How Can We Worship?

Posted: July 15, 2016 in Theology, Things of Faith

handsOver the past two months I have been spending considerable time
catching up on my readings and devotional practices. Over the brief two years I spent working outside of church ministry as an operations manager I was re-introduced to the struggle for faithful living in the church while balancing family and career. It’s not an easy life and I humbly confess that I was not good at it. In my experience I found that my devotional life was the first part of my life to suffer. And so as I have re-entered full-time ministry I have enjoyed the extreme privilege of having a vocation that not only encourages devotional living but requires it.

This is all to say that in the process of being immersed in this life of devotion, I have experienced the Spirit working in unexpected ways in my life.  So I suppose this blog entry will be essentially confessional.

Today I am writing with a heavy heart. I wanted to write last week but I couldn’t. I felt led to silent reflection as I sought the inner peace only Christ can provide. Unfortunately this did not come. With the recent events (the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile as well as the fatal shooting of 5 police officers) coupled with my devotional readings, the Spirit of God has pricked my heart. Being one who avidly writes blog posts I wanted to respond with outrage but the Spirit silenced me. I wasn’t silent out of fear or avoidance. I was silent out of holy patience. The Spirit of Jesus was speaking to my heart with painful words of conviction.

All the words I could possibly write would have been not only useless in this social environment but most significantly hypocritical. They would have feigned the political responses we have become accustomed to hearing. What has been revealed to me through much painful reflection is that I am a culpable participant in a social structure (institution) that systematically oppresses and persecutes people because of the color of their skin. As I have been preparing to preach a sermon this Sunday on a passage of scripture that says that if you come to the alter with your offering and realize that a brother or sister has something against you, that you are to leave the offering and go and make things right before returning to worship. Moreover I had incidentally just finished reading a book that describes how this passage was a core text for the early Christians and formed a basis for their living in peace.[1]

What has come to my mind most starkly is the fact that worship-waysthe white church (of which I am a part) has not only suppressed the reality of this evil system but has in many ways perpetuated it. How can we worship when brothers and sisters have something against us? This is a big question that requires humble confession. I think that our primary mistake (as well as ongoing sin) is buying into the lie that the sin of racism is located somewhere other than in us. I have to confess that it is within me.

The dilemma that is breaking my heart is that I feel compelled to go and make things right by confessing my complicity (both in general participation as well as my specific behaviors) but because this is such a large and systemic sin and so many have been hurt by it that I’m not sure where to go and to whom I should confess to make right or even whether I am able to make things right. This doesn’t even take into consideration that I’m not sure how “the making right” will take place. I understand the corporate aspects of this, but what about the personal and individual dynamics. This is a very personal issue that requires the reformation and transformation of the core being. It does not feel like it is enough to simply acknowledge and confess such complicity. Real change is required. Not the promise of change or the commitment to a process of change, but essential ontological change in the person and corporate body. Such participation in a system cannot be allowed to continue in the church of Jesus our Lord!

I humbly admit that I don’t have concrete answers and actually feel quite helpless. But I do have some inclinations as to what the answers might look like. So I continue to hear the questions in my mind shouting, “How can we worship when we actively participate in this system?” “How can we worship when we know that there are sisters and brothers who have something against us?” “Where do we go and what can we do to make things right?”

[1] Books that have contributed to my thoughts here, see Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross & the Prodigal; Drew G. I. Hart, Troubles I’ve Seen; Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment; Miroslav Volf, Against the Tide.

  1. Rebecca Ebie says:

    What to do?? Just thinking about a friend from my church who was upset about the incident in Dallas last week. She felt she had to do something more than just pray and decided to visit an African American church near her home instead of coming to her own church last Sunday.

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