Sunday, August 19, 2007

Worshiping with Broken Appliances

About the time she turned 40, my wife said, “It’s not the aging I mind, it’s the way the appliances keep breaking down.”

Does the way appliances fail right after they go out of warranty send us a subliminal message about the human condition?

Whatever the subtle symbolism behind that observation, the Neffs have now had another spate of appliance breakdowns. Appliances don’t fail only when they go out of warranty. They can also sense when you’ve got guests on the way.

And so, with three out-of-town guests in our home, our KitchenAid food processor flew apart in the middle of kneading bread and had to be replaced by a new Cuisinart.

Our electronic bathroom scale just gave us a blank, glassy stare. And when I replaced the batteries—nothing.

We received a recall letter from Maytag, saying that our dishwasher might burn our house down.

And then, after I rinsed the dinner dishes, the garbage disposal emitted an unearthly racket and jammed. All my efforts to follow the manufacturer’s instructions couldn’t remove the mystery object that had frozen the disposal. But probing its interior with my fingers and peering into it at an awkward angle, I realized what had happened. A piece of the exploding food processor had flown into the drain opening and waited for the opportunity to cause mischief.

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that the whole creation has been “subjected to futility” but that in the end, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Whether it’s a series of minor mishaps (like our appliance breakdowns) or serious catastrophes (like the collapse of a Minnesota bridge or a Utah mine), we know that the physical breakdown of creation is paralleled by the spiritual collapse of the human race. And we know that restoration awaits both God’s creation and God’s children.

* * *

How do we worship when our world keeps breaking down?

Those of us who practice Ancient Future worship often engage in some of the most glorious services to be found this side of the coming kingdom. That’s because we know that our Eucharists are anticipations of the eschatological Marriage Supper of the Lamb and that somehow (as our Orthodox friends have taught us) in this meal, heaven is opened to earth and earth to heaven.

In 2005, Colorado pastor Kevin Navarro published The Complete Worship Service with the subtitle “Creating a Taste of Heaven on Earth.” Bob Webber wrote a foreword to the book, and summarized its main point: “Not just the songs we sing but also the hospitality, the atmosphere, the teaching, the Eucharist—all these and more constitute a taste of heaven.”

Charles Wesley wrote about our heavenly worship in “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”: “Changed from glory into glory /Till in heaven we take our place, / Till we cast our crowns before thee, / Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Navarro’s book is devoted to helping us toward the state of being “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” But at one point he warns: “As glorious as our worship services can be, we need to remember that even in the most holy place on earth, the creation is still in labor.” We will never be fulfilled until heaven, he writes, and “the complete worship service is created to help us long each week for what is yet to come.”

And so worship is about “longing.” Section 4 of the Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future deplores the forms of worship that “do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption” because they treat the self as the source of worship or regard God as an object of the intellect.

The remedy, according to the call, is “worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story.” By proclaiming God’s story, our worship can “narrate the world” so that our people experience a longing for the world to come. And by knowing where we are in God’s story, in the already but not yet, we can put the failures of appliances and people in perspective and be strengthened by a foretaste of the redemption for which we long.

* * *


Good news about our garbage disposal and bathroom scale. A friend was able to dislodge the piece of broken food processor from the garbage disposal. And the bathroom scale mysteriously healed itself. For the moment, however, our dishwasher remains a menace.


Amy said...

David, thanks for the thoughts on our heavenly and eschatological worship - humming the last lines of Wesley's hymn give me a foretaste of the consummation of the ages.
Also, thank you for using this blog to bring the Call into the foreground reminding us of its relevance for today and tomorrow and the next day. Peace to you and your family!

Blake Walter said...

We have had a number of discussions in my church lately about whether we are "a church for church people" or "a church for the unchurched". For many of our American churches (mine included), it's hard to escape the conclusion that we primarily exist to provide a comfortable place for Christians to attend. Much of any one church's growth is merely the transference of the disaffected from other local churches.

One of the reasons that I resonate with liturgical worship is that it is an experience that can speak to the churched and the unchurched alike. Yes, the "smells and bells" can be confusing to the uninitiated, and activities like congregational singing or reciting the creed may not have immediate references to similar experiences in secular life. (In these two instances, I think the lack of correlation is not a fault of the worship, but it rather represents a deficiency in secularized life, sometimes filled with such things as 7th-inning stretches or, God help us, corporate vision statements.)

If we're doing our worship right, though, there should be a narrative element and a strong connection with the unfolding of God's story, a connection that I think is naturally built into liturgical worship. Churched or unchurched, I think we're all human enough to need that.