I am writing this blog post in the shadow of the bombings at the Boston Marathon today. I had planned to write a different blog post but I am forced by circumstances to ask the question: will we have forgotten the tremendous horror and suffering of our neighbors in the East by the time that Sunday worship comes? By this, I mean will the bombings receive more than a sentence of the pastoral prayer as we rush to the happy clappy music that we have grown to love or will we sit in the ashes with them to grieve and pray – even for just a little while?
I was pastoring a church in Asbury Park, NJ when the planes of 9/11 changed the way that we relate to one another. We only had to drive a few miles up the coast to see and smell the flames that burnt for weeks; every conversation with pastors of neighboring churches revealed new levels of loss and pain. Since much of the Jersey shore was a bedroom community for New York City, the losses were surprising: church members who worked in the WTC building, sons and daughters of the area churches who worked as support staff in the massive high-rise. One church lost most of its administrative council on that fateful day! Those of us who were so close to New York, who had lost someone from our families or social networks, sat in pain and sorrow for months. In downtown New York City, pastors experienced on-the-job training in helping the community (not just their members) work through grief and loss. My church was 75 miles away. Ironically, as close as we were to the epicenter of the wave of pain that swept across the region, pastors found it difficult to allow the grief, and the questions that were undoubtedly directed at God, to come to church! Once phone service was restored and we were able to talk to our friends across the country, we were saddened to learn that in many churches, our grief had been reduced to a footnote in the morning prayer. A few hundred miles and a Sunday or two removed, it was back to happy clappy as though nothing had happened!
As bombs and violence continue to break out in the most unlikely places, it has become “normal” for us to become desensitized to their impact. Sadly, it has also become normal for us to draw into the safety of family and close-friend circles while scanning our surroundings for potential (or imagined) danger. The unintended consequences of needing to play it safe, is that we have so “contracted” or drawn into safe places, that the arms of hospitality, friendship, neighborliness, and concern for people everywhere have also shortened. To the extent that we may not have recognized that when Boston was bombed, our neighbors were bombed too!
Yet, the issue, I raise about today’s bombings and Sunday’s worship is more than sociological. I believe it to be more than our not recognizing our neighbors because we are so drawn into ourselves. I propose that worship reveals both the community’s affirmation of faith and theological stance. Retired Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, often talks about the need for lament in the life of a congregation. When things are not well with our souls, he encourages, this is the time to vary the order of worship and allow the entire community to engage in a time of a lament. There are several examples of this in Old Testament life.
We have so many neighbors standing in the need of prayer. On any given day, we are reminded of neighbors who have been flooded or quaked, bombed or shot, snowed in or displaced or challenged beyond their strength in any number of ways – the most recent being this tragedy in Boston! What might happen if hundreds of churches across the continent and places beyond abandoned the order of worship in favor of a call to fervent prayer? What would it be like to have an entire service devoted to intercession for those who grieve and for those who have been wounded in the process of just trying to live? What would it look like to transform so many praise houses into houses of prayer?
Sunday’s comin,’ and though the evening news will have moved on to something else of interest, our neighbors out East won’t be able to move on for some time. You still have time to make a few changes in the order of worship.