"Let Them Eat Cake!"

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 18 February 2010 0 Comments
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George James, from George Street United Church in Peterborough, Ontario, writes:
I really feel the Church should stop referring to church services as "worship services." Could we not more meaningfully call them "celebration services?" Marcus Borg, when in Peterborough recently, played the part of God in a very humorous way and mimicked him as only Borg could do with his Swedish wit: "Oh that feels so good to be worshiped that way, as just last week some others attempted worship and it was not very good and I felt terrible — please keep it up as I need you to be on your knees before me, etc., etc., etc." If we agree worship is usually meant for idols, why do we keep using it in the mainline churches? To me the life of Jesus and through him, God, the ground of all Being, should be celebrated every day. It changes the whole focus, in my humble opinion.


Dear George,
Words do matter and you have put your finger on a real issue. Does God need our worship? Does God relish our praises? Our acts of self-deprecation? Can God simply not wait until the next person tells God, "How Great Thou Art?" Marcus Borg is correct. Worship meets human needs, not divine needs.
Behind our use of words there is always the context in which these words were born and in which they are and will be interpreted. This means that when the context changes, the words will inevitably become detached from the reality of their original meaning. That is what has happened to the language of faith.
A God who is defined as an external being, supernatural in power, who hands out rewards and punishment according to human deserving, is a rather primitive, childlike deity. This is nonetheless the definition underlying most forms of liturgical worship. No change will occur until this definition is raised to consciousness and dealt with. Celebration, as a substitute for the word worship, becomes no better if it is this same definition of God that is being celebrated.
If worship is to have meaning, it will be found in asserting the ultimate worth of life, love and being that are to me the primary way in which human beings experience God. If celebration is to be used, it needs to refer to the celebration of life, love and being through which people experience the Holy.
I have been twice to your church in Peterborough, George, and I think your congregation and your outstanding minister understand this better than most.

Give them all my best wishes,

John Shelby Spong

Note: I am indebted to Butch Hancock, a musician with a group called "The Flatlanders," for this bit of wisdom from West Texas:

"Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things:

One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell.

The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love."




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