I watched a lightly entertaining movie on cable recently, entitled Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It is an unusual romantic comedy with a somewhat unpredictable storyline but at one point in the film there is dialog between the two main characters in which they agree to a business meeting on Sunday. The man presumes the woman would not be going to church on Sunday since “. . . nobody I know goes to church anymore. My wife and I go to Target on Sunday!” It was meant as a soft humorous aside not a full-blown joke but nevertheless comments like that sting. As a pastor who works very hard to make the Sunday experience the best it can be, I feel comments like that in real or reel life somehow give permission for people to identify church attendance as antediluvian. When one enters into conversations with people about why they no longer attend church they will present a platter of reasons: they are busy, tired, overextended, overcommitted, stressed and the ultimate and most devastating complaint – church is boring.
When did boredom become the unforgivable sin? How did we evolve into a culture who simply cannot bear to be in a state of non-stimulation at all times? Certainly I could respond to my question by examining the effects of television and the internet, both of which provide a never-ending platform for excitement, diversion and distraction. However, it feels more layered than just that. It would appear to me that we are existing in an environment where a lengthy explanation or silent reflection, pondering, wondering, considering is becoming intolerable. And those aforementioned qualities are the very essence of a fulfilling worship experience. Church is about the gathering of people who have questions, longings, joys, anxieties, hungers and needs. And when we sing together or sit together in silence or listen to sacred texts together there is something undefinable that happens to the human soul. On occasion I have practically stomped into my church in a wretched temper only to have the personalities, music, and atmosphere wash over and heal me like medicine. I was once in the pew of a church in New York City where at the end of a long, rather rambling homily, I felt tears rolling down my face from the relief and encouragement I felt at the end of the message.
If I think about going to the gym I am never excited – running nowhere on a treadmill? Lifting heavy and dangerous weights above my head? Sweating? Straining? Booorrrring! But after I walk away from that effort there is a kind of euphoria that remains with me throughout the day. Consequently I believe the effort one makes to leave everyday life and enter into sacred time and space with an assembly of searching people will reward us gradually in ways that are not necessarily immediately stimulating. This kind of plea is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, nevertheless I want to send out a tiny flare of warning: there are treacherous icebergs ahead if we seek only that which is expedient or convenient. And I wish to lure you in with the promise of transcendence on that unexpected Sunday morning when the silence or the words to the hymn or the homily slam into your heart and reverberate the message: you are not alone!