On Boredom

A local branch of our area’s mega-church has moved into town. They’ve been here for a year or two already, but they’ve just recently completed construction on their new facility.

Anyways, they’ve erected a billboard proclaiming “God isn’t boring, church shouldn’t be either”.

While I can appreciate the sentiment behind the proclamation, I can’t drive past the billboard without wanting to cringe.

Don’t hear me wrong.  I don’t want people to be bored in church.  But neither do I want people being formed to think in terms that make their boredom (or lack thereof) a significant issue.

My grandma used to say that if you’re bored, it’s your fault.  You can always find plenty of ways to occupy yourself…there is no shortage of work to be done, or prayers to be said…so stop expecting to be entertained every minute of your life.

I can’t count the number of times I would sit in church as a child, counting words, then letters, in our church bulletin.  Sometimes I would lay down in our pew and count the tiles in the ceiling.  I also tried to find images in a water-stain on that same ceiling.  If I was too fidgety or disruptive, my parents would put me in my place.  So I learned how to occupy myself in non-disruptive ways, how to count down the minutes until Sunday School.

In other words, I remember Sundays when I was bored out of my mind.

It’s only in looking back that I can see where boredom taught me how to sit still, how to be quiet, how to wait.  Boredom taught me that there was something mysterious going on in church that was bigger than me, and that I needed to respect that mystery.

If not for myself, then for the other people in the room.

Fast forward twenty years, and this billboard, in my mind, symbolizes everything that’s wrong with contemporary expressions of faith.  “Mainstream” churches, and far too many individual Christians are buying in (or is it selling out) to the cultural notion that with enough technology, enough money, enough ways to fill our time…we never have to be bored.

And we can even call our tech-infused, Sunday morning playtime “Mission”.

We’ve successfully moved our individual and subjective experience to the center of Christian faith.  Where once mature Christians emphasized the importance of solitude, silence, and simplicity, we have instead embraced crowded space, ambient noise, and the technology to keep us connected to our artificial, superficial, and less-than-real communities of ‘friends’, all the time.

Heaven forbid the first disciples were ever bored.

After all, what might that say about the view of God their rabbi taught?

I take issue with the phrase “God isn’t boring, church shouldn’t be, either”.  Not because I think God or church should be boring…but rather because it’s akin to saying “Dads aren’t boring, families shouldn’t be, either”… or “Women aren’t boring, marriage shouldn’t be, either”.

It just doesn’t make any sense.  Yet I have a suspicion this message appeals most to the very people who need it the least.

Most of us could stand to slow down.  We could stand to unplug, get away from the screen, go for a walk, get some exercise, or just sit for a time with nothing going on.

It would do us some good to remember the Christ who confronted his demons alone, in the wilderness, the Christ who withdrew to solitary places, the Christ who walked and the disciples who followed, step after weary step, mile after dusty mile.

It would do us some good to remember the Christian way that has existed (indeed, even thrived) for thousands of years without all of the distractions that defend us against boredom, against our very selves.

I guess I think it’s OK for church to be boring…much in the same way it’s OK for church to be exciting, because boredom is a state of mind we bring to the task at hand.

In other words, if you’re bored, look further inward.  Why are you not standing in awe of the Almighty God?

Why are you not humbled before the throne, giving your worship in spite of whatever is happening “up front”?

Why are you not, instead of critiquing the ‘performance’, spending your mental energy examining the dark recesses of your own spirit?

If you’re pinning your experience of church on the worship leader, or the band, or the preacher and how well they perform, you’re heart is in the wrong place.

It’s not about boredom or excitement.

It’s about God.

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