The Moment After the Moment


…But now, standing onstage at the [Royal Albert Hall], singing in front of a full orchestra and a huge crowd, I [felt]…a slight detachment, looking down on myself inhabiting this particular time and space, but also a complete sense of engagement.  I was in good voice, and felt like I was singing from somewhere deep inside, and we were making a big noise for once, which was enveloping the room, and the crowd seemed spellbound and entirely mine.  It felt like an obvious ending.  Cue the swelling orchestra, and … The End.  Credits.

I went backstage and hugged everyone, gushing about how it was one of the best nights of my life, then a few minutes later crept back on to the stage to collect something I’d forgotten.  Already the audience had gone, and the room was empty.  Roadies were dismantling everything, joking and swearing, and out in the hall bits of litter were being gathered and stuffed into plastic bags.  All the lights were on, and in the flat glare the room seemed suddenly vast and meaningless.  Whatever had happened there a few minutes before was over, the atmosphere evaporated, the space simply dead and neutral, waiting for the next night, the next thing to happen and fill it with some substance.  I looked around and wondered, did it mean anything, then, when it was so quickly gone?

Tracey Thorn, formerly the lead singer of Everything But The Girl and now a solo artist in her own right, relates the above experience in her memoir Bedsit Disco Queen.

Those of you who have served at Passion gatherings have no doubt experienced something similar to this if you stayed around to help with loadout after the event was over.  You are in the final session, surrounded by tens of thousands of college students singing their hearts out.  The band is on point, the lights are blazing, and you are all making a huge noise to fill the cavernous arena.  It truly feels as if God is present here.

Then, a few minutes later, you are back in the arena and it is completely transformed.  All the seats are empty, all the students are gone, all the house lights are on, and all the stage and sound equipment are in various stages of being dismantled and hauled out.  Whatever was happening here just a few minutes ago is now clearly over.  All sense of God’s presence in this place is now evaporated, the space now dead and neutral, waiting for the next event to come and fill it with some meaning or other.  Like Thorn, you probably wonder to yourself if what just happened at Passion can really mean anything when it is so quickly gone.

If you have attended Passion but never volunteered, believe it or not there will come a point in your life when the only way you can go back to Passion is as a volunteer.  You have not yet experienced the above, but you will.  Trust me.

So what do we do with this?

First of all, let this experience disabuse you once and for all of any notion you may have that worship is nothing more than what happens when Chris Tomlin and friends are onstage, that worship begins and ends with the music set before the sermon.  Begin to take a much broader view of worship; one which includes the music, yes, but also includes the sermon, the sacrament, and everything else which happens during the service.  And things that happen beyond the service, especially when you serve those who are less fortunate.  Because it is among the poor, the needy, the oppressed and otherwise marginalized in our society that God has promised to be.  There is a boatload of Scripture to make this clear.

Let this experience disabuse you once and for all of any notion you may have that what happens in large gatherings like Passion will produce real, sustained life change.  The Christian life was meant to be lived out in community with other believers.  It is here, as you do life with a small circle of close and trusted friends, that real and sustained life change happens.  Evangelicalism has placed way too much stock in the Christian life as a “Jesus-and-me” thing.  But “Jesus-and-me” is no longer good enough (as if it ever was).  You need to be in community with other believers who are on the same journey as yourself.  You need a safe place where you can drop the masks of false piety and false certainty and be real, where you can share your struggles, doubts, and fears, and know that you are not alone.

Begin to look for God in the places where He has promised He would be.  Christian community (“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” –Matthew 18:20).  The sacraments, especially communion (“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” –1 Corinthians 11:26).  Avail yourself of this as often as your church has it.  If your church doesn’t do it very often, find another church that does.  That’s okay.  And service to the poor (“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” –Matthew 25:40).  There are probably others, but this should be enough to get you started.

And you will begin to find God in the moment after the moment, when all the lights have come up and it seems that all trace of God’s presence has vanished.  And the moment after that moment.  And the moment after that moment.  Et cetera.

Why Are You Coming to Passion 2012? (UPDATED With Photos)

I see that a lot of you have come through here wanting to know who the community group leaders are going to be at Passion 2012, so let me deal with that up front.  I know exactly the same as you about this, which is absolutely zilch.

Now then.  Allow me to ask a question.

Why have you come to Passion 2012?

Evangelicalism is notorious for putting all its stock in big events.  As a result, many of us are all about the next big thing.  They go from event to event, conference to conference, looking for the next big spiritual fix.  Some of you may fall into that category.

Some of you are not looking for a big spiritual sugar rush.  But you are seeking something from God nonetheless.  You are hoping that God will meet you here in a new and fresh way.  You are seeking vision and direction from God for your life.  You are desperately in need of a touch from God to strengthen you for whatever challenges you face in your life.  Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that you are here out of a place of emptiness and yearning for God to fill you up, hungry and needing to be fed, and hoping and praying that that will happen in the next few days.

I know all about that because I’ve been there.  I have been to several of these things over the years where I have been hoping and praying that God would rock my world with a call and vision for ministry or missions.  So many students have gone through Passion over the years and had their lives turned upside down with a fresh vision of what God wants to do through their lives.  They have felt a call to missions so strong that they were unable to resist, try as they might.  I had hoped and prayed that that would happen to me at one of these things.

Sometimes I have come to these things empty and broken, worn out and beaten down from the struggles I faced, crushed by the doubts that I carry with me on this journey through life, desperately yearning for a touch from God to transform and renew me.  Just to hear from God and know that He is there and that He is with me.  Or even just to hear from God at all.

That is not where I am now.

Of course I am always in need.  There is not a single moment in life when I am not in need of the Father’s grace, the Son’s advocacy, and the Spirit’s refreshing.  The same goes for you, whether you are willing to admit it or not.  The next few days are an excellent place for you to receive all these things and more.  Open wide your mouth; it will be filled.

There are plenty of opportunities out there for a Christian to engage in advancing the cause of Christ in this world.  The Do Something Now campaign will be highlighting the issue of human trafficking, one of the greatest crises of our generation.  You will have ample opportunity to learn and to engage, to be part of the remedy for this grievous evil.

There will be plenty of fine teaching to help you move forward in your Christian life.  There will be plenty of top-notch worship music that will give you glimpses of God’s presence.  You will learn.  You will be refreshed.  You will be challenged.  You will experience glimpses and snatches of God’s presence.  You may even have your life turned upside down as a result of what God shows you during these days.  Passion is all about providing space for these things to happen, but none of these things is the point.

I want to be done with coming to Passion empty and hoping that God would fill me up or lay a fresh vision of what He wants me to do in life.  I want to be in a place where I am empty of ideas and desires for what I hope to get out of Passion.  I want to come without motive or agenda, and just lay myself open before God in these days.  I want to find space and solitude, a quiet place just to be before God.  This will be a challenge; the music will be loud and the crowds will be large and the pace will be hectic–but it can be done.

I want to just be here, before God, in these coming days.  Nothing more.  Nothing else.

How about you?

Unsolicited Advice for Those of You Going to Passion 2010: Community

UPDATE:  Sorry people, I don’t know who the community group leaders for Passion 2010 are going to be.  I have looked carefully at the official Passion 2010 site, but was not able to find it.  That information may be out there somewhere on the web if you search diligently enough for it, but you won’t be getting it from me.

Today I have some more unsolicited advice for those of you who are going to Passion 2010.  And this has to do with the subject of community.

We in evangelical Protestant-dom are thoroughly infatuated with what happens in large groups–i. e. what happens in huge, fast-growing churches or what happens in large gatherings where you and 25,000 of your closest friends are all there to get crunk to Chris Tomlin.  One unfortunate consequence of this is that we have largely blown off the notion that the Christian life is meant to be lived out in community, or that meaningful life change happens in the context of Christian community.

Passion has built a mechanism into their gatherings to account for this, and that is the community group.  The way community groups work (unless they’ve changed some things around in recent years) is this:  You will be assigned to one of a certain number of midsize gatherings called community groups.  At the very first of these gatherings, you will be divided into small groups of about 8-10 people.  You will meet with these same 8-10 people at every community group session thereafter.

The whole point of the community group is to put you into contact with people whom you would otherwise never meet, living in places which you would probably never see.  Here you will have the opportunity to discuss how certain ideas from the main sessions are landing in your life and what you think God is saying to you, with a small and unchanging group of new friends from outside the bubble of your own college ministry.  The hope is that your interaction with these people over the course of the four days of Passion 2010 would form the basis for lasting relationships which would help to ensure that what happens in your life during these four days does not just evaporate when the smoke machines are turned off after the final worship set. Continue reading “Unsolicited Advice for Those of You Going to Passion 2010: Community”

Unsolicited Advice for Those of You Going to Passion 2010: Worship

In the coming posts I will venture to offer some unsolicited advice for those of you who are going to Passion 2010, to help you get the most out of your experience there.  As one who has been involved in several Passion events over the years, I feel qualified to do this, so here goes:

Passion is primarily a worship movement.  It did not start out this way; its primary purpose was to promote awakening among young people–primarily college students–to the purposes of God in our world.  But with the meteoric rise of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Christy Nockels, and others over the course of the previous decade, Passion has now come to be seen primarily as a worship movement.  Because of this, I will start by addressing the issue of worship.

I wish to begin by directing your attention to a post which appeared on Michael Spencer’s blog and which I linked here a few weeks back, called “The Big Worship Goof”.  The idea of this post is that we evangelicals have got it almost all wrong on worship because we think it’s all about music. Continue reading “Unsolicited Advice for Those of You Going to Passion 2010: Worship”