Here in Haiti, unless I have other church engagements, I have been attending Port-au-Prince Fellowship, which is an English-speaking church originally targeted (it seems to me) at the large number of expats, NGO volunteers, and foreign government workers. Today the church has a pretty balanced congregation of English-speaking Haitians and us foreigners. I love this church because I encounter God there on a weekly basis in a room full of truly diverse cultures.
Two weeks ago I invited my translator, Junior, to attend with me if he would like on a Sunday. He usually attends a Haitian church, but from what I can tell, he is not very consistent and his faith is still very shallow. That weekend he came and he really got into the worship time. Then in the sermon he gained some enlightenment on the Christian life that he had not been exposed to before, which he kept talking about all week. (I am not saying this to speak against Junior’s normal church. I don’t know it. I am speaking only of his personal lack of understanding.) This experience led him to come back again with me the next Sunday.
This time Junior was even more moved in the worship time. He was already dancing the time before, but now that he was familiar enough to be comfortable in the church, he let loose. He was more expressional with his hands. He was singing every word to every song whether he knew the tune or not. Then… he embarrassed me…
Now I say that he embarrassed me simply to be truthful. I am convinced that this is my fault as you will see, and not anything he did wrong. I was caught up in my own expectations of what should be done in church, and was in a bind on how to respond to him once this all happened.
Now, this church is what you might call “less-than-traditional.” It started for people who wanted a more contemporary style and more freedom to express themselves in worship. As you might expect, then, during the prayer time it isn’t just the pastor that prays, but throughout the congregation you hear many voices rising up asking God to meet with us. My embarrassment on Sunday came when one voice rose up louder and longer than any other during the prayer time: Junior’s.
Louder, at times, than even the pastor’s voice coming through the sound system, was Junior’s voice calling out to God in pursuit of Him. I believe his prayer was sincere, committing to follow God with His life and asking for a stronger faith and forgiveness of sin. And normally in church we love those prayers. The problem wasn’t what he was praying, but (as most American church-goers would notice) was the disruptiveness of his prayer. Apart from my own, I could also sense some impatience and agitation on the part of those seated closest to us, in front and behind.
I mean, yes, this is church so we want to meet with God. But there is still this sense that people need to have boundaries in their pursuit, even in the freedom of worship. Or is that just me?
Another Disruptive Worshipper
As I have been going through the book of Mark in my devotional time, one of my favorite stories in scripture was brought back to mind to challenge me during Junior’s prayer on Sunday. It is found in Mark 10:46-52:
And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52 ESV)
As the crowds are following (pursuing?) Jesus, what we see is one voice that cries out above the rest, disruptive to what everyone else was doing. What I have always loved about this story is that when the crowd tells Bartimaeus to shut it, he refuses and cries out all the more recklessly. And the Bible says that because of his cries, “Jesus stopped” and granted his request.
What is interesting to note is that the faith of the crowd did not receive the miracle in this story. The status quo seldom does. Instead it was the faith of the one who, even obnoxiously, refused to let his requests go ignored by God.
What sticks out to me so pointedly in this story where the experience with Junior is concerned, is the fear that I have become on of the people who feels the need to rebuke and silence someone who’s worship is too disruptive for the crowd’s tolerance level. I sincerely want people to encounter Jesus, so why then would I tell them to tone down their pursuit?
To be honest, I don’t know why I felt led to write this today. Maybe it’s simply a confession that I too easily lose sight of eternal reality because I’m distracted with the here and now. Maybe it’s a warning to all of us who hold so tightly to our personal preferences that we will fight to maintain the status quo. Maybe it’s a commentary on Christian judgmentalism, even by those who decry such a thing.
For me, I think it’s a challenge. I am learning that I can either be a part of the crowd and only receive from God what the crowd receives, or I can let my faith – like Bartimaeus’; like Junior’s – get a little reckless sometimes in hopes of seeing more.
What about you? When have you been a part of the crowd, caught silencing the dissident? When have you been the one with the reckless faith and had it pay off despite being told to tone it down? I would love to hear your thoughts or stories in the comments section.