On longing and the Asbury Revival.
As I write this, I have a YouTube livestream open and playing in the background, listening to the singing in the chapel at Asbury University in Kentucky - where a regular chapel service that started 12 days ago has not yet ended. From everything I have seen, the “revival” is a quiet one - it’s mostly just singing led by college students - on simple acoustic guitar and piano. I cannot claim to understand it, all I know is that every time I have tuned in over the past few days, it has made me a little teary. Which surprises me. I have not always been prone to mixing sentimentality and religion. Irony and religion, fine, but this Gen Xer usually recoils from anything that smacks of sap. But here I am, longing to sing in that room with 1,000 other open-hearted people.
What is happening in that chapel (and now in several overflow buildings that surround it), is being called the Asbury Revival. And people from all over the world have now streamed into a small town in Kentucky to join in.
Noticeably absent from the front of the chapel are: flashy praise bands, lighting systems, projectors and screens, celebrity worship leaders and people over 25.
There is such a simplicity, and dare I say, a humility to it.
And then there’s the commentary all over the internet about the revival. A simple search will bring up predictable critiques from both liberals and conservatives questioning the righteousness of what is happening in that chapel - based on very different criteria, but in a very similar spirit. I swear that social media should just be called “Joy Stealers Anonymous”. Analysis has its uses, but I’ve been left over the past couple days wondering: can we just absorb something with an open-hearted awe and curiosity for one fucking minute?
I actually wonder if exhaustion from culture wars, purity codes and the idolatry of ideology on all sides have led these young people to seek revival in the simplicity of constant prayer and singing in the first place. Yet it feels like the YouTube comments and think pieces ABOUT the revival are smearing it all back onto them.
I’ve often felt uncomfortable with praise and worship music due to lack of familiarity, an aversion to things that feel like performance in church, my own cynicism and need to feel in control, and memories of church camp and the spiritual manipulation of being whipped into an emotional state when I was young, away from home, sleep deprived and in need of acceptance.
But there is something in my soul which longs for what I am seeing on these live-streams. Or what I feel I am seeing.
So rather than make big stroke proclamations about what the Asbury Revival is or is not, I’m trying to just pay attention to what longing inside of me is being drawn up in buckets each time I tune in.
I long to sing with others
I long to be open-hearted
I long to trust something for once
I long to be un-self-conscious in my devotion to God
I long to witness something real
In a couple hours I will leave to go worship in the women’s prison, led by . . . a praise and worship band of incarcerated women whose need and love for God has changed something in me. I simply cannot be cynical about the music they lead us in - one of their favorite being a song titled, Chainbreaker.
If you’ve got pain He's a pain taker
If you feel lost He's a way maker
If you need freedom or saving
He's a prison-shaking Savior
If you've got chains
He's a chain breaker
I know that there can be a lot of cringe-worthy, ego soaked performance-y stuff in church. I know that when it comes to Christianity there are legitimate reasons for commentary and critique at every turn. But, as I like to say, nothing is only ever one thing. Because there is also God’s Spirit, who I believe is still stirring in the hearts of God’s people (is that what is happening at Asbury? Maybe). And while I remain suspicious of most human claims of a human project having “God’s favor” or being “Spirit led” (because it feels conveniently like using divine camouflage for human ego trips) I do trust more and more what I feel in my spirit and in my body.
I know we are all in different places around our own faith and deconstruction and reconstruction and church baggage and all that. So I will just say this: May we all continue to pay attention to how we might already be changing. May we not just impersonate old versions of ourselves. May we be open to gently walking away from hills on which we have planted flags, but carry with us a compassion for the person we were when we needed to put it there.
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Here’s a piece I wrote a few months back about changing my snotty opinions about praise music: