Wednesday, April 11, 2012

High Church or Low Church?

Growing up in Christian subculture, I attended lot of different churches. Attending a choir college, I sang in a lot of different churches. I've learned that there are lots of ways to "do" church, but that they generally fall into two categories: high and low. In my measly 23 years, I've seen a lot of both: everything from sleepy-looking dudes in skinny jeans rockin' out in front of fog machines, to even sleepier-looking dudes in tall hats and cloaks swinging incense and speaking Latin. Having a relationship with Jesus and wanting others to know Him as well,  I've thought a lot about all the different kinds of churches I've attended, and I've cared about what happens in them. 

Which way is "right?" Which way more accurately expresses God's character and the nature of His interactions in the world? Which people are "really" worshiping? Are the hipsters offending God? Are the incense swingers putting Him to sleep? These are good and important questions, and I wish I had all the answers. All I have are some reflections- what I've been learning from Jesus about who He is, and about the life He invites me to live with Him. In my own life, both "high" and "low" church have helped me experience that better. But they also have left me wanting more.

High church is beautiful. The music is transcendent, and even if I don't always know what's being said or how to follow along, I can sense the glory in it. The liturgy is rich and I'm reminded of the weight of God's words to us and our words to Him. The silence is heavy and somewhat sacred, reminding me that to be in God's presence is an awesome and serious thing.  Everything in a cathedral- the sights, sounds, and even smells- proclaim God's holiness; His otherness. That moves me to worship. But sometimes I feel a bit unwelcome in a setting so pristine, like my messy humanness could be a problem if I don't keep it reigned in, or that the way I would naturally talk to or sing to God isn't "good enough" for a setting so formal and proper. Sometimes I end up feeling like a lowly worm cowering in God's presence, not like a beloved child welcomed into His arms. Sometimes I feel like high church only tells half the story.

Low church is honest. The music is familiar and singable, reminding me that God has come near in Christ, and that He speaks my language. The liturgy is understandable, and I feel like I am being addressed; not some better-educated version of me. The atmosphere is welcoming and open, reminding me that as God's child, I'm invited to quietly listen and pray, or sing at the top of my lungs, arms out-stretched. The people in leadership are usually dressed more like the average person, reminding me that they are just children of God, like me. They don't have special access to Him because they're "higher ranking" than everyone else. Everything about this warm, welcoming, free environment speaks of God's nearness to me in Christ, and of my unfettered access to His throne of grace as His beloved child. But sometimes, I feel it's a little too casual. I forget that I'm actually entering into God's presence in a special way, and that that is a sacred thing. Sometimes I long to hear the beautiful language and feel the mystery and the glory of communion. Sometimes I feel like low church only tells half the story. 

That's just it. They both express true and beautiful aspects of who God is and what He has done. God is holy and wholly other than me, and His presence is weighty. And yet God came down to where I am in order to have a friendship with me. He put on flesh and spoke my language and invited me into His inner circle. I am thankful for a God is so big and so great and so unfathomable that we don't always understand or express Him fully- and I'm thankful for "high" and "low" churches that remind me just how important the whole story is.

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