The Mass

Phil Kline, Gungor, the Liturgists, and the Revelator

This post is turning out to be the second post in a larger line of thinking that began with Cultural Identity and Expression in Worship and, another post on Phil Kline and The Liturgists, The House and the Smoothie: John the Revelator and The Liturgists. LEK, 3/13/15

Gungor and the Liturgists at first glance speak my language.  When I read the Liturgists manifesto I feel my self saying right on.  Gungor’s and the Liturgists’ talk about liturgy and beauty I get and love .  My problem – Gungor’s music never really spoke to me (a song here and there I may like but just not my thing).  The Liturgists liturgies either feel like modules that  plug into some other contraption  I don’t own, or are nonsense, I don’t know which.  Each time I’ve attempted to engage the work of Gungor and the Liturgists I’d see something that in terms general outline and broad brushstrokes I should get, and yet there is always only frustration.  I certainly don’t deny that  their work is worshipful or meditative, but it remains a puzzle and entirely inaccessible to me.

Then, I came across Phil Kline’s John the Revelator Mass and the first hearing blew me away.  From the first listen I knew I needed to find away to use the mass as an actual liturgy (which this review found difficult to imagine, I have no difficulty imagining it).  My response to Phil Kline’s mass only deepened my puzzlement over my lack of enthusiasm for what Gungor and the  Liturgists are doing.  Phil Kline while having been raised Lutheran doesn’t make any claim to be a Christian, though a spiritual person, writes a mass that not only I like musically but that is comprehensible to me liturgically as worship, such that I intend to use it as an actually liturgy on the feast of St John the Evangelist (hopefully this year).  While the Liturgists’ liturgies to me are just nice art pieces that I can appreciate or critique, and may grab me as private meditative pieces (but I don’t particularly need a liturgy to meditate, nor do feel the need for group meditation) but can’t imagine how one would use them as actual liturgies with physical actions and movement within a worship service.

Some clarity came as I read Phil Kline’s description of his approach to the mass .  When he was commissioned to write the mass he began with the Blues song John the Revelator (thus the name of the mass as opposed Mass of St John the Evangelist).  But this didn’t lead him to create a Blues mass ( and that makes all the sense in the world to me) Kline stuck with the basic structure of the mass, the ordinary, including choosing to use the Latin and vocals without instrumentation, chanted, but not Gregorian. Kline then chose to see the variable portions of the structure of the mass, that is the propers that change with the day or season,  as the place of greatest interpretation- in the propers he uses voice and strings, and draws on texts from not only Scripture but Samuel Becket and David Shapiro. and two shape note hymns Northport and Wondrous Love.  In the John the Revelator Mass, Kline was able to see it’s spiritual structure and it’s creative elasticity found in living in the traditional mass by having the tradition as a whole be in dialogue with American and modernist music and poetry.

This is striking difference to what Gungor and the Liturgists seem to be doing. Liturgy and ritual are form them a generic category of worship and spirituality, and not a specific thing or tradition .  So, they seek to mine what Christians in the past and current Christians do in their liturgies.  The purpose of using litugy and mining liturgical traditions is to bring a cognizance of liturgy and ritual to evangelical worship and liturgy.  So the larger tradition of the Church is utilized to offer and create “evangelical” liturgies.  Gungor and the Liturgists aren’t looking at the liturgical tradition of the church as something to live in and find the creative and expansive place within  its structures and patterns, rather those things are examples of what can be done.  As such, they may bring pieces of that tradition into what they create or find inspiration from that tradition, but they have no interest in living there or  adopting as their own that tradition.  They don’t seek to inhabit liturgy (or liturgies), as Kline did, to find it’s creative possibilities.

My own Faith journey has come to lose interest in the possibilities of Christianity in general, or relgion in general, really anything in general.  My own experience of evangelicalism (which was actually Lutheran Pietism and not American Fundamentalist or Revivalist) sent me into the catholic tradition of the church as found in Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, and among the Anglicans.  I’m not interested in forming the tradition to my sense of what contemporary Christianity needs or what a particular segment of American Protestant Christianity might learn from the tradition. Rather, I’m interested in being formed by the Tradition and finding the creative and inventive space of dialogue and invention within in it.  This is what I think Kline did in the John the Revelator mass and it is what seems to be either uninteresting to the Liturgists or something they haven’t conceived of as possible. Either way, I’m looking for liturgies like John the Revelator and not Garden or Oh Light.