I attend a school where chapel is mandatory. Now, I get that I go to a private Christian college and that it’s my own fault for attending here. But that does not mean, however, that I have to agree with the polices (after all, there’s a reason I’m transferring!) or like it one little bit.
This week in chapel, the theme was Your Story Is Important. Which I agree. Everyone has an important story. From the drug dealer turned Christian overnight, to the one raised in a Christian home goody two shoes, to the abused little girl, they all have important stores and they mattered. But what bothered me in chapel is that all the stories had a happy ending.
I missed Thursday, so maybe Thursday’s story didn’t have a happy ending. But it still bothers me that all the stories told more or less had a happy ending and that was “God working through it.” The thing is, not all stories have a happy ending. Not all things in life wind up working out just right. And the thing is, God is still working through it. God is still working and glorious, magnificent and holy, even if all the ends aren’t perfectly tied together. God is still God, and the stories are still important.
So why, then, are the stories of those still struggling left untold? Why are their stories shoved aside? Does no one want to hear the real, raw stories of pain and anguish? Don’t they get it? God doesn’t always give happy endings. He’s not J. K. Rowling, who tortured her characters but in the end they all wound up all mushy and conquering and stuff. But that’s not life. That’s not how life works, but it seems that at times it’s how Christians depict it. It bothers me. It bothers me to the core. But what can we done until those who are still struggling have the courage to step out and share their stores?
Disclaimer: I do not claim this statement to be universal. I don’t think it’s true of every single speaker, but I do feel that it’s something that needs to be said. I do not say these things with ill intent, but more thoughts I ponder about.
I sometimes feel that chapel is one big guilt trip. “Forgive those who have hurt you.” “Go into the ministry.” “Get your life right with God.” “Do this, do that.” And at times it’s frustrating because even though I’m sure that’s not what they mean to send across, it’s certainly how it comes across.
And tying in with the cliche guilt trip, I often feel that chapel dances around real issues. It seems that they rotate similar messages: Be a better Christian, get closer to God. Donate your money, donate your time. Forgive, forget, move on. Trust God. Believe in God. Worship God. Work at summer camp. Go into the ministry. Don’t go into the ministry. Tithe. It just seems that they roll out the same issues we’ve heard over and over again in chapel.
I sometimes wish for a real, raw chapel. Not candy-coated sugar-frosted Christianity, but about real issues that students here struggle with. Eating disorders. Abuse. Self injury. Homosexuality. Greed. Gossip/slander/libel. Bullying. Yet it seems we like to turn a blind eye and don’t realize that these things happen on our own campus. We find out a student struggles with suicidal thoughts, and our mind goes to “Oh, they must not be right with God.” “Oh, this and that and this and that.”
I feel that our chapel speakers just run the typical guilt trip, toying with our emotions. Not all of them, a few are exempt from this statement. But nevertheless, it’s very annoying and frustrating just to see the same cliched guilt trips run over and over.
I often feel like a failure as a Northwestern student, because I don’t like chapel. I hate it. I hate praise chapel. My first “I hate Chapel” rant will focus on praise chapel. Stay tuned for other rants about how I hate many chapel messages, many chapel speakers, edit on 1/18/11 and whatnot. And I don’t truly “hate chapel”, but I feel that there are many issues within it.
I hate how many of the songs are “me” centered and not “God” centered. Look, folks, if you’re going to sing a song that worships your alleged divine creator, then sing about what He’s done for YOU. Sing about what He means for YOU. Not what He’s going to DO for You, not how He makes You feel. Your lyrics should worship the Creator, the one You claim to adore.
Second, to me it feels like chapel is a big show. Who can raise their hand the highest. Who can sing the loudest. Who “looks” the most into worshiping. Worshiping is not meant to be a show, and frankly, that’s what praise chapel looks like at Northwestern. A show, and nothing more. I often feel like the lyrics from the Jon Foreman song:
Your eyes are closed when you’re praying
You sing right along with the band
You shine up your shoes for services
There’s blood on your hands
You turned your back on the homeless
And the ones that don’t fit in your plan
Quit playing religion games
There’s blood on your hands
Now, I’m not claiming to know the heart of Northwestern. I’m only a college student and I only see my own heart, and I know there are genuine people there. But we would all be naïve to believe that every one of those students is legit, that every one is genuine. Some are only trying to keep up appearances. Some are putting on a show because the momentary “religous high” numbs the pain in their life, just for a little while. Instead of searching for a true fix, they just go from “God high” to “God high”, with little interest to God in between worship jams.
And for someone who has a sensory processing disorder, praise chapel is complete hell. It’s complete sensory overload for something like that. If you can’t handle loud noise, crowds, or darkness, it’s not the place for you. It’s a place that’s supposed to be safe, but can quickly cause panic.
I’m not bashing cooperate worship. I realize it’s a Biblical concept. However, the way Northwestern goes about it I don’t believe is right, and I believe that changes need to be made. I’m not one to say what the changes need to be, and even if I did no one would listen to be. Apparently I’m a flaming liberal to most Northwestern students, and my opinion holds little water because it’s not the majority opinion. I don’t even claim to be right, and I don’t even know that the others are fully wrong, per se. And I realize that by the end of those post, most anyone reading this likely things I’m an insane heathen or that I’m not right with God.
But I don’t feel that praise chapel is the best thing for Northwestern. It always, from my first time in it, gave me an uneasy feeling. And I can’t put my finger on it, other than some of the thoughts explored here.
During homecoming, I turned to one of my closest friends, Anna, and told her “Anna, my life is never boring.” Right after I get out of the car, my friend Sam’s friend Dan whom I’ve never met but is my Facebook friend, walks up to me and says hi. Well, hi, friend of a friend whom I’ve never met!