Ephesians 2:21 ŇIn him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.Ó
This past week I went with a friend to a bar to hear an 80-year-old Cape Cod legend play jazz. My knowledge of bars is extremely limited—itŐs not usually my scene—so the new bit of information that I learned may be old hat to you. Nevertheless, I learned the meaning of Ňpiano bar.Ó
I always thought a piano bar was a bar where someone played the piano. Well, thatŐs true to a point. But the phrase Ňpiano barÓ refers to the practice of having the body of the piano actually BE the bar where people sit and put their drinks. They had one at this club. It was a grand piano, and it was the one used by the band, even as people sat around it and placed their drinks on its (closed) top. By saying Ňpiano barÓ you donŐt just mean the piano and the person who plays it. You mean the community created by the music that is as much a part of the piano as fingers on a hand.
I found myself thinking of the churches IŐve seen where you need written permission and a $200 deposit to touch their piano. I wondered how the sound was different when played with filled glasses and elbows on top of it. It made me think of the different ideologies surrounding the piano. Is it a performance instrument or a means of creating community? I remembered how that ideological difference affects my own ability to play. I had classical piano lessons for ten years, but to this day I cannot perform on the piano. No matter how much I practice, when everything gets quiet and people focus on me, performance anxiety sets in and I canŐt play. It is a completely different scene, however, when a bunch of people want to sing Christmas carols or have fun with a Broadway Fake Book. In that setting, I can do just fine. Well, as long as there are chords.
My musings about the piano bar made me think about church where we often have a similar difference in ideology. Much church architecture is set up for a performance. Stage at the front with seating positioned to view the stage and often a fence (the communion rail) separating the two. And in many mainline churches we bring our performance expectations, whether we are the actors on the stage or the people in the audience. The liturgy and music should not have noticeable flaws. Everything should flow. And, of course, it should start and end on time. IŐve experienced amazing worship in those places.
But they arenŐt the only places where worship happens. There are other churches that are more like a piano bar than a classical piano concert. There are churches where the focus is on the community of those who gather, where worship is noisy rather than quiet. There are places where worship begins when you get there and you donŐt go home until youŐre done. And there is worship that doesnŐt happen in churches at all but around a campfire or a swimming pool or a dinner table. There are places that are more like jazz where youŐre likely to be pulled out of the audience to become part of the show when you have a talent to share.
I know from experience that God inhabits all those places, but I have to wonder how many people have the same issues with church that I have with piano performance. Do we create needless anxiety about our Christian performance? Do people have the sense that you canŐt sit around GodŐs table and chat but must observe quietly from a distance? When we hear ŇchurchÓ do we think of what happens at the front or do we think of the community created by the worship which is as much a part of it as fingers on a hand? ItŐs something to think about.
Call us to your table, Lord. Help us to find both you and each other. Amen.
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