One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came shortly after one of the first worship services I led as a pastor. One of the parish members came up to me after worship one week and said, "You didn't leave enough room."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Over the last few months, I’ve been following a blog by former Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell. The blog is called Year Without God, and chronicles Bell’s decision to take a break from God, walk away from the church, and try living like an atheist for a year.
Several years ago, I realized that, for a long time, I had been fighting back tears whenever I would see children run gleefully around a playground or hear them squeal with delight as they played, or notice their wonder over wildflowers, squirrels, and birdsong. It would happen, too, when I listened to a choir of children sing at the top of their lungs without embarrassment or when I saw a kids’ soccer team take the field with buoyant energy.
A few Sundays ago, as the deacons brought the offering up to the table and the congregation sang the Old 100th doxology, I found myself doing what I always do when singing that doxology: changing the words to make the God-language more inclusive.
There's wisdom in putting biblical storytelling at the heart of worship. We are formed by stories. I'm fond of the line by the poet Muriel Rukeyser embedded in the street outside the New York Public Library, "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
When you think about what makes up you, it's not the cells of your body, it's more likely a story of some kind.
Much has been said about perils of social media and the excessive use of smart phones. I've chimed in once or twice in the past. The latest rant has come via the clip "Look Up." I agree with much in the assessment of our obsessive phone culture and admit my own tendency to focus more on my phone than my surroundings from time to time. Smart phones and social media feed a lack of attentiveness in relationships and a general distraction in everyday life we’d all do well to avoid.
But I'm also uneasy with these repeated guilt-inducing tirades against the current state of society's use of technology.
At a church leaders' retreat last month, we talked about having an I don't do list as a way of making time for sacred pauses in life and ministry. The things we don't do make it possible to do some other things. The things we say No to allow us to say Yes to other things.
So one pastor said, "I don’t answer the phone at home after 8 p.m."
One Sunday at worship, a very small, wonderful thing happened. During the closing hymn (a rousing rendition of "How Firm a Foundation," by the way), we carried the cross and processed to the entry of the church, as always. The people turned to face the cross, as always (or at least as they have begun to do during this past year). We stood there, continuing to sing, as always.
And then, three little girls, about three or four years old, began to dance.