Worship And Las Vegas: More Alike Than We Think

Photo by  Bradley Wentzel  on  Unsplash

It has been said what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And this has come to be more true than just keeping the “wild” that happened from being expressed in the “civilized.” The truth is that despite all the parties, concerts and mystic around the desert town, Vegas is just not that wild.

Of course most people who go to Vegas do not have the experience that we see in movies or have in our imaginations. Few people wake up with a tiger in their hotel room or win it big at the high rollers table. Still with all the promiscuity and sense of “all is allowed,” Vegas is not that wild because Vegas is an escape.

Vegas is the iconic escape location. Like all forms of escape, Vegas does give you access to the source that can transform your life, it only gives you an escape from your current life for a bit before you have to return to it. Escapism is among the most common ways to live our lives. It is seen when we are living for the weekend. The weekend is the “everymans” Vegas. We party hard on Friday and Saturday, recover on Sunday and then catch a “case of the Mondays” to start the next week. We do things on the weekend that we would/could not do in the week and we are “recharged” by these customs. We sleep in. We party. We drink and rest.

Escapism is also seen in the way we worship on Sunday mornings. We use language to talk about going to worship so we “can recharge” or “fill up” for the week. We talk about “re-connecting” with God on Sunday or, as one person said to me once, we get our “God fix” for the week. Worship is for many of us a form of escape – it gives us respite but we do not allow it to transform our lives. In this respect, Vegas and worship accomplish the same effects with different means.

The call is not to avoid the escapes in our lives. It is good to escape every now and again. The problem is when we cling to escapes we cannot grab a hold of the transformative. This is why worship calls us to “let go” and “open our hands” to “receive” and “give thanks.” Worship can be treated as an escape. It can also be the means to transformation. If worship is not leading us toward change and transformation and only feeding and nurturing, then worship may be an escape.

Remember “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is more than a slogan. It is the sirens song of escapism. If “what happens in worship stays in worship”, then worship is a less flashy manifestation of Vegas.

A Church Full of Lucifers and Crucifers

At the church I serve, each Sunday during worship young people carry lit candles down the sanctuary aisles. They carry their candles and use them to light candles on the communion table. We commonly call these young people "acolytes". Perhaps that is a better name than the earlier name of this role -- lucifers. 

Lucifer means "light bearer," which is exactly what we are called to be in the world. Christians are not the Light, but only bearers of the Light. Of course the problem with calling Christians lucifers is that through non-Biblical literature, that title has been given as a proper name to the Devil. While we may be called to be lucifers, we don't use that name. 

Another title that Christians have is one of "crucifer". If we look to the procession in the Church, there are those who carry in the light and there is the one who carries in the cross. The one who carries the cross is called the "crucifer". Oddly enough this title has not been appropriated to the Devil or anything else. Frankly, the language of crucifer is lost in the Protestant tradition and very limited in the Catholic tradition. 

It is a shame that we as Christians are hesitant to take on the titles of lucifer and crucifer, because we are called to carry the light and to carry the cross into the world.

Reciting Creeds: Act of Humility and Justice

Creeds are interesting in that they serve several functions in the Christian tradition. For many they are seen as a litmus test for who is Christian and who is not. I would submit that this is a misuse of the creeds of our tradition and to distill their role as just a test we all sign off on cheapens the richness of the creeds. 

So what else are creeds? 

I would submit that reciting the creed in corporate worship is more an act of humility and justice rather than a way to decide who is in and who is out. The creeds stated in worship, for the most part, are older than the people speaking them today. And this highlights why recited creeds are an act of humility and justice. Because these words are not "our" words means that we must stop talking and speak the words of others. When we speak these words we are humbled with the reality that others might have something to teach us. 

Even more than that, when we give voice to the voiceless we participate in a act of justice. While the creeds are often written by those in power in their time, those people are no longer in power. Said another way, when we give voice to the powerless we recall all those who are powerless and voiceless. 

So when you say a creed, perhaps you do not believe all (or any) of the lines, that is okay. Say them anyway. Say them as a practice of humility and as an act of justice. Then go out into the world and continue works of humility so that justice may be made real for all. 

And perhaps, that is the greater goal of our creeds.

Worship: The Anti-Selfie

So it turns out so far in 2015, there have been 12 deaths resulting from selfie mishaps while there have only been 8 deaths resulting in shark attacks. 

We can roll our eyes at the selfie and think that those who take them are a narcissistic bunch. Maybe that is true, but the way I see it, the selfie is less an expression of narcissism and more an expression of how we in the Western part of the world value the individual.

In the U.S.A., the emphasis on the individual has entered into the mainstream debate almost every time you encounter the news.

  • Does an individual have the right to take a gun anywhere they want to, even in places where guns had historically been banned?

  • Does an individual have a right to privacy?

  • Does an individual have the right to refuse a public office if part of the public office violates the individual’s beliefs?

We see the rights of the individual taken to extreme examples when people walk up to celebrities and take selfies with them, without the permission of the celebrity.

In 2006 TIME Magazine declared that the person of the year was “You”.

The rise of the individual has also brought with it a great number of goods. Women’s suffrage, Voting Rights Act of 1965, freedom to choose where and how to worship, social integration, and personal responsibility are just a few ways we are indebted to individualism.

I am not saying that individualism is good or bad, but rather that if we think that the youngest generations are selfish, entitled or freeloaders because they are somehow inferior as a people we may be missing a critical point here. These expressions of the individual may not reflect a narcissistic generation but a generation that has only expanded on the values of individualism they inherited.

And perhaps because individualism is a dominant value of our time is why we worship.

At the core, worship is the anti-selfie. Corporate worship is one of the last places in the world that is designed to de-center us from our own lives

Everything in worship is a de-centering practice. For instance:

  • you follow a script that you did not write

  • you are invited to sing - in public - when you might not normally do so

  • you do not get to choose the words in the creeds

  • you do not get to choose who preaches

  • you do not get to choose where every dollar we give goes to

  • you don’t get to choose how God will speak to us or what God will say

And perhaps because worship is the “anti-selfie” we see a number of people of all ages who do not like worship. Even the very idea of liking worship still places the the emphasis on personal preferences and not on de-centering oneself.

The very act of corporate worship is counter-cultural in the days of individualism because corporate worship forces us to step down off our individual throne from an hour and de-center ourselves.