Monday, September 10, 2012

A Mighty Fortress

What is your least favorite part of a church service?

You know you have one.

Whether you’re the person coordinating the event, behind the board in the sound booth, on stage holding a guitar or microphone, or waiting for your turn at the pulpit, there’s that moment where you have to brace yourself, wince inwardly, and take a deep breath when That Time begins. Yes, you know what I’m talking about.

Mine is the greeting time. I can’t stand it. Imagine how Lina Lamont says it in her nasally voice in Singin’ In The Rain. I caaaaaan’t staaand it. You have to smile at everyone around you, even though moments ago you were just wondering  what you were going to have for lunch and don’t know if you really want to eat at home but the hubster wants to eat out so there’s going to be an argument later. Then you have to look around to see who’s reaching out toward you to shake your hand. Shake Your Hand. Shake. Your. Hand. Because I definitely shake everybody’s hand when I see them. No! There are some hugs, friendly banter. If there is a voluntary handshake in Real Life, it’s usually one of those two-handed handshakes that just feels more sincere than its predecessor.

And then there’s the awesome conversation that you have with a)strangers and b)friends.

Conversation A goes like:

Person 1: Hi there.
Person 2: Hi.
Person 1: How are you?
Person 2: Doing good this morning.
Person 1: Good, good. Glad to hear it.
Person 2: And you?
Person 1: Yes, good. It’s good to see you!
Person 2: You too.

Conversation B goes like:

Friend 1: Hi there.
Me: Hi.
Friend 1: How are you?
Me: Doing good this morning.
Friend 1: Good, good. Glad to hear it.
Me: And you?
Friend1: Yes, good. It’s good to see you!
Me: You too.


And then move on, and so on, and henceforth, and blah blah blah until the song starts up again and, praise the Lord, there is relief from the agony. I just spent about half an hour looking for jokes about greeting time at church and couldn’t find any. I think that is surprising. There were a lot of terrible jokes, and it kind of made me feel bad that I was making fun of or complaining about one of the aspects of a church service. See, I do try not to complain about something unless I can find a viable solution for fixing it. Unless I can change a scenario, hot glue, paint, or duct tape, or make some kind of phone call to somebody who CAN fix the broken thing, then I will try to just deal. But here’s the thing about the deal….greeting time happens in almost every church, in every service, and good luck trying to change it. And honestly, who cares? Who cares that it’s awkward, fake, and a terrible way to spread germs like the plague?

There was a service my husband and I attended, which brilliantly avoided greeting time. I LOVED that service. You walk in the building; in the foyer was a table for making a cup of coffee. Walk into the worship center and the lights were dim, there was music in the background. You could converse with people or just take a seat. We’d have the music, the speaker, and afterward many of us would go out to dinner. Oh yes. That’s right.

What is it about the Greeting Time that I find so terrible? Am I alone in this?! I just don’t like the close proximity, the short-lived moment in which nobody is ready to discuss how they are ACTUALLY feeling that morning, and the forced faux friendliness. If you know me, then it’s cool if we have a little or big hug and/or a handshake if we usually handshake. But if I see you at the grocery store and we chat better than we do during the Greeting Time, let’s just be done with the waxy mannerisms, shall we? Nobody needs to shake my hand, and it never ever anywhere makes me feel welcome. I don’t know where your hands have been. Were you just picking your nose? Picking the lint in your pocket? Picking something out of your teeth? Ew. I don’t want your morning’s eggs on my hands. Even if you’re nice.

What is it about a handshake?

I’m not criticizing the fact that new people need to feel welcome, and I do understand how necessary it is for anybody who has arrived at an event to feel invited, part of the group, and that they belong. I agree with that. But it seems there should be a better way to make that happen. I don’t know if it can happen in a two-minute segue.

Maybe it has to do with me.

I DO realize that most people probably don’t even blink when it comes to greeting time. For me it’s a grinding of the teeth, nails on the chalkboard, a train wreck. I think my blood pressure skyrockets when I’m forced to meet new people that are standing right behind me. Maybe it has something to do with the ensuing chaos of people suddenly talking, walking around, moving every which way. Maybe it has to do with a fear of crowds or something. Check it out; just looked up “fear of crowds phobia” and what’s kind of funny is what came up:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agoraphobia

That’s right. Agoraphobia is “an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be difficult or embarrassing to escape.” I get that, Wikipedia. I get that.

Now, I’m not looking for myself to have more trouble or drama than I already have, but let’s face it. Greeting time is a breeding ground for agoraphobes. Party rock, agoraphobes! Let’s hear it for the boys!

Or girls.

I’d rather have a quiet moment to chat with someone about what her name is, if she has come before, and what program I can interest her in. Or discuss how cute her shoes are. Or ask a question about my daughter’s teeth or health and how it relates to that person’s daughter. And a two –minute rock concert just doesn’t help that.

Now, don’t get me wrong in that I really DO like the real moments from people that I do know. I love a hug from a friend, waving to a friendly face across the room, and laughing about my poor husband’s wonky guitar solo that we will laugh about when we go out to lunch later. (Love you!)

I just needed to write something out about Greetin’ Time after a couple pointless handshakes yesterday. I really need to remember to put some hand sanitizer in my purse. It’s just one of those things you have to deal with, this GT. It’s definitely not a gift or talent for me.

I am reminded of my social awkwardness at the park. It’s this innate fear within me, of addressing Strangers. It doesn’t matter if they look friendly, kind, or like airplane hijackers, there’s this inner struggle to force words out of my mouth. Blarg! When I was a child my mother called it Shyness. Now I’m searching for a name and a cure; you see, it’s easier to defeat a problem when you can give it a name. And as a leader for an important ministry to my heart, as a Christ-follower, as a mom, I need to be able to walk up to new people and not feel like Cousin It. But I’m an organizer, not a greeter.




After months of vexation with my daughter, trying every tactic to get her to Take A Nap, I finally settled on the solution of singing hymns to her. For some reason, this works. I’m so glad. It started out with holding her down, holding her hand, and singing any song I could find in my old hymnbook for as long as it took for her to fall asleep, and now she asks me to sing songs from my book. Actually, if I leave before she’s completely asleep she will pull the book off her dresser where I leave it, and pull it into bed with her. And…. after that she usually comes to get me and asks, “What’s wrong with me?” and I walk her back to bed to see that she’s been trying to sleep on top of the hardback book.

I thumb through, perusing the songs I grew up learning in choir, and sing what I know. I try to settle on the ones that are slower, calmer, and I have found that the ones where I sing a bit higher are the ones that work the best. Some favorites are “Be Thou My Vision,” “In The Garden,” “My God is Near Me All The Time,” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

In college we had this event called Renaissance Week, where the entire university held activities, a big dinner, some shows, and lectures on the Renaissance. I went to one where a music professor talked about A Mighty Fortress, and it was such an interesting discussion. I love learning about where stories and songs come from.

Martin Luther wrote the words and composed the melody sometime between 1527 and 1529. Remember that Martin Luther was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation (Wikipedia). He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money; that salvation is not earned but a gift of God; and helped the Bible become more accessible to the common man.

Quick facts about “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:
•    It has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" for the effect it had.
•    It was a tribute to Luther's friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed on August 16, 1527.
•    The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 46.
•    Luther composed the melody, named "Ein feste Burg" from the text's first line, in meter 87.87.55.56.7. This is sometimes denoted "rhythmic tune" to distinguish it from the later isometric variant, in 87.87.66.66.7 (thanks Wikipedia).
•    This hymn covers the full sweep of the Christian's life. In it, we find the answer to conflict, striving, spiritual warfare, and at last, victory” ( 10 Sept 2012).

One of the most significant facts I learned about the song was that not every verse ends with a cheerful note, literally, musically, and lyrically. Here are the lyrics:

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing. 
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? 
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us. 
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth. 
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.


Who’s got no equal on earth in verse 1? Our ancient foe. So why are we singing out him being so strong?! Look at verse 3: God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. Our enemy may be unequal, but one little word shall fell him. One little word, one little name: Jesus. That name, that word, above all earthly powers. Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also. God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.

Psalm 46 says:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
   
Fortress: a large fort or fortified town; a place or source of refuge or support. Bulwark: any protection against external danger, injury, or annoyance. I like the reminder, that the almighty, protecting God who was around in 1 BC, who was around in 1527, is still around and present as ever in 2012. He abideth still.

Even during Greeting Time.
Even when you step in gum in the parking lot.
Even when the plans go wrong.
Even when you can’t hand her a brochure.
Even when you can’t find wiggle room in the budget.
Even when gray clouds fill the sky, masking the bright yellow sun.

Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, of armies, from age to age the same. And He must win the battle.

So whether the battle is internal, or external, among friends or strangers, or silly awkwardness at the park or in line at the grocery store, He can work through it. He’s the one to run to, flinging our shameful inadequacy into his arms when we forget, fail, or falter. “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:5-7).

Maybe today is your Greeting Time. Maybe Greeting Time is your favorite thing, or maybe you’re glad to be on stage with a microphone so you don’t have to participate. Well for those of us in the audience, I’ll just keep on singing the chords and remember that even when my blood pressure rises, there’s a stronger one standing beside me. And he must win the battle.