If you live in Boston, you might have read the recent article in one of the freebie tabloids about Hank Peirce, now the minister at the Unitarian Universalist church in Medford, but formerly a roadie for a number of punk rock bands back in the 1980’s. The article did not mention that Hank did a number of punk rock worship services at the Middle East Cafe in Cambridge, then one of the best places to hear punk music — when I asked Hank about those worship services, he said he did a fairly standard order of service (sermon and all), but with a live punk band providing the music.
Are you with me so far?
Punk rock has its all-too-evident weaknesses, but don’t forget its strengths: a do-it-yourself aesthetic, and a willingness to integrate avant-garde visual art and music into a popular format. Wouldn’t that be fun to try with worship services? Not for the regular worship services we attend every week, perhaps, but as a sort of incubator for innovation in worship. Our Unitarian Universalist worship services could stand some innovation. I came across a music video in which that do-it-yourself aesthetic of punk rock is applied to a mix of musique concrete, performance art, and postmodern ironic self-reference — and I can’t help but imagining a worship service with this kind of punk rock [Link].
OK, I can see that I lost you there.
But as a Transcendentalist, I do believe that humor, odd juxtapositions, unexpectedness, can lead us to confront reality in new ways, shock us out of our complacency and our set ways of being to see (finally) a little bit of truth. Or, as Henry Thoreau brutally puts it:
If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.
Annie Dillard writes that we should wear crash helmets when we attend a worship service, because if we ever actually unleashed the powers we claim to call on, we’d need them. Or if we ever actually confronted the reality of life and death, we’d need them. Even if you don’t like punk rock, a punk rock worship service would be preferable to a complacent worship service.
Some other time I’ll explain why worship services should incorporate a fair amount of boredom in order to be authentic.