None of my thoughts are well formed these days, so why should those on worship be any different?
At least that's the excuse I'm using this morning when no, I am not in church. I have some hope, though, that there will be some contributions in the comments that will lead, eventually, to some degree or another of sorting out.
My disorganized thinking on the subject has been generated by Quotidian Grace's post challenging an earlier post written by Bruce Reyes-Chow, the Moderator of the PCUSA, in which he offers the beginnings of a rationale in favor of twittering during worship services. QG objects primarily on the grounds that we struggle enough as it is to focus during worship. Bruce, as I understand it, finds twittering to offer valuable potential for community response to God and to one another.
It's no secret that I've struggled mightily with worship over the past several months. (Perhaps not a politic admission for a seminarian, but I have concluded that there is some value to be found in addressing the real-life fallout of bereavement.) When I go to my own church (in which, as far as I know, no one twitters ~ but some of us do take notes on the bulletin, and pass occasional commentary back and forth), I am usually overwhelmed by the energy and sense of community ~ aspects of our worship that I treasured a year ago, and for many years before that. (And apparently I also have a bit of PTSD going on. It had never occurred to me before that there might be a good reason to avoid having your child's funeral in your own church sanctuary.)
And yet, I keep returning ~ to other churches when I cannot manage my own. Worship is not, after all, much about me. I try to find places where other people are praying, and singing, and engaging with God in some way, even when it seems beyond me personally. And I am very aware, and grateful to acknowledge in some some way, that what is beyond me personally is being taken up on behalf of myself and my family in synagogues and Catholic and Protestant churches all over the country.
The other day, a friend talked about having gone to church a couple of weeks earlier for the first time in over a year. Her family is in the thick of it these days, contending with her husband's devastating and tenancious cancer. "I was SO BORED," she said. "All that ritual ~ it's boring and meaningless. I'm too experientially oriented for church. A day in the wilderness ~ that's my church."
The wilderness is a church for me, too. God in all things. But the ritual, the liturgy, the sacramental community, the attentiveness to text ~ I love all those things, too. It occurs to me, however, that they all ~ like the wilderness ~ require an education before they can be fully appreciated. I can't comment on where my friend has directed her energies. But I know that I can find God in the wilderness in part because I have invested years in the study of birds, in art because I read and look and listen to what others have to teach me about painting and architecture, in church because I practice (in the literal sense of the word) my religion intently in a variety of ways.
"Twittering" asked my 24-year-old son, when I told him about the discussion. "That incredibly irritating practice?" "How would you know whether it would be a problem in church, since you don't go to church?" I asked him. "No, but I think I understand the point," he said. "And what about the people who have prepared for and work so hard on the service?" he asked. "I don't think I've ever attended a church that lacked a coffee hour ~ why can't people socialize there?"
I will admit that one of the first things I had thought about, in response to the initial posts, was the effort that goes into leading a service, and how dismayed I would be as the minister, the preacher, the music director, the liturguist, the choir member, to know that people were twittering among themselves rather than offering themselves and their attention and participation to the drama of the service. I don't doubt that God is in the twittering, as one of its proponents argues. (Although I have to say, that last one felt like a really bizarre sentence for me to write.) But worship is an opportunity to focus on God's self-disclosure, rather than upon our own, and to respond directly to God, rather than to one another.
In the end, I realize that perhaps my own orientation is just contemplative enough to make twittering during worship an outrageous proposition. I can imagine that if one is directed more completely toward the evangelical (in the sense of sharing), the prophetic, the social, or the kinesthetic in one's engagement with God, then twittering could have its place. Given my own extraordinary challenges these days, I am willing to make room for others to experiment with approaches to theirs in creative ways that might seem frustrating or damaging to me.
I will share, though, as representative of my own viewpoint (with apologies for the unabashed male gender of the language) the following quotes which appeared here, on the blog The Website of Unknowing yesterday. I found it pretty humorous that they popped up in my blog reader as I was pondering this topic.
The tragedy of modern man is that his creativity, his spirituality, and his contemplative independence are inexorably throttled by a superego that has sold itself without question or compromise to the devil of technology.
The contemplative seeks to liberate his soul from all external control, to purify and detach it from material, sensual, and even spiritual compulsions, and to surrender it to the truth and creative freedom of the Holy Spirit.
— Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation
I personally question the liberating power of Twitter. But I'm willing to listen to the arguments.