Modern Worship

Besides disrupting transportation, heavy ice a...
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Thousands of years ago, when we knew that storms were coming, we would stop our every day life.  We would take some time to prepare in the physical world.  We would get our stores of food ready.  We would cover our windows.  We would take inside anything that might get damaged outside.  And then, we would wait.

There would be this buzz in the air.  Adreniline would be coursing through our veins but we would have run out of places to channel it.  We would have headed off to our temple.  We would have worshipped in whatever way we worshipped.  We would have offered sacrfices pleasing to our God(s).  Reminded of our connection to something bigger than us, feeling comfortable that we’d done our duty in the hope that the God(s) would do theres, feeling some subtle sense that we can control the world, having spent some time in community, we’d return to our homes and wait out the storm.

Nothing has changed.

I live in Worcester, Massachusetts.   People in my area watched the build up to Hurricane Irene with a certain ammount of baggage that the rest of the country doesn’t carry.

Two winters ago there was an ice storm.  As a result of the trees and powerlines that were knocked down, tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) went months with no electricity.  People were isolated and afraid.  And quite blind-sided.  Nobody expected it to be that bad.

Many people like myself had minimal disruptions to our every day life.  But we all saw the devestation, we all knew and tried to help people who were trying to get buy living on generators, eating off camp stoves, huddling up beneath blankets as they had no heat.

I think the hardest thing about this is what it does to your sense of security.  It was so unexpected.  We were so utterly powerless before that ice storm.  Government and utility company response was mediocre at best.  The silver linings is that some communities and people had the oppurtunity to shine.  But all things considered, I think everybody would have rather not had that chance at playing the hero (or needing the heroes)

And so this whole region has a psychic scar, an issue that is mostly unresolved.  I think that is part of what gave an extra  kick to the buzz around Hurricane Irene.  People went through material preperation.  They battened down the metaphorical hatches.  We were at the beach the day before it hit and watched the lifeguards pulling down signs and boarding up windows.  We came home and moved patio furniture inside.

And then we waited.  The adreniline still coursing through our veigns.

En masse, we went to our modern temple: The great God of retail.  Our sacrificial altar was the cash register.  We did our part in the transaction, sacrificing our hard-earned (or more likely too easily borrowed) funds.  Our purchases deluded us into thinking that we had a sense of control over the issue.  We were a gathered people and drew some comfort in the community.  We have hastily painted over the lessons of the ice storm.  We tell ourselves that we can buy security, peace, and happiness, just as we once told ourselves that the Gods will protect us when we do the right thing.

I know, we were told to buy certain things.  And a few of those purchases made sense.  I won’t deny going out myself for flashlights and water.  Some of my thinking on this comes out of my experience of walking those aisles.  A few pieces of evidence that countermand the idea that our purchases were entirely about our actual need:

#1) A friend who works in a grocery store, with out being prompted by me, observed that nearly all of the countless purchases being run up had nothing at all to do with storm preperation.

#2) A hurricane is coming to dump thousands of gallons of rain on us.  And what do we all buy?  Bottled water.  Water, in the event of a hurricane seems like a pretty silly thing to buy.   It’s not exactly in short supply.  And seriously?  How many people purchased enough water for it to make a meaningful difference?  Our 2 gallons certainly would not have lasted us long.

#3) As the storm began to abate, my wife drove buy our favorite icecream place.  In the middle of still-pouring rain, their sheltered eating area was overflowing.  People were standing in the rain eating ice cream.  This is not before the hurricane, but it speaks to the idea that in these sorts of natural disasters we have a need for gathering.

There are all sorts of implications that might be drawn from this.  But mostly I’m thinking about how we’re wired for worship, and we”re aiming our worship in quite the wrong place.



Revelations and materialism

I finished reading through Revelations yesterday. 

I share these observations with a bit of hesitation.  It was recently pointed out to me that Revelations contains the instruction to neither add nor take away from itself.  It also contains the promise that we benefit simply be reading the book.

Clearly, the conclusion is that we add to read more and interpret less.  In a way, our interpretations can become a sort-of adding to the text. 

So please take my suggestions with a grain of salt.  It’d be better to read scripture than read my blog.  But seriously?  You already new that.

The thing that struck me is that you don’t have to work very hard or look very deeply for distrubution of wealth and capitalist greed to become a central theme of Revelations.

So much has been made of the number of the beast.  Above all else, it seems to me a license to participate in the world’s economy.    Chapter 13 says: 

“He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. “

When things are ugliest, Babylon falls.  Babylon seems to be a superpower.  But it’s not about military might, really:

For all the nations have drunk
      the maddening wine of her adulteries.
   The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
      and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Later, in Revelations, we get a list of these excessive luxuries: 

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
   ” ‘Woe! Woe, O great city,
      O Babylon, city of power!
   In one hour your doom has come!’

 11″The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— 12cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men. ”

Not a single thing provided by Babylon was necessary for life.  It was all over-the-top.  Decadence.  As I look at the last few words, I wonder if the bodies and souls of men means slavery in the strict and obvious sense or if this might be a reference to the ways we get addicted to being pampered, the ways we, in our comfort, can forget looking after the widow and the orphan.

It seems a pretty astounding understanding of globalization.  There are even references to the mourning of those who shipped Babylons goods, and to the businessmen who made it all happen. 

I’m not here to say “Babylon is really _____” or “The world is happening at _____.”  Really, what I’m trying to say is that materialism is identified as an evil in scripture.  Having a surplus when others do not have enough is seen as a wrong.  We will weep when Babylon falls, but Babylon must fall before God’s kingdom can come.