The following post is from Ryan Clark, CBF specialist and training manager for self-funded field personnel. Read part 1 of this blog series here.
It was the smell of the campfires at Wildgoose that triggered a memory from the Philippines. Our church, perched on a cliff in Baguio City, was adjacent to a construction site and every Sunday morning we could smell the workers cooking on a wood fire.
Nostalgia drifted amidst the campfire smoke and I was caught craving a sweet aspect of worship often missing in the United States: the testimonial. I don’t mean the cleaned up, pre-written, toast-master’s kind of speech. I mean the broken hearted confession that goes for too long and ends with, “And I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for Jesus Christ.”
We’ve cleaned-up that kind of brokenness out of our church experience in the States and placed it on Tuesday night in support group. Maybe this was the right thing to do, but I’m not sure.
Which reminds me; When I was in the Philippines, I really, really, really missed Chick-fil-A. Say what you will, but there were days over the past couple years when all I really wanted was the satisfaction of biting into a salty chicken sandwich … and even more, a honey drenched chicken biscuit.
My first step back into Chick-fil-A was three days after returning to the U.S., and it was disorienting. The restaurant was so clean. And I don’t mean just regular clean. I mean O.C.D. clean. The restroom had soap and hand sanitizer and mouthwash.
Parents were sanitizing the tables with wipes and then spreading out a sanitary plastic cover over those sanitized tables and then re-sanitizing children’s hands. I watched as an employee noticed a tiny speck of tissue on the floor from across the room and glided over and swept it up neatly.
I’ve never eaten a sandwich with less anxiety about the potential for foodborne illness. It was pretty glorious, even before the waffle fries.
Some things came together for me at Wildgoose, where there were more questions than answers, too much mud and not enough showers. Church in North America is a lot like Chick-fil-A. We’ve cleaned up worship and we’ve scrubbed our reading of Scripture. As I watched Krista Tippet hop over a puddle on her way to the stage to host an unscripted panel discussion, I thought about how wonderful carpet squares are.
And I worried that the way a lot of us are doing church perpetuates the myth that the practice of faith rolls out in perfectly timed power point slides, transitional lighting and omnidirectional earset microphones (all things I really enjoy by the way).
The Bible and our lives aren’t often clean. We take the Gospel story and we sanitize it too. We mop up all the blood and get the body off the cross. We distill the entire Bible into 30 minutes worth of bulleted talking points for discussion groups.
We forget the words were written amidst the smell of wood smoke; where the neighbors could always be heard and the animals started getting loud around 3 a.m.
It just occurred to me – maybe the Bible doesn’t even work very well in post-industrial, obsessive and compulsive, sanitized, non-white America. The problem (or problems as it were) is that we’ve been force fitting a faith that’s finally begun to reject the environment … because what has been #firstworldproblems is more or less not a concern of Scripture.
Maybe that is an overstatement.
But we have sanitized American Christian faith. My experience at Wild Goose was not neat and clean. Likewise, our experience in the Philippines wasn’t always tidy. Like the sanitized meal, the risk is gone and all I’m left with is the ecstasy of salty chicken and waffle fries. I’m so far removed from any of the responsibility for that meal (meaning I didn’t raise that chicken, kill it, prepare it and then clean up that mess) that I’m left with only Glory.
Glory to chicken almighty. But only if it’s served to me in a white paper bag and eaten on a sterilized table.
So I’m wondering about our responsibility to each other to be unscripted and un-tidy. I’m wondering about my integration back into the worshipping culture of the U.S., what risks we’re taking in our worship and if they’re the right ones.