Monday, June 27, 2005

The End of the Universe

I work on the fifth floor of a five-story office building. Five stories might seem short unless you've been to West Texas, and then you understand that I can look out the east side of the building and see Fort Worth, out the west side and see El Paso.

Five floors directly beneath my office, in the basement, is a large, open room. A church used to meet there on Sundays. I've always wondered what it would be like to worship in the basement of an office building. I suspect it would be a lot like worshipping in a hotel conference room, which is what I did on Sunday.

On Wednesday evening, my wife, my kid and I bade a fond farewell to the Riverwalk, hopped in the car and began our drive to Dallas, where we would have the privilege of participating in that Fabulous Waste of a Weekend that is often known as a family reunion.

On Friday and Saturday, we did some fun family reunion things, like talk religion. At one point, I found myself seated in the study of a fairly opulent house - complete with hidden room behind the bookshelf - discussing reformed theology and the racial segregation of the Christian church.

In fact, I was kind of surprised that we didn't have more discussion about religion; my sister, who is currently working her tail off in Oakland as part of the Mission Year program, had recently sent a letter to her sponsors - many of them family members - criticizing our particular religious tradition and expressing fear that the church of Christ Mafia would soon be coming after her. Those of you who aren't part of the church of Christ tradition, relax. There is no church of Christ Mafia. If there were, it would have disposed of Max Lucado long ago.

Because our religion is a significant part of our family identity, we usually have a family worship service. On Sunday morning, we all crawled out of bed and made our way to the hotel's Bluebonnet Room.

As I was walking down the hall to the Bluebonnet, I noticed that the hotel had three conference rooms. Ours was the middle room; the first had a sheet of paper that read something like, "Harvest Church International will meet in the Magnolia Room".

"Interesting," I thought. "Two churches. But we probably won't be meeting at the same time."

As I entered the Bluebonnet Room, I noticed that while it contained a folding table at the front and two groups of folding chairs with a center aisle, the Bluebonnet Room did not contain any actual bluebonnets. Also, it wasn't a room. It was the middle third of a long room that had been partitoned using those carpet-covered wall divider things.

"Boy," I thought. "I sure hope that we aren't meeting at the same time as that other church."

By about 9:40, most of the family had gathered in the Bluebonnet Room and taken their seats. We began church with some singing, which we manage without instruments and, on this occasion, which was facilitated by a fairly loud songleader.

Before we could begin singing, a chant started in the Magnolia Room, on our right. It was facilitated by a tambourine. Our songleader hurried to begin our own singing, which I felt sure would drown out the poor chanters with the tambourine, and proclaim us to be the Religious Victors of the Holiday Inn.

Then, from the room to my right, I heard an odd hum. Was that an amp clicking on?

It was. A guitar, a female vocalist and a folksy praise tune quickly subverted both the tambourine and our stalwart a capella chorus.

Eventually, everyone finished their songs and settled down into the contemplation phase of their worship. Everybody did their church thing, and we even beat the Baptists to lunch.

But something about the whole exercise awakens this odd feeling, this insistent tugging at the leg of my mental pants. It's similar to the tug I get every Sunday, when I drive past a Baptist church and a church of Christ that just happen to be located across the street from another Baptist church.

It just seems slightly ridiculous, doesn't it?

But can we do instead?


life_of_bryan said...

Typically when I make hotel reservations I ask not to be placed by the ice machine or elevators, but I must admit I've never even thought about asking for a room away from the tamborines/polyphonic spree.

Marrying a Baptist has softened me on a lot of my dogmatic training, so the only thing that bothers me about "instrument assisted worship" is when the lady on the organ feels the need to crank up the amp to 11 and drown out all the singing. Not sure I get the point there. You're a good singer so it wouldn't bother you, but for somebody who limps along trying to sing by ear it can be more than a little distracting. Maybe next time I'll shout out a request for some Skynard.

I'll bet if you drew back the partitions (literal and figurative) the separate audiences might find that they have more in common than they think. I've found that to be the case with the small town churchey types, as I've been observing a couple different flavors over the years. At the very least, we could all agree to team up and persecute our fellow man together.

Your Mom said...

As I attended the same family reunion it is interesting that I had some of the same thoughts. "Why do we have these funny, fur-covered partition things separating us from our Christian friends with guitars and tambourines?" But I thought better when we returned to the Holiday Inn after lunch and the Harvest International folks were still going at it. A service of that length can cut seriously into Sunday afternoon nap time.

Kyle said...

I'm the most liberal and accepting guy you'll ever meet. I was always the one saying how ridiculous the CoC was for not allowing instruments, etc. I now attend a very contemporary Baptist church that prides itself on appealling to people of all denominations. But, sometimes, okay, a lot of the time, I miss me some a cappella.

Paul said...

Too bad nobody in your family thought to bring a kazoo to the reunion, and maybe it would still have been in their pocket at the service...

Actually, a lot of the divisions in Christianity, really, most, strike me as just as intrinsically silly as they are historically meaningful.

Henry VIII starting his own church just because he wanted to remarry... And then so many of the denominations seem to divide along things like, "Do we count seven sacraments, or five?"

I think ecumenicalism is a good thing. And actually, I see much more of a divide that cuts across denominations than I do between them.

My family's Catholic, and contains everything from a Sister of the Holy Cross who is so nondogmatic I wonder if they know about it, to an uncle who's just Catholic laity but has quite a bit in common with fundamentalists.

I also have friends who are Baptists. I always thought of Baptist as highly dogmatic/fundamentalist. Until I met my friends. They read and discuss anything - Hinduism, Buddhism...

The religious map could use some redrawing. Maybe base it on musical preferences?

life_of_bryan said...

Maybe I'm in denial, but it appears we are well on our way to having a Fortune 500 list of churches. Have we "over-corporatized" our church culture? I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but I get enough of it at work, so the whole vibe is a turnoff. Pretty soon TBN will have its own sitcom version of Office Space.

This job posting struck me as a little too corporate sounding, complete with buzzwords & organizational bs.

Now that I think about it...the great commission did mention something about "all who produce TPS reports and give recurring performance evaluations to their direct reports will be saved."