All the American rhythms of life we’re used to are now drastically different or gone altogether for the time being. The sports cycle, the news cycle, the shopping cycle, not least the daily 9-5 cycle. All of these rhythms are habit forming, and thus soul-forming rituals (read about how habits shape identity here). Our calendars (well some of ours at least) are dotted with sports events that cycle through the year like Super-Bowl Sunday, the Draft, Playoff Hockey, March Madness, Fall Baseball, Summer League, you name it. These things aren’t just things we do, they do something to us. These rhythms of events teach us to value certain things by looking forward to them and participating. Our weekly rhythms are scheduled to provide what we (think we) need through shopping trips and appointments. Our daily lives are rhythmically tuned (some more than others!) to provide us and our family with what we need through our vocation. Our habits can form us and deform us, humanize us and dehumanize us, by shaping what we value and what we worship. James K.A. Smith calls these “cultural liturgies” because they are “thick habits” that reinforce a story in us, and thus an identity.
But now, all our cultural habits are turned on their heads. The formative practices we were once structured by are now falling apart. There is no meaningful sports news (NO OLYMPICS!!!). The headlines around the world are the same old terrifying thing. The political world is crazier than ever, but not as crazy as Costco. Our healthy habits are in jeopardy, not only from COVID-19 but from a steady diet of Chef Boyardee and Ramen. The illusion of security has crashed along with Wall Street.
Have our hearts crashed too?
A Counter-Cultural-Coronavirus Liturgy
Have we been propping ourselves up unwittingly with the frail framework of a secular age? As life as we know it falls apart, the church and it’s framework for understanding the world is the last thing standing in a barren landscape of failed cultural liturgies. We need the church now more than ever to point us back to the age-old counter-cultural patterns and rhythms of grace that have sustained Christians for millennia through terrible trials and pandemics. Those practices look like worshipping God for who he is as Creator and Sustainer, confessing our brokenness, frailty, and sin, being assured of his unwavering grace, and being commissioned to a broken world. When we gather for corporate worship, it’s to take part in a counter-cultural liturgy that shapes us into the image of Christ. Nothing screams “counter-culture” like sacrificial love, confession of sin, unity despite racial/socio-economic/generational differences, and the worship of Jesus over the gods of the culture.
When it feels like hell-on-earth, we need to unleash the gospel that the gates of hell will not prevail against. When the world realizes the false liturgies of the secular age are permanently changed and headed for the garbage bin, we give them the age-old story of the unchangeable love of God.
But what does this look like in the digital church experience we’ve been forced into where we “watch worship” and preaching on a screen?
Participation not Consumption
We have to recognize that when we view screens, our bodies tell us that we are about to consume, not participate. The huge problem with that is, church is (or should be) about participation, not consumption. As worship leaders and pastors, we have to humbly own that this is not ideal, but it is still necessary for us to encourage participation even while at home. All of the elements that normally are in the service should be creatively adapted to encourage participation from home. We still need to instill the gospel into our hearts through practice, and that comes from participation not consumption.
All believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, not just those leading on a screen! Engage in discussion questions with your family, if you don’t have a musician in the house, listen to the songs of the week and talk about them. Mediate on the Scripture readings or the sermon passage, share your thoughts with those you live with. If you live alone, join an online care group to continue experiencing community where you can engage with these practices.
The church has a unique opportunity here to continue to instill the habits of adoration, confession of both faith and sin, assurance of grace, commissioning, giving, and the preaching and reading of Scripture. We do these publicly (even digitally) to remind ourselves to practice privately. It’s vital that we remind the scattered/quarantined church of the greater Story that sticks out all the more now that the competing stories of the culture are collapsing all around. The lies around American individualism, American safety, American superiority, the free market, the sports culture, and the health movement are all exposed as fraudulent. They don’t make sense of the totality of reality with it’s complexities. We would be wise to let our habits that were once associated with them die instead of trying to re-tool them if/when things get back to “normal.” Let’s take this opportunity to re-center ourselves in the only story worth believing and worth living in. It’s the last one standing after all.