Let us be honest with ourselves: 99% of the time, chapel...I mean, THE HOUR (da da da, ominous music) somehow manages to successfully suck and blow at the same time without missing a beat. Cheesy (and sometimes horrid) worship mixed with mediocre and oft repetitious messages, or pep talks, or guilt trips, or whatever they are, make up the usual fare.
In addition, 99% of the time these "whatever they are's" fall into three separate categories:
(1) CREW: Let's be honest again--ANY talk on CREW is merely social gospel in disguise (see below in this entry for rantings on social gospel). Do this, do that because that's what Christians do (of course, the Cross cannot be found). Coming from a extremely fundamental conservative Christian background, I must say that talks on CREW always sound suspiciously like the legalistic mantra I'm used to: "Do this, do that because God will frown on you if you don't, you bad Christian you!"
(2) Sex, Love, and Dating: Sometimes good, sometimes bad, and always the same thing over and over again (wait till your maweed!). One shining light of hope came last week when the bioethics expert (Dennis Hollinger? His last name escapes me) treated sex as more than a biological function. Typical SLD messages revolve around sex as a biological function only, and that we should wait because God "says so." In today's post-modern world (both Christian and secular), "say so's" don't count for squat anymore. People need to know why (and God's reason's for why are amazingly deep and mysterious, treating sex and humans as sacred and spiritual things/beings). And, of course, the Cross cannot be found.
(3) Racial Reconciliation and Diversity: In the last "The Hour Live Show" version of chapel, the host decided to kick off the event with a little RRD. His weapon of choice? A typical "White Man Guilt Trip" story that played the same old card: black person got gypped by a white person of authority. Shame on you white man; shame on you all--that's the message that was received. Let's be honest AGAIN: no one is going to dispute that the injustice happened (I certainly don't), but does our RRD department really think that races can be reconciled by creating racial tension by constantly bringing up examples of racism? All "The Hour Live Show" accomplished was to make the racial relations between blacks and whites seem stuck in the 1930's (and can we PLEASE mix it up a bit? Why not a story of black injustice on white people? Or Latino injustice on blacks? Or Latino on Asian? Or Asian on white? Or Arabic on white? Or White on Arabic? Or Latino on white? Or White on Latino? Or Asian on Latino? Or White on Asian? The list of examples seems endless, and endlessly untapped).
Most RRD begins with a guilt trip story whose moral is "Shame on you, white man" and ends with everyone being reminded that we still hate each other. And, again, the Cross cannot be found (A friend of mine once asked a RRD lecturer how we as races are made one together in Christ. The lecturer laughed nervously, called my friend "brother" a bunch of times, and then kindly ignored the question).
Oh, there is some kind of "gospel" that gets presented at chapel, but it is not the gospel of Christ. The "gospel" that gets presented can also fall into three separate categories:
(1) Prosperity Gospel: Oh sure, sure, we had that little seminar on the subject a week ago, and nominal consensus around campus is that Prosperity Gospel is a load of horse manure. But it still can sneak in. Mostly, it sneaks in during what feels like a underglorified Christian pep rally. The speaker quotes some obscure passage from II Chronicles and uses it as a springboard to launch into a "You can do it!" dish with Christendom on the side. There is no accounting for suffering, and therefore, again, the Cross cannot be found.
(2) Social Gospel: This one is deadly because it sounds so, so...Christian. It follows St. James command to a "T": they take care of the fatherless and widowed and sick and helpless. It seems so holy, so righteous; how can one speak out against it (and its children: SOS and CREW)? Here's how: the Cross cannot be found. "What profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" Paraphrase: What profits people if we remodel their house, buy them clothes, read to them, cure AIDS, or end world hunger when they still die and go to hell? I doubt the horror of separation from God will be lessened by their freshly upholstered furniture.
"But, Jesus met people's physical needs before he met their spiritual ones." That's bologna. Before Jesus healed the paralytic, He said, "Your sins are forgiven." Jesus' entire life was bound up in the Cross and the redemption of the world so that suffering is no longer meaningless or the end of all things. Ask yourself, What is more Christian: fixing some one's broken house, or leading someone to the One who can fix a broken soul?
(3) Love Gospel: Perhaps the most devilish of them all because it sounds even more Christian than Social Gospel: God sent His Son to die because He loves you. Okay. Right on target. However, why should we accept such salvation? Because...God loves you! He's crazy about you! He's foaming at the mouth practically! Can't you see how much He loves you?! He's going crazy! I'm going crazy! AAAHHH HA HAAAAAAAAAA!
Love Gospel is missing two things: (1) sin, and (2) repentance. The devilishness comes in the fact that there is NO CROSS, and yet there is a silhouette, i.e., Jesus' death is acknowledged, but its reasons are twisted. Why did Jesus die on the cross? According to one previous chapel speaker: "Because God wanted a dramatic way to show that He LOVES YOU! HE'S CRAZY ABOUT YOU! WEE HEE HEE!" No sacrificial love, no "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins," no Christ being "made sin for us," no nothing. The violence of the Cross was because God wanted you to know His love? Good grief! Either God is a sadist, reckless, or BOTH. A simple reading of John 3:16 would have sufficed to all that bloodshed. Love Gospel strips the Cross of its power and its glory, and just like its prosperity and social cousins, it leaves no room for the reality of suffering or the reality of God being made one with our suffering.
Oh, and don't get me started on the music. One time the singing was so bad it even made me grimace. That is a profound thing. Usually when musical garbage is being pounded into my ears, I remain quiet and politely stand still while others who like that stuff proceed to enjoy themselves (and it is themselves that they are enjoying). But I will not lie: I was raised by a college trained pianist for a mother, and thus have a musical ear. The "worship" presented one time was so horrid that a keeled over, clamped my hand over my mouth, and physically shook to keep in the laughter. Hoo, boy--these people where flat, off beat, and out of tune at the same time while singing in the key of Q. It didn't help that they were singing a song nobody knew, leaving even the praise and worship crowd to awkwardly shuffle back and forth while forty-somethings sang noise at us. Christianity needs a Simon Cowell. The only time I can remember when the worship music actually put people in a worshipfully state was when Josh Smith lead us in old hymns of the faith. What a coincidence. And an ignored fact.
Take heart, though. There is still the 1% of the time when chapel does not suck/blow, but actually is a place where the Spirit of God moves freely: times like Stuart Briscoe, Brian Loritts, or Dennis Hollinger. Even today's chapel was good. Why? Because the Cross was there, and there boldly, without apology, without flinching, without fluff, without fear, without a sugar-coating, and without the key of Q.