“Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?”

So quips novelist Annie Dillard in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk. Taking the adjectives “cheerful” and “brainless” first, I join her rant. Chronic cheerfulness can be a mask for pain rather than an expression of pleasure. Honesty among worshipers permits tears as well as cheer. You don’t have to be happy all the time to be at home with God.

Brainlessness is not a spiritual virtue. Faith isn’t not thinking. Know-nothing champion Archie Bunker said: “Faith is believing what any damn fool knows ain’t so.” No, believing what you know ain’t so is what makes a damn fool; it’s not what makes for faith. Faith is the first step in knowing the truth, not a substitute for it. You can’t rightly worship the God who gave you a brain by turning it off when you get to church.

Now to the image of being “tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute.” Adventurers, yes. Tourists, no. Explorers, yes. Sightseers, no. Worship demands that our full selves be offered up to God. We open ourselves to being changed by the encounter. We do not worship to be entertained. Oddly, there was a day when you went to the theater to be entertained and to church to be moved by the mystery of God. Today, we want the church to entertain us and the movies to make us think about our lives.

Dillard continues: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It’s madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

When you last went to your church or temple or mosque, were you more occupied with the lights, cameras and action or worship or with the God it is designed to rouse and bless? Did you allow your heart to feel and your mind to think about the power of God to love you and bend you and make you new?

Who is worship for – God or you?


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