Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Next on Next

So there I was, sitting in Next, looking around at the fridge art. Kids were running around, lovers with cuddling on the sofas, announcements were popping up on the slide show board, the guitarists at the front were strumming a little.

The pastor dude with his goatee and 1970s sideburns managed to get things started at about 11:15. It was kind of a mellow start. We had to stand to sing three rather long songs on the slides, but the band was very good. People were sitting by the end of them. The pianist had her arm around one of her kids while she played. Most of the other kids were running and hopping around. (An observation: there were no kids above 10 years of age, like, no teens. Maybe that was due to the limited ages of the adults. But then again, maybe not.)

The theme for the day was advent. Apparently, last year, Next didn't "do" Christmas because it was kind of a tired theme, so they thought they'd do it this year. Today's subtopic was waiting.

It sounded okay to me so far. Then instantly the theme of waiting for Christmas suddenly morphed into waiting for the Second Coming, and how we all just couldn't wait for the end of the world. I caught my friend's eye, she gave a slight grimace.

Waiting for Christmas AND Waiting for the End of the World. Oh, but we don't know where and when it will happen or EVEN if it will happen during our lifetime, so we're supposed to wait for it.

Okay, so I'm not a fundamentalist. I found this interpretation of Christmas waiting very weird.

A young woman did the sermon on waiting. She happened to be pregnant with her third, so that was kind of a neat idea. She did her sermon about Mary waiting for the birth and talked about her trials and tribulations, such as explaining to Joseph that she was pregnant. She spoke well about her theme, although without in any way digressing from the official church line about what happened at Jesus's birth and conception. She dragged in the Waiting For the End of the World theme too and talked as if she just assumed we all knew what "post trib" and "pre trib" was all about.

Not much happened after the sermon -- just one more song.

Overall sense of Next? Well, it was a lot more subdued that I had thought it would be. In fact, it was pretty mellow. When I've seen Christian rock-type events on TV, they've seemed a lot more over-the-top. My friend, who had been to Vineyard churches in her twenties, said that Vineyard was a lot more high energy. But maybe this is just Canadian culture: we don't tend to be over-the-top about anything. Next was more cozy and comfortable than high octane.

Then there's the "sense of the meeting" there in that room. Whatever list of sins can be cast at the feet of Quakers, we do tend to be able to "feel a room." There is a big difference between a group that has centred in some way and one that is spiritually skimming the surface. My sense was that this group was surfing. They were seeking, desiring, trying, but in a loose and vague sense. I sensed that they weren't able or willing to Go There, if you know what I mean.

The service talked mainly about particular Christian doctrines. And they worked in talking a bit about their experiences. But these weren't experiences of the doctrines: they were just experiences that had something in common with the topic. Nobody talked about experiences of the doctrine messages themselves. I had a sense of parotting -- saying what you are supposed to say, wishing to believe it, working to stay within the lines. For example, the energy sagged during the sermon, even though I believe people were generally listening. There just wasn't anything to connect to. Can one really have an experience of doctrines?

There were two moments when I had a sense of something a little deeper happening. One was when the keyboard player played a song she'd written herself, words up on the slides, so everybody sang along. There was a vibrating sincerity to it, even if I found the words a bit too churchy for my taste.

The other moment when the room seemed to ring like churchbells was during the U2 song, the chorus line: "But I still haven't found what I'm looking for." This line is repeated many times throughout the song, and each time, it became more naked and powerful.

It was also the opening song. Come to think of it, it may have left the people too vulnerable to soak up the doctrinal message or to Go There.

I wonder if that never occurred to the music planners...


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I very much appreciated the insights you shared -- particularly your "sense of the meeting", which is the sort of thing I always listen for myself, and your observation on the gap between doctrine and experience in what they said.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger QuakerK said...

It's odd--your first Next posting seemed much more sympathetic to Next, as if they had something important to teach Quakers. And yet this posting is much more negative. Was it only cool until the talking started?

I wondered, after reading your last post, if Quaker meetings such as my own didn't attract many younger adults (20-somethings, 30-somethings) because the style didn't appeal. Reading this, I'm not so sure. It looks quite the opposite: Quaker waiting worship can provide an intensity of experience and divine communion that may be lacking even in a "hip" emergent church. So is the problem that people don't know about Quakers? Or is it that too many Quaker meetings don't experience that intensity of worship? I don't know.

By the way, the connection with waiting for Christmas and waiting for the Second Coming is not just fundamentalist. My lectionary, with readings approved by all the mainline denominations in the US, has Advent readings which focus on that first coming-second coming comparison. I have to admit my reaction is somewhat antipathetic (is that a word?), as yours seemed to be. Indeed, I was so put off by it last year that I decided I didn't want anyone, not even a lectionary, telling me how to interpret the Bible, and I stopped using the lectionary for a good long time.


At 9:35 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

David, it's a bit of the good and the not-so-good. For one, how strong is a religious organization that has no elders, just youngers? Then again, do youngers want to go anywhere that contains elders, or do they just want to do their own thing?

I guess what I observed is pretty much what I observe in most churches: skimming the surface. Simply because the ambiance was more suited to young people didn't remove the problems of connecting modern people with orthodox teachings.

However, there were two significant, gathered moments during that hour. If a quaker meeting gets two gathered moments during the hour, it's considered a good meeting, isn't it?

Sorry about your lectionary.

Marshall -- thanks. It's great to know you drop by here from time to time!

At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Oh, Nancy. I've read every posting you've made to this blog since I discovered it last spring!

At 6:37 PM, Anonymous Bill Samuel said...

It's possible that going to Next one time gave a misleading impression just like going to an unprogrammed meeting one time can. Or again, maybe they are that way theologically. Some groups that are very X (or Y, or whatever it is now) generation are very hip in style and very conservative in doctrine.

But emerging churches generally tend, like Quakers, to focus on the meaning of faith to our life here and now. See Brian McLaren's, The Secret Message of Jesus for a good exposition of that. Like the early Friends, us emerging types tend to think that Christ seeks to transform us as individuals and a society right here and now.


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