In a situation where I would have to come up with one word to describe my personality, I think I know what word I would use -- one phrase would be contradiction in terms. That word is: informal. Yes, if it were allowed I would come to work in my pajamas. It's not allowed, and that's probably for the best. My hair is a natural mess, so I've decided to stop trying to formalize it like everyone else, embrace the mess and get a messy looking haircut.
That's just how I am. The older I get the more I realize that my informal personality affects every aspect of my life, including religion. Despite my recent plunge into Lutheranism, I find myself as informal as ever. It is the formalities about organized religion that will always get to me. The liturgy is nice, and I learn a lot from it. I have even ceased challenging it when speaking with other Lutherans. I don't mind organ music so much anymore. In fact, I kind of like it, but not in a formal sense. I listen for the melody and try to sense the emotion of a hymn. Perhaps I do that to get away from the funeral-like feel intrinsic in organ music. I don't like dirges and hymns sound like them so often. As Eddie Izzard pointed out so aptly, "We're the only people who can make hallelujah sound like a funeral march" (he referred to Anglicans, but it kind of applies to Lutheran hymns as well). I don't like the formal tones of sadness and imposing solemnity, I guess. Then there's making the sign of the cross. I don't do that, and I probably never will. I don't have anything against it, it's just that to me it would be nothing more than a meaningless ceremony.
I don't like ceremony, pomp, circumstance, long robes, or any of that. Still, I can be awed when walking into a cathedral. I can be humbled when remembering what a great God I serve. I can be astounded when I think of what Jesus did for me and everyone else upon the cross. In church, I understand the reason that we confess our sins and humble ourselves before God when we prepare to receive Him.
So what is the difference between the formal processes that I have learned to tolerate and the formal way in which a person should approach God that I aspire toward? I think it's the difference between appearances and what's on the inside. Jesus said that God looks at the heart, while man looks at the outside. We see people for what they are, God sees people for who they are. I think that in my own fallen way I want to escape the limitations of formality, the outward graces and, yes, even appearances. I don't care if you're wearing the right white robe for the day or not. If you're a pastor and you're telling me about God I'm going to listen to the words and learn what I can from them. The outward signs, to me, are nothing more than that. It is the inside that I try to perceive and care about. Since I am only human, I have a difficult time doing this successfully, but I try. More so than just learning what is being said, I want to know that the person who speaks to me from the pulpit, or any person who proposes to speak to me about godly things, cares about me and the other people around them.
To care more for theological terms and doctrines than for people -- who they are, what their needs are, how you can help them -- is empty. Jesus said that if you love God but not other people then you are a liar. How is it possible to love the God you cannot see, and yet dislike people who are made in the image of that God, whom you can see? That is only head knowledge, and Jesus himself spoke against it. It is a disguise, nothing more.
Yes, I think I dislike the formal because it is a pretense. I prefer what is to what pretends to be. Or at least, I aspire to do that. I also fall hopelessly short of that mark, and must trust God to forgive me and help me to run the race.