Thawing the Frozen Chosen
What We Think Sunday Will Be Like: Everybody get on your feet! I want see your hands clapping! Lift up a shout of praise!
What Sunday Is Actually Like: Please stand if you are comfortable or feel led by peer pressure. If you are going to clap along, which I realize is a small number of you, please try clapping on “two and four,” NOT “one and three.” And if you could at least lip synch along, it will make the band feel better- if they can see past the stage lights…
I hope some of you are shouting at your screen right now, “No! Not my church!” But chances are pretty good you have at least attended a service that feels more like the second than the first. Some of you lead that second church, and it is really getting to you.
Let’s see if this sounds familiar? You put countless hours into planning and leading worship, and then you end up with a room full of the “frozen chosen.” There is no energy, no movement, no interaction. The room feels dead. You give a little more, and get nothing in return. You wind up exhausted by the end and wonder why you’re even putting in the effort.
One of this coming Sunday’s lectionary passages may rub salt in those wounds as we encounter the narrative of King David dancing unashamedly before the Lord. In 2 Samuel 6, King David brings the ark of God to Jerusalem. He is leading worship that is as raucous as a Mardi Gras parade–everyone is dancing with all their might, and there is an accompaniment of lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. There is shouting, leaping, rejoicing, sacrifices, and more dancing. Why can’t my church be like that?!
For David, the familiar ratio is flipped–instead of a bunch of statues and one person with a raised hand, he has a whole crowd of people going crazy and one critic–Michal. She sees David leaping and dancing, and “she despised him in her heart” (v. 16, NRSV). At this point we should stop and ask a few questions about Michal and why all her descendants seem to go to your church…
The writer identifies her as the daughter of Saul, the previous king. In the verses that follow the lectionary reading, she confronts David, clearly seeing his behavior as inappropriate for a king of Israel. David defends himself, saying that it was solely for God and that in the future he will act even more undignified if so moved.
Before we start planning sermons about how our congregations should be more like the energetic David and less like the withdrawn Michal, we need to follow the story to the end. He slips in a very personal and potentially painful insult by reminding Michal that God chose him as king–not just in succession but in place of her father (David was anointed while Saul was still in power back in 1 Samuel). The subtext is that her family is obsolete. The writer then, in an almost curse-like formulation, says that Michal had no children until the day of her death. Ugh, that’s brutal.
There has to be something else going on here. Why focus on the critic while the crowd is with you? Why is the daughter of the previous king still around the palace, much less able to speak so directly to the king? Because there’s another aspect to Michal’s identity–she is also David’s wife (well, one of his wives).
Lia Scholl does a great job laying out the reasons why we should have some sympathy for Michal. She points out that at one time, Michal was truly in love with David. In fact, she helped David escape when her father sought to kill him. But something has poisoned their relationship. Perhaps it was his other wives. Perhaps it was that David’s style was completely different than her father’s. Perhaps it was that David’s popularity overshadowed the memory of her father.
Whatever the reasons were, their relationship seems completely broken. We can see it in the way she didn’t just despise him, but she despised him “in her heart.” We can see it in her caustic sarcasm and his biting response. We can see it in the fact that the writer identifies her exclusively as Saul’s daughter in this passage, never David’s wife. Finally, in that curse-like end note, the implication is that she had no children because David cut off “marital relations.” Oh, and she never shows up in the narrative again. This is her final act: she gets angry with him, they fight, he abandons her, and she dies alone.
Bringing it back to today, the people who aren’t comfortable clapping in church likely do not despise you in their hearts. Clearly, this story has many levels to it–but that’s the point. When Michal lashes out at David, he makes an assumption about her motivation, declares it ridiculous, and shuts her down. It may not come across as strongly, but isn’t this kind of what we do when we tell people to just get over being self-conscious and try to try a little?
I can imagine a different conversation would have occurred between David and Michal if David had said, “Hey, where is this coming from? Help me understand.” Same goes with the stiff and rigid worshipers in our congregations.
Perhaps they are self-conscious, but it is because they are bringing with them the culture of judgment that is fed into them everyday outside the church (or inside the church, too–yikes!). Do you fix that by criticizing them?
Perhaps your church values excellence in a way that devalues or even excludes the “joyful noise” crowd. Perhaps the experience is high energy entertainment and not the kind of experience that inspires actual worship. Perhaps the atmosphere–lighting, room arrangement, sound levels–works against the blending of voices and direction of focus. That isn’t their fault, is it?
Perhaps they are the kind of people who are more introverted or who don’t need big, physical responses to feel connected to God or the community. Should they change their behavior to please the leaders?
If I may make a confession, I was the worship leader who would sometimes go home frustrated and disappointed that the service didn’t look like a Hillsong concert. I am also the guy who literally stood completely still at a Hillsong concert with my arms crossed, never singing a single word–yet was completely engaged. Those unchristians are right–I am a hypocrite…
If we respond the way many of us pastors/leaders do when we vent to each other (“Just tell them to get over it”), we are responding much like David did. And how well did that go for him? It killed what was left of a relationship that had at one time literally saved his life. While there are legitimate pride issues to be worked through, especially in American church culture, we need to be willing to respond with care and compassion.
Header image by Flickr user bpprice. Used under Creative Commons License. Cropped from Original.