As I’m preparing to deliver the message at church this Sunday, I’m thinking about food deserts.
From Wikipedia: “A food desert is an area, especially one with low-income residents, that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. In contrast, an area with supermarkets or vegetable shops is termed a food oasis. The term food desert considers the type and quality of food available to the population, in addition to the number, nature, and size of food stores that are accessible. Food deserts are characterized by a lack of supermarkets which decreases residents’ access to fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 23.5% of Americans live in a food desert, meaning that they live more than one mile from a supermarket in urban or suburban areas, and more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas.”
For those of us that live with an abundance of food security it can be hard to imagine not having whatever we want readily available to us at all hours. The gospel for this Sunday tells about how Jesus miraculously fed thousands with just a small amount of food available. Jesus was concerned about their well-being. He wanted the people to be really nourished, not just spiritually fed. What does that mean for us? How does the fact that we assemble around a table for communion every Sunday lead us to action?
The table is not just a place for us to commune with God privately. It is a sign of God’s overflowing abundance and desire for all to be fed, physically and spiritually.
I attended a funeral last week. It was not someone I knew, and it was held at a church I had not attended before. So, for better or worse, I entered the space with my worship detective hat on. I always like to see what other churches are up to and how they arrange their spaces for worship.
This was a modern church. Sometimes they get called “big box” churches (after the mega retail stores that look exactly the same everywhere). The building was a recent construction. All of the furnishings were new and up to date. On their website they say that you can expect:
- a casual atmosphere
- friendly people who’ll help you find your way around
- today’s music and high-impact media
- messages relevant to your daily life
- clean, bright facility and kid’s classes
I guess those things are innocent enough. I can’t say that casual atmosphere and friendly people ever hurt anyone. I know all about these motives for ministry. The hurdle is set low for people who don’t understand church or don’t have a helpful experience of church. It is an easy facility to walk into and feel comfortable. It is disarming.
But that wasn’t exactly the experience I had at this funeral. Upon walking in the front door of the entryway I noticed the nice tile, updated signage telling me where things were, and heard familiar worship songs from everyone’s favorite Australian church gently cascading through the air. My spidey-church-sense was activated.
I peeked through the door into main worship space. And immediately I knew something was off. Something internally was not sitting right with me. I saw rows of chairs, a platform, drums and a keyboard, and very expensive lighting gear (motion lights and LED panels). The lighting was dimmed. There were 2 large screens at the front of the room (nothing being displayed on them). I turned back into the lobby area and tried to make sense of the uneasy feeling I had. What was missing?
After a few moments it hit me. The table. And then I identified the feeling. I had felt it before. It is this subconscious tug I feel every time I enter a space for worship and there is no table for God’s meal. Not only was the table missing, but also a cross, and a visible, accessible font. I realize there are different types of churches for different types of people. But my heart was heavy. And not because of the funeral. It was what was missing from the funeral.
How can we be comforted by God’s love without tasting the food that unites all people across time and space – the foretaste of the feast to come? In the desire to have an authentic experience in worship we can easily lose the most powerful signs and symbols we have of God’s presence.
Luke 14:1: “Now it happened that on a Sabbath day he had gone to share a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees…” One of the centerpieces of Jesus’ ministry was eating. Over and over again, Jesus shared food with people. Jesus shared food with his friends, the disciples. Jesus shared food with those who opposed him, the Pharisees in this story. Jesus shared food with people that got him in trouble with the Pharisees: the unclean, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. Jesus shared food with people by way of miracles that fed thousands. On the night before he was crucified he shared a Passover meal with his disciples and gave us a new commandment to love one another. Even after the resurrection, Jesus was still sharing food with people. He cooked breakfast for the disciples when they had returned to fishing. He appeared as a stranger to the two on the road to Emmaus, explaining the meaning of God’s plan of restoration, and then when they sat down at the table, he was revealed to them. The reason why we eat bread and drink wine every Sunday is because Jesus’ life was mostly about eating with people. Jesus still eats with us today.
On October 19-21 I will be in Chicago for a trip to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide offices. It is an honor to be asked by Rev. Kevin Strickland, Director of Worship for the ELCA, to participate in the Consultation on the Ongoing Renewal of Worship in the Church. We will be discerning what the continually unfolding renewal of worship in our churches might look like in the years ahead. As I prepare, I have been reflecting on what I long for in my own life and in my own ministry context. Where do I need to experience growth in my pilgrimage as a disciple following along the Jesus path? In what ways do I want to see the worship I design and lead stretched and deepened? Here are three areas I want to discover and grow into the future – both personally and corporately:
- Learn to Worship – I realize that stating a desire to learn to worship can sound bizarre coming from a professional church musician. Perhaps a better proposition would be that I desire for all my assumptions about worship to be challenged. Asking the right questions can peck away at our engrained assumptions about worship. Where is my understanding of worship one-dimensional when in reality it is three-dimensional? When am I distracted from truly worshiping in the midst of the assembly? Why don’t I make room for quiet and stillness? Where is God present when I assume God’s absence? How do I faithfully prepare my heart for worship before every assembly? Why do I suppose the living, breathing, moving God of heaven and earth is restricted to my preferences and tastes? What would a Sunday without music or speech look like? Where have adiaphora taken place of the central things? Renewing worship means asking critical questions about why our worship is the way it is.
- Learn to Feast – I have long felt that communion is more feast than funeral. Yet we more often than not connect the weekly Eucharist to Jesus’ last supper, betrayal, and subsequent execution. What about every other meal Jesus ate? What about the food with tax collectors, and the miraculously expanding fish and loaves, and the meal with two disciples at Emmaus, and the post-resurrection fish breakfast tacos? Jesus was doing something significant in reconstituting the Passover, no doubt. Christ is our Paschal Victim/Victor. But I think there is something important beneath it all: Jesus ate with people. Our celebrations around God’s table are connected to every meal Jesus ever ate – including the everlasting meal to come in God’s eternal Kingdom. What does the ritual action of feasting look like? How can communion become more feast than funeral?
- Learn to Converge – We are trapped by the need to clearly label and categorize our worship. Using worship as a tool to target a specific group of people produces consumers, not disciples. Instead of being preoccupied with the copyright date of the songs we sing (as if church music had an expiration date), we should be singing the best and broadest types of music from God’s people in all places and times. In doing so our worship becomes countercultural (perhaps counter to the surrounding culture, perhaps counter to the prevailing church culture). Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way. Through singing broad types of music we also become cross-cultural and can see God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own. This is the heart of convergent worship. Convergent worship is not a style. It is a mindset. Convergent worship is the coming together of the historic and the contemporary at every level of worship (not just the music) to create maximum opportunities for engaging worshipers with the presence of God. Convergent worship expresses a willingness to reopen all questions about worship and to learn from the entire worshipping community. Convergent worship has a healthy respect for the past while maintaining an absolute commitment to contemporary relevance.
These are the areas where I see a need for growth in my own personal and corporate worship. What about you – what does the future of worship look like to you?
I gave myself a personal home project deadline. I wanted to fix a 1969 Zenith Z922M turntable console by Christmas so I could listen to Willie Nelson’s Christmas LP “Pretty Paper” that I bought on vinyl earlier in the year. This turntable console is special because it was from my grandmother’s house. They bought it new in 1969. I remember listening to albums on it at her house when I was a kid. The original catalog advertisement is still inside:
The turntable wasn’t working when I got it. Not sure how long it has been since it worked. It also has an am/fm tuner which works. I assumed the main reason the turntable wasn’t working was due to the 42 year old lubrication in the mechanism. The amp in this thing is solid state and the turntable is heavy duty – meant to last forever. Today I proceeded to remove the back panel and look inside:
After fiddling with the turntable I grabbed a can of WD-40 and gave the mechanism underneath the turntable a good spray. I was hoping it would loosen any parts that were locked and maybe lubricate the motor enough to make the table spin again. I powered it up and gave the table a little push to help it get started. After a few tries it started working. I found Willie’s Christmas vinyl and soaked it up. Now I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of my vinyl collection. The console needs some more repairs to fully restore it – only one of the woofers is working and I’m not sure the changer arm works properly.