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...