I got into a conversation on Twitter that was upsetting enough that I was going to write about it here, then I couldn’t, then I decided it didn’t matter, then as I was falling asleep last night it bothered me again but I couldn’t manage to bring myself to move or open my phone or try and get my thoughts down in any way. I am going to try now. Complicating things is that this conversation was with an internet-acquaintancey-friend, a friend of a friend who I don’t dislike or harbor any negative feelings towards. In fact, I like her. And so this runs the risk of looking catty, which it isn’t, and I’m telling myself it is perfectly normal for interactions with people to lead people to think additional thoughts, and that occasionally real people will be part of causation and it just happens, it doesn’t make it something I shouldn’t write about. Like Kelle Hampton and her sour Skittles, this is now a subject beyond one particular person, and it isn’t really even about that person at all. That conversation just mirrored others I have had/felt, and I ended up on a side of it I hadn’t previously been on. And wow. It’s unintentionally hurtful over here.
I read an article – the article on racial microaggression, and while this is nothing like that, because I am a white girl with yellow hair who experiences ridiculous amount of privilege for that fact alone, the article had a brilliant little chart that broke down well-intentioned phrases and comments that met the definition of microaggression: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” I don’t want to presume to take this definition and turn it into a church thing, but in some degrees, it is. There are little phrases and things that we say that are small, short, unintentional (or well-intentioned) that communicate a message completely other than what they actually say. Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes not on purpose. Maybe the listener is “too sensitive.” But the older I get, or maybe the more tired I get, or maybe the more oversensitive I get, I don’t think it matters. Just be kind. And if someone calls you out on a thing, or says that they are upset by it, then quit. I don’t care what your intentions were.
The conversation was about worship and/or music – I realize I’m really not comfortable with those terms used interchangeably. I was expressing my preference and homesickness for hymns in church. Even now I want to qualify that, as “this is just my preference!” and “I wasn’t being judgy about it!” I probably was being judgy about it, but not in a salvation way. And how ridiculous is that? Of course I prefer my own preference. And of course I have reasons for it. Because really, we were talking about music. I like hymns. I prefer hymns. I like it when a church does hymns for singing instead of worship choruses or modern music.
But saying this opens up a whole other thing, it no longer becomes “I prefer the NIV” or “I prefer ESV” but it becomes an issue of ~*worship*~. And I’ll just say it right now: I hate worship. Except that’s not true. I hate worship as a church music thing. And yet I love church music. And I don’t hate worship as an idea, or as an act, like prayer. I hate calling church music worship, interchangeably, even though it can be and often is. I hate it because it makes you feel like a horrible person for disliking it, like, why do you hate Jesus? I don’t hate Jesus, but I hate a lot of “worship.” I hate “extended worship time” because I get really bored. I hate typing this because as I type it I’m arguing against myself for every sentence — “but it’s not about you!” — I know that. I don’t want to make it about it. I don’t think extended “worship” time should be banned. I’m just saying the things I never thought I could say, and I’m saying them as, “hey! Here’s my wonky feelings on this subject” not because they’re imperatives but because I get an adrenaline rush from saying things I have been unafraid to say in the past it’s possible to hold these beliefs and not be a terrible person. (Hopefully!)
Extended worship time, in my experience, has been less about continuing situations where to end would be to cut short something very special, and more about getting everyone in the auditorium to respond visually to “worship”, so you can claim that “God showed up” and that so-and-so really “brought the worship” today. In the meantime, I will probably just be standing there, because I don’t get demonstrative while listening to music and because this is my deeply excited face, and has been since I was three years old:
That’s about as externally enthusiastic as I get about things that mean a lot to me. Five Iron concert? That’s my emotion, right there. Internally screaming and crying and having all the feelings about all the songs, but externally, I’m cool. I’m just chilling here with my Snuffleupagus pennant, nbd. I’m jealous of this girl:
And I have always secretly thought worship leaders were judging and begrudging (see what I did there) me. Because they’re saying, clap your hands, and I clap for a little bit and then it gets all awkward, how long do I clap? Or they say raise your hands and I just don’t, because I have once in my life and I meant it and that was once. So no, I probably won’t do that, it’s not you, it’s me, I like you, please don’t judge me, my teacher’s pet tendencies are now in conflict with the fact that I’m not a hand raiser. And they say SING LOUD and I’m like, mmm, no thanks, maybe in my car, but please yousing loud, and please all these people around me sing loud, because I am enjoying this even if I am not visibly excited. That’s just how I am. Big Bird got the same reaction. It’s not your fault.
(Josh has this face too, and there are pictures somewhere but I can’t find them right now and hey, rabbit trail).
So I said some of this on Twitter. I think it was actually the first time I’ve ever said it at all. The person mentioned the difficulty as a worship leader, of getting people to do more than zone out and stare at a hymnal, and I said, hey wait. I am that person. And there are reasons I’m doing that. I’m trying not to cry. I’m silently enjoying. I like seeings words visually and I’m looking at the words. I like seeing the music. I feel awkward looking at you because you’re the worship leader and it isn’t about you and I’m trying to be courteous and where do I look, also I like holding hymnals.
And in my attempts to be courteous, apparently I was being really rude and all my fears about the worship leader judging me are totally valid. This is not what she said. Let me clarify that. This is what I heard. Because I am flawed and human. And because I have studied communication a bit here and there and encoding and what you say vs what I hear and all that.
But I think I’m residually upset mostly because, in addition to this topic, which I feel more strongly about than I realized, it turned into a case of saying this thing I had never said before, and wanting to be understood and validated, not even agreed with because I don’t care about that. I don’t care what kind of music you like in your church services. That’s petty. I just want to be heard, and recognized, and to have my feelings and preferences be valid too. And not as the exception, because it went there too.
“Obviously I’m not talking about you.”
Because you know me? Because you read my Twitter? Why do I deserve that, when all the other people staring disinterested at their hymnals don’t get that, because they aren’t friends or don’t have Twitter or don’t have words to express things? I am thirty years old and this is the first time I have ever put words to it. And it is weirdly terrifying for me. And this is what I do. And I think of people who are older, or who don’t have words as their thing, or who don’t know that it’s okay to stare at a hymnal, and I get upset for them, and really really hurt for them, because it’s not okay and it’s not fair and it’s no one’s business anyway. Don’t tell me that we can’t hold on to tradition for “tradition’s sake.” I honestly don’t know why else you would do anything. I’m journalling for journalling’s sake. I’m eating waffles for the sake of eating waffles. And I’ve had that argument. I’ve seen churches do that. This isn’t that. This is me saying, if a person requests a hymn, even if it is cheesy, even if it is dumb, they are requesting it because of a reason. It means something or it represents something to them, even if that thing is just “I like this song.” That is valid and should be recognized and not dismissed. It doesn’t mean everyone can get the songs they want all the time. But it means it isn’t silly, or demanding, or clinging to the past. There’s a reason they requested it. And just because they don’t post on Twitter doesn’t mean that request shouldn’t be honored and not judged.
If you’re talking about those people, you’re talking about me. I’m not exempt because I’m youngish/trendyish/recommended a hipster Christian book to you/have a blog/tweet/agree with you on other items. All those things aren’t exemptions, they’re just proof that you’re seeing me as a whole and complete person, a person whose “heart you know” (i.e. not like those other people) and whose intentions are “good” (unlike those other people). But I don’t want that if someone else isn’t getting the same respect. Because they are whole people too, with or without Twitters or decent book recommendations. People whose innermost thoughts and feelings don’t pop up as notifications on your phone 10 times each day.
I don’t want to be an insider for those reasons. I’ve seen it from the outside now, and it is ugly and exclusive and really weird. I feel more comfortable out here lately anyway, in a lot of ways. I don’t like it, but I can see things I didn’t before. I can’t not see it. I’ve been on the outside and I’ve been hurt by the church/Church and I see what it looks like from outside, and it gets really ugly and really rude. And at the same time I miss it and crave it and want it back and want my church I grew up in as well as the group hilarity and friendship and office chair choreography and late night shenanigans at camp. I miss it and I want that, but not this, not these little statements of exclusion. Because not everyone has Twitters, or hearts you know. But they should still be treated with the same patience, or grace, or sensitivity.
I also question what the real role of a “worship leader” is, and I admittedly question this from outside the realm of worship leader, but in my half asleep state I realized this was the term my church also used for the person who ran the service – at least I think it was – and they were the person that gave announcements, took prayer requests (I grew up in a church that took prayer requests on Sundays. And then prayed. I KNOW, RIGHT?) and basically let people know what we were doing.
And in my mind, maybe that’s it. Maybe you are just the person who lets people know what we are doing. “We are going to sing this song. We are going to do the announcements. We are going to reflect on this thing because of this sermon.” Maybe it isn’t your job to prepare or lead or mess with “hearts” in any way. Maybe that’s manipulation, and maybe it should be left for God.