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.

3 Responses to In Praise of Boring Church
  1. GLENDA cosenza
    June 21, 2018 | 6:07 pm

    Very interesting post as usual. I directed a chorus of homeschooled kids this past Winter. At the invitation of my niece who is homeschooling her daughter. These kids are all Jehovah’s Witnessed and have been attending meetings alongside their parents since birth. They have learned to be quiet and sometimes listen and often give bible talks at meetings when they are ready. I was so impressed with how friendly and relaxed these children were and how respectful to me and to one another apart from friendly banter and light teasing now and then. Not one of them took out a cell phone during rehearsals. When I told them we would include two Kingdom Songs on our concert program but had not decided which ones, every hand in the room shot up, wanting to vote for their favorite! I don’t agree with their dogma, but I think they are doing a lot that is right I. Terms of child development.

  2. Michael Moore
    June 21, 2018 | 6:21 pm

    Thanks, David, for another wonderful insight. I hate to be the one to tell you, but in the thirteen years I have been listening to your sermons, not one of them has been boring yet. If boring is your goal, you are missing the mark.

  3. holly russell
    June 22, 2018 | 10:46 am

    Hi, David. I just love this post. “…then waiting just a little longer, until the veil slips and we see the kingdom.” I believe. Thank you for voicing a thought that I’ve had, too, but not articulated. The same thing happens when you write – as you know, obviously. But – sometimes. A lot of times. You have to sit there and sit there in front of a blank page, a blank screen, a paragraph you need to fix but have no idea how. If you sit long enough, it comes to you.

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