Just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s worthless. NASCAR taught me that.
For years I was proudly, arrogantly ignorant about all racing sports. I followed basketball and football, watched golf and tennis, and fanatically invested myself in baseball. I was, and am, a sports fan, but I stubbornly refused to learn anything about NASCAR. After all, what did I care about a bunch of rednecks making left turns?
But I had a friend from the Deep South who wouldn’t give up on me. “It’s the most popular spectator sport in the country,” he pointed out. “People wouldn’t show up every Sunday if there wasn’t something worth watching.”
I wasn’t so sure.
“Just try it,” he implored, “Just watch one race.”
This went on for probably a year and a half until, finally, like the unjust judge in Luke 18, I was overcome by his persistence. That February I spent an afternoon watching every lap of the Daytona 500. It was an eye-opening experience.
Far from being a mere series of identical loops as I’d expected, every lap had its own kind of drama. The cars raced around, often with only inches separating them. Teams strategized about when to take pit stops and whether to change four tires or just two. I learned about bump-drafting, caution flags and the importance of being on the lead lap. There was a lot more to racing than I had realized; more excitement, more drama and more intensity. I began to understand why so many people watched week after week, and I regretted being disdainful of something I did not understand.
Alas, in the church there is no shortage of the kind of reflexive derision that I used to have toward NASCAR. We are black belts at mocking what we do not understand.
I don’t know how people can stand those ridiculous praise songs. They just keep repeating the same three lines and the band is so loud you can’t hear yourself sing. How is that worship?
Can we finally stop calling all this emergent nonsense “church?” How can something be a church with no structure and no rules?
The first time they bring drums into this sanctuary will be the last time I walk out of it.
I rarely attend a church meeting or presbytery event without hearing (or making) statements like these.
NASCAR’s many fans remind me that my lack of understanding doesn’t prevent others from experiencing something powerful. Plenty of people are deeply moved in worship through music that I don’t like. Countless others have had vital encounters with Jesus Christ in churches that I would never choose to attend. The fact that I don’t understand something does not render it worthless.
Our relationships are stronger and our churches are healthier when we work to understand things that we don’t prefer. Time spent wondering what it is that touches the people who love the things I scorn is always time well spent.
I still don’t love NASCAR, but I am in a far better position to love NASCAR fans than when I assumed they were a bunch of testosterone-riddled motor-heads. Perhaps you will never love praise music, but when you understand how it lifts and feeds the souls of your sisters and brothers, it will be harder to dismiss it as mere performance.
Deriding what we don’t understand doesn’t strengthen our faith; it weakens our witness. If we look carefully enough, we can find beauty in a lot of unexpected places. Even under the hood.
Scott Hauser is Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Clarion, PA.