all shook up.

mjkimpan  —  March 25, 2013 — 7 Comments


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?

  • I would like to leave you more comments on your blog but they’re almost always “Yup, you’re right” and that’s boring. But yes, you are, so very right on this. God’s mission and presence are unfolding all around us, perhaps more so than in our churches, at times (and sadly). Sometimes I also experience God most near when hanging out with people the church has treated as outcasts. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” afterall.

    As some pushback, have you ever researched any of the other understandings of the significance of the veil being torn? I did some work with this several months ago and decided that while it seems the symbol is multi-faceted, the act of ‘tearing’ of the cloth is strangely reminiscent of the sort of tearing that folks did in OT times to mourn the loss of a family member of loved one. And, the whole account (and really, the entire book of Mark) leads up to this pivotal moment where God is affirming the divinity of Christ more blatantly and plainly each step of the way. So, if the curtain of God, his garment, was torn…perhaps one could argue (and scholars far brighter than I have done so), that this was an act of God’s expressing his grief and/or anger, displaying a violent reaction to the loss and suffering of His son. Why would God tear the garment of his presence if not, in part, to show the brokenness of his heart, even in the midst of the redemption of the world being made complete. Thoughts? Musings? Ponderings?

    • thanks for your thoughts/questions, heidi!

      i’m aware of the scholars (far brighter than both of us, i might add) whom have argued that the tearing of the temple veil was in fact an act of God’s expression of grief – and believe that in part to be true – (although, i caution against those whom hold to a PSA theory of atonement on this issue, for the idea of an expression of grief from an angry God who dictated the killing to appease his own wrath is dangerous at best – and raises all sorts of questions, the implied theological responses to which are monumental).

      i would be amiss if i mentioned the concept of the atonement without linking tony jones’ helpful work :: a better atonement (which you can purchase as an ebook here or direct you to this post where he discusses his book here ::

      interested in your thoughts on this, of course – but would agree with you that the tearing of the veil is in fact a multi-faceted (and as i said, terribly under-utilized in terms of importance) passage in scripture.

      thanks for your comment! and feel free to throw in a ‘yup, you’re right’ every once in awhile as you see fit. i promise i won’t be offended.

      • Daniel J. Fick

        The reason PSA “does” work is because it doesn’t have to be the “only” theme within atonement. If PSA is only part of the atonement theme (which would then include other atonement themes), then the tearing of the veil does not necessarily preclude PSA as a valid (partial) understanding of the atonement. But perhaps that is another debate for another day…

        Hope you’re well!

        • indeed – no debate here; in fact, that’s in part the premise of tony’s work, mentioned above.
          thanks for reading!

  • milthenry

    methinks we diss the church as the organized Body of Christ too much. The splitting of the veil doesn’t mean that God has LEFT the building, so much as it means that God is no longer CONFINED to the building. The people of God have always been a gathered people, a community, a BODY. Body parts belong to one another and function best in CONNECTION with other parts. Sometimes you make a person feel sleazy for inviting a friend to worship; yet corporate worship, “where the Word of God is proclaimed and the sacraments duly administered,” is still a good place for people to meet the living God. (Faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes from preaching.) I don’t think of my friends as “saved/unsaved” or “churched/unchurched,” simply as friends. Inviting them to gathered worship is not shortsighted or shallow, nor does it suggest that God can only be found inside the temple walls. God is everywhere, and everywhere includes local congregations gathered for worship, study, fellowship, and prayer.

    • thanks for your comment – i humbly would suggest that you and i don’t disagree in the fact that God is (also) found within the confines of the church – indeed, he is found ‘everywhere’.

      my intention certainly is not to ‘make a person feel sleazy’ or to suggest that gathering for worship is either ‘shortsighted or shallow’, provided it does not suggest that God can be found ONLY there.

      yet in my experiences in churches and congregations throughout the country (and even beyond) there is an inherited sense of us/them || in/out in regard to where (and with whom) God’s presence can be experienced.

      one of my readers sent me the following in an email yesterday ::

      ‘I’ve certainly been involved with congregations that are totally intro-focused, but I don’t believe that it is the way it has to be. I think that with good and godly leadership and vision, ‘organized’ groups of Christ followers can make a real difference in the Kingdom, by pooling resources and sharing mutual encouragement and challenge…

      I think, in either extreme, we need to always strive to fix our eyes upon Jesus and attempt to emulate him in every way possible. That means getting out of our comfort zones and out into that wilderness, but I believe it can be done, imperfect as we humans are. I believe we can still all affirm that God is everywhere, not just in temples made by hands.’

      i think that’s what i’m getting at.

      my post, in conjunction with the one i wrote last week, is merely a reminder that God is NOT limited to the confined box of our buildings – or even our faith – but in fact has moved beyond these boundaries and barriers and is both living and active in and through individuals and interactions in a stream much broader, wider and deeper than we often realize.

      in that, it seems we don’t disagree – so my apologies if through my chosen words i miscommunicated.

      thanks again for your comment!

      • milthenry

        Thank you, Michael.  I am a local church pastor of a healthy congregation that gets, for the most part, that we need to engage the world for which Jesus died. That makes me sometimes a little protective and defensive at suggestions that churches “own” God and are just clubs trying to get people to come to their show.  I know that’s not what you said, but that’s sometimes what I hear in contemporary missional critiques of the local church.

        I think maybe your background is non-denominational/evangelical/fundmentalist/”Bible church”/Southern Baptist — maybe some combination.  I am United Methodist, and most of us are looking for God anywhere EXCEPT church!

        I appreciate your thoughtful commentary.  I was just introduced recently by a friend, Ryan Miller.

        Have a blessed and meaningful Holy Week and Easter.

        Milton Lewis
        Senior Pastor
        Northern Hills UMC
        San Antonio
        210-654-0881  ext. 203