Sunday, February 19, 2006


I grew up in a traditional church, where we sang the doxology, and there was a choir and an organ, a call and a response, and preachers in robes and all that fun stuff. But with the advent of Contemporary Worship, things sure are different. Now you’ve got drums, and guitars, and beats and some pretty groovy tunes going on. When my parents come out to visit and I take them to church, I have to make sure I bring earplugs for them, even though we’re sitting in the back row, that’s how loud it can get.

And I dig the music. I once tried to describe to a friend of mine, Clarence, why my church was so cool that he should come with me to a service sometime. His response was that church is supposed to be church with a capital C, that it’s supposed to be reverent and holy and respectful and lofty and sacred and definitely not something where a funky bass line is invoked. I found it interesting that he held church in that regard, when he didn’t himself go, (nor did he want to.) I think he was a lapsed Catholic. Most of my friends are. Or heathens. One or the other. I love them all equally.

Anyhow, when the music has gotten this beaterific during the service, you can’t help but do a little something. Clap your hands, obviously. Nod your head, maybe. Stomp your feet. I prefer the One Leg Bounce. Y’know, where you’re just…bouncing it when you’re standing on it. It’s cool commitment. If you wanna mix it up, but don’t wanna get too crazy, you can do the Alternating Double Leg Bounce. Or together. Whatever hits you.

I go to two different churches. 9’o clock church is so big they have four services. 11 o’clock church just started last year, so they have maybe 250 people at their one service. Both feature live music during their services. 11 o’clock church sounds indie rock (they’ve been known to play stuff like Death Cab For Cutie, Joseph Arthur, and Bjork on the Itunes for the pre-service music.) 9 o’clock church is more pop soul stuff, and they run their services like a live concert, complete with video cameras projecting the images of the folks onstage on three different screens. There’s cross cutting, dramatic angles, a nine piece band, background singers, five main singers, and a jazz flutist. I think you can buy it on DVD in the lobby afterwards.

Now, there are people at these services who I call “Jumpers.” Not that they’re diving off buildings for God (though that would be pretty awesome to hear them justify it if they did) but they do indeed Jump to the music.

I mean, they REALLY get into it. They Jump. They Hoot. They Holler. They’re dancing like it’s Greg Dulli and The Twilight Singers up there. They’ve got their hands up in the air, or if they’re trying to be cool yet committed, they do what one minister accurately describes as “The Flipper,” where it’s palms up to the ceiling at your waist. I don’t have my digital camera yet, otherwise I’d do a whole photo montage of it. And since the last thing I’d do is take a picture during the service, let me put a picture up there of some church I do not know. Here. See? That’s exactly what it looks like.

The 11 o’clock service has only one Jumper, but he’s committed! He’s gonna Jump by himself damn it, because it’s all about him praising God, and this is how he’s gonna do it.

The first time I encountered the Jumper phenomenon, my first thought was, What’s WRONG with you? People are staring! STOP IT!

Then I thought Well, just don’t look at them. Focus on the stage. But it doesn’t work at 9 o’clock church, because everyone on stage at 9 o’clock church is singing with such passion, with such commitment, with such ANGUISH. I mean, you all really have to come to the service with me to understand (or buy the DVD in the lobby.) They’re singing as if their LIFE DEPENDED ON IT! Like they’re just going to up and die right now if you don’t believe in what they’re singing.

For example, one of the songs today had the lyric “Lord you are good and your mercy endures forever.” Wonderful lyric. Wonderful sentiment. Absolutely true. So why does their close up, which is projected twenty-five feet high behind them, have them looking as though they’re being burned at the stake? Biting lips, furrowed brows, intense gazes to heaven, which, let’s be honest here, is the ceiling. Remember the scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, where Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is having sex, and she’s on her back looking up, and the camera cuts to her point of view and all it is, is the ceiling? Because she’s thinking sex is supposed to be this wonderful romantic beautiful thing, and all she’s seeing is the cabana light (at least, I think it’s in the cabana. Maybe it was in the dugout? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie.) Point being, these singers have such an anguished gaze at…the ceiling (and the bird’s nest up in the lighting grid.) What’s their problem? Are they straining to hit the note? If you’re singing praise songs to God, why aren’t you, y’know, HAPPY about it?

It makes me uncomfortable, in the same way that when Pastoral Twit at 9 o’clock service does the All Call for people who REALLY need prayer to come down to the front of the stage. ‘Cause I’m thinking Why do I have to go down THERE? Why can’t I be prayed for right where I am? I don’t wanna move. I’d have to step over people. It would inconvenience them. People would be looking at me. I hate it when people look at me. I’ll stay right where I am, thanks.

Additionally, when Pastoral Twit closes us in prayer, we’re all supposed to close our eyes, and he says something to the effect of “anyone who heard today’s message and it touched something in them, and you want to make a commitment to God right now, would you raise your hand please, so I can pray for you.” And then he counts how many people raised their hands. The idea is, I guess, is that it’s okay to raise your hand when everyone has their eyes closed. I always wanna be a brat, lift my head and look around, to see if it’s REALLY twelve people that raise their hand, because it strangely comes out to be around 12 every single week. I never do, though, because I’m worried I’d be smited on the spot. Ka-BOOM! Lightening comes down, burns me to a crisp, Pastoral Twit would say “The work of GOD!” and they’d launch into song, this time the anguished looks would be stemming from Dear GOD don’t let me be smited like her.

But it’s that same thought. Why do I have to raise my hand if I want to make a commitment to God? Why can’t I not raise my hand and still make a commitment? What’s with the public display? It makes me want to NOT raise my hand, just on principle. Like how when I go to weddings, and I’m forced against my will to participate in the bouquet toss, when everyone’s hands go up, mine go down. On principle.

So one day, instead of stewing over how much I hate the Jumpers or any public display in 9 o’clock church, I tried to figure out the source of where the anger was coming from. Not so much What’s wrong with them? But rather
What’s wrong with YOU?

Why do you hate the Jumpers, Amy? It’s not like they’re jumping ON you. They’re just jumping to jump. Leave ‘em alone. What’s the problem? The problem is they’re annoying me. Why? Because they look stupid. They don’t think they look stupid. Why do you think they look stupid? Because they’re JUMPING! IN CHURCH! Because they’re excited about worshipping God! This is how they express themselves. Leave them alone. What’s the big deal? Because I don’t wanna Jump because I’ll look stupid like they do! Nobody asked you to Jump. Well, I have to Jump, don’t I? I mean, if I’ve never felt the presence of God or anything, and THEY obviously do…

And there it was. I wasn’t angry at the Jumpers. I was jealous. Jealous of the Jumpers.

Surely, the reason I wasn’t feeling the presence of God was because I didn’t Jump. Because I didn’t raise my hands to heaven. because I didn’t go down to the front to be prayed for, because I didn’t raise my hand when everyone has their eyes closed. If only I would lay aside my pride and do all the stuff I didn’t wanna do, the Floodgates Of Feeling would open, and the Presence of God would wash over me like a tsunami and I would Jump. Oh yes, I would Jump.

But I am not a Jumper. I’m not. I know I’m not. To force me to jump when I’m not a Jumper would be the proverbial square peg into the round hole. It would be ugly and awkward, and I’d most likely be resentful.
Because I wouldn’t be Jumping to express my joy at worshipping. I’d be Jumping in the hopes of conjuring up the presence of God, like rubbing a lamp. I’d be stomping a hole in the floor trying to bring the God on, and that’s not what it’s about. I am not a Jumper. I am a One Leg Bouncer.

Do the Jumpers feel the presence of God? Who knows? Maybe they do. Maybe they’re really into the music, maybe they’re uninhibited people by nature. Regardless, the Jumpers are EXCITED. I wanna be excited. I wanna be excited for God. I wanna be excited ABOUT God. And I keep getting waylaid by these ridiculous judgments on Jumpers, on public displays of worship, and I don’t WANNA raise my hands, and I really feel like I’m five years old.

So I close my eyes. Do my One Leg Bounce and close my eyes. Amazing how it takes care of ALL of it.

But my hands are staying in my pockets.


Midlife Virgin said...

God knows you're jumping in your heart! Just find your own way to jump.

Yummyteece said...

i love the thought processes that you go through, the fact that you break down all the conversations and conflicts in your head about this. Because i've experienced so many of them, AND because they are written in such a way that not only do i understand, but I also laugh.

however, when ya got to the point when you realized you were jealous of the jumpers... i must admit, i had a moment of misty-eyed.

Nice job Amy!

Anonymous said...

I'm saddened that you seem to sit on your perch, publicly commenting on the movements of others with critical tone when it seems that what you want is what they have.

I go to your "11:00 church" and when I look around and see "jumpers", it makes me happy that more and more people are feeling open and free to express themselves in our church.

You may consider using people's actual names, since we all know who you are talking about. I doubt you know them well enough to give them such undeserving titles.

Anonymous said...

just read your suff on the jumper and honestly is really well writen!! Morte de funny and quite interesting on the diversity of church in the USA...however, try one day the sunday service in a catholic church and you'll be depressed. Bravo en tout cas, enjoyed it.