A Safe Place
Because of the same court decision that is the background of the movie Remember the Titans, I was “forced” to attend Menchville High School after a couple of years at Denbigh High (where my wife and oldest daughter now teach). I say forced... Menchville was a brand new school with state of the art equipment and a lot of things we didn't have at Denbigh... like the winning football team that provided me with my best sports memories. We were down 7-6 to Warwick High (where my youngest daughter now teaches) with just seconds left in the game. Our quarterback Rick Patrick threw a hail Mary pass (before it was called that) that bounced off two Warwick defenders before it was caught by Mike Haggins who took it 70 yards for the game winning touchdown. I went crazy! I was jumping up and down, screaming at the top of my lungs and hugging some guy behind me that I didn't even know. It was pure unadulterated wonderment and joy! There is no script for something like that-- especially if you came from Denbigh and never experienced a win let alone a last second one). We just had to celebrate! We were losing but now we had won!
The last thing I would do is compare a church service to a football game. (There are too many differences; for example, everyone is excited when a football game goes into overtime). We're doing something much more important in church. It is dishonest to turn a worship service into a pep rally where emotions are manipulated to give the appearance of a “spiritual” experience. And that’s not what I’m talking about. But does it say something when week-after-week, we preach, meditate, sing, and pray about the most important spiritual realities of our lives and our emotions are rarely ever engaged and never ever expressed? Sure, some of us (like me) are by nature pretty reserved emotionally and might not be given to outward expressions of emotion. So then why did I go nuts and jump up and down screaming when Haggins scored that touchdown? Maybe it had to do with the people around me giving their permission?
This past Sunday, a brother came forward with the most unusual prayer request that I've ever heard. He said that sometimes in church he is just overcome with joy, surprise and wonderment at what we sing or say and he just feels like he needs to shout or clap or throw his hands in the air. He knows that we generally don't do much of that, so he tries to keep himself in check from responding outwardly. He doesn't want to offend anyone and he doesn't want anyone to think he is trying to draw attention to himself or is making some kind of statement. But at the same time, he is growing weary of spending so much of his energy making sure he does not express his honest emotion that wells up in his heart because God is so good. He asked his brothers and sisters for—not so much forgiveness—but rather patience and tolerance as he struggled with how it was that he is supposed to express his emotions in our worship.
Earlier that same Sunday, another brother asked for the forgiveness of the church. This wasn't during the invitation; it was during our communion service as he was making our table talk. He was so moved by what he was saying that there were tears welling up in his eyes... and twice he stopped to apologize for those tears. So once again, here was a brother who somehow felt he was letting the church down by the expression of honest, heartfelt emotion during church.
What I told our church Sunday was “This is a safe place.” I assured them that if they truly felt the need to shout or clap or cheer, that this was a safe place to do so. No one would be judged for NOT clapping or cheering or shouting “Amen!” or raising their hands in prayer or in song. And no one would be judged for doing those things either. This is a safe place. It is dishonest to manipulate emotions and fake being carried away when you are not; it is also wrong to deny emotions and discourage the expression of them when you are just so thrilled that God is so good. We are not going to do either of those. This is a safe place.