Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent Meditation

For your Advent observance.

  1. Introitus: Ad te levavi
  2. Responsorium Graduale: Universi
  3. Alleluia: Ostende
  4. Offertorium: Ad te levavi
  5. Communio: Dominus dabit

Monday, December 17, 2007

Various and Sundry....

Over the last two weeks I've been planning on blogging about a number of topic. Alas, December being the most hectic month at my home, I've decided to just touch on each of these topics, however briefly, with the express intention of expanding on each of them over the next month. I promise. Really, I mean it this time. Here they are, in no particular order of importance but the order in which I will comment about them:

  1. Liturgical practice as understood by a Pentecostal theologian and its relation to worship in the church.
  2. A critique (and edited version by yours truly) of Martin Luther's "A Simple Way to Pray".
  3. A discussion of praying the "hours".
  4. A plug for, and discussion of, the movie "Into Great Silence".
  5. An interesting article from The Journal of Lutheran Ethics about the "Greeley Principle" and the role of the Lutheran Church for post moderns.
So, off we go...

Liturgical Practice via Pentecostal Theology:
I came across this link from some other blog (can't remember where now) and was impressed with comments about liturgy like this:

The traditional liturgy doesn't exist primarily to foster interpersonal relationships. It operates on a very different paradigm. In the liturgy we are, in a very real sense, objectively recognizing God for who he is. And in the midst of proclaiming who God is, we encounter God. At the end of the day, we may not be particularly drawn toward individuals, but in a good liturgy, we are drawn to God. We recognize him for who he is.

Now that's really about as good as it gets. When describing liturgy for those who might not understand liturgical whys and where fores, one could not do much better (and probably worse) than to use that quote as a staring point.

A Simple Way to Pray:
Again, I'm not sure how I came across this, or even why but Luther's advice to his barber on how one might pray has all the earmarks of Luther's writing for the laity: Simple, straightforward, folksy and practical without being childish or corny or trite. All the versions I found on the web were html only and the formating was, well, let's just say it left something to be desired. So I spent some time doing a little formating and editing to make it easier for me to read (see sidebar on the right). I hope it is helpful for you.

Praying the Hours:
I'm not quite there yet, but God willing, I'll get to a point where I am at least praying the hours in the morning and night; more than that will be frosting on the cake. Why would I want to do this? Well, the subtitle of my blog states the reason fairly well: fuller communion with Christ (God). I've come to realize that two activities are essential for a Christian who wants to be more than superficially religious: Reading Scripture and prayer. The former has not been much of a problem; the latter has. So I'm trying to start slowly (maybe with the help of Brother Martin) in this activity. Currently I'm using this link for the daily readings and Psalms. There is a beautiful Lutheran breviary by Phillip Pfatteicher called The Daily Prayer of the Church and it's a wonderful book. However, it's a tad intimidating so I'll wait to buy that when I'm ready.

Into Great Silence:

If you are religious of the liturgical bent then you must see this movie about the Carthusian monastery "La Grande Chartruse" and the monks who live and work and pray there. There is a reason why it has garnered so much praise (both religious and non-religious). First, it's visually stunning; parts are filmed in high definition film that are so clear it makes your jaw drop. There are montages that convey so much symbolism I've had to watch it twice to digest even half of the meaning. Second, the life these monks live is really awe inspiring, (I can't say I would want to live this way my whole life but I do feel a pull towards this type of quite life). These monks really are God's athletes. Third, their devotion to prayer is quite motivational. And I need all the motivation I can get.

The "Greeley Principle":
Follow the link above to an article by David L. Miller about how the Lutheran Church has dropped the ball in the role it should be playing in regards to our spiritual growth. He brings up a number of good points that I will tease out in a later post (I promise) but please pay attention to his assertion that contrary to what some in the church believe, there is a strong desire to know and experience the transcendent which is proved by the number of "spirituality" books one can see in bookstore or the ubiquitous Wayne Dyer that comes on once or twice a year when public television wants money. The church is ready made (by definition) to show people that this is indeed possible and the church has the way. But read it for yourself.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Church as tradition

After some time away reading the wonderfully thought provoking book "Silence" by Shusaku Endo, I'm back to reading theological books. My current book is "Lutheranism" by Gritsch and Jenson (see side bar). So far this has been an interesting read even with Jenson's somewhat dense writing style. I was, however taken with this paragraph:

As a community of a story, the church lives by tradition. That is, the church depends at any time on being told this story, and therefore on those who have already heard it; and the church cares for it own future by in turn telling the story. The reality of the church at any time is the reality of a link in the tradition; the reality of the church is a hermeneutic event of the move from hearing to telling. So also an individual believer belongs to the community as one who hears from others and then speaks to others: faith, to, is a hermeneutic reality, and occurs in tradition. Both the church and the individual believer therefore depend on "the" tradition, on the totality of witnesses from which, at any time, we have heard the gospel.

I thought "What a wonderful explanation of the church and why tradition matters so much!" Even if we can't define it as satisfactorily as Jenson, we know this to be the case. One would think Lutherans should the first to say "Amen" to Jenson's take on what the church is. Sadly, this is not necessarily so.

When I read that paragraph I was immediately reminded of something I saw at worship a number of Sundays ago. I was at the early service and had some time to burn. I passed the extra time by reading, waiting for Mass to start. Then I saw Dr. Paul Manz. If you are a Lutheran, you ought to know who Dr. Manz is. For those who don't: Dr. Manz was the preeminent Lutheran organist, improvasationalist and hymn writer for more than 40 years. He spent over twenty years as my churches cantor and it has been easily that long since I had seen him. He was old and bent which was a bit sad but he still looked as I remembered him so many years ago. It just so happened that Dr. Manz and his wife sat two pews in front of me that morning.

As the service progressed I wondered how much of the new worship book (ELW) Dr. Manz would know (if he knew any of it) and how much he would approve, or disapprove. As providence would have it, we used one of the hold-over LBW liturgies. Dr. Manz would have his wife help him and with some of the page flipping (for the hymns) otherwise it was by memory. I appreciated tradition that morning more than most.

Jenson's take on how the church "lives" was reinforced by my observation on that Sunday; it is this tradition of story that connects us, in every time and in every place, to all the saints before us and to those that follow.

And yet, Jenson says:

Under the authority of Scripture and the whole tradition, we will become free to worship in other ways than we have done, and, in whatever ways, for other reasons than that we have always done it so. The church cannot avoid being a social force; under the authority of Scripture and the whole tradition, the church will be a cell for the future rather than the past, and be free to alter its own social structure in order to be this. Any attempt to decree that a particular form of government, or of ministry, or of worship, or of social presence, is permanently necessary to the church is a declaration of independence from the Scripture and creeds.

Something to chew on.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eucharistic Theology

One good thing about reading other blogs is that you are introduced to the coolest stuff. Fr. Tobias Haller's blog "In a Godward direction" had this link to a quiz about Eucharistic Theology. I'm not of a theologian, but I like to think that I'd get at least a "C" in Lutheran Theology. So this quiz made me feel a little better. Below are my results:

Eucharistic theology
You scored as a Luther
You are Martin Luther. You'll stick with the words of Scripture, and defend this with earthy expressions. You believe this is a necessary consequence of an orthodox Christology. You believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, but aren't too sure about where he goes after the meal, and so you don't accept reservation of the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharistic devotions.







So, what's the deal with the high Orthodox score? Hmmm. Blame it on Mannermaa's book. BTW, its a great book. However, I can't explain the high score for Calvinism. Maybe it's the protestant in me. And the low Catholic score? Weird. Oh well, it's fun just the same.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Coveting stuff...

Ever wonder what denomination you would be in if you weren't in the denomination that you're in now? I do. It's mostly when the polity stuff (read acceptance of homosexuals) of the ELCA starts wearing me down that I entertain this notion. I ask myself "If the ELCA implodes because of fill-in-the-blank, where would I go?"

As you can tell from my previous posts, I'm a liturgical Lutheran. This means that all of the Reformed denominations are out. I could go to the Orthodox church (everybody else seems to) but the Orthodox church is too, well, eastern for my western sensibilities. I'm sure I could learn to love the Orthodox church but there is too much western Christianity in me to make the switch. That leaves the Episcopal(Anglican) church or the Catholic church. Regarding the Episcopal church: talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire! Nope, can't do that. My constitution is not strong enough. This leaves the Catholic church. Since I am a liturgical Lutheran, I'm a cousin once (or would it be twice) removed from Rome. The Catholic liturgy is nice (for those churches who don't do funny "contemporary" Eucharist). The music is a little weak in the Catholic church but I could probably get over that deficiency. All in all I might be able to be Catholic.
And I think about this almost every day since I pass by a Catholic church on my drive home from work and there is one a block away from my home that I jog by three days a week.

But just when I think that I could, in pinch, cross the Tiber, I read something that just poisons the waterhole. To wit.

Apparently "commingling with Protestants" is a sin of the same order as homosexality or masturbation. That's rich.

As good ol' Charlie Brown liked to say "Good Grief!"

Friday, August 31, 2007

On Becoming Orthodox

Well, summer vacation is over and it's time to start blogging again. If anyone still reads this blog it will be proof of divine providence. Only the Holy Spirit would keep people reading this blog after such a long absence.

Anyhoo, over at WithoutAuthority I read about this article in the New Republic about the movement of evangelicals to the Orthodox Church (in this case the Antiochian Orthodox Church) . It's an interesting read and quite illustrative of where some postmodern evangelical worshipers are headed.

The motivations for this exodus are fascinating....

The first seems to be an exhaustion with the secularization of the evangelical protestant worship. As I've blogged about before, this secularization (mostly to grow attendance) is ultimately a dead-end. Eventually, these churches will cease to be contemporary and when that happens their main reason for existing disappears. Marketing and entertainment for the sake of growth needs to be constantly relevant (read, changing) to feed that growth; especially in today's overly marketed culture that demands the new over the old. Apparently, this constant churn is wearing folks out.

The second is the need for a more contemplative, thoughtful, and stable worship. Of all the attributes one can say about evangelical worship, contemplative isn't generally one of them. This movement back to more ancient worship forms is a reaction, I feel, to postmodern society. When I blogged about this last year I thought it was mostly younger people who desired this movement to older worship forms but I've changed my mind. Whether young or old, our lives are in constant flux. We accept this flux as a cost of living in a postmodern world but we yearn for something more stable, deeper, and bigger than ourselves. I seen this yearning in my own church most Sundays as I watch visitors at my church receive Holy Communion. The very fact that they are attending worship that is not contemporary makes me hopeful. Only time will tell if this is a permanent trend or just a fad.

The third was the desire to separate worldly political issues from religion. Considering that these folks are disaffected evangelical protestants who's religious fervor has been used and manipulated by others for 30 years for political gain (with little to show for it), it's no surprise that they want a break. Oblique political references in worship are OK when they relate to the lectionary text for that Sunday but that was certainly not what these folks were experiencing. I feel that church ought to be about communion with God in the midst of our bothers and sisters in Christ. There is plenty of time to discuss how our faith should play out in the world before or after Mass. Let's give God some time just for God. We can work out how we further his kingdom on our own time.

Now of these three motivations, it's number two that I'm most interested in. Protestant churches, and especially Lutheran congregations, can learn a thing or two from our Orthodox brethren. Being relevant is a laudable and salutary goal. We should do this when ever possible. But unless these changes are informed by our heritage and the New Testament witness it's just another form of secularization. And in some cases can be gratuitous. Ultimately it could lead us away from God in Christ because we feel our own ideas are better than the received tradition of the faithful before us. Hopefully, there are enough wise men and women to gently guide us in the right direction.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Control or Trust

One of the most intractable secular ideologies among moderns is our sense that we have (or can have) singular control over our lives; that we are the captains of our own ship so to speak. This, of course, is a foolish notion; we certainly have control over our own actions but that doesn't mean we control our lives. We think we do, but ultimately it's the actions (good or bad) of others --whether those others are our family, friends, or society -- that have as much of an affect on our lives as the sea does to the ships voyage. Many times it's complete strangers who have the biggest impact on our lives. And yet this ideology persists. Blame it on technological success of the last 100 years and the commensurate feeling of control it has given us.

What a stumbling block for modern Christians! How does one submit to the will of God and give up that sense of control? Is it even possible for moderns Christians to do so?

Over the last few weeks I've been reading Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship" and I've come away from this reading with a feeling of awe not only for the compelling way Bonhoeffer describes this letting go, this submission, but the way that Bonhoeffer actually gave up control of his life and submitted to God's will.

I say all this by way of introduction to a "Hymn of the Day" my church sung a couple of Sundays ago. Appropriately, it's in the "Trust, Guidance" section of the hymnal. The tune is a haunting one that sticks in your head long after you've sung it. And although I'm not overly emotional, the text moved me to tears when I sang it.

"If You But Trust in God to Guide You" (ELW translation):

If you but trust in God to guide you
with gentle hand through all your ways,
you'll find God is there beside you
when crosses come in trying days,
Trust then in God's unchanging love;
build on the rock that will not move.

What gain is there in anxious weeping,
in helpless anger and distress?
If you are in your Savior's keeping,
in sorrow will he love you less?
For Christ who took for you a cross
will bring you safe through every loss.

The Lord our restless hearts is holding,
in peace and quietness content,
We rest in God's good will unfolding,
what wisdom from on high has sent.
God, who has chosen us by grace,
knows very well the fears we face.

Sing, pray, and keep God's ways unswerving,
offer you service faithfully.
Trust heaven's word; though undeserving,
you'll find God's promise true to be.
This is our confidence indeed;
God never fails in time of need.

Friday, May 18, 2007

We are the Champions......

So, I'm perusing my other theology/religion blogs some mornings ago and I noticed that the blog In A Godward Direction recieved a nomination for Best Religion Blog from the Bloggers Choice awards. My interest pequed, I navigated my way over to that page to see the other "best of" blogs; particularly religious. And as I scrolled through the first two or three pages of religion blogs, I noticed a distinct lack of diversity. To wit: the top, say, 50 were mostly (>90%) Catholic. But not just Catholic; ardently, stridently, in some cases vociferously, Catholic. Why?

It's true the bloggers tend, like other hobbiests, to form cliques that feed off one another, so one could say this is just favoritism. Maybe. I also noticed that the top 10 blogs all were conservative in their outlook; again in some cases vociferously so. Another thing I noticed was that there no Lutheran blogs in this list. None! I know for a fact there are good Lutheran blogs out there in the blogsphere. So why no nominations? I might chalk it up to modesty, but that only applies to Minnesota Lutherans.

Admittedly, these blogs don't represent all Catholic opinion. Nor does the fact that other denominations are underrepresented mean much in the grand scheme of things . But the paucity of blogs from other denominations seems odd as does the tenor of the top religious blogs in this "best of " list. Oh well. Food for thought.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Divine Submission(s)

As serendipity would have it, I've come across a number of blog postings that either directly or indirectly relate to my last posting.

Dwight over at versuspopulum has an very interesting and thought provoking post about the experiential nature of feminist theology and it's implications vis-à-vis the concept of submitting to God's will. I had all these same ideas in my head but couldn't articulate them nearly as well as Brother Dwight. I have an affinity to Dwight's position (and not because I know him). It's a position of humility and gratitude that resonates with me. (more on this in my next posting). BTW, the comments on this post are thoughtful too.

Father Tobais at In a Godward Direction has two interesting posts: one about Doctrine which is quite thoughtful and is apropos to the discussion of any theology. The other about Christian forgiveness. Again, Fr. Tobais is taking an approach of humility that I've always felt is the mark of Christian grace. (Again, read the comments, they're thought provoking).

And finally, Fr. Kimel over at Pontifications (his blog is off line so this link is to Google's cached version) has a number of interesting postings, but I'd recommend the May 11th posting on Protestant unity which does concern doctrine and theology. Oh, and read the posting about Anglican Communion (about who has doctrinal authority in the AC), it's an enlightening read.

Maybe these are not serendipitous at all? Maybe this is the Holy Spirit working through her Church? The more I think on it, the more I like that idea.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Cross Bearing?

"As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus." -- Luke 23:26

The verse above was from the Gospel Lectionary for Passion Sunday and my ears perked up for some reason upon hearing it. I had intended to write something about how the story of Simon of Cyrene is a good analogy for the average layperson. But the Easter season being what it is (busy) and me being who I am (procrastinator), it never got written. I had a great little essay in my head and it was practically finished; all I needed to do is type it out and it would be done. I'm sure it would have been brilliant, having to do with bearing the cross of Christ for his sake and the implications that has for liberal Lutherans. But then I started reading the book to the left for a theological discussion group at my church and I realized that the concept of bearing the cross is not a universally held theological concept; or not universally agreed upon. Admittedly, I'm reading feminist/womanist theology which has a particular axe to grind, but I suppose I just took it for granted that this was a theological idea that was not under much dispute. Apparently I was mistaken.

The thrust of the first part of this three part book is that theology, heretofore, is based on a masculine point of reference and that this can (and does) cause at the very least, a diminishing of women in church life, at worst causes a perpetuation and legitimization of violence against women. Now, feminist ideology can be a challenge for any liberal (man or woman), but I always thought of myself as fairly open and accommodating so I didn't think I would have many objections. After reading a number of essays in this book I find that I'm not as accommodating as I thought. And I find that I have more in common with less liberal theologians than I fancied just a couple of months ago.

It would be hard to give a synopsis of the first section of the book; I wouldn't do it justice and, quite frankly, I don't agree with much of it nor can I get my brain wrapped around some of it. However, I did notice that some feminist theology does the same thing as other niche theologies tend to do; e.g. use theology to grind an ideological axe. This might be acceptable, I guess, if done correctly (i.e. if based on sound biblical exegesis). The problem starts when the Gospel takes a backseat to ideology, and in the process we get compartmentalization/marginalization. I dislike this in conservative theology, and I don't much care for it with liberal theology either. I got the sense that I could neither critique nor understand feminist/womanist theology either because I was male or white or both. It's ironic that the very ill that feminist theology tries to change and (rightly) critiques, that of marginalization, is what it precisely seems to do -- at least that's what I felt when I read it. I also felt that some of the theology was created out of whole cloth with tenuous grounding in the Gospel or in the *vast* history of theological thought over the last 2000 years (there were two exceptions; both Lutheran thank-you-very-much).

To be sure, feminist theology was/is essential to help give women equal footing in the church. I have a 15 year old daughter and I would hope that she would have the same opportunity in the church as I do. I just wish it wouldn't push me overboard in the process.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lenten Introspection

Because Lent is the season for introspection, self examination, and repentance, (of which I've been doing some of all three), I offer the following excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship" for your consideration.

Much of what is ailing Christianity (and not just mainline protestantism; even if it is affecting/infecting us to a greater extent) can be explained by way of Bonhoeffers conception of "cheap grace". The fact that Bonhoeffer wrote this over 60 years ago is proof that this might be the single biggest challenge for Christians in general, but specifically mainline protestants in a modern/post-modern world:

"Cheap Grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. [......] Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it cost a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Real Presence

Since I'm Lutheran, I'm all about confessing. Therefore: I confess that I suck at blogging. In my pastors sermon a number of Sundays ago he mentioned that Flannery O'Conner would sit in front of her typewriter every day, whether she felt like she had something to say or not; you never know when the muse will strike. Sounds like advice tailor made for me.

I just turned 39 (40 right around the corner!) and I received a gift card to a near-by used bookstore as a present (I love used bookstores). So, the next day I stopped by and purchased a number of books, one of which was: The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution. Besides the absolute silliness of buying another theology/religion book (you should see the stack waiting to be read), it's about "evangelizing" which always seemed, to my Lutheran ears at least, a code word for proselytizing. (What's the difference? Good question. I'll have more to say on that topic (and this book) in the future.)

And yes, I'm aware this is the height of irony coming from someone who is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I read something in the third chapter that struck me quite powerfully and I'd like to share it with you. The author of that chapter posed a question from a hypothetical Christian about the difficulties of evangelism. The premise is that it was easier for the Apostles to evangelize because they had the benefit of actually being with Jesus. The question was:

Since Jesus is no longer living with us bodily, how can we actually 'hear' his voice or 'feel' his healing touch?

The author answers the question thusly:

The heart of evangelical theology and preaching is that Christ is alive and present among us -- concretely and unmistakably. Jesus' word and presence are real, direct, graspable, and available for us -- today!....We do not act *as if* Jesus Christ were present in the Christian community. The gospel message is that Jesus, actually, is alive and is really present with us in Christian community as he promised. That's the good news. It's the great gift of salvation.

The writer then goes on to describe how, exactly, Christ is present to us:

Now, the secret of Jesus' real presence is this: the way he freely comes to people today is through the proclamation of his word, the celebration of the sacraments, and the life and witness of the Christian community.

And a little later on he quotes Bonhoeffer:

If we want to hear his call to discipleship, we need to hear it where Christ himself is present. It is within the church that Jesus Christ calls through his word and sacrament...To hear Jesus' call to discipleship, one need no personal revelation. Listen to the preaching and receive the sacrament! Listen to the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord! Here he is, the whole Christ, the very same who encountered the disciples. Indeed, here he is already present as the glorified, the victorious, the living Christ. No one but Christ himself can call us to discipleship...That was true in the same way for the first disciples as it is for us.

These bold statement shouldn't have been very surprising; and yet they were. Do we as Lutherans really understand how important and relevant these ideas are? Shouldn't we be embracing this theological heritage and put it to good use?

There seems to me a crying need for this idea of the real presence of Christ (without too much ecclesiastical baggage). Contrary to popular belief, I think post-modern Christians want and need something that is solid and non-relativistic and real. Can you get anything more real than Christ crucified and risen given to you every Sunday?!

More later.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

To Liturgy, or not to Liturgy

Last month a reader asked this question on my post about conversion:

"Do you mind clarifying that distinction you make between "historic" and "praise" worship in the context of the Lutheran Church? Why choose the term "praise worship" to refer to it?"

Since I never did get to answer the reader, and since the ELCA is using a new book of worship, and since the adult education hour at my church is spending some time going over said book, I thought it might be an appropriate time to answer this question.

By way of introduction, I submit the following for the readers edification from the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions, [XXIV] The Mass:

"At the outset it is again necessary, by way of preface, to point out that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord's day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it..... We also also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things." [italics mine]

So Lutherans, by definition/confession, keep the traditional worship forms of the church, which in this context means the Roman Mass as handed down from the church fathers.

I will define praise worship as: any worship that does not use the traditional forms, does not offer the sacrament of Holy Communion regularly, uses no vestments, order of readings, and uses contemporary pop ("praise") music which is generally accompanied by a four part band (bass, guitar, drums, keyboard). Praise worship also tends to have a singular emphasis on scriptural reading which can, and often is, augmented by some form of video projection to a large screen/scrim at the front of the church.

As the reader might gather, I don't much care for the praise worship style. I find it completely denuded of any solemnity. It doesn't seem, to me at least, edifying or authentic (more on that in a moment). And I have even less stomach for it in any Lutheran church (whether ELCA or LCMS). Other traditions (Pentecostal/Charismatic for example) have no foundation in the Roman church, no liturgical tradition, and therefore have no requirement for using liturgical worship. But all Lutheran churches do and should.

The praise worship places too much emphasizes about a personal relationship with God and what he can do for us in this world (mostly personal wealth, happiness, or success), not about what we should do for God and His creation because of the gift of grace through Jesus Christ. It places emphasis on personal relations with God and Jesus at the expense of a more theological (transformational) understanding of what God did (and does) for us through Jesus. It's non-sacramental; it skips the Eucharist which to my mind is the focal point of the worship. Praise style has taken (and has been co-opted by) secular trappings (pop music, self-help philosophy among others) and incorporated them into their ministry and worship.

But aren't these the very things that separate us from God and are precisely what we need to resist. I mean, do we really need more trappings of secular society?

This does not mean that I feel worship must be stuck in the 16th century. On the contrary! I'm all for renewal and change provided its done with an eye towards continuity. The Reformation, arguably the biggest change in Christendom, created an explosion of hymns in the vernacular of the people, most of which we sing today. Name any Christmas hymn or carol and chances are it's post Reformation. And yet these changes happened within the context of a received heritage and so were an augment to what was already there. Change can be good.

Modern liturgical worship (say the last 25 years) has kept liturgical forms but adds modern hymns, tone settings and text that give it a greater relevance without striping it of its lineage. One example; two weeks ago on the First Sunday of Epiphany - Baptism of Our Lord, my congregation sang two decidedly un-Lutheran hymns, one a was a hymn from the Sacred Harp tradition and the other was a African American spiritual. These, obviously, are not traditional to the time of the Reformation, but they were both edifying, dignified, and authentic. They fit the liturgy of the day even though they were not "Lutheran" per se. This shows that even in a liturgical setting there is freedom to express our faith in more divers ways.

Please forgive me if this sounds like a bitter screed. It's not meant to be. But I feel strongly that if the Lutheran church is to be relevant at all, it must stick to its heritage as a liturgical church. (Do we really think we can compete against nondenominational mega-churches?) Liturgical worship has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. We should do what we do best. I'm absolutely convinced that there is a large number of post-modern Christians who crave liturgical worship because this type of worship has a point of reference that is not us but God; because it's solemn and dignified in a society that is neither; because it's authentic in an age of complete artificiality; because it's sacramental; because it's flexible and adaptable to culture without pandering to that culture.

Here is a quote by theologian Robert Jenson I read over at Pontifications -- on another subject -- but which I feel is apropos (Danger! Theology ahead!):

"Justification by my own righteousness is overcome only by a word that both declares my justification and is clearly and permanently not my own word. Justification by faith can only be opened by a word addressed to me, from outside of me. The gospel is intrinsically an "external" word; it is a word with a home out there in the world that stands against my subjectivity, and that is to say, out there in the world of objects, of bodies and places for bodies. It is, therefore, intrinsically a word "with" a body, with an undetachable nonverbal or more-then-verbal manifestation: a word "with" a bath or a meal or a finger-sign..."

"Words that are mere words, that could in principle get along without objects and bodily performances, are too mental to open the righteousness of faith. If all the word of promise does is convey the information that, let us say, Jesus lives, then once that information is in my head, I can forget the way I learned it. Then the bit of knowledge becomes my knowledge, that I can henceforth tell myself -- and if hearing it justifies, I can justify myself. Thus the word that Jesus lives does not occur as a mere conveyance of information, but as a word that includes such addresses as, "This piece of bread is the living Jesus, take it," thereby pinning me each time anew to what does not come from me, but is out there in the world and comes to me from it." (Lutheranism [1976], pp. 81-82)

And there, in two paragraphs, is why liturgical worship, with all of its physical and sacramental richness, is so important. Especially in today's world, and especially for Lutherans.

P.S. Dash had an interesting post (So, how come I'm not dying?) that I think touches on this subject. Why is my church growing? I think one reason is that we are liturgical. And there are not many liturgical Lutheran churches left.

P.P.S. One more thought: liturgy is not enough. It will only be effective and true if done with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. If we get too smug about liturgy and forget its purpose we will have a slow, sad, but inexorable demise. Liturgy is the means; God through Christ Jesus is, and always should be, the ends.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Spiritual Raiment

A Reading from the First Sunday of Christmas - Revised Common Lectionary, year C:

"As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." -- Colossians 3:12-14

St. Paul writes about these subjects in a number of ways throughout his letters to the early christian congregations; this just happens to be one of his best because of its metaphorical usage and succinct style. Unfortunately, we are no better at clothing ourselves in these virtues then the early Christians were 2000 years ago.

How can we to do this today? Considering how polarized we are culturally and politically, (never mind religiously), it doesn't seem possible (or practical, frankly) to even bother. However, this is precisely the cross that Jesus has asked us to bear. And we can - or should - do no less.

It seems to this writer that this is easier to do when the object is less fortunate then we are - it makes us feel good after all. The harder task is when the object is more familiar and ordinary. To follow this admonition on a daily basis is the real mark we should be aiming for.

But compassion requires opening the heart which our society doesn't practice (or value) these days. It also requires empathy which, again, seems all but absent in society because it looks weak. Humility, kindness, meekness, and patience all require one to sublimate ones self desires for the sake of others. All of this is possible only through love. As Jesus was the personification of God's love, (and sublimated his divinity to the point of death), so we should be that personification to our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

The Church, writ both with large and small "c", should consider this passage as well. She is good at following these instructions, but not consistently and not without caveats; i.e. open vs. closed communion among other things.

I'll spare the reader the blistering critique where I point out, piously of course, those that should heed more carefully St. Paul's instruction. It's really not necessary. We already know how, where, and to whom it applies. Next time we dress for the day, let us clothe ourselves in St. Paul's spiritual raiment as well. It's just as important.