I have come to realize that I tend to have a lot of inconsistent expectations with respect to various aspects of life. Here is one that I’ve been thinking about more recently.
Kids and Adults: Distractions
When a child is distracted from doing his school work because some other child is doing something else (assuming they are not directly picking on the kid or something, of course), we don’t tend to immediately tell the distracting-child to stop it; we tell the child being distracted that he needs to focus, that there will always be distractions, etc.
Adults: I can’t do it!
Contrast the above to the church. When in a church music setting, if there is something that we are distracted by, our automatic reaction is they need to stop that, it’s distracting me, I can’t worship! Something seems … inconsistent there. What makes it even worse is that the other person is doing the same thing we are, just a little differently … as opposed to one child playing and the other working or something like that.
It’s interesting to point out that what we are distracted by is entirely cultural. Some sub-cultures in America (even church sub-cultures, like charismatic circles) aren’t distracted by it; other ethnic cultures (say, African, or South American) dance and wave their arms all the time and nobody is distracted from what they’re doing at the time (like celebrating someone’s marriage or something like that). The whole point isn’t to say “other cultures do it, so we should.” The point is that what we get distracted by is shaped by our culture; we allow ourselves to be taught what is “distracting.” We even try to teach kids what shouldn’t be distracting… except in the church; it’s ok to be distracted there, it’s the other person’s fault for distracting you.
Sports and Worship
What do sports and worship have in common? Celebrations occur in both.
So, a group of guys are watching a football game… it’s the 49ers vs. the Patriots or something. The 49ers score. The group of [bay area] guys celebrate. They raise their hands, they cheer, they clap.
Without getting into what is reverent and such, let’s contrast how we celebrate. We would think it absolutely ridiculous for one guy, in the above example, to say to another guy, “hey, man, I can’t celebrate with you clapping like that… could you cut the distracting physical expression and let me celebrate? I just can’t think about the 49ers scoring with you going on like that.” The thought of the 49ers scoring impacted all the guys so much that they have no problem remembering it, and they are expressing joy and happiness… and, in fact, they want the other guys to celebrate with them and wouldn’t like it if there were unaffected fans. “Come on, they just scored!”
So. Someone in church raises their hand in celebration as we sing about Christ raising us up from the dead at the last day, as we sing about His glorious second coming, etc. I get distracted. What?! Someone else is trying to worship God and proclaim His worth and worship, just like I am… and I allow my thoughts of God’s greatness to get replaced by thinking about how distracting it is that someone is raising their hand in response to their understanding of God’s greatness? Is seeing someone else worship expressively really so distracting that I can’t worship because of it? That seems so silly, yet that’s definitely what I allowed and even trained my mind to do in the past. Because I didn’t worship that way, I allowed myself to be distracted when someone else worshiped that way… all entirely based on sub-cultural expectations and not the Bible.
How About John
John, in his Revelation, saw huge multitudes of people fall down and worship before the throne of God. John said, “Whoa whoa whoa, guys, I can’t worship God with all this distraction going on; could you guys tone it down so I can worship in my own way before the throne?”
Ahhhh, no, not really. John didn’t seem to think it odd that such extreme responses occurred when seeing the greatness of God. So, I ask myself; why in the world do I allow myself to be distracted because someone raises their hand in response to singing about God, all the while knowing that if I truly saw the greatness of God, I myself would fall flat on my face? How distracting would that be to other people … but would I care? No. In fact, I would expect everyone else to do the exact same thing.
So, my conclusion is this; I allow myself to be distracted too easily. I want to worship God in my own, quiet little bubble and don’t want others to pop that bubble and distract me from thinking about God (as though it’s thinking about God is such a fragile thing that I really, really need to focus hard on it without distractions … hmm). I don’t want to see someone else worship differently from me, because that distracts me from worshiping.
All this seems to be inconsistent. I should be glad and thankful for people so moved by God that they express themselves in very communicative ways. Are there things that perhaps draw undue attention to yourself, especially dependent on the culture? Sure. But that’s not an excuse for me to perpetuate my thinking of self-absorbed worship that requires everyone else to stop distracting me lest I lose my focus.