Last night at REVEAL: A Night for Worship (hosted here at Missiongathering) we spent some time engaging with the idea of a Liturgy of Doubt. Inspired by this segment of a talk from Peter Rollins, wherein he posits that the church could potentially be the place for people not to come and express their belief, but come to express their doubts, we sought out to create such a space.
Here’s a bit of what took place last night in what is being called, “the best church service I’ve ever been to.” -Kate Martin (Yes, she’s my wife… so what!? )
Open in Song
We kicked the night off with “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Great midtempo song. Good way to start off a more meditative/reflective night of worship. Not a ton of energy (which would be counter-productive), but not overly sleepy (which sets a difficult tone). Plus, it’s a great Call to Worship song…
All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice, and with us sing.
C’mon everybody, time to get yer praise on!
Call to Worship: Setting the Theme for the Night
After the opening song I took a few moments to explain what our time together was (hopefully) going to look like. I explained how we were going to look at the idea of Doubt and create a safe space to express those doubts. How Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can’t have one without the other, regardless what Joel Osteen tries to say.
I also lamented about how difficult it was to find music for this particular theme. There are not many (g0od) congregational worship songs that give voice to our doubts. Part of this is possibly because we’ve been trained in the church, by the church, that to Doubt is a negative thing. It is to be avoided, and shame on you for not having faith. So why would we want or need songs that would lead us to say/sing things that aren’t empirically true, or don’t lift us up to a more secure place of trust and hope?
So I said that several songs we were singing tonight I actually changed the lyrics to, so that they would better give voice to our struggles and our doubts. And other songs, songs that may have been written to give voice to our doubts, unfortunately all tend to resolve by Verse 3 or the Bridge. So that, by time the song is over, you’ve come out of your place of Doubt and are expressing an attitude of faith and trust. But life doesn’t resolve so quickly… why then should our liturgy?
Worship through Song
We then sang “40” by U2. A great song inspired by the Psalm of lament found in chapter 40.
I’ve waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry // How long, to sing this song?
Invited everyone to pause and to center themselves, and invite God to open our hearts a bit further to the reality that God is a secure Being. So secure, in fact, that God is not offended by our doubts. God does not get frustrated at us when we get frustrated at God. We need to let go of the destructive theology that views God as having low self esteem and gets all bent out of shape when we go through seasons of Doubt. And we would do well to live in to the reality that God actually might be inviting us to express our Doubts.
Worship through Song
“When the Tears Fall,” by Tim Hughes, is a really cool song. Some strong lyrics that really fit the night well, but still opting for a blend of doubt and faith. So that we cannot fully sing about our questions and our struggles and our pain without covering it on a higher plane with a bigger umbrella of trust and hope that trumps everything else. For instance, Verse 1:
I’ve had questions, without answers
I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain
Love it. But then:
But there’s one thing, that I’ll cling to
You are faithful, Jesus you’re true
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great verse. And I believe it. But the problem is that there have been times in my life where I haven’t believed it. Where I haven’t clung to Jesus as being faithful or true. My life demonstrated just the opposite. And I’ll bet YOU have been there, too. So singing this just feels disingenuous sometimes. But, other times it’s not. Other times it’s GREAT to declare our sense of trust and hope in the midst of life’s storms. I’m all for that. That doesn’t mean, though, that we aren’t also in need of songs that just give us a chance to voice our despair and doubt.
Anyways, I chose to alter the lyrics of Verse 3 so that we could at least END the song in existential despair… ha!
When confusion, is all around me
And the darkness is my closest friend
When the laughter fails to comfort
When my heart aches, Lord are you there? (the original lyrics: Lord, you are there)
Video Clips: Peter Rollins on Doubt
Then we watched two short video clips of Peter Rollins talking about Doubt. The first video he throws out the idea of God doubting God. That Jesus, while on the cross, cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as a demonstration of despair and doubt. So he suggests that when we lean in to our doubts, and embrace our dark nights of the soul, that we are then standing in the very sight of Christ.
As a way to complement this, I set up three canvases on the right part of the stage. And throughout the evening I invited and artist to write the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on these three canvases. First lightly in pencil, then gradually heavier and darker with a black pen, a black sharpie, and finally with black paint. So it was cool having her off on the side expressing this sentiment over and over again, getting bigger, darker and bolder.
The second video, as I mentioned above, was when Peter challenged faith communities to consider a Liturgy of Doubt.
I think it’s important to provide interactive elements in our corporate worship so that it’s not all just passive/observational experiences. So I had signs printed up that were from a poem called, “An Approach to God – Losing My Religion” and posted these all around the sanctuary in groups of two. One sign would be a positive expression of faith in God. The other sign would be a negative expression, a statement of doubt.
I also had small cards printed up and put on everyone’s chair before they got there that read “Sometimes I doubt __________________.”
So during this part of the gathering I invited people to take some time and interact with their own doubts. I invited them to get up from their chair, walk around the room, and read all seven stations. And if, while reading one of the signs, you find yourself resonating with the idea on the sign, then just sign your own name on the paper. As a way of saying, “yup, I can relate.” Then, take your card and write out three things that sometimes you doubt. It could be doubts you have now, it could be things you’ve doubted in the past, it could be things you always struggle with.
Can I just say, this part of the gathering blew me away.
I got off the stage and took part in the seven stations around the room, and it was incredibly powerful to stand there and watch people willingly and publicly sign their own names on some pretty heavy expressions of doubt.
And everybody was doing it!
Everyone was be honest and saying, “yup… I’ve had that thought before about God.” Or, “yep, I’ve doubted God in that area.” It was so powerful to be a part of this expression of both faith AND doubt on a corporate level.
Worship Through Song
The old Hymn, “Come Ye Sinners,” but without the slightly cheesy chorus that was added to the original hymn by someone else at a later time. It goes like this:
I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in his arms
And in the arms of my dear Jesus / Oh there are, 10,000 charms
What the?! Why would an armful of charms be appealing to me? Anyways… the verses to this song are golden. Especially when you go back to the original version of it and add in the few lines at the end of each verse that the “chorus” writer took off.
Scripture Reading – Psalm 44
Original Song: How Long
About 6 weeks ago I was frustrated by the lack of songs that express Doubt, so I chose to just write one. I had read Psalm 44 and was struck by how the Psalm started on a positive note (God, you’ve done all these great things for us and for our fathers…) but then takes a sharp turn at the end (But where the heck are you now? Are you sleeping? Wake up! If you really love us, then help us!”).
It’s called “How Long,” and you can hear the live performance of it here, if you’d like.
How Long (Live)
Interactive Element Cont’d
Then I invited everyone to turn their chairs and get in to groups of 3-5 people. Once in their groups, they were to go around and each share what they wrote on their “Sometimes I doubt _____________” cards. But I told them they could only read them. They could not set it up, or put it in context, or tell a bigger story. Or say, “sometimes I doubt_________, but not right now! Right now I’m good!”
Nope. Just read your doubts. Outloud. To others.
And then we put a phone number on the screens and invited people to text in some of their doubts.
After several minutes passed, and people shared their doubts with one another, I sang the song “Silence of God,” a real gem by Andrew Peterson. Seriously, pause now and go listen to it!
During this song we put on our screens some of the doubts that had been text in.
It was a really, really cool moment.
As I’m singing this amazing song about the silence of God people are looking up and reading all these different types of Doubts. And they are discovering this: You are not alone.
You are not the only one who doubts.
You are not the only one with THIS SPECIFIC doubt.
Very cool moment.
Reading from “How (Not) to Speak of God”, by Peter Rollins
A buddy then got up and read a parable from this book. The parable imagined a small community of people who, right after Jesus was crucified, left the city and started a small faith community in a remote village. This faith community continued on and lived out the teachings and the values and principles of the Way of Christ, never knowing about any resurrection or ascension. But they viewed the Love of Jesus and the Way of Jesus as having inherent and intrinsic value that, even though it ended in death for Jesus and would end in death for them, they were committed to that way of love and peace. And then, after about 300 years, a small group of missionaries found this remote village and preached to them about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The community was elated and ecstatic and celebrated throughout the night, but no one could find the village elder. Finally, one of the missionaries found the elder alone at the outskirt of the village, clearly saddened. The missionary wondered why he wasn’t joining in the celebration, for Jesus is not dead but alive! The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the face:
Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judge him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him not because of the implicit value he has, but because of the value that he posses for them.’
I’m not sure why I chose to end the night with this parable, but it just seemed fitting.
What if, in a life full of sorrow and pain and suffering, we were not assured of any resolution from our doubts? What if all we had to look forward to was death?
Would we still follow Jesus? Would we still live in his love, and live out his love?
Is he worthy of our allegiance because of what he can do for us? Or because of who. He. Is.
Close in Song
And, though I partially didn’t want to, we closed the evening with “It is Well With My Soul.” It’s just such a great song, even though it semi-sort-of worked against the point of the evening. Ha!
It really was a phenomenal exercise in practicing a Liturgy of Doubt. Something I think the Church would do well to embrace, embody, and invite people to engage in.
Thanks to those of you who came out and went there with me. I hope you found it as meaningful as I did.
We’ll see you at the next REVEAL on Sunday night, November 4th at 7pm.
p.s. I did a talk a few months back wherein I explored more about what it might look like to Lean in to Your Doubts. You can check that out here.