Wednesday, May 4, 2011

KURT VONNEGUT'S DAYDREAM...AND MINE

"People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God."

Vonnegut is one of Indianapolis' own.  Or, was.  The novelist died in his 80's in 2007.  Though I haven't read all of Vonnegut's work, I appreciate what I have read, as agitating and crude as it can be.  Vonnegut was an iconoclast in the best sense of the word as I understand it. 

For all his rants about being atheist or agnostic, Vonnegut attended an Episcopal church next to New York City's Central Park quite regularly--up until the weeks before his death.

 Recently, this Vonnegut quip appeared on my cell phone via Twitter:

"People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God." 

The quote has recurred in my thoughts ever since.  I found that it's drawn from a sermon, "Palm Sunday," that he shared in 1980.  It seems like one of his context-spanning statements intended to reveal something of his soul and to goad everyone else's. 

Of course, we expect "preachments" when we go to church.  They come with the territory.  But that's not primarily why we go, is it? 

Serving for years as an urban pastor, I've invested a lot of time and energy into "preachments," both in preaching and teaching, both to inspire and to equip, both to challenge and to empower.  I'm not discounting "preachments."  As I go to church each week, I am anticipating spot-on preaching.  For me, sloppy, careless, uninteresting preaching is a huge turn-off.  But I've lived long enough to realize that even great preaching and teaching is not the primary reason we go to church.

I think Vonnegut is right, though until I read his phrase, I would not have articulated the reason I go to church that particular way.  Vonnegut opens the aperture wider than I would have.  But, yes, I can go there; I relate to what he's saying.  More than ever before, I go to church to "daydream about God." 

But that leaves me with a quandary.  In the church services I am usually a part of, there's no room for "daydreaming"--about God or anything else.  Church services are very busy.  They're filled with words.  They're filled with vocal and instrumental music.  They're filled with liturgy and ritual.  They're filled with urgent or suggested expectations for participation and response. 

I imagine all these activities in a church and church service CAN contribute to or lead one to "daydreaming about God," and I hope they do--more frequently than I imagine they do.  But I think they don't lead to "daydreaming about God" very easily or often. 

Maybe the older I get the more these usual and expected activities of worship seem to get in the way.  There was a time in which would have likely equated the presence of God or envisioning God with singing, preaching, scripture readings, prayers and Holy Communion in the gathered congregation.  More lately, I continue to go to church in spite of these and experience God's reality in ways other than these. 

It's not that preaching or singing or liturgy or drama cannot move me.  They can and they do.  But these are no longer necessary for my imagination to be fueled, my sense of transcendence awakened and my realization of God's love to be reaffirmed.  These means of grace remain means of grace, but I am finding the following, also, can be means of grace:

Sitting silently in a sacred place.

Listening to a sacred song being played on an instrument or sung as from one's heart.

Meditating on a portion or story of the Bible, or reading the lyrics of a sacred song.

Reflecting with a few friends about the Kingdom of God related to current events.

Being with people who are crying out and working together for justice and truth.

Walking or riding my bike through the woods and observing nature.

Observing grace at work in people I encounter.

Seeing someone who is earnestly striving academically have a personal breakthrough.

Contemplating how diversely people recognize and respond to their sense of the sacred and of God as they understand God.

Through writing or journaling.

Sometimes, during "preachments," just scribbling a few notes that are triggered by something said in a sermon/homily or that have absolutely nothing to do with what is being proclaimed.

These are some activities that activate and fuel my "daydreaming about God." Some occur within the gathered congregation and official public worship, but most occur outside that sacred time.


I still believe that God is present in a special way in the gathered community.  Would that, as a gathered community, we would make room for more "daydreaming about God."

I'm convinced--and I think Vonnegut was convinced--that "daydreaming about God" will lead to more honest questions, authentic encounters with grace, clearer understanding, greater compassion, and a readiness to act for justice with mercy.

So, go to church--in spite of what you like or don't like.  Go to daydream about God.  Or, go wherever you can daydream about God.  Maybe what you experience or receive will make a difference for your good and for the good of all.

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