Worship or Performance? (Part I)

I’ve had two different conversations lately about dance in church services: is it worship or performance?  It reminded me of a time when a friend told me “that’s not worship” when she was upset about the song choices for our newly begun “contemporary” service.  While I agree the song choices were poor (they were about 20 years out of date and definitely weren’t going to attract anyone looking for something “relevant”), I don’t think it is necessarily accurate to say they weren’t worship.  For some people, they might have been.  For her, they just were not the right type of songs/music.  For her, worship was only about the type of music.
It seems to be common in churches to equate worship and music.  I’m going to make a guess here and propose that the reason we associate “worship” primarily with an event on Sunday morning and with singing is due to Psalm 100:2, which says “Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing”.  Most church services begin with music and we sing a few songs throughout the service.

What happens though, if a person doesn’t really relate through music, or even relate to any of the other activities that can happen in a church service (either regularly on Sunday or on a special holiday):  dance, congregational singing, praise band singing, choir singing, soloist singing, instrumental music, Cantatas, Christmas pageants, skits, videos, Christian seder meals, Living Last Supper, Tenebrae, sermon, responsive readings, prayer (add your own ideas in the comments; I am sure I have missed a lot).  I went to a Pentecostal church one time where grown men were sprinting around the room.  Another aspect of worship services is corporate prayer.  What this usually consists of is one person praying on behalf of everyone in the room whose heads are bowed and eyes are closed.  Honestly, this does not feel like prayer to me.  It is not my thoughts or my words; it is the thoughts and words of the person praying.  It is not my prayer.
In a church service, there really is very little an individual sitting in the congregation can do.  Everything is planned out for each person: the songs sung, the prayers prayed, the sermon to be listened to.  Sure, someone can raise his or her hands during a song, but I’ve never seen anyone start dancing.  And while we have people who automatically raise their hands when the line in the song says to, I have never seen anyone fall to their knees during that line.  Worship services are, like dance, choreographed.  We like order and control; the freedom to react differently than expected is really not there.  
Because of my love for ballet, sometimes, as we are singing, I am choreographing in my head what it might look like to dance to a song.  I’ve danced in church once, a couple of Christmases ago, and a local dance studio has a program that they perform in area churches around Easter.  
And even though we see instances of dance in the Bible, such as Miriam and the other women dancing and celebrating after the Exodus from Egypt and David dancing before the Lord when the ark of the covenant is brought back, they aren’t a typical or regular part of worship services.
The situation with David is intriguing.  While he is dancing “with all his might”, not everyone thinks it is such a great display, namely, his wife Michal.  We see in 2 Samuel 6:20 that she considers his dancing to be vulgar and shameless.  Two different reactions to the exact same event.
It would seem, then, that worship has something to do with personal preference and type of participation–whether or not one is an active or passive participant.  If I am participating by dancing in a ballet, it can be an act of worship.  I am actively participating in it and know what I want to express.  For the person watching, it may not be worship at all, because the person is passively sitting there and not directly participating–and may not even be paying attention at all.  I think it is the same with praise bands, choirs, soloists, orchestras, etc.  For those who play the instrument or sing the song, it can be an act of worship.  But for the one watching who may not be able to participate, it may not be worship.  And, often, in some churches, the music is so loud that the voices of the congregation are unheard, and it would be hard to tell if they were singing or not.  And what of the person who has a voice problem and cannot sing or even speak?
I like the story behind Matt Redman’s song “The Heart of Worship”.  
“There was a dynamic missing, so the pastor did a pretty brave thing,” he recalls. “He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.”
Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor, Mike Pilavachi, asked, “When you come through the doors on a Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?”
Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually people broke into a cappella songs and heartfelt prayers, encountering God in a fresh way.
Encountering God in a fresh way.  I think this is what so many of us are after, and maybe not so much in a new way, but in a way that we can relate.  We want to encounter God and know God’s presence there, and in our lives, but often, it seems just beyond reach.  I wonder, in all our efforts at being relevant or contemporary what we are really after is what Jesus told the woman at the well:
 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24  
What does this even mean?

Worship in spirit and in truth.  It’s really quite broad, isn’t it?  Jesus doesn’t give us an order of worship, a time to worship, a location in which to worship.  He simply says that people will worship in spirit and in truth.  There is much freedom in that statement and it is not a one-size fits all prescription for how to do worship.  It’s a description.

And so, is dance (or anything else) worship or performance?  It depends on the individual, his or her heart, and how he or she relates to God.  Worshiping in spirit and in truth, I suspect, is much more broad than we can imagine, and much more deep than our hour on Sunday mornings. 

Review of Jennie Allen’s “Restless” Curriculum

I received a free copy of this study after being contacted by a publicist, for the purposes of this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
The study is eight lessons (including one introductory lesson) that can be used in small or large groups, and there are different tools available (the video, the conversation cards) to allow the study be flexible.
Leader’s Guide
The Leader’s Guide is easy to understand and follow.  There is a repeated emphasis on the leader needing to be open, authentic, and vulnerable.  If this is difficult for a person, my recommendation would be for the leader(s) to do the study with each other ahead of time to feel more comfortable.  Unfortunately, this guide did not correct the misconception that was in the guide for Chase that shyness and introversion are the same thing (page 18).  Introverts like to think before answering and that is why we may be quiet.  I know my input may be valuable in a group setting and I need time to formulate what I am going to say. Don’t call on introverts before they are ready. A lack of talking is not the same as a lack of interest and does not mean she is holding the group back!  Just because a group member does not verbally participate as much as the others does not need a talking to!  Forced vulnerability is not ideal.
Participant’s Guide
The Participant’s Guide is also easy to follow.  It is set up in sections:
  • short story/essay by the author
  • reading and questions of a portion of scripture from Scripture
  • other verses and more personal questions
  • a “project” that could involve journaling or drawing
  • conclusion, with more questions
The DVD sessions are a good length, ranging from 18-24 minutes.  I wasn’t crazy about some of the presentation and I have some different theological views than some of what is presented and I got confused at times where I thought she was contradicting herself–though this could likely be due to our differing theological perspectives.  I really liked the setting of the videos; it was designed to be a bright and welcoming atmosphere.
Conversation Cards
As with the last time, I wasn’t crazy about the conversation cards.  While they had some good questions on them, I’d rather see them included in the study guide so that participants have the opportunity to write down or even journal their thoughts about them instead of just answering them off the top of their heads.
Overall Impressions
There is so much great stuff in this study that both women and men can benefit from, so it’s a little too bad it is only marketed toward women.  So many people are restless and wondering what to do with their lives (Bill Hybel’s 2007 book, Holy Discontent, similarly explores this idea)  Throughout the participant’s guide, there are so many fantastic questions that work to get people to think about what their dreams are and what is holding them back.  It really makes people be introspective, which means that if this study is done in a group where people do not know each other well, it may not have the intended effect.  Some of the questions are:
  • When was the last time you dreamt about doing something specific in your life?
  • Are you coming into this study with any hurt and disappointment regarding your dreams?
  • Describe some of the tensions that occur when many unique pieces are challenged to worth together as one body for one purpose.
  • Do you think this restlessness is discontentment or a restlessness from God wanting to move you toward more?
The idea that we should look at what our dreams and gifts are and what is holding us back is something we should all evaluate (and not just once in our lives, either) and that is the strength of this study.  The “projects” included in each session are valuable tools; they point people to some specific ways of evaluating their lives.  
What I found lacking, however, was the tie-in to the life of Joseph.  There are a few places where I found myself confused as to the conclusions she came to, such as “Joseph hoped his gifts were for his own glory” (64) or relating Joseph’s experience in Egypt to Jesus’ command to his followers to make disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 (page 103).
There were also a couple of places where a distinction was made between genders, which I found to be quite unnecessary.   On page 56, she writes about a friend who is strong and wonders “Why would he give a woman all this strength?” and on page 67 she describes Joseph as “an excellent leader, good with people, and great with business and strategy”, but goes on to say “these were his strengths as a man” (emphasis mine).  I would say that the first question does not need the qualifier of “woman”.  The question is “Why would he give a person all this strength?” and the answer is “to use it!”  For the second, the strengths are not Joseph’s strengths as a man but rather, simply just his strengths.  
I think that in addition to people feeling “Restless”, once they find their gifts and passions, there needs to be a place for them to use them.  To go through this study and have a better understanding of one’s identity and gifts is fantastic, but there are too many times when doors get shut in people’s faces, and that’s discouraging.  If women are to be encouraged and equipped and unleashed, there needs to be openness and a place for them to do what they are called to do.  For example, if a woman goes through this study and realizes she is gifted and called to be a pastor, and her denomination forbids it, then she is likely still going to be “Restless”.  

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…We’ve Forgotten All About It

Did you know that today is the fourth day of Christmas?  Yes? Maybe? No?  If you didn’t, don’t feel badly.  A lot of people don’t know.  They think either the 12 Days of Christmas is just a song, or that the 12 days are the 12 days that lead up to Christmas.  But, historically, in the Church’s calendar, the 12 Days of Christmas is the season from Christmas Day until January 5.  January 6 is Epiphany (which celebrates the Magi visiting Jesus).  
There is so much preparation that goes into Christmas.  Buying gifts, getting a tree (real or fake?), putting up lights, extra rehearsals for concerts and pageants, making costumes for pageants, decorating the outside of the house, extra special programming for church, complaining about the busyness and commercialism of the season yet going along with all of it anyway to make sure the kids have fun.  We make such a big deal out of something and then are done with it so quickly. The gifts are open, paper and ribbons and bows are strewn about, and we have to remember which day the trash pickup is because it is out of the ordinary.  They’ll pick up the Christmas trees until the 2nd or 3rd so make sure to have them out on the right day.
We claim that Jesus is the reason for the season, but but we also want the fun of activities.  We want to have everything that we want.  A few weeks ago Aaron Baart, Dean of Chapel at Dordt College, said in a sermon that we want our “American Dream” and want Jesus to bless it.  I think we want that with Christmas too.  We want all the fun and lights and presents and parties and then we make sure to throw Jesus in the mix too, so that we can say “oh yeah, we’re celebrating Jesus’ birthday”. 
Maybe there should be a different kind of war on Christmas. Instead of complaining about store clerks not saying Merry Christmas or children in public schools not being able to decorate with red or green, why don’t we make war on what we have done by turning Christmas into a consumeristic competition?
What preparation was there for Jesus’ birth?  Not much. While there were certainly extraordinary elements to it, his birth was still very ordinary.  It was childbirth–something that happens every single day.  We make a big deal about THE incarnation, but when the day is over we forget about the incarnational life of Jesus and the incarnational life we are supposed to live as the Body of Christ.  How did Jesus live an incarnational life?  How did the presence of God walk around on this earth?  What did he do?  How did he treat others?  What were his goals?  Think about those questions.  And we must ask ourselves, do our Christmas celebrations acknowledge that or not?
We do not live incarnationally by making laws upon laws for people to follow.  We do not live incarnationally by claiming persecution when we hear “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or see the word Christmas abbreviated to Xmas.  We do not live as Jesus’ presence in this world by belittling others or by oppressing them.
We live the incarnational life of Jesus when we are completely sold out for him and want to follow his way of bringing about the kingdom of God.  We will find this contrary to much of what we find in our American culture, including the Christian culture in which each of us lives.  
And I wonder if we are holding on to our fun Christmas traditions and celebrations so much that they are becoming and idol.  Are we putting them above the one who we claim to be celebrating?  We make ourselves feel good by filling a shoebox or contributing to food pantries.  But it is often extra; it’s not as if we want to sacrifice our own celebrations in order to give.  We do not do a 2 Phillipians and think of others as better than ourselves or give up our power to celebrate.  We just keep everything around us the way we want it and add some feel-good compassion on top of it.
What can we do to get out of this vicious cycle?  How can we celebrate Christmas more?  Right now, today, we are only one-third of the way through Christmas.  Everything we did before the 25th of December was Advent.  We don’t think of Advent as interesting or exciting or fun, just something to get through.  In many places, it’s not celebrated at all or is just giving a passing nod, because it can be seen as “too churchy”.  
What if we celebrated Christmas during the actual Christmas season?  What if we moved all of our Christmas concerts and pageants and parties to those 12 days of Christmas that we are in right now?   Of course, we’d run the danger of it eventually becoming an idol as well, but how can we do Christmas different and do it incarnationaly? 

What Does It Mean to Be Alive?

Back in January, I chose the word “abundant” as part of the One Word 365 project.   Since I have never kept to any New Year’s Resolutions, I thought this would be easier–er, more meaningful…yeah, that’s it–than attempting to keep any resolutions.  It was great.  I thought and thought about my word, and then chose it based on what Jesus says in John 10:10

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  

I acquired an image and put it on my blog and in my Facebook and Twitter headers.  I wrote a post about it.  I followed up with a devotional about it at MOPS.  
And then I forgot about it.  
Like every other New Year’s Resolution, I failed.
And I haven’t really felt abundant all year, and even less so in the last few months.  I’m living no more abundantly now than I was when I chose the word. 
But in the last few days, I read a book and watched a video that made me think (and made me rethink liking Brene Brown and Peter Rollins because they were making me start being more introspective than I really wanted to be).  In Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are there were two ideas that stood out to me overall (but really, the entire book is worth reading–and it’s not too long and it’s not too hard).
Brown defined authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are” (page 50).  Later in the book, she also included a quotation from theologian Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  (page 115).

I wanted to cry when I read that, because I don’t really feel alive.  I am existing day to day, but not living abundantly.  I get so bogged down in stuff that drains me and I don’t fill back up.  I stare at the pile of socks on my bedroom floor that’s been there for days or weeks because by the time I get everything else folded, I could care less about matching socks. I look around at what needs to be straightened up and cleaned up just five minutes after I’ve spent time doing it.  Or less than five minutes.  The other day I folded a blanket in the family room, put it on the back of a chair, walked into the kitchen, turned and came back into the family room, and the kids had already unfolded it and started playing with it on the floor.  I lost it.  I yelled over a stupid blanket on the floor.
That’s not abundant life.   That’s not coming alive.  That’s dying a slow death. 
A few weeks ago, I spent two hours talking to one of my pastors about spiritual gifts.  He’d sent out a letter to people reminding them of their gifts and encouraging anyone to come talk to him about how to use them if they weren’t sure.  I knew I hadn’t been using mine and took him up on the offer.  After that conversation, I’ve been asked by multiple people at different times–unknown to each other–to lead/teach something.  There are a few women in my community who are interested in reading and discussing A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (and it would be good to start with something that is ready to go so I have time to write my own material for the future).  I started to get excited; I started to feel as if I was coming alive again, like when I researched and wrote and taught my study guide Called to Influence.  
On the day I am drafting this post, it is actually the second one I’ve drafted.  I feel energized.  Happy.  Joyful.  There is so much that I want to write and teach and I am so hopeful for opportunities to do so, and am so grateful that there is interest from women in my community who want some of the same things that I do.  Because really, when you are the only one who is interested in something, it can feel pretty lonely.  In the coming year, I want to come fully alive and be authentic.  I want to really learn who I am and encourage other women to learn who they really are and pursue their callings.  

A Schism in the Church? Maybe. Maybe Not.

Tony Jones has called for people to leave the church:

The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.That means:

  • If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
  • If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
  • If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
  • If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
I appreciate the sentiment and the boldness that he expresses here.  I see it as a challenge for people who haven’t or aren’t doing anything about the issue of women to stand up and do something.  There are many people out there who need to see that it isn’t an issue to be glossed over; it is about real women with real callings from God who are being held back by other Christians.  

But I do see some difficulties with it.  Although I share his disbelief that this still happens (see my comment here, plus, I never really even knew this happened until early 2000s, and only later learned the word complementarian), it’s going to be harder to accomplish than not.

Point 1:  It’s not easy to leave a church, especially if there are not that many to choose from in your town.  It’s even harder if you have familial ties to it.  And a church that may not officially let women hold positions of ecclesiastical authority is actually one in which I saw men and women working together to lead the church.  Really.  In the Catholic church in which I grew up, the priest and the director of religious education always seemed to me to be a team, working together.  I never saw any indication of hierarchy.  Even though he led mass, she was always participating too, and girls and boys were both allowed to be altar girls and altar boys.  

If one feels he or she cannot leave a church, then one should not sit idly by and should continue to push for women’s involvement.  Nominate them as elders/deacons–even if it isn’t “allowed”.  Keep suggesting opportunities for women speakers.  Give everyone you know a copy of “How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership“.  Educate others who just don’t know.  You don’t need permission to have your own small group, so buy the book and discuss it with others.  

Point 2:  Make sure you can line up a new job first.  

Point 3:  This would work for someone who is a popular and established writer.  For me, not so much.  If I was offered a book deal, I’d probably take it no matter what!

Point 4:  Probably the easiest for those who speak for a living, but still definitely a fearful step to take.  

Is Tony’s idea totally feasible?  Nope.  But it’s a call to action to those who aren’t acting.  What will you do?

Cats, Emily Dickinson, & Christian Celebrity Culture

Photo Credit: David Schell
This is the November synchroblog for The Despised Ones, a collective of bloggers.  Leave your link about Christian Celebrity at the linkup at the end of this post.  
I love cats, and I love mysteries, so when a great-aunt Emma gave me my first The Cat Who… mystery, I was hooked.  The series is written by Lilian Jackson Braun and mainly takes place in fictional Pickaxe, likely somewhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  In The Cat Who Said Cheese, the protagonist Jim Qwilleran refers to Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, who are you?”  
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

In his newspaper column, he writes that “we crave heroes to admire and emulate, and what do we get?  A parade of errant politicians, mad exhibitionists, wicked heiresses, temperamental artists, silly risk-takers, overpaid athletes, untalented entertainers, non-authors of non-books…” (page 5).
Emily Dickinson was a nobody until after she was dead. So were Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Austen, Dracula, martyrs, and even Jesus (thanks to my Twitter followers for all the suggestions!).  Yet today, we have a lot of Somebodies.  We even have them in Christian culture.  Yes, I know, you’re shocked.  Christians are supposed to be meek and mild and humble and not call any attention to themselves, right?  
We all want to be noticed, to be seen.  In When We Were on Fire, Addie Zierman wrote about how in over a year of attending a house church, she still felt as if she wasn’t seen.  Nobody could really see what she was going through and feeling.  I remember one time a few years ago I emailed a Somebody to thank him for writing his latest book.  He emailed me back–which I was not expecting at all–and I was giddy.  On Twitter, I’ve been excited when a Somebody starts following me, as if their following me gives me worth.  And when they actually respond to a tweet or an email, it’s even better.  And I think we each want some of that celebrity, too.  That’s why we work on “platform building”, so that people will take notice of us so that we can get the message out there that we believe we are called to give.  And we get jealous when someone else has what we want.  Other people get the attention for being a great writer or great speaker and are in high demand.  Well, at least, I do feel jealous at times.  And so, I sometimes stop myself from blogging or commenting on blogs in order to check my motivations.  
I think that there is a difference in how we are seen or how we want to be seen.  And sometimes, we might start off with good intentions and say “I only want to bring glory to God” or “I just want people to see Jesus in me, not myself”.  I think those intentions might be hard to stick with.  The more attention we get, the more we are tempted to make it all about ourselves, despite what we say.  And then the more we get connected with other Somebodies, the more we forget about our past as a Nobody, and the more we forget to look and see the Nobodies out there, because they are invisible to us.  We do not see them.  We do see them because they haven’t become a Somebody.  And yet God is different.  He sees the Nobodies.  In Genesis 16, we have Hagar, who who ran away into the wilderness after Sarai treated her harshly when Hagar acted haughty because she was pregnant and Sarai was not.  She is miserable and sitting by a spring of water, alone, when she encounters God, and God tells her to return.  Throughout her misery, God sees her and she names him The God Who Sees.  The God who sees.  El Roi saw through her pain and heartache.  He saw her when she was scared and lonely and had nowhere to run, nobody to turn to.  
She was a Nobody, but Somebody saw her.  
And we have the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.  She’s an outcast, a Nobody, coming to the well in the heat of the day, and Jesus sees her and gives her living water (John 4).  Or the man at Beth-Zatha who was ill for thirty-eight years, and Jesus saw him and made him well (John 5).  Or the man blind from birth, who Jesus sees and then heals so that he can see, too (John 9).  Or when Mary pours expensive perfume on him and Jesus sees beyond the cost of it to look ahead to his burial (John 12).  Or, after his resurrection, he sees the pain and sorrow of Mary Magdalene, and tells her he is there, and then she announces the good news that she has seen the Lord (John 20).
When it comes to Christian celebrity, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  How do we balance all of this?  How do we stay faithful to our callings when attention comes our way?  How can we be like Jesus and see people who the world deems Nobodies?  How can we use Christian celebrity to see others as Jesus did?  

Also, feel free to add more examples of Nobodies in the comments!


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Speaking the Truth In Love

A few minutes ago, Rachel Held Evans asked this on Twitter: 

Do you think it’s even possible to “speak the truth in love” to someone you don’t actually know & love but to some general, faceless group?
I don’t really think it is possible, and I also wondered what it would look like to to combine that idea with the definition/description of love we get in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. To refresh our memories, it is:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…
So, speaking the truth in love is…
  • Speaking the truth patiently.
  • Speaking the truth kindly.
  • Speaking the truth without envy.
  • Speaking the truth without boasting.
  • Speaking the truth without being arrogant about it.
  • Speaking the truth politely.
  • Speaking the truth unselfishly.
  • Speaking the truth good-naturedly.
  • Speaking the truth without resent.

When any of us think or claim to be speaking the truth to someone, is this how it is done? Or is it usually done in the opposite way? How can we be better truth-speakers in love?
Edited to add:

An additional thought I just had is that since Jesus says HE is the truth (John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.), then how do we speak Jesus to others in love? Do we follow the description of love above, or do we beat people over the head?

I Once Was…But Now I’ve Found… an interview at Tyler Tully’s “The Jesus Event”

When Tyler Tully asked if he could interview me for his “I once was…but now I’ve found…” series, I said sure, but I was a little perplexed as to what the topic could be.  I never had any sort of major moment of conversion that is popular in much of evangelical Christianity and although I left church for a time as a teenager and came back, I never really felt it was that momentous and didn’t completely redefine my faith or who I was.  So we came up with the idea of exploring the ecumenical Christian journey I’ve been on since, well, birth.

Kelly, you were raised in an ecumenical environment, where you were exposed to different flavors of Christian worship and practice. Why were you exposed to that type of cultivation, and what did you enjoy most about it?

I was exposed to ecumenism because my parents had always gone to different churches and that didn’t stop when they got married.  My dad was Catholic and my mom was Protestant (United Church of Christ).  I guess they wanted us to be able to go to both rather than picking one.  I was even baptized in both of them–on the same day!  I can’t say that as a child I enjoyed anything about it; it was more of an annoyance to often go to both churches every week (Saturday night Catholic mass and Sunday morning Protestant church service) but as an adult I have greatly appreciated it because it helped me to understand from an early age that no one denomination is perfect or right about everything.  I do remember as a child that when we would say the Lord’s Prayer, I would recite it the opposite way of the church I was in (the versions were slightly different) and when we would recite the Nicene creed in the Catholic church, I wouldn’t say the line about believing in one holy catholic church, because to me, I went to two churches that were equally valid.  I didn’t know then that catholic in that context meant universal.

To read the rest of the interview, in which Tyler asks me about church shopping, modesty culture, college ministry, and the future of the church, please visit “The Jesus Event”.

Toning it Down (Part II about tone)

This is the second part in a series about tone.  You can read the first part of this series here.

I learned that the right thing said in the wrong way is the wrong thing.  –Brad Lomenick, The Catalyst Leader

A while ago, in a private Facebook group to which I belong, I had a conversation with two women I know pretty much only through that group.  The topic was safe places on blogs, blog comments, anger, abuse, etc.  It was a fairly fluid conversation.  One of the women I was a little familiar with before this group, and the other not at all.  Prior to this group and conversation, my impression of one was semi-negative, due to the tone that I had sensed from reading at her website. 
During part of the conversation, there was some disagreement between people, but I noticed that it was always done in a respectful and caring way.  Nobody’s anger got the better of them.  There were no temper-tantrums or fights.  It was peaceful, loving disagreement, and there was more to it, too.  In part of the conversation, I commented to one person that “When I periodically read [your website], I didn’t really care for it. BUT, I have really, really appreciated getting to know you in this group and knowing more the *person* you are rather than the you as [your website].”  I was really scared to say that, because I didn’t want to come across as criticizing her or the tone of her website, and I didn’t want to come across as having some kind of arrogant or superior tone in saying it.  
What I learned from participating in this group and conversation was that I had probably pre-judged her without really realizing what I was doing.  I didn’t know her past.  I didn’t know her present either, really.  I just formed an opinion from what I read online, much of it due to tone, and assumed I had her figured out.  But I didn’t.  
Throughout the conversation, we engaged with each other and learned about each other and listened to each other. 
And at the end, I was sitting at my computer with a smile on my face, and I felt like we should have a big group hug.  
The conversation stood out to me because there is so much negativity online and it’s very easy to dismiss people when we dislike them, think we dislike them, or make assumptions about them or their writing.  And that is exactly what didn’t happen in this conversation.  
I’m not sure why in some places–yes, even Christian ones–the conversations turn towards anger and disdain and in some places, like this example of mine, they don’t.  Perhaps it was just that in that particular moment in time, we all were willing to set aside our own potential agendas or pronouncements or egos and just listen to what each other had to say.  We didn’t use angry or rude or sarcastic tones with each other.  
I believe that part of the reason this conversation worked so well was because we were not using angry or dismissive tones with each other.   I know that if we had, I would not have been as willing to listen.  Maybe that is a fault on my part.  Maybe I should be willing to dismiss tone.  But when I think about it and how I want to present myself, I know that tone is important to me.  I hope that I don’t ever default to writing in an angry tone, because for me, as a reader and writer, I find that the message is not as well-received.  I still believe tone shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant, because it does have an effect.  But we can all try a little harder to think of the whole person behind the writing–as I have to often remind myself to do.  
In that conversation, some of the fruits of the spirit that I wrote about in the first part of this series, were present in all of us.  We were loving toward each other.  We were patient with each other.  We were kind and gentle with each other.  We utilized self-control.  
I can’t explain it, but the way our conversation went made me believe it was one of healing, redemption, and understanding.  It made me realize that although we were in different physical locations around the country, we were still in one place together, and it reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our present lives are like, whatever our theological or political thoughts are, whatever our futures hold, in that moment in time, Jesus was present with us.  And that, I think, is what all of us in this Christian blogosphere should keep at the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Is Jesus present when we are gathered together this way, or not?  

I’m Not Tone Deaf (Part I about tone)

My older son is about to turn six.  He and I are a lot alike and it leads to the butting of heads at times.  On more than one occasion I have uttered one of the all-time cliches of parents everywhere: “Don’t use that tone with me.”  When he has an attitude, I am much less willing to listen to his argument or ideas.  
I have heard a lot about the use of tone online.  Often when someone calls another person out he or she is then accused of being mean.  I have, on multiple occasions, seen the explanation that one should interact with the content of a post and not the tone of a post because to consider the tone is “tone policing”.  I have to admit that I don’t quite see the problem in addressing tone.   In my first intro to literature class in college one section of the anthology adressed tone in writing.  It was an important concept for us to learn then, and due to the nature of reading so much on the Internet, I think it’s probably an important concept still.  The anthology says “But to try and describe the tone of such a story may be a useful way to penetrate to its center and to grasp the whole of it.”  Tone helps us to understand what is happening in the written word.  Reading and writing is not just a mental exercise in which we only use our brains as a tool for looking at facts or logic.  Writing can and does evoke emotions in us.  That is probably what attracts us to some writers and not others.   
I often consider the tone of what I am writing and if I am especially angry or passionate about something I will often wait on posting it.  For me, it is important to consider my tone, whether in a blog post or comment, Facebook comment, or tweet.  I don’t always succeed.  I can be cynical.  I am sure at times my tone is sarcastic or arrogant or dismissive of others with whom I disagree.  I remember posting a comment a few months ago on a piece about women in leadership in which I knew my tone was argumentative, and not just because I disagreed with the post but because I disagreed and felt that my position was superior and I wanted to change that person’s mind.
It often seems as if it is an either/or situation:  Either ignore the tone and read the content only, or ignore the content based on the tone.  I often will default to the latter (but I do want to get to a point where I can read the content without being solely influenced by tone).  If I don’t connect with the tone of an article or tweet or FB status, I simply won’t interact with it.  I remember one time listening to a talk radio show and and commenting that I might actually be willing to listen to the host’s point of view if he had a different tone  But to me, the tone of the host was arrogant, disdainful, and dismissive, and I wasn’t interested in hearing the content of what he said because of how he came across.  
I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone out because of tone, and I do try to remember that there’s a lot more to the person that I don’t know.  But I do know that certain tones discourage me from reading or paying attention to or taking seriously some of the posts I read.  If it happens here and there, I feel like I can overlook it.  But if someone consistently writes in an angry, rude, sarcastic, dismissive tone, I tend to tune out.  And I know that if *I* did the same, I don’t think I’d really expect people to take me seriously either, because for me, using that type of tone consistently is at odds with how I believe the fruits of the spirit should play out in my life.  

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  –Galatians 5:19-26 

In my writing–whether it is a post, a tweet, or a Facebook status, I try to keep in mind that I want to treat others how I would like to be treated.  I want the way I express myself to be honoring and loving to God and to others.  I sometimes see dismissal of others, of people basically being told “screw you”, and I struggle to understand how that is helpful, loving, Jesus-like, Spirit-filled.  But I want to give them some grace, too, because all of us are on a journey and none of us have arrived.

When I am more interested in getting my way and demanding that people listen to me and dismissing others, then the Holy Spirit is not working in me.  Sometimes, we want so much to be heard that we do the same things that we accuse others of doing that we don’t like.  We want so much to be able to express our voices that we then shut others out.  I think everyone deserves to have his or her voice heard.  I may not like what someone has to say.  I may hate what someone has to say.  But even so, I don’t want to silence anyone else even though I may have been silenced as well.  In many ways I am privileged.  In some ways I am not.  I don’t want to demand someone listen to me, get angry when they don’t, and get angry when they do, and then refuse to listen back. 

And maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe those who, to me, seem to be angry or bitter are really loving, happy, joy-filled people.  I only see one small side of them, and as I have learned, what we see online is not the whole person (read this or this).  And often, it’s not my place to accuse someone of being angry or bitter or hateful, because I have not developed the right personal relationship with the person.  And, when we start getting to know people as people, it is then that we can start to see beyond the tone.  This happened to me a couple of months ago in a Facebook group, and I’ll tell you about it in Part II later this week.
For Further Reading: