In Praise of Boring Church


“For me, I like to go to church on Sunday mornings to organize my thoughts, organize my week, and be quiet. And you don’t walk out of a church because you’re bored. You go to church to be bored–to have that time. And you can have it in your room in the lotus position or you can have it in a pew. It’s essentially the same sort of thing for me and that’s what I enjoy about it.”

That’s Paul Schrader speaking, the director of the new film, First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke as the pastor of a struggling little congregation in upstate New York. I saw the movie last weekend, so when I came across an interview with Schrader, who wrote the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, I read with eager interest. Why does Schrader go to church? To be bored.

The worst thing I could say to my mother was, I’m bored. Without looking up from her bread dough she would say, Read a book! I sat in church and read the hymnal, sat at home and read the dictionary. Boredom, our ancestors knew, was the seedbed of creativity and arresting insight. You have to be staring into space, looking for nothing, to see the chimera.

But what happens today when a child complains of boredom? Bug Dad, and without looking up from his phone he says, Play World of Warcraft!

We who are parents and grandparents are often anxious when there’s “nothing to do,” phobic about silence. Our children have to coax us off our phones. (My adult children have long complained about my screen obsession, and now, it pains me to admit, my three year-old grandson says bluntly, Put that away.) We adults have to practice staring into space so that, once again, we can be for our children the enforcers of blah, dooming them to curiosity, awe and wonder.

I read Schrader’s words and smiled. I’ve spent my whole working life trying to make sure church isn’t boring. I feel so much better, now that I know my frequent failures are obliquely inspired! Actually, on those rare Sundays when I am not in town and go to church, that’s what I go for. I want quiet. I want someone to make me leave my phone in the car. I come early just so I can sit there with nothing to do.

We come to church to pray, which means being patient. Being still for a moment, being quiet for a while until it seems too long . . . then waiting just a little longer, until the veil slips and we see the kingdom. As Schrader notes, church isn’t the only place a person can find a little boredom these days, but if I do say so myself, it’s the best place.

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