Posted by: jadanzzy | October 15, 2007

Green Tea Worship

G.K. Chesterton wrote in his amazing book, Orthodoxy:

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason… The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason… Materialists and madmen never have doubts… Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have the mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.

I could use this quote to talk about the harms modernity has done to the Christian faith, namely by overly systematizing Biblical truths to the point of sapping all the mystery and the nebulousness of Wonder and Beauty. That is how Brian McLaren used the quote in his “Why I Am Mystical/Poetic” chapter in Generous Orthodoxy. Or maybe I’m not letting Mr. Chesterton just say what he wants to say without me or anyone else bastardizing it. However, I will continue to bastardize for my purposes. Thank you, Mr. Chesterton.

Over this past year, I’ve grown weary AND wary of the current forms of worship music that have taken form, built upon the years of modern contemporary Christian worship. (For those of you who do not know what modern Christian worship music sounds like, listen to your mainstream pop/rock radio station, and substitute the silly lyrics for Christianese. Or just imagine U2 playing at church.) Worship music has been kidnapped by presentation, glamour, “relevance,” and Taylor guitars. Where has sacredness gone? Where has the mystery gone? And yes, where has the mysticism gone?

The Eastern Orthodox faith is the yang to the Western Christian yin. This is a bad analogy, however, because there isn’t much of a harmony that exists between the two. I just wasted your time. Whereas the Western Christian tradition is based on reason, proposition, and logic, the Eastern Orthodox faith is based on mystery, silence, contemplation, and a certain level of mysticism (see Holy Minimalism). In Eastern Orthodoxy, God speaks in our silence. God speaks through our slow soaking of Scriptures. God speaks through the quiet of the environment.

It’s time for Western Christian worship music to embrace this philosophy. We’ve been fed extremely sugary and fatty foods and the time has come for us to add some unadulterated green tea into the diet. Sit quietly in a sun-lit room on a beautiful day. Close your eyes and feel the warmth of the mug in your hands. Bring the mug up to your face; the steam soothes your skin. Smell the intoxicatingly pure aroma. Now take a slow sip. Experience the heavenly taste. Your eyes are still closed. Remember the sun shining through the blinds and warming your body. And, as a finale, a smile forms on your face. It’s inevitable.

Meeting God through music can be like this too.



  1. good post

    i like holy minimalism

    the loss of the sacred is a really interesting concept, simply because i think that the various forms of worship that have evolved over time were all at one point sacred. it sort of goes along with the idea that our manifestations of faith must continue to evolve. and i agree that some of the contemporary christian music scene was aimed much more at trying to infiltrate and provide user-friendly alternatives to the supposedly demonic secular music. a noble effort and one of good intentions at the time, but i think it somehow translated into our worship and how we engage with the reality of God.

    hey, but i LIKE u2. sue me.

    i don’t know where the green tea part came from, other than the fact that you really really like green tea. i could say the same thing about spaghetti (not being facetious, i really think great spaghetti can be an otherworldly experience).

    nice narrative though. it felt healthy to even read it.

  2. Speaking of otherworldly foods, I’ve had near divine experiences with ice cream. Mmmmm.

    In any event, I think allowing space for silence, the holy minimalism of which you speak, is uncomfortable for the same reason that it is necessary. In the silence our hearts become increasingly exposed to the holy and the facade of vulnerability that pervades much of our lives is stripped away. Emotions, fears, thoughts, conviction of sin — all the things that we don’t want to deal with, become immediately accessible in a place and time when we most want to appear to have it all together.

  3. that last full paragraph was a great experience. i’ve never done it but now i have. thanks. u just saved me the trouble of doing it actually. ha. (i’m such a classic “N”)

    the problem with systematic theology is that it’s taught as an end result and people who “learn” it dont have the benefit of going through the actual journey that happens to end in a fancy idea such as “substitutionary atonement”. thus oftentimes rendering christian jargon useless.

    an average christian will attest to how “good” hymns are but as vehicles to aid in worship they are either sublime or absolutely meaningless because of how easily a single word (let alone an entire verse) might go over one’s head. and also when an average western christian is talking about how “good” hymns are they are usually, on one level, pridefully judging the “shallowness” of “contemporary Christian worship music” which is also unfair because hillsong has has its place as well.

    but i also believe that it is possible to “graduate” from hillsong hash or at least additionally use a non-conventional medium that allows a mingling of one’s knowledge of God with any Beauty with a capital “B” (music, a beverage, some ice cream, or just an elegant but majestic tree)

    but without some knowledge of God, a mystical approach can be just as useless.

    and i can also easily imagine a holy minimalistic worship service being absolutely sublime/edifying.

    but just dont be surprised when an outsider looking in wonders what drugs we might be on.

  4. taylor guitars!

  5. i think when we just focus in on churchy forms of worship, it can become pretty “unproductive” worship. there are ways to enhance ur understanding of the gospel, or make certain aspects of it more meaningful through things that don’t have much meaning on their own. like drinking green tea, or eating spaghetti or ice cream. when you take in more of these experiences, your worship becomes more rich, and you don’t have to have a climactic outburst of emotion in order to feel connected to God, or feel like he’s pleased with you for worshiping him through song.

    something non-food related that i’ve experienced recently deals with the idea of sight. in “pilgrim at tinker creek”, a book i’ve been reading, the author talks about blind people who receive sight through surgery. i won’t go in detail, but generally some people still won’t use their new sense of sight because they’re used to being blind. others try to adapt, and their perceptions of the world are totally different from ours. one girl in particular tries to describe how she sees a tree – “the tree with the lights in it”. the author in turn has her own experience with “the tree with the lights in it”. if anyone knows what i’m talking about, they will probably have goosebumps now. there’s too much to say about what this all means… the point is, going from darkness to light, or blindness to sight has a lot more meaning after reading that chapter!

    i think danny’s also onto something when he talks about the dif between the journey and the end goal. if we’re forced to go on a journey, we’ll probably just be thinking about the end goal, even though the one that’s forcing us probably got more from the journey than he or she or ourselves may have realized.

  6. wow. awesome comments. asimptote, your comment elicited a guffaw in me. however, something that i want to say in response is that whatever meditative/sacred/minimal/etc. worship i want to experiment with or experience is not solely for an “otherworldly” experience.

    the church is a hospital where ALL are sick. we’re sick from the mass amounts of stimuli that we’re plagued with day to day, week to week. church, however, is a metaphorical place for the weary and the heavy-laden. if music can not only be a healing force from the “noise”, but an purely spiritual force as well, then it should be exercised in that way.

    lastly, western worship music, contemporary or “hymnal,” is based, to some degree, on the logical reasoning of the individual singing the song. instead, what i hope for is a simple, biblically lyrical, even at times repetitive philosophy to music so that God ministers through the simplicity of Scripture and whatever the words of Scripture mean for the individual. That is the beauty of the power of the Holy Spirit.

    i wonder if any of this makes sense, the best way to convey it is to make it happen and see how the Church responds.

  7. On the first reading of your post, I agreed with your posting, especially in light of my visit to a monastery a year ago. Their service contained a divine simplicity and the mystery of the customs and language brought me to a place of reverence and worship. The foreign songs captivated my attention as my soul was able to enjoy every note as a small glimpse of God’s beauty. I would say that another GK Chesterton quote best describes my experience, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.”

    Now, I would concur that the mysticism and sacredness has changed significantly over the ages. In my limited experience with Christianity, I can see a world of difference between older traditions of the monastery and the newer movements of contemporary churches.

    I also agree that trying new things and combining ideas from various sources may provide more insight (as it is a core principle of post-modernity).

    However, I would be lying if I said that I was unable to worship God in the aforementioned form of contemporary worship. I think that it may be difficult to see God in some types of worship, but I have to believe He’s still there as He always has been.

    Am I contradicting myself in agreeing that modern worship has lost sight of God, but it still worships God? No, the worship bands need to rebuke their hearts and we, the worshipers, need to also open our eyes to see Him in all worship.

    Isn’t it funny that the older forms of worship seemed to lack relevance and connection to the culture of its time, and today it seems to have lost the sacredness and holiness of worship?

    Thought provoking post. Thanks, jadanzzy.

  8. Great discussion! I think a lot of this centers around balance. The church has a tendency, as Sam pointed out, to drift too far in one direction and then push back even harder in the opposite direction as a corrective.

    For example, the “seeker-sensitive” megachurch movement of the 80s and 90s appealed to many who grew up in a church that they felt was stodgy and outdated. The “churchy’ language, and even architecture, was turning people away from Christ. And so, these churches began to emphasize excellence in production and cultural relevance as a way of engaging these “seekers.”

    Ironically, many people who came to faith in these churches would eventually leave about 10 to 15 years later — precisely for the same reasons that kept them away from the church in the first place: there was no sense of the mystery and holiness of God.

    Robust, even systematic, theology is important. However, as Dan rightly points out, the goal of theology is not to eliminate wonder. Rather, theology should lead to more awe, deeper wonder. Unfortunately, our modern, industrialized instincts find it much easier to quantify “spiritual growth” by the number of quiet times we have each week than by how much we actually love God and His people.

    By the way, I would weep for joy if U2 was the worship band at our church 🙂 It’s all of the horrible imitators that feel so wrong.

  9. I wonder if through this post, we are trying to hard to find alternate expressions of worship instead of really getting to the meat of it. Take it far enough, and we will have people who either spend their entire day trying to find practical methods of worship or the exact opposite, fight all forms of worship because they are man made entities. Did David really have it all in his Psalms exercising both silence and screaming?

    Here’s what I like about the blog – it provokes us to stop only doing what we’ve been exposed/brought up to do as tradition. I personally despise the fact that people follow tradition without understanding the roots of their actions. It shows us that various cultures have their own methods to engaging with God.

    Here’s what I don’t like – what is worship really? How many people really get stirred up and overwhelmed by the awesome goodness and holiness of God just by understanding his nature and character without going into an emotional crescendo. Most people have to look at nature or be swayed by music or have gone through an experience that they need to understand the why of.

    I love Christian music, sermons, community events, nature, and solitude/reflection. But…

    Why is it that worship has been perverted through everything that God does (creation, music, etc) instead of who He simply is?

  10. Forget the expressions of worship for a minute and let’s focus on the object of our worship. Isn’t that what the heart of worship is anyway? To get to really KNOW who the object of our worship is.

    The more I KNOW my sister, the more I adore her. The adoration is a natural process and the expressions come easy and with much joy. I find pleasure in her happiness. Instead of worrying about whether music or silence or solitude or community is a necessary expression, let’s get back to the main thing…

    We can only truly worship a God that we know intimately – and that cannot/will not come as a function of practicing worship, but as a function of an intimate knowledge.

  11. I feel that enjoying the best things about life such as music and nature are enjoying God. No, I don’t believe in animism or any bologna like that. I’m saying that we’ve robbed ourselves of the beauty of enjoying the pleasures in life because we are so afraid of things being “idols” to us.

    I’ve been “trained” too much about how emotionalism is bad when it comes to worship music. But the “standard” worship music sung in church assumes emotionalism, and I don’t mean a pure emotionalism. You can define what ‘pure emotionalism’ means.

    I don’t know what it looks like to you when you want to know God for who He is? Where do we find that? Scripture? Is scripture not a medium for a knowledge of God? I’m not saying music is just as important. I’m saying that for some people, music is just, AT TIMES, more effective. Doesn’t the individual, then, come to love the main thing?

    [Yes, I believe in the authority of scripture in our lives and its unique and utterly special place in all of history. God willed for the historical events in scripture to speak to us and allow us to take wisdom from that and apply it in our lives.]

    My desire for silence, or reverence, or sacredness, or any form of contemplation as a BALANCE to everything else IS because of who God is. My point is that we’ve made, through our “modern” worship music, our songs about what we WANT even though we sing about who God is. Silence, in the very noisy western world, demands us to listen, and only listen to God.

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