRY, a band that would get John Wesley's stamp of approval on its name. Damn Tory. 

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