God: Trish’s Church and Manufactured Meaning

I’ve PRObably made it clear already that I don’t think Meaning can be manufactured (so the title of this article is intended to be a little tongue-in-cheek). Meaning comes from our encounters with Real Truth, and therefor anything we can Construct must inherently be other than Real Truth and, therefor, not a source of real Meaning.

To recap: the Constructed reality is USEFUL, while unconstructed Real Truth is MEANINGFUL. One is one, the other is the other.

Okay. Now we’re back to Trish’s church which, as I have said, presents me with a challenge.

When I say Trish’s church, I don’t mean her ideal philosophically perfect one. I mean the one here in Tulsa that she decided she liked, and that we both attend. It’s…it’s either Memorial Drive Church of Christ or Memorial Road Church of Christ. Whichever one ISN’T in Edmond.

Anyway. They have, I think, a pretty good example of exactly what I think a church service shouldn’t be. It’s a manufactured experience, a rigorously scripted spectacle of worship. It involves the audience, draws them in, makes them feel like they’ve been in the presence of God (all those things I talked about two posts ago).

It’s not extreme. It’s not an extremely liberal Church of Christ, which means it’s definitely not an extremely liberal Protestant church. I’ve seen worse. There’s nothing particularly unpleasant about Memorial’s service, even to someone who grew up in very conservative churches, as I did.

I’m pretty sure Nicki (and Kris?) and Toby (and Gwyn?) all disliked it for the liberalness of it, mainly. That aspect of it did make me slightly uncomfortable, but not much. What got to me was the….

Well, it’s like this: they have a praise team. That’s a liberal thing, that gets to people. What bothers me about it, though, is not that there are women leading singing or that we’re approaching the sinful idolatry of having a choir…it’s just the scripted aspect. I don’t like for a church service to be manufactured even as much as every single worship service IS, and when you start trying to coordinate eight people just for the song leading, you start manufacturing down to the nitty gritty.

Last Sunday I noticed that three of the four prayers seemed to have been written by the Worship Leader (the Captain of the Praise Team, and coordinator of the rest of the worship service) and handed out to the men saying prayers so that they’d better fit with the theme of the service. That MAY have been a misperception on my part (it’s not like there was a byline in the prayer), but it certainly seemed that way.

Now…the minister is an exception. I have appreciated every word I’ve ever heard Terry preach — and this is not something I can say of any other minister I’ve heard, including my dad. Terry preaches a lot of the things I believe, and I try not to make that a deciding factor when choosing a church, but it does make it easier to sit through a sermon, let me tell you.

Anyway, I have never felt that the sermons were particularly dictated by the themes of the Worship Leader, but rather that the Worship Leader crafted the rest of the service to highlight the sermons.

(I’m rambling a bit, I know, but I need to present the whole cloth before I can start fashioning my final point.)

It’s just this: the worship service is (I think) the defining role of a modern-day church. The worship service is what we DO as a church. It spawns lots of other things (Elderships and missions and youth groups and Bible classes and fellowship dinner), but all of these things develop because, first, we created a building and a congregation to participate together in the worship service.

(That’s WHY if you had two Christians who attended different churches but, say, would go out together to perform good deeds and feed the poor, and support and encourage each other, and all the other social things Christians do, you’d still say they’re members of different congregations. Because they attend different churches to observe the worship service.)

I’m fairly confident a church is defined by its worship service, and (as I said above) the Memorial church’s worship service is exactly what I think it oughtn’t to be — an exquisitely crafted religiouslike experience. And yet (here’s the challenging part), the church community seems to be exactly what I think a church community ought to be. They interact as Christians ought to interact. They are active in the world, apparently deliberately reshaping it to be more like the world God would want for Man, and they BELIEVE in God in a way I have rarely seen, even among my friends (let alone in churches!).

It bothers me. I would REALLY like to say that it’s all because of Terry. The preacher does such a good job saying the right things (remember, I already said he says the things I believe) that the congregation can’t HELP but hear his true meaning, and so they overcome the influence of the crafted worship service to actually experience Real Truth on their own.

I want to believe that, for the sake of the things I believe. I’m not so arrogant as to casually do that, though. It could be the…whaddyacallit…counterproof? Something like that. A test result directly contradicting a proposed hypothesis. It could be that the very existence of Trish’s church proves me completely wrong.

I don’t think that’s the case, either. Rather, Trish’s church seems to me to be an exception. A proof that Man can, in spite of his environment, twist just about anything into the shape he wants it to be. This church just happens to have enough people anxious enough to find Real Truth that they have taken the good and left the bad, and made this church into what they needed it to be, in spite of the inherent aspects of its methods that SHOULD have been obstacles.

I understand exceptions. I’ve told you recently that I’m a fairly pragmatic fellow, and the world constantly throws up exceptions to any good rule (it’s part of my argument for social construction, and against logical naturalism). I’m thinking Trish’s church is more like America — a very successful, very admirable anomaly. That’s no reason to build churches according to the example of Memorial, though, no more than it’s a reason to endorse Democratic Anarchy according to the example of the U.S. It’s just something to wonder at, I think.

I THINK. But, as I said, I recognize that it’s a challenge to my beliefs, and I constantly assail that challenge, rather than simply writing it off as an anomaly. That’s why I bring it up here. I’ll let you see my thought process, see the way I consider and examine.

Ahp! I’ve said a lot, and I think I hit my main points pretty early on and then rambled where I should’ve done follow-through, so maybe this will have been a pretty useless article. I dunno. Comments will tell, I guess.