Monday, February 27, 2006

Faith Works 3-04-06
(production error; ended up printed 3-11-06)
Jeff Gill

So, Why Don’t We Clap in Church?

Oy. Applause in worship settings is still one of the most contentious issues in church life – except where it isn’t.
First, let’s look at where it isn’t, because there really are a fair number of spots where this question is pretty much resolved.
In quite a few congregations, when you feel that God has just done a cool thing, you put your hands together. It may be a musical presentation, solo or choral, it could be a point made in a sermon or a particular prayer issue now resolved. Clapping is how joy or thankfulness or celebration is expressed.
Let me note, as someone from a clap-free background, that it isn’t fair to say "we shouldn’t offer our worship (etc.) for applause, but for God!" My experience with worshiping communities is that music, in particular, is no more focused on our human response than as a gift for God in clappin’ churches than non-applause places. There can be no applause at all, ever, and the soloists, vocal or instrumental, still be very oriented to how the congregants are reacting more than anything else.
Most people know and expect that more charismatic churches or services will be more applause-friendly, where a hand or two may be lifted in the air and vocal reactions in general are not only allowed, but expected.
So that’s the clap-happy side, where the issue is settled. On the other end are faith traditions, usually more liturgically focused (set order of worship, responsive readings, printed prayers), where everyone understands that applause simply isn’t part of worship. Let’s be fair to that culture: they are very likely to clap and cheer like crazy for certain other gatherings – it’s not like they’re simply uptight – but church is not where they’re gonna do that.
So those are the ends of the spectrum. The broad middle of Christendom (this is a similar but essentially different question for synagogue, mosque, or sacred circle), that’s where the jostling and awkwardness comes in.
But I haven’t talked about one more group where the clapping question is largely a settled thing. Between the ends is a small island of churches where applause is OK some places and not others, and even better, the leadership understands that this issue will continue to create questions and need gentle resolutions. In that intermediate zone, the most common compromise is multiple services, where people clap at some and not at others.
What creates the friction, I fear, is where the leadership, clergy and laity, want to reach an absolute, final, comprehensive solution. We clap, say those, or we don’t: what’s it gonna be?
The Bible has little to say on such matters without a thick layer of interpretation, largely because applause is a modern cultural construct. In most of both the Old and New Testaments, prayer was offered by people standing, with hands held out, palms up, waist high. We generally don’t do that anymore. Two hundred years ago, in Ohio Protestant Christian settings, most prayer was either offered standing with bowed heads, or kneeling on the plank floor, turned to lean on the puncheon benches.
Today, we mostly sit on padded chairs or pews, head slightly bowed as we grope for the cell phone to turn it off when it plays "Fur Elise" during the pastoral prayer.
The one consensus that holds across traditions today is that we really, really ought to set our electronic devices to vibrate during the prelude.
Should we clap? That is a question that gives congregational leadership a great opportunity to reflect on what is our tradition, and what might make for effective evangelism. It is an occasion for the practice of discernment, to pray your way through your own history as a faith community and your place in worship tradition and where God is calling you to minister in your services today.
And if you do that, I’ll quietly give you a standing ovation!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; offer your answers to
Notes From My Knapsack 3-05-06
Jeff Gill

Things That Aren’t So

Four years until another Winter Olympics, and I’ll be waiting. The Summer Ringfest events I can take or leave for the most part, but we’ll be watching Peking or Beijing or whatever they’ll have decided to call the capital of China by 2008.
Winter sports and their inherent uncertainty – ice, snow, narrow skis and thinner blades – make for a more interesting spectacle, plus the requisite mountains and snow covered valleys. Even the obscure sports like biathalon or moguls create a strong storyline, with no one, no matter how good, guaranteed a top finish.
Bode Miller took his lumps, and seemed to have earned them, but few pointed out that even in his best year he’s gone oh for five in a third of the weekend competitions. Like baseball (can you say "Spring Training"?), hitting the ball one in three at bats makes you an All Star. Less we should fret about Bode’s non-performance than we can celebrate Shaun White for meeting sky high expectations in a sport with more variables than the quadratic equation.
Once again, though, I must kvetch about the "medal count" that is always at the forefront of coverage. News flash: no nation wins the Olympics. Countries send teams, but among the subtle messages of the Olympic Movement is that they march in flag by flag, teams neatly separated, by in the Closing Ceremonies they come in largely as a happy, merry mob, as athletes together.
Say what you will about the IOC (and they have their quirks and shadow side like any large organization), but they have nothing to do with the national medal total stuff, nor do they mark, honor, or celebrate it. If Germany gets more total medals than the USA, that isn’t an Olympic thing, and I wish NBC or whatever other media outlet would make it clearer.
"Advertising Age" may be the one publication that has a true interest in which country or what national team (ski, skate, curling?) had the most gold medals. What the Olympic Movement celebrates at its best, which was mostly what was on display in the Torino Games, is athletic competition bridging humanity. See entry: Korea in the rosters to get what I mean. Many flags, but one spirit in sport is the goal.
Now that I’m on a roll, let me note a few more regular flubs that I caught in the broadcasts from Turin which are actually long-running frustrations of mine. I know there are some fellow usage and grammar purists out there reading this column, since, um, I hear from one or another almost every week. You can point out my foibles, and I promise to print a bunch of them soon, but for now…
A homing pigeon or homing signal allows one to "home in" on a goal or destination, but when you want to focus or sharpen your process, you "hone down" like a knife blade on a honestone. "Honing in" on an endpoint of a journey just ain’t quite right, I’se thinkin’.
"Toe the line" is what sailors do on deck when called together for inspection, or Marine recruits along a certain infamous yellow stripe. At the starting line, you put your toe up to, but not over the line.
"Tow the line" is what you do when . . . well, when you’re wrong. There’s no idiomatic use of "tow the line" that I know of, except when you drive a boat with a water skier; if you look back and you’re simply towing a line, you should loop back and find what you lost.
And as we remember N’Orleans this week, a levee may "breach," but a "breech" may find you giving birth backwards, with the baby arriving breeches first. The Seventeenth Street Levee was breached by a barge swinging loose in Hurricane Katrina, and the Bush administration got caught with it’s britches down in the response.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have a language pet peeve, even if it’s his, send it to