What is a worshipping being?

“Whatever experiences we may have, we shall not regard them as miraculous if we already hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural.”  – C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock

 

As I reflect upon what it means to be a worshipping being, I find it difficult to even define worship, let alone being. The struggle is rooted in the sundry examples of worship, definitions of worship, characterizations of worship, etc. that answer the questions of “what it is” as well as “what it is not.” To be a worshipping being must be to embody worship (whatever “worship” is) and that is as far as I can often go in my thought process.  By this definition, if I am a human and I one day decide to be a “worshipper,” quite suddenly I am transformed into a worshipping being. But maybe the relationship is backwards: to be is in fact, to worship, and before being anything else in our lives, we are simply beings and we are simply worshipping beings.

I think about young children who hardly recognize the world around them yet they recognize the presence of their mother: her voice, her touch, her gait, her smell. These children are worshipping beings, living in so many ways, dependent on someone or something else for sustenance and ultimately, life. While they are in some senses selfish, they are in other senses radically other-focused and other-dependent. They have not reached an age of autonomy. They are utterly helpless. They are worshipping beings, dependent on a mother who must provide for their needs.

As we get older, our dependence breeds independence. We want to fulfill our own needs and we want to assert ourselves. In essence, we want to worship ourselves: who we have become and who we are becoming. At all stages of life, we have needs and we decide whether to be autonomous or dependent in having them filled. All beings are worshipful in one sense or the other and to various degrees.

The trouble with worship is its inherent power. It draws us to and fro and controls our senses. Sometimes, we can become so focused on the object of our worship that we fail to see other avenues of need fulfillment. Perhaps, we steamroll relationships in order to fulfill our self-diagnosed personal needs or perhaps others of us grow reclusive, independent and self-focused in order to self-fulfill without the requisite failures that accompany a dependence on others. Either way, we worship.

Some have said that being is accompanied by a “God-shaped hole.” At our deepest level, we all struggle to fill needs that we were predisposed to possess. In worship, we look at our need and decide what or who will fill it. Whatever we draw strength from, that is the object of our worship.

The beautiful and haunting thing is the way in which Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit fill this need so perfectly that it virtually disappears. A worshipping being that worships in Christ is one that acknowledges a lack of needs because the need has finally and totally disappeared. Christ’s death and his resurrection have transformed the hole into a spring. A worshipping being in this sense has a worldview that is upside-down. They move through an unknown world where the rules have been rewritten, where reality is more than what can be proven through empiricism. They see dimly (but sometimes vividly) into a different sort of reality that can in turn, reach back and change this one. I’m mostly talking about the Holy Spirit’s awesome power to fill us, transform us, and speak through and to us. But I’m also talking about God’s Angels, their battles over us, and God’s dominion over certain areas of our lives, physical and emotional. I really don’t mind being mystical about the forces of good and evil. I also don’t mind acknowledging the power of prayer, the strength we draw from it, and God’s perpetual answers to it. A worshipping being in this sense is someone who is beginning to reshape and recalculate reality. They have begun to discover exactly who God is and why He is to be worshipped. They may even find that it is not because He is good, or big, or a giver of salvation; they may find that it is simply because He is God and even without His goodness, He is great. He has dominion and He has power and He is holy. He has created us and He has given us a longing to understand Him more fully.

When Jesus calls us to be children, He is reminding us that our needs are still very primitive and inborn. He is reminding us that “worship” is that thing we do from our very first breath and it is good for us to remember that worship is not formal, ritualistic, or hokey because it is simply a direction that we orient ourselves and from it, we proceed toward the holy or the profane. If we point ourselves toward the holy, we are acknowledging the deep and metaphysical quality of reality, its flexibility at the hand of God. If we point ourselves away from the holy, then we are closing ourselves off to the possibility of seeing the miracles of God and especially Christ’s resurrection. A child-like faith believes in the mystery and the inexplicability of God’s power. It worships God by focusing need-fulfillment on the one thing that fails to fail. And even while Christian worship can feel like focusing on a phantom it is only because Christian worship finally focuses oneself away from oneself and from an immediately tangible reality.

From my tradition’s standpoint, Scripture is a perfect revelation of God’s power and strength. In it, we find God’s great works that often resist scientific explanations. We also find stories that point to human insecurity, sin, and destruction. Such a great gulf between us and God’s goodness is evident in the stories of the Israelites and the later in the stories of new Christians in the Roman world. We also find God’s call to worship Him, to focus our minds on Him (Proverbs 3:8), to pray continually to Him, and to be worshipping beings in a new sense of the word, a Christian sense. Christ embodies it as a suffering servant and from his life, we draw the inspiration to live our own lives by a new and radical sense of worship that focuses on God and consequently, the suffering of those around us. Thankfully, as Christians, we find hope in this newfound worship because as worshipping beings who delight in Christ’s victory over death, we also delight in God’s active presence and know that God may transform our suffering if only we ask.

Envisioning the future Christians through Google Glasses

urlIn less than a year, Google may be poised to take us through one of the biggest technological jumps of the last several decades. We have become accustomed to this kind of leap. I read about the first ipod in the early 2000s (as well as its price tag) and scoffed at its potential. Then, several years later, I heard about something called the iPhone and began wondering when my small flip phone might actually connect to the growing thing we call the internet. Now, I set my horizons on the potential use and ubiquity of an exciting and expensive technology, Google Glasses without an ounce of scepticism and a level of excitement that I once restrained when technology of this sort seemed far-fetched or overstated.

Remember the first time your pastor walked on stage, donned his smartphone, and began reading scripture from the 3.5 inch screen? Our reactions vary from incredulous or nonplussed to excited and embracing. Some of us would rather worship amidst candles, couches, and oriental rugs where the buzz of a cellphone is as distant as our sin. Some others of us want to be able to text our pastors in the middle of the service with a question about his sermon or tweet his latest, greatest quotation. Still, some of us see the glow of his iPad and the beautifully rendered text of a bible app as the dawning of a new age for Christian community life. Regardless of your predilections, it is certain that Google Glasses will make their splash not only in everyday routine and business, but in our churches, bible studies, and spiritual journeys.

Perhaps you know very little about Google Glasses already. At least you know about Google and you may even know about some of their devices or platforms – for instance, Android phones use a software developed by Google. Glasses are a future iteration of mobile computing by Google that, for the moment, will connect to your current phone or use data from wi-fi within your vicinity. They are worn like regular glasses and place a small screen, in the shape of a clear cube, in the upper-right hand of your field of vision. The excitement generated by this technology during the last several years is due to the integration of Google Glasses with your everyday life — you will be able to interact with a computer while never losing touch with the reality before you.

Smartphones and Church

The future Christians will no doubt be a part of the community that uses technology like Google Glasses. The question is how this could hurt or help the life of the church. To begin, how have smartphones changed our lives? We have become dependent (in many ways) on the various forms of social living that cell phones provide: we update friends through Facebook statuses and pictures, we celebrate one another’s accomplishments via the web, we support one another in prayer through email, we text times for our next group meeting or a movie showing that everyone should attend. Smartphones make access to a social existence instantaneous and pervasive.

Smartphones also bombard us with information. For better or for worse, a smartphone is often a catalyst of distraction. At our fingertips, we have access to the infinite breadth of information on the web. We can research on a whim our friends’ lives, history, art, theology, sports, and anything you might think of. But we find ourselves looking down at our palms, typing on tiny keyboards, and ignoring the world around us.

When my pastor steps in front of the church with iPhone in hand, what I see is not the opening of informational worlds, but the symbol of my divided devotion to reality and virtual life. As he reads from scripture, I wonder what Facebook updates might be dropping from the top of his screen while he attempts to focus on God’s Word. Thankfully, we have learned to limit our technology in churches and in community life because we have reached a simple understanding with our smartphones: stay quiet for now  and maybe we can hang out later. It seems important that seasons like Lent also train our vision on a simpler life and we realize that smartphones are anything but simple! They divide our attention into discrete domains of social existence: virtual and real. But this problem can be overcome and even enhance the life of a church when we realize the proper place of technology in practice. Smartphones can be used to connect with others but do not belong between my physical person and the person next to me, otherwise, smartphones are barriers to healthy community life.

Google Glasses are…?

So what do we do when the technology that is useful for social connection becomes a part of our face and the eyes through which we see the world? How do we react when our pastor steps on stage wearing his prescription glasses and a funny-looking mini-computer attached to their frame? Imagine that he keeps looking toward the ceiling (and a little ot the right) as he reads scripture or searches his notes using this new technology. Or imagine that we walk into the foyer and while we talk to our spiritual mentor, we wonder whether he is actually listening to us or simply checking the weather and absent-mindedly nodding at our words. We must learn again to integrate technology while avoiding its pitfalls.

The good news is that Google Glasses will be a seamless part of our daily routine. The bad news is…that Google Glasses will be a seamless part of our daily routine. Scripture will be at your fingertips, just a voice-command away. Friends will call you and you will stream what you are seeing to their computer. The virtual lives of the people you love will be so close, it will be as if you truly know them! And when those very same friends shake your hand at church or in welcome you to small group, you will still have access to their online persona. This is all about connection!

But the connection comes at a price for those of us who fail to relegate technology to its proper place. The future Christians will battle a world that still fragments their lives into virtual and real existence but the line is becoming blurred. No longer will we be staring at our palms while reading headlines and checking messages, instead, we will see virtual reality being literally imposed on our visage. When augmented reality becomes actualized, the future Christians must wonder if this is really an augment to our existence or another barrier between ourselves and the beauty of real community.

It was once easy to put your cell phone on silent and bury it in your pocket or purse. What happens when I bolt a computer to a my eyeglasses? The world either becomes much larger or very small. I am no longer a sceptic about the innovations that technologies like Google Glasses afford but we are in uncharted waters and the ways that churches proceed to either embrace or avoid this kind of future technology says a lot about the community we wish to form.