‘screaming girls’ was a recurring theme in newspapers around the country during elvis’s stage shows in 1956 and 1957. at nearly every stop on the country-wide tour, girls screamed so loudly that no one could even hear elvis sing. his gyrating hips and shaking leg brought people to a fever-pitch frenzy with hits like ‘jailhouse rock‘, ‘blue suede shoes‘ and ‘hound dog‘.
while today’s pop scene is inundated with fawning fans frenzied over the newest boy bands, justin bieber and taylor swift, during elvis’s reign as the ‘king of rock and roll‘ screaming sensationalism from star-gazers was an intriguing new phenomenon. folks seemed to entirely abandon all reason and screamed hysterically not only throughout the concert – but afterwards.
even after elvis and his band had departed the venue, fans regularly screamed for the king continuously, lingering in hopes of an encore – bringing public address announcers to coin the now infamous phrase, ‘Elvis has left the building!‘ in hopes of dispersing the hyper-excited crowds.
which brings us to church.
but first, a word about the temple.
last week, i wrote about one of the most under-utilized passages in all of scripture ::
‘and the veil of the temple was torn in two – from top to bottom.’
this veil in the holy of holies protected God’s presence from the stain of sin, and kept him separate from the common. one could not find God ‘out there’ in the wilderness or the land inhabited by gentiles. God was separate…even distant.
the ancient jewish understanding of God’s presence was that he dwelt in this place – in the tabernacle or the temple – beyond the veil.
interacting with YHVH according to the hebrew scriptures dictated these holy places and spaces, with the interaction mediated by holy people (priests). if you went looking for God, you could find him cooped up inside this holy, separate place.
the temple is where one went to meet with God.
and today, some several thousand years removed from the ancient jewish roots of our faith, christians gather in buildings designated as ‘churches’ in an effort to meet and encourage, teach and train, challenge and celebrate with one another under the semblance of meeting with God.
pastors pray for God’s presence and worship leaders orchestrate songs for the congregation to raise their hands in acknowledgement of who God is and what he has done. ‘members’ (an interesting concept which i’ll write about at another time) are often encouraged to bring their UNsaved and UNchurched friends into the building that they might experience this community of faith – perpetuating the belief that church is where you go to meet with God.
and while i appreciate a great many things about church communities – and am a part of one – i wonder if it would help us to make an announcement ::
Elvis has left the building.
gathering around the traditions and rituals through which we became initially aware of God’s presence is not a bad thing – in fact, there is a tremendous benefit and value in reminding ourselves the places from where we have come – perhaps that’s one reason jesus commanded at the last supper, ‘do this in remembrance of me.’
but shouldn’t there be more to our faith than a memory?
growth and maturity dictate that we move beyond mere repetition of traditions and long-held practices and instead move into living in an awareness of God’s presence in all places and all people – whether they’re in our church building or faith tradition or ‘tribe’ or not. God is everywhere.
Elvis has left the building.
this is in large part the scandal of the incarnation – jesus came along claiming to be God incarnate – emmanuel, God with us. his being flesh and dwelling among human creation was the grossest form of blasphemy – that God would not only be around humans, but that he would actually be human.
think about it.
there is no longer a separation – no longer a barrier between God’s presence and his creation. God’s presence is no longer cooped up in our buildings and traditions; no longer kept within the confines of even our faith community or religious tribe. God is everywhere. he is present in every conversation, his image and likeness revealed in every. single. person.
this could be one reason i am continually made more aware of God’s presence in conversations at a gay bar in my neighborhood than i am when i’m singing a song with like-minded people in a church. perhaps it’s why i sense God’s spirit while sitting in the pain of the stories of strangers or while enjoying a meal with my friends – even when they don’t even believe in God.
because God is found not just there, but here. every. where. living into that awareness – opening our eyes to the presence of God outside the confines of our churches (and even church people!) might just shake things up a bit – and help us move from going to church to actually being the church.
what do you think?