God at the Grammys

This past Sunday, I had two very different worship experiences. The first one was during the two services at Crestwood Christian Church in Lexington, where I serve as senior pastor. The worship took place in our pew-filled, stained-glass-adorned sanctuary and featured: traditional hymns accompanied by piano/organ; a robust and extremely talented choir (in robes); a liturgy featuring a call to worship, invitation to offering, and communion; a sermon that didn’t put too many people to sleep; and a friendly, somewhat subdued atmosphere. We had about 280 in attendance.

The second worship experience was much different. There were thousands in attendance, with millions more watching on TV. The setting was an auditorium, not a sanctuary. I saw Sara Barielles and Carol King playing piano, but most of the music was supplied by drums, guitars, and synthesizers. I didn’t see anyone in robes; instead, the music leaders wore white suits, cowboy hats, or dressed liked robots. There was no offering or communion, but people did come down the aisle to receive awards. LL Cool J’s tribute to Def Jam Records was about the closest thing we had to a sermon. And the atmosphere? About as far away from subdued as you could get.

So what made the Grammys a worship experience? Toward the end of the show, rapper Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed their song “Same Love,” a surprise-hit manifesto in support of gay rights (which also offers a pointed critique of the church and scripture in relation to this issue). The stage backdrop was neon lights in the shape of church windows. And at the end of the song, Queen Latifah performed a short wedding ceremony for 34 couples in the crowd who had chosen to be married during the show. The couples were gay and straight, young and old, ethnically and racially diverse. Madonna closed the ceremony with her hit, “Open Your Heart.”

Madonna and Queen Latifah at the 2014 Grammys

Was that moment on the Grammys actually church? My guess is that most people from my Sunday morning experience would offer an emphatic “No!” And, obviously, a lot of what took place on the Grammys Sunday evening was staged for effect. But is it blasphemy for me to say there was something holy about that moment? Yes, I know, it was the Grammys. And yes, I know the minister was Queen Latifah. And yes, I know, Madonna’s outfit made her look like Colonel Sanders. But still, there was something authentic and moving about that moment. It didn’t feel like church as most Christians would define it, but it was REAL.

You may completely disagree with me. You may think the Grammys made a mockery of the institution of marriage. And I can certainly understand where you’re coming from. My ministerial sensibilities got a bit ruffled (they didn’t read I Corinthians 13 during the wedding ceremony!). But here’s the thing: If the church wants to remain relevant in the future, if the church wants to be a hospital for the spiritually hurt rather than a museum for the petrified saints, if the church wants to actually be like Jesus, then we have to figure out how to bridge the gap between what I experienced on Sunday morning and what I experienced on Sunday evening.

This isn’t about musical styles (although I’d love to have Imagine Dragons as a worship band). Can we admit that putting a drum kit up on the chancel doesn’t make us hip with the kids? This isn’t about auditoriums versus sanctuaries. This isn’t about homosexuality or gay marriage. It’s about honesty and authenticity. It’s about being will to admit that our churches are filled with the same kinds of weird, imperfect human beings who were at the Grammys, people who deal with addictions (I’m looking at you, Willie Nelson) and money problems (still looking at you, Willie) and poor dancing skills (OK, now I’m looking at you, Lorde). We in the church have to figure out how to stop acting like we’re “us” and they’re “them” and to recognize that church happens in a lot of other places besides our Sunday-morning gatherings. God can’t be confined to our sanctuary; instead, God’s presence makes any place a sanctuary.

There was a lot about the Grammys that I didn’t like. Some of it even offended me (that’s saying something, coming from a guy who once went to a Naughty by Nature concert – on Easter). But saying that to those who “worshipped” there won’t open the door to any dialogues. The Grammys provided an avenue for the people who watched to experience community and blessing and grace in a whole different way than most of our churches provide. Does the fact that the ceremony took place at the Grammys make it any less authentic? Was God not on the guest list? Or is it possible that God WAS there, offering a blessing in the midst of those 34 couples and the words of Macklemore’s song and the neon stained glass, God speaking a word of healing, a word of hope, a word of love in the language of our culture. Our churches need some kind of spiritual Rosetta Stone so that we can learn that language, too, or else we’re going to end up talking to ourselves while everyone else just points and laughs.

I believe I experienced God on Sunday morning. And I believe I experienced God on Sunday evening. It breaks my heart to think that the Sunday morning worshippers would rather name what’s wrong about the Sunday evening worshippers than look for common ground. And it breaks my heart even more that the Sunday evening worshippers, at a rapidly increasing rate, don’t care.

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19 responses to “God at the Grammys

  1. Julie

    They did sing Corinthians, at the end of “same love”. “Love is patient, love is kind” can be heard in the background while the Madonna and the pretty girl in the red dress sing “not cryin on Sunday”.

  2. Tim Teller

    Hi,

    I saw your blog posted on facebook through a friend. I must say upfront, I am in seminary and I’m quite confused by your post. You say perhaps God was there during the Macklemore song and was blessing what was going on but there was no invitation for him to be there and the “minister” said nothing about God during the vows. The statement of “no matter what God you believe in, we all come from the same one” is not backed up by the Bible, in fact Jesus has pretty strong words against a statement like this. If you think this statement is backed up by the Bible, please illuminate me.

    The Grammy’s are a worhip experience, a worship of self. How do you propose to build a bridge between true worship of the one true God and worship of self? How do you find common spiritual ground there? I agree that we are all sinners and the church is full of sinners and in some ways the church should be more loving. But, we also have to call sin what it is (we all sin), otherwise there is no reason for anyone to come to Jesus in the first place.

    I was not as offended by what happened at the Grammy’s as I was by your post saying that it was a worship experience and perhaps God was there and God blessed it. What if He didn’t and you’re implying that He did?

    TTeller

    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and honesty of your words and I am glad to be in conversation with you. Do we have to invite God to be somewhere in order for God to be there? I think it was Annie Lamott who said, “We know we’ve made God in our image if God starts hating all the same people we do” or, I would add, God only shows up at the places we would go. I also disagree that your statement about all of us coming from the same God is false. I believe Genesis 1 does back that up, and goes further to say we’re all made it God’s image, no matter how different we are.

      I believe you’re absolutely right that the Grammys were a worship of self. but I experienced, in the midst of that, this holy moment. I may have been completely wrong. God may have been condemning the whole dang show. But the question I was asking in my blog post was, “What if?” What role does our experience play in our understanding and experience of God? I believe we start to build the bridge between worship of God and self by showing those who worship self that they are a child of God, as well, that they are called and gifted for something bigger than just themselves.

      When I look at the people Jesus hung out with, it was with the tax collectors and sinners (labeled that why by the religious leaders, not Jesus). I seems Pharisaic to say that God wouldn’t be at the Grammys; based on the gospels, I think that’s exactly where God would be! And God would be making ordinary, profane moments holy (a gathering of lepers, a woman with a jar of perfume). Jesus didn’t condemn those people; he blessed them.

      As for your last question, Tim, I very well could be wrong. If I have led people astray with my blog post, then I will have to answer for that to God. But I choose to draw circles that include, not exclude, because that’s the God I read about in scripture and the God I experience in real life. Thanks again for your comments, Tim. May God bless you in your studies and your ministry. Preach on, brother!

      Kory

      • Tim Teller

        Hi Kory,

        Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. When Macklemore says
        “no matter what God you believe in, we all come from the same one” – I could be wrong – but my interpretation is he’s saying there’s more than one way to God or it doesn’t matter which one you believe in. I don’t think he’s saying that we all come from the God of the Bible. I agree with you that the God of the Bible created all of us, but I’m not sure that that is what or all Macklemore is saying here.

        I also thought you meant that “God being there” was somehow stating that God was pleased with it. Jesus obviously hung out with sinners as he came to save the lost. But, he also pointed out misdirected worship and cleansed the temple. I don’t know that Jesus ever blessed misdirected worship. Maybe I’m reading more into the words on both accounts.

        I appreciate your willingness to draw circles to include rather than exclude. That is a powerful statement that has made me think. May God bless you in your ministry.

        Tim

      • Hey Tim,

        First of all, let me tell you how much I appreciate being able to converse and disagree with respect. Our country seems to have lost the ability to have a civil discourse over divisive issues, so thank you for the gift of this dialogue. I pray that you continue to model this in your ministry. The church should be leading the way in showing how to be in community together. You, sir, have restored my hope in the future of the church!

        You are right on target in your quote from Macklemore; I had forgotten that line in the song. I don’t hear him saying there’s more than one way to God (although I would guess he believes that and it probably can be implied from what he says). Instead, I hear him saying that God created us all, no matter what we believe about God or our understanding of God (including if we don’t believe at all?). Sounds like you and I may differ on our interpretations of what Macklemore means. Art can be so frustrating in that way, huh?

        I wasn’t going so far as to say God was pleased, but I also don’t think God was condemning it. I think “worship” can happen in a lot of places that we don’t expect. Your point about Jesus is well-taken. Maybe our conclusions depend on how we define “worship” and who determines what constitute worship. If an event takes place that doesn’t explicit worship God, but I experience God’s love or grace through it, can I then claim that as worship? I bet a lot of people who golf on Sunday morning would use that argument. 🙂 Or are there certain universal criteria that need to be present in any situation in order for it to be called worship? That’s a question for your worship professor!

        Tim, thanks again for the conversation. Where are you going to seminary? I pray it is a fruitful experience and prepares you for the joys and challenges of this wonderful calling.

        Blessings,

        Kory

  3. williammatherly

    Kory,
    Thank you for this reflection. I missed the Grammys because of the flight to our meeting this past week but read a lot about what you describe in your post. I particularly appreciate the last paragraph of your post. I keep looking for ways to find conversation opportunities between the groups you name. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement to keep at that task.
    Peace,
    Dale

    • Thanks, Dale! I think we have to keep looking for those conversation points or the church will grow increasingly irrelevant. Good to see you this week, my friend!

  4. Kory, I read regularly and appreciate what you have to say. But today — wow! I make it no secret that for me, “All means all” – including homosexual. Like you’ve said, I choose to “stand in judgment” for including too many instead of excluding too few. I once said in my own blog post about this song that if the day comes when God says to me, “Why would you believe such a thing is ok?” My response will be, “I tried. I tried the best I could to love everyone with the same love I wanted to have. I tried to be the most kind, the most compassionate, and the most grace-filled I could. I’m sorry if I gave too much grace and not enough correction.”

    But like you said, the moment on that show wasn’t about gay marriage because not everyone married in that moment was gay. That was what made it so profound for me: it’s the same love, as the song says. In the end, love wins. History always, eventually, swings toward justice. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of the Kingdom: a place where not everyone will look like me, or believe like me, or live like me. But where we will all have the same love.

    Thank you. Thank you for putting words to a moment that brought me to tears. Thank you for finding the hope in a cultural experience that glorifies self and achievement. Thank you for your voice.

    • Thanks so much, Erin! I agree that what was so powerful about the moment was the inclusivity of everyone in the ceremony. You said it perfectly; I believe it was a glimpse of the Kingdom. For now, the challenge is to make that Kingdom real here on earth. It’s up to us!

  5. Steve Morrison

    I shared it on Facebook. I hope my support and admiration for your essay in some minute way makes up for the inevitable backlash. All the best to you.

  6. Lola

    If this was a worship experience for you, who were you worshipping? And, to whom were the participants of the Grammys directing their worship?

    • Great question, Lola. I was worship the expression of God’s love, grace, and acceptance. I was praising God for the inclusivity and hospitality I saw. I’m sorry I can’t speak for the participants; I can only express what I experienced.

  7. Pam Hricenak

    Kory,
    I read this at my women’s Bible Study at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church this morning. I wasn’t planning to read it. After we discussed the scriptures for Sunday morning, an 83 year old woman with a big heart and open mind shared what she had been able to see and hear of the ceremony at the end of the Grammy’s. She seemed confused, unable to really understand what had happened and what to think of it. Your message was well received. We talked about finding the common ground with those we encounter.

    The “us-them” and confining God to the church sanctuary breaks my heart.
    The more we try to confine God to the sanctuary, the more I believe the Holy Spirit will create “community and blessing and grace in a whole different way than most of our churches provide.” That does not mean that I believe we are not responsible for bridging the gap. If only it were so easy as Rosetta Stone!

  8. JC

    God is an anchor to all people. He made us the way we are, gay or straight. In reading this excellent dialogue, it demonstrates how the respect grows between an outstanding minister here in Lexington (I used to live near your church and remember when it was built.) and one who is entering the ministry with an open mind. I have seen the hurt that closed attitudes can have on individuals. I have even witnessed in my own family and it being done in the name of Jesus and God. What gives people the right in God’s name. If Jesus were on earth now, would he exclude others. He didn’t exclude the tax gatherer? I agree that the wedding on the Grammy’s wass a spiritual moment. The fact that the couples were gay and straight demonstrated that God loves all of us. Hopefully others will learn compassion and acceptance by what they witnessed. God loves us all.

    JC

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, JC. One of the blessings that has come out of this post for me is the rich dialogue I’ve been engaged in with folks like Tim. And, of course, you’re welcome at Crestwood anytime, JC!

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