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.  


Brenda said…
Love love love this post and feel the same way. I always pray as I'm walking through the door that God would help me be all there absorbing every moment. Even today He was faithful to answer those prayers. I also don't mind if people take notes or text or tweet or whatever, but for me, I try to not be my own distraction. I love the little moments within a service - the smiles, the tears, the prayers, the hugs, the symbolism. I'm always afraid I'll miss that by doing other things.
Thanks, Brenda! Isn't it nice that there are plenty of ways to do/be church and that we have found the one that suits us?
June Butler said…
I have rather severe stage fright, but, fortunately, I'm not often called upon to stand up and talk to a group of people. However, I believe I would be thrown completely off stride if I saw folks messing with their electronic devices while I was speaking. Of course, I am old and perhaps not up to speed on the newest new thing.
Mimi, the use of electronic devices is just the latest in a long line of activities in the pews. Believe me, when you're up front, you see a lot of stuff. My first church placement, during seminary, was a chapel where people walked in and out during the whole service, including the sermon. People would just get up and walk out or walk in and sit down. It was like a holiday open house. Then there are the people who are sleeping or kids poking one another with crayons or drawing "naughty pictures" for each other or whatever. One learns to deal with that pretty quickly.
June Butler said…
If you do it often enough, I suppose you must find coping mechanisms. My friend Cathy in England, the one I've traveled with, says she thinks I have undiagnosed ADD, and I believe she may be right, which puts an entirely different spin on distractions.
Mimi, I also am highly distractable (look, a bird!) and I've had to learn to get into a zone. I admit that screens of any kind or size draw my eyes like moths to a flame. But with practice, I've learned to notice when I'm distracted and bring myself back. Except when I'm with my family. They have to deal with my constant scanning of the environment and calling their attention to the fifteenth bird or squirrel or what I think the people at the next table are talking about. My husband definitely thinks I have ADD (and two of our kids have been diagnosed with it). And so one learns to cope and compensate.