January 30, 2005

Dead Air

This past week, I was at a 3-day conference put on by the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. It is a wonderful conference, with over 500 attendees, most of them clergy; and the Pacific School of Religion is a great seminary (even if it isn't the one I graduated from!).

At the closing worship, a small choir of P.S.R. students sang during worship. At the conclusion of their song, one of the students was supposed to share a reading, but when the song had ended, she hadn't yet reached her microphone; so, there was a delay of about ten seconds while she made her way to the front of the stage. No big deal, except that the director of worship, who had been leading the choir in their song, turned to the congregation and said, "Sorry about that." I kid you not. She apologized---to the congregation---for that ten second delay.

I started to wonder (and therefore missed what came next) about why the director felt the need to apologize. Was she so used to the way modern media run their shows, that she was embarrassed by ten seconds of "dead air?" Did she feel that the worship service was a "show" put on for the entertainment of the "audience," and that a ten-second delay might weaken the entertainment factor? Was she worried about the less-than-perfect, less-than-professional appearance of a worship service that is interrupted by ten seconds of dead air?

Maybe my obsession with this is due to the fact that, at my own church, if we ever have a worship service that has ten seconds of dead air as the only mistake, then it would go down in the recordbooks as the smoothest worship service we ever had. This morning, for example, our organist started playing the wrong tune for the closing hymn. Everyone, myself included, just waited as she played one verse, and then I interrupted and asked, "Can we sing number 437?" The organist was a little embarrassed, but we carried on, sang the right hymn, and thought nothing of it. Other weeks, I'm the one who makes a mistake, accidentally skipping parts of the worship service, and coming back to them later. Things like this are normal; the people of my congregation have come to expect them. And when they happen, well, we just move on. What we don't do is allow it to disrupt our attitude of worship.

For me, that is exactly what that apology did last week. The apology seemed to say that worship is not good enough if it is not perfect. And if that's the case, then who among us is worthy to come to worship, and stand in the presence of God? None of us is perfect, but if the expectation in worship is perfection, then we know that we never can and never will be good enough. But I know that God loves me, mistakes and all, and accepts me as I am. And I am thankful to be part of a small country church where the people are not bothered by things like ten seconds of dead air. We just smile, do the best we can, and continue worshiping.


the reverend mommy said...

I sometimes wonder if we don't leave enough "dead air" in our worship services. I have been stretching the silent meditation time during ours until it reached 90 seconds. Took a while, but it's great. Was that the Sex and the City conference? how was it?

Danny said...

Yes, this year's conference was "Sex and the City of God," and even with the "distraction" in the closing worship, it was great.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I take myself into my own quiet space -- last week, there was a full house and people were singing in the most beautiful way. I was serving with the diaconate that day, and stood up front, enjoying the music, lost in my own space -- and didn't look when the music ended and I sat down in the front pew. I sat on a big ring of keys (the minister's keys) and a bag of Goldfish crackers. It simutaneously hurt and made a noise. The deacon sitting next to me grabbed my hand and squeezed, because I thought I was going to lose it. It was so hard to keep a straight face! Somehow I pulled the keys and crackers out from under my behind. The minister and the elders were already standing at the communion table, and saw, but none of us cracked a smile.

These things happen. ;-) Yes, the wrong hymn gets played, the deaf yell out "What's he saying? What's he talking about?" when the minister is preaching, the choir loft turns into the peanut gallery and, on one occasion, the communion cups had no juice in them. But it doesn't matter -- what matters is the love our congregation has and the understanding that we are loved just as we are. We all do our best, and I think that quality is one of the greatest gifts God gave to us.