Yesterday I received an invitation to speak at the annual conference of the Congregations Project of the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. The theme is When Dancing Turns to Mourning: Worshiping God in the face of violence. The conference gathers pastors, musicians, theologians, and interested church folks to reflect on what it means to be the church in today’s world. I’m grateful for the invitation to share my stories about what it means for me and the church that I serve to continue worshiping as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death in 2008.
This morning I’ve found myself wondering about and sitting with the phrase “…in the face of violence.” Often, in the volunteer work I do with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, violence does have a face and a name. (I remember a time when the news media was quite proud to NOT name to perpetrators of violence, as if ‘not naming them’ would somehow make it easier to deal with the senseless and devastating loss that comes from violent acts.) Yet what I’ve come to realize this morning is that we don’t worship in the face of violence as much as we worship in the wake of violence. We do not stand defiant, face-to-face with violence and worship God. Violence knocks us off our feet and scurries by in a hurry. We are left lying on the ground wondering what just happened. Our worlds and dreams and ambitions and best intentions as a people of faith are ‘shot to hell’ or ‘raped’ or ‘bombed’ or ‘killed’ and we, somehow, find ourselves gathering for worship in the wake of devastating violence. I am humbled by the courage and resilience of all the communities of faith that continue to worship in the wake of violence.
I look forward to going to Yale this summer to learn, share, and sing with people open to the reality of how we are a people of God worshiping in the face/wake of violence.