weekend fast from consuming

February 27, 2006

stairwell accompaniment:Colin Hay

discussions from my husband and i–ragamuffins, indeed.

It has been an observation of ours that the American church experience follows a fairly consistent model. It consists of several stages that play to differing emotions. My husband and I both grew up in the church and have been (positively/negatively?)affected by this model. The first stage caters to the feeling and ecstasy of the spiritual encounter and is normally brought about through what is usually referred to as “worship”, singing and music. This time typically builds the tempo and gains the audience’s attention. The music often has a crescedo effect on the emotions which brings about focused attention, intense excitement or activity and then slows down to set the stage for a speaker. And in this second phase of the American worship experience the speaker brings about a mellow, often sobering state of a medium tempo message which plays to the intellect. In Protestant circles, this message often ends by appealing to the emotions and exposing guilt in unresolved sin. The last stage takes the energy of this guilt from the crowd and heights it through very emotionally gripping, weighty music which often drives individuals to a decision-making point or “spiritual epiphany”. Recurrently, this decision-making point involves making a move toward the alter for renewal and new resolve. And now this model spiritual experience is so intertwined with the physical experience (the environment, stages and emotions) and in many minds, this physical model of spiritual expience is replicated in small groups, and even individual devotional times. And the fear here is that the individual may begin to believe that spiritual encounters only happen within this model. And we move from Christ enhabiting all aspects of our lives to being encapsulated within this set spiritual architecture. So now there is this life within the model and there is a life outside of the model when truly, there should not be this dichotomy. Not to say that the model itself is wrong or ultimately ineffective or that it doesn’t serve well to help individuals grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ. We are concerned that the model is never explicitly recognized as simply an architecture and is not necessarlity authoritative as the only authentic model to spiritual experience that exists. It is somehting that should be recognized and we ought to be able to discern that our daily lives and our daily devotions should not have to follow this emotional profile. Spiritual experiences should be “allowed” in a full range of emotions: sadness, joy, frustration… Our spiritual decisions are not made in a single, sweeping, all-or-none emotional decision. On the contrary, it entails daily, decision-by-decision, moment-by-moment experiences. And God is not limited to being experienced through specific emotions. We both have struggled with limiting our spiritual experiences by modeling them to the American church model and expecting that it will mirror the emotions felt during a typical church service. We have failed to recognize that our spiritual walks do not look like this and, in fact, will inevitably contain a wide variety of emotions, decisions and attitudes that are not typically seen, felt or recognized on a Sunday morning. So it is a move from the American church’s spiritual model to a more universal approach to spiritual growth. One that is applicable to different cultures, different languages, different personalities and different backgrouds. The importance is not on environment or technology or comfortability. As Christians we have the freedom, whether as a congregation or individual, to move outside of this model and into a more wide, inclusive approach to a personal God. Should my approach to moving closer to God look like Josh’s? It does not. We aren’t at all downplaying the fact that community within the Christian faith is vitally important! We simply hope believers can recognize that spiritual experiences have moved to become both a cultural as well as a spiritual experience. Can we separate the two in order to recognize that the cultural aspect does not contain the authority?

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