Recently I managed to fulfill a dream that has been alive in the back of my mind ever since my teen years. Namely, I was able to see Bruce Springsteen in concert.
I listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen in college. In fact, I credit Springsteen with providing a significant motivation for me to finish school. Songs that told stories of working at factories in small towns reminded me of what could happen to me if I didnít complete my education. In fact, his song "The River" did as much to keep me in school and sexually inactive as any sermon I can remember.
I eventually finished my bachelors degree and two masters degrees. My workplace is a clean office environment with a "Starbucks" right across the street. I work with great people, and each day is different. It looks like I escaped the dreary life of industrial age oppression that Bruce Springsteen memorialized in song.
Or did I? Itís true that I donít have to work in a factory to pay my bills, but my escape from factory life was not complete.
You see, every Sunday morning for much of my life I reported to another kind of factory. Not for work, but just to sit and do nothing. This is a factory that requires you attend and still leaves you unemployed. You donít get a paycheck from this factory, you give part of your paycheck to keep it running.
This is the modern American "worship factory". The factory that comes to life and cranks out its product, the "corporate worship experience" every Sunday morning. Like any manufacturing process, each procedure is timed to the minute. Like any assembly line, the product stays the same regardless of who shows up on any given day. And, as in the industrial age factory, you can spend you whole life doing the same thing. The product may be slightly modified through the years, but your "job" remains the same. Most peoplesí "job" is to sit down, be quite, and stay awake.
The mentality of efficiency and mass production was applied to Christianity long before it was applied to manufacturing. (My best guess is that mass manufactured Christianity started in the 4th century when emperor Constantine made Christianity the official government religion of his empire. Christian assemblies went from private houses to big government buildings, and the people began to gather by the hundreds and thousands. Somehow Christianity and crowd control had to work together.)
How can we mass manufacture Christianity? Itís easy really. Just look in the Bible and see the things Christians did. They did praying, singing, teaching and learning, giving, and they gathered together for "Lordís Suppers".
Now that we have the components, we can create a ritual assembly line to put them together, a process that allows hundreds or thousands of people to experience all the things Christians did in the Bible in only 90 minutes a week. Just as mass manufacturing made complicated products affordable to everyone, mass manufactured "experiences" made Christianity affordable to everyone. You really donít have to give much up to be part of this.
One final irony, and that has to do with the concert itself. I walked into a huge building and felt like a lost little person in a huge crowd of strangers. I was thankful to find a friendly usher to show me to my seat. I sat through a show that would have been just the same had I not shown up. Then I went home. It was very much like church.