What I'm doing in church
For the past week, I’ve been thinking about an online conversation we've been having at #chsocm (church social media, that other blog I write for -- check it out here) about tweeting during worship. Which is odd, given that I wasn’t very interested in the topic.
I don’t mind if people tweet in church. I know people "write notes" in church and that whatever they are really doing, I can't control it; some are making grocery lists and maybe texting their friends while some are writing down key points. I know children of all ages shuffle around and talk, and watches and phones go off. In other words, there are plenty of distractions already -- why single out any one in particular to complain about?
Further, I agree with many who participated in the conversation that education is important. Folks do need to hear that however one wants to take notes is ok, that there are different learning styles. And that tweeting a service may deliver a message that someone out there needs to hear. I really don't want to get into an argument about is social media in church OK or make up a list of hoops people must jump through in order to use it "wisely." I'm not that interested in policing people in church, really.
So why have I continued revisiting this topic in my head?
I've realized it was the seminary connection people were making was actually a disconnect for me. Some of my colleagues have noted (pun intended) that note-taking helped them focus on the sermon so that they would remember it, and so tweeting is a way for them to focus on the sermon. I, too, I took copious notes to help me focus in seminary and, for that matter, most classes I have taken. Even if I didn't look back at the notes later, the act of writing the points down helped me remember them. Note-taking helped me grasp and remember the content.
During worship, though, I am not learning content. Instead, I’m standing, sitting, kneeling, singing (lots of singing!), smelling, tasting. And I’m making connections, personal and visual, intellectual and spiritual, by letting (making space for) the things I am experiencing play with each other.
In one church I serve, my seat faces the stained glass Jesus on the cross -- and I hear the sermon with that image in front of me. Or, I look at the other windows and think about their stories or notice the details of folds in Mary’s veil, of shepherds’ knees, of Gabriel’s wing feathers. I hear the Gospel being read, aware of how candlelight glints off the brass cross. I see the self-conscious acolytes with their just-this-side-of-authorized shoes trying to avoid setting their bangs on fire. It opens my heart.
I’m looking at, yes, the backs of people’s heads. Time spent face to face isn't always face to face, but it's still incarnational. You can learn a lot about people by watching the backs of their heads. Newlyweds with theirs tilted toward one another just so, a mother turning to exchange glances with her child, a son escaping his father’s attempted arm-around-the-shoulder move. I take note of the person just back from his mother’s funeral, the hunched shoulders of the distressed, the drooping head of the silent weeper, the hair-flipping of the teenager. I look at all these people who are my community and I’m loving them.
Sometimes, I'm the one weeping.
And I’m listening, maybe attentively, maybe less so, to the scripture and to the sermon and to the words of the hymns and thrilling (or not) to the tunes, all of which are available in writing for my later review, if I wish.
Mostly, though, I want to let all those things and sensations sweep over me, to mingle in my mind and in my body and in my soul. I’m engaging experience, not material. And I am intentional about it - it's not easy to deliberately engage experience.
Does this mean content doesn’t matter? By no means, but that’s not where I am in my spiritual life right now. I read and go to classes for content, but during worship I’m doing something else. I'm being part of the Body of Christ - I'm being with the Body of Christ - in physical community. I guess you could say I'm too busy to tweet in church.