Thoughts from a Critic

I was in the worship service today at church, and we were singing a song. One of the lyrics says “As I lift my hands toward heaven…”. And, of course, when those lyrics are sung, everyone’s hands across the sanctuary pop up simultaneously.

The critic in me used to hate this. I thought “Lifting your hands needs to be something organic and real, not robotic and done because a lyric tells you to do it!” It was the same with any of that type of lyric, whether it was lifting your hands, clapping, jumping, or whatever.

So, I hated this so much that whenever we sang that song, when it came to that part of the song, I would make it a point not to raise my hand. When it got that part, if I was raising my hands, I would even bring them back down. I would think ahead to make sure that I wasn’t lifting my hands when the lyric said so, in order to make the point that I wasn’t allowing lyrics of a song to dictate when I lifted my hands.

However, I recently realized something. In my attempt to be freed from my actions being dictated by lyrics during worship, I only became further enslaved by it. I was so set on not raising my hands during a lyric that instructed me to do so that, rather, I allowed it to dictate when I didn’t raise my hands. But, do you see the irony? I wasn’t free from it. I was simply enslaved by it, but in a different way. In both cases, I was allowing the lyric to control my actions. The first case it was dictating when I did raise my hands, and in the latter, when I didn’t.

My goal was to make my worship more organic, but in doing so, it just became even robotic. I wasn’t free, but controlled in a different way.

I think the principle is a lot bigger than just raising your hands during a song. So many times, we rebel and act out against certain ideologies, systems, philosophies, and world views, because we may have been raised in them, perhaps. However, in our rebellion, are we truly freed from them? Or are we still simply allowing those things to control us and our actions?

Too many times, it’s the latter. I think about New Atheists and how most of them were raised in religious households. Their disdain, hatred, and open mockery of religion isn’t a sign that they have been freed from the chains of religion. Rather, it proves that religion still controls them. It dictates all of their actions, however, they are all centered around their hatred for religion, rather than their appreciation of it. Either way, religion is controlling them still.

I think about super critical Christians. They usually talk about what they hate about how they were raised, or what their parents did wrong, or how Christianity today is so off. And while there is great value in correcting what is wrong, how many Christians who are this critical are only this way because they are trying to be freed from the religious oppression that they experienced as a child? And they think that to do is to critique every aspect of their oppression. But, they only prove that they are still very much so enslaved by that oppression, and it manifests itself in their constant bickering.

Community even gives a great example of this. Troy Barnes is a college freshman, but still wears his letter jacket from high school (being a star quarterback and all). Everyone gives him a hard time about it and try to pressure him into taking it off. Troy thinks that if he does that, then that makes him weak. But Jeff Winger so wisely said, “Listen, it doesn’t matter. You lose the jacket to please them, you keep it to piss them off. Either way, it’s for them. That’s what’s weak.”

True freedom from a certain system or ideology or philosophy or whatever comes not from raising your fist at it and railing against it. In that case, you’re still giving it too much attention, worth, and value in your own framework. True freedom from it comes from its irrelevance. There’s nothing more liberating than looking at something that once controlled you in the face and saying “I don’t care”. I believe it’s only then that we’ll be free from it.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

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