Live Wires: Evidence of the Kingdom in the Worship Act

This post was written by Aaron Klinefelter. 

I grew up in the church. I mean that quite literally. I spent more time in our small town United Methodist church or church-related activities than almost any other past-time as a kid. It was where I made my first friends, have some of my earliest memories, and was lovingly nurtured and raised. And, I hasten to add, I’m not bitter, repressed, angsty or resentful about any of it. That little church in Paris, KY was and is a place of welcome and nurture.

And I never once heard about the Kingdom of God. Well, that’s not exactly true. I heard about it as a passing reference to what happens when you die. I came to internalize an interpretation of Jesus’ references to the Kingdom as bible-times way of saying “heaven” (cue soundtrack “I’ll Fly Away”). The gospel was good news for us lucky folk who heard about Jesus and “made a decision for Christ” and we’d get to spend heaven hanging out with him singing and floating and something. Any talk of the Kingdom of God breaking into our world now, well, that was just unheard of. Or maybe it was what those liberals were talking about, but surely it wasn’t what Jesus was about.

Somewhere along the way I heard the Good News. I think it was Lesslie Newbigin’s fault. The Good News of the inbreaking of God’s will on earth as in heaven. It was the “earth” part that I had missed before. I’ve increasingly become convinced, or at the very least convicted, that this is precisely what Jesus was about back in the day. The overwhelming sense that Jesus was, through his teaching, healing, and prophetic ministry, enacting a new world where God is King. A new world, or more precisely, a re-newed world, where the poor hear good news, prisoners are free, the blind see, the oppressed are not so, and where we are invited into Jubilee (see also Luke 4).

Well, faithful reader, I suspect you are asking, “Just what does this have to do with curating worship?” Everything, naturally. In worship curation we are engaged in the creative process of enacting the Kingdom of God breaking into our world. Worship is a creative moment, not a product to be consumed, a doctrine to be understood, nor a ritual to be perfected. We invite others into this creative moment when we curate worship. It is in this moment that the Kingdom of God, now, but not quite yet entirely, becomes evident.

This is precisely what liturgy is about. Whether that liturgy is a centuries old litany or a meditative electric guitar riff, it is the purview of liturgy to invite us into the creative moment. Good liturgy operates as something of a wedge that opens space between our status quo and world that God desires. We become aware of the space between what is and what is yet to be. Likewise, the liturgical act is the peeling away of the layers of apathy, egotism, and ultra-pasteurized homogeneity to reveal and revel in something meaningful, communal, and sublimely diverse. It is this space between, the creative moment, the liminality of the threshold between that pulls us closer to God’s heart. The worshiping community of faith experiences the Kingdom in these open spaces that liturgy creates.

Our worship also provides evidence of the Kingdom by being operationally conductive. In other words, our act of worship brings into being a functional reality that was not but now is. Worship does something. It is not an act of self-congratulation (aren’t we great for doing this) nor is blind obedience to tradition (we’ve always done it that way) or doctrine (God said to do it). Worship is like grabbing hold of a live wire. The electricity flowing through that wire must find a place to go and, when you grab it, it goes through you. Worship is conductive in the same capacity. When we enter into worship—and as we curate said worship—we become conduits through which, and by which, the Kingdom becomes evident in our lives together because it is conducted through us. The Kingdom is evident because it is operational. God’s will and ways are given specific and contextual shape as we worship together. We become more loving, compassionate, mindful, peaceful, and Christ-like as we worship. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

© Aaron Klinefelter
Image © iStockphoto 

Aaron Klinefelter is a campus minister, gardener, and barista. He’s also the father of three very loud, very creative, very wonderful kids and husband to Sarah. Check out his campus ministry work here, read his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

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What distinguishes your ‘brand’ of Christian worship from all the others?

Our theme this week is Ecumenical Worship. The English word “ecumenical” comes from the Greek oikoumene, literally meaning “the inhabited earth.” You may have heard the first part of this Greek word before. Oikos means “house.” Part of the metaphor contained in the word ecumenical, then, is the idea that we all dwell together as followers of Jesus. We are of one household.

It is strange that we do not act as if this is the case.

Instead of making a wonderful display of the depth and breadth and possibilities of the Faith, the variety in our Christian tradition disables us from participating as one family, a family with common goals and a common Lord. Certainly, this has been the case since nearly the dawn of the Church, however our failure to unite under the banner of Christ worsened with the advent of Protestant denominations. The catholic (literally: “universal”) Church became fractured and splintered (not to imply that this didn’t need to happen). So, it is no surprise that the term “ecumenical”—though deriving from an ancient language—originates in the very same century as the Reformation. Circumstances demanded such a word.

Numerous things separate us from each other: doctrines, methods for discipleship, the sacraments we choose to emphasize. More than anything else, it is our worship that causes us to feel foreign from our fellow believers.

Thinking about your own brand of Christianity—whether a specific denomination or simply a unique, independent local body—what characteristic distinguishes your worship from the worship of others? What is one unique practice that sets you apart?

Answering this question is the start of a longer conversation—part of which we hope to have this week—about how to bring all of our worship diversity together, from time-to-time, “under one roof.”

Foundational to that conversation is knowing where we all stand. Take a moment to tell us to which tradition you are most strongly tied.

Which denomination or tradition best describes your church?

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When ‘Call the Pastor!’ Doesn’t Cut It

With global weather disasters, regional famines, and local terrorist atrocities, we live in an age during which religious cooperation has become more a necessity than a nicety.

One gets the feeling that our age is more heavily laden with bad news and trouble than previous eras. Certainly, this is untrue. But it is true that we have never been so connected, and in this connectedness – through email, Twitter, Facebook, Google, the ease and speed of travel, etc. – the Japanese are able grieve for terror victims in New York, while New Yorkers lament for tsunami victims in Japan. I’m pretty sure this has not happened before our time. The downside? This proliferation of information has turned our blissful ignorance to horrific awareness. It’s allowed us access to the pain of others, whether we want to or not.

Our horrific awareness begs for some spiritual relief. If we were only speaking of a 19th century American frontier settlement tragedy, spiritual relief would be a no-brainer. “Call the pastor!” someone would shout. The clergyman from the local church – situated in the center of town and some flavor of Christian - would preside where presiding was necessary and intercede when the people could no longer pray for themselves in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Today it’s a different story. No longer is spiritual disaster response solved with a single call to the local pastor. After all, there might be Hindus trapped in that building. It’s possible there are Muslims with homes underwater and relatives lost just off-shore. The mayhem of airplane hijackers takes the plane down even with Zen-Buddhists in coach.

The pressing question raised by our interconnectedness is: How do address deep spiritual needs when a diversity of faiths are represented in the fray?

Taking a step back, there is actually a question that logically precedes this one. It is the question ‘why?’ Why figure it out? Why do the hard work when even some of the greatest leaders of our time shun the opportunity?

I can think of several reasons why it is healthy, helpful, and spiritually responsible (from the Christian perspective) to figure out how to pray and worship together with those holding different beliefs, especially in times of trial:

God made everyone. As far as I can tell, we are all descended from Adam. Whether one takes this literally, or as myth (in the truest sense of the term), we are taught that all are persons are created by God. This basic fact lays a foundation for all other reasons.

We are similar. Each person is unique. True. Unique personalities. Unique opinions and points of view. Unique cultural biases and religious practices. Also, true: Everyone is the same. Everyone loves. Everyone hates. Each person has to do something with that sense (or lack of sense) of the spiritual they perceive. Though our conclusions vary, as children of the same Parent, our common humanity should outweigh our disparate preferences. This is why early on, the Spirit expanded the bounds of the Church beyond Jewish believers in Jesus. God’s chosen people would have to share God, whether they liked it or not.

We need each other. Our similarities include our needs. At any moment, we may find ourselves in need. At any moment, there is someone that can meet that need. Whether we are thirsty, hungry, lonely, fearful, saddened, perplexed, in shock, desperate, beaten down, abused, abandoned… relief has been pre-programmed into the scheme of the universe. That relief is called “you.” Sure, God parted the Red Sea, but Moses had to stretch out his hand. Someone (likely not a Christian) needs your hand – and the rest of what’s connected to it. And you just may need that non-Christian hand yourself one day.

Worship is witness. It might seem uncouth to raise evangelism when talking about interfaith cooperation. Must be my Baptist roots coming to the surface. Uncouth or not, my faith tradition says “faith unaccompanied by action is dead.” If I’m to bring my faith to the table with those of other religions, I must do more than quote scripture. I must do more than recite doctrine. I must do. Possible actions include more options than feeding the hungry and quenching the thirsty, though these are quite en vogue. I should also be asking God to act on behalf of others – whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist for that matter. Does anything speak more of my love (and God’s) for another than the prayer sincerely, humbly, and indiscriminately offered – with and in the presence of others? Especially when that prayer is answered, for real.

Can you come up with some more reasons why we ought to worship and pray with those of other faiths?

Image © iStockphoto

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Working at Worship, part 2

This post is part two of a two-part post by John Jensen. Read part one here.

Godly Work
I believe there are a few things that we can do to make our work Godly. First, like the bible says, we work as if our boss is not our boss (scripturally slave owner) but rather we subvert this relationship by working as if God is our boss. This means we would work hard, and diligently, but far from just being a pillar of the protestant work ethic, we would also work with moderation and justice. We would refuse to work to the extent where our person is exploited, or where the ideals of sabbath and rest are not realized. We live a different ethic, one of justice, and grace, and compassion.

Secondly, we do not take part in work that is used to exploit others. Once, when I was out of work for a long time, I was given a lead on a job that would have paid my rent. After bidding the job, I found out that what this business was going to be was a lingerie shop. Only, it was designed as a place where men could come and sit in a private room, and young women would come into these private rooms to “model” the lingerie. In other words, it was just a front for prostitution. In my mind, prostitution is a horrible business that uses and abuses everyone involved for the profit of a pimp. I would not take part in a business like that, I would not take their money, nor provide the ground work for this to happen. This is essentially an issue of worship.

And lastly, Godly work is work that we take pride in the creation of. The first words of our faith narrative tell us that God creates, and not long after that it tells us that we are made in this creator’s image. In some way, we are made as creators. What we do at work is reflect this image.  Whether it is creating a house as I do, or a dress as others do, or a website, or an opportunity for people to own a home, we should take pride in our creation. For you, this might mean creating a work environment of mutual respect.

Aware Work
Probably the most important of these three “works” is aware work. I struggle with this one all the time. I get caught up in the fast paced, get it done world I live in, and forget to be aware. And in this, Brother Lawrence is the most compelling example for us. Brother Lawrence tells us in the practice of the presence of God, “I find that I am as much in the presence of God while doing the dishes, as when taking the holy sacrament.” How can we cultivate this kind of spirituality? By practicing. This is a discipline, not something that will just happen. We must try more and more every day, to realize the truth of our faith… God is with us. God is among us, in us, and sustaining all things. We are truly never alone. As we work, we have a constant companion, and that is the loving Spirit of Christ.

I remember one day I was walking down the dirt street amidst a bustling jobsite. There were rugged manly men of all trades, hurrying back and forth. It was hot, and there was a lot to do. But, as I walked down the street with my tool belt jingling, all of a sudden I had this profound revelation, that God, my Father, was with me. And I was filled with this incredible love. I felt like I got hugged in the middle of my work. It was so overwhelming I began to weep. I hurried to a dark closet until I could compose myself. Don’t want the guys to see me like that, of course. One of the most incredible, personal, and worshipful moments of my entire life, and it happened in the middle of the hustle and sweat of a construction site.

But the truth is, God is always that near, and always loves that deeply, and it is our awareness of this, or our lack of awareness of this that keeps worship from being a daily outpouring of our spirit to God. Work is a place where God resides, and we must be aware of the Spirit’s empowering presence in the midst of all we do.

These are my truths. They are my journey, and struggle. As I type this I am quite ashamed that I do not live this out nearly as well as I want. But I hope that in sharing these thoughts you could perhaps be challenged in your journey as well.

I would also love for you to share your stories, your truths, and your ideas about how worship and work interact.

© John Jensen

Image © iStockphoto


John Jensen is just a normal, average, post-evangelical christianarchist who has been planting organic communities of faith with his wife Raquel and his daughters Ade and Cheyenne for twenty years. You can leer at his lunacy at johnthereverend.com. And, follow him on Twitter @rev3j.

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Working at Worship, part 1

This is part one of a two-part post written by John Jensen. Read part two here.

The word worship means to prostrate oneself. Laying face down on the ground on the construction site… well, that would be difficult. But what I have come to understand worship to be, is not always the physical act of prostrating oneself, but rather the bowing down to, or acknowledging of God’s rule. Many find the singing of songs, with lyrics about God’s Lordship to be helpful in this, but I generally don’t. For me, it is the day in, day out struggling, to give myself over to God’s leadership in my life. This becomes especially difficult in the situations where God’s kingdom rule is in direct opposition to the culture of today. For me, there aren’t many places in our lives where this is more apparent than in our places of employment.

So what does it mean to worship God in our work? There are three key aspects that comprise my answer to this question: Good workGodly work, and Aware work.

Good Work
Right in the beginning of our creation narrative we slam into an interesting thought about our relationship with work. When Adam and Eve decide to follow their own path, they unbalance all of creation. And God tells Adam that the ground will not yield its fruit easily, that he will with much toil and sweat fight with the ground to bring about his sustenance. Our adversarial relationship with work is a result of our adversarial relationship with God, and God’s good creation. Our toil and hardship is part of what is often called the curse.

But ours is a narrative of liberation. From start to finish, the scriptures are stories of liberation from oppression. And this liberation has its ultimate climax in the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Jesus, through His death and resurrection, begins the work that liberates us from the curse of sin and death. Including the beginning of our adversarial relationship with work. And Christ teaches us about the now, and not yet, rule of God, in which we begin to live in the liberation of all things here and now, as our proper expectation and hope of the future, complete redemption of God.

In simpler terms… we live as if we are in heaven now, practicing our faith in heaven’s ultimate victory.

So what does this have to do with worship? And work?

In my mind, quite a bit. I am sure you have heard many cliches that express our relationship with work. If you enjoyed it, it wouldn’t be called work. Or, Do something you enjoy and you will never work a day in your life. etc. Well, this is not living in worship. Worship says that God is God of all of our lives. And that we submit ourselves to God’s rule in all of our lives, including work. If our God is expressed in fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ, then we are to walk in the liberation from the curse, not under it. Which means worship should mean “good work.”

Now at the risk of alienating people, I would suggest that trading large chunks of your life, energy, talent and creativity, for money and security only, is not good work. It is, in a sense, wage slavery, and is living under the adversarial relationship with work. This is the curse. What I am suggesting is that we choose work that feeds ours souls, even if it means we are less secure and less financially prosperous. I know, this is much easier said than done.

Our work should be done as worship, which means walking in the redemption of Jesus, not under the burden of sin. Our work should come from our heart, we should have a love for what we do, and it should express who we are. Even if it means quitting our “normal” jobs. During my life I have lived this out by following my heart into a number of trades, most of them around building things. The satisfaction of creating something where there was nothing, of using my hands, of feeling physically tired or even exhausted at the end of the day, is “good work” for me. It is where worship meets work.

Read part two tomorrow, in which John continues with Godly work and Aware work.

© John Jensen

Image © iStockphoto


John Jensen is just a normal, average, post-evangelical christianarchist who has been planting organic communities of faith with his wife Raquel and his daughters Ade and Cheyenne for twenty years. You can leer at his lunacy at johnthereverend.com. And, follow him on Twitter @rev3j.

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