Worship

Excitement and Boredom in the Easter Vigil

Tripp Hudgins and David Hansen argued about boredom and worship on Twitter and in dueling blog posts.  David says boring proclamation is a sin. Tripp sings the praises of boredom.  The dispute started with a Tweet out of UNCO 2016 that wondered why people are more excited about Star Wars than worship.  David says the story of the Gospel and our proclamation of it (David is a Lutheran) should be exciting.  Those who proclaim the story of the Gospel shouldn’t bore us and put us to sleep.  Tripp says we should not try to compete with entertainment for profit that seeks only to capture our attention for a moment. The Church, Gospel, and the liturgy have something “longer” in view – eternity. This exchange begs the question what is “boredom”, what is “excitement” and what is the interplay of the two in our worship?

The above exchange brought up a contradiction I’ve experienced in myself around the Easter Vigil and the memory of my first Easter Vigil, at St. Peter’s Episcopal church in Sand Pedro, California.  I was a sophomore or Junior in college and I had decided to spend the time between Christmas and Pentecost among Episcopalians. My college age Lutheran Pietist self had no means to anticipate what I found in the Vigil, (Who lights a bonfire in the middle of a church to start off a worship service?!).  It all captivated me, the bonfire, the lighting of the paschal candle, the siting in the dark listening to the stories of salvation, the loud acclamation of “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” with all the lights going up.  Nothing in my twenty years of worship had prepared me for the Easter Vigil. I was blown away.  Since that moment I’ve loved the Easter Vigil.  However, recently, the Easter Vigil has felt a little humdrum.

Over the years I’ve participated in various attempts to spice up the Vigil and I’ve enjoyed those creative takes on this liturgy.  However, as I’ve recently come to find the Vigil just a little boring, I’ve wondered if the main motivation behind wanting to spice up the Vigil was the leaders own fear of their own boredom. While, currently I’m bored with the Easter Vigil, I still love it and its various elements. Though, I’m bored with it, it is still truly meaningful.  I’m puzzled about why I no longer experience the same excitement and amazement of that first Easter Vigil and which I have often experienced in subsequent Vigil’s.  I wonder what did St. Peter’s do “right” to make their Easter Vigil so exciting to my college age self?

As I’ve reflected on this and sought to recollect what we did in the Easter Vigil and not just my experience of it, I’ve concluded St. Peter’s did nothing to make their Easter Vigil exciting for my college age self.  When, I force myself to recall, not my astonishment at the unfamiliarity of the service and its dramatic elements but what actually took place in the liturgy, I notice that the service itself was quite boring and unremarkable.  Once you got beyond the dramatic opening of a bonfire lit in doors, it was just a very long service.  The Exsultet was not superbly sung (I have no recollection of it from the service, so I surmise it wasn’t memorable), then we sat in the dark listening to average readers read the requisite stories of salvation.  Nothing special was done, no reading choruses, no dramatic readings or performances, no dances; just the reading of one scripture after the other from the same lectern used each Sunday for the same purpose.  But I ate up, this fairly boring and unremarkable Easter Vigil.

Why did I find this first Easter Vigil so compelling and exciting, and why do I now find participation in the Easter Vigil boring?  The reasons are layered.  Most obviously, that first Easter Vigil was my first. The liturgy was completely and entirely new for me, nothing in my worship experience before then prepared me for what I found in that liturgy. No one in the parish thought to give the young Lutheran Pietist a heads up on what was going to happen in the liturgy. They just said we do this thing on Holy Saturday, if you are part of the parish this is part of our celebration of Holy Week and Easter.  Also, my boredom is explicable: I’ve now been to 25 vigils in a row. Since that first one I’ve planned and lead a number of them. I know the Easter Vigil inside and out.  Then Easter Vigil was new and unfamiliar, now the Easter Vigil is, for my middle aged self, old hat.

Even so, I do think that St. Peter’s helped contribute to my astonishment and excitement for the Easter Vigil.  Unlike most parishes and congregations (in my experience) that have an Easter Vigil, St Peters had a high ratio of involvement in the liturgical life of the church outside the Sunday worship. The church was packed for the Easter Vigil.  Special liturgies of Lent and Holy Week weren’t for St Peter’s just something for the spiritually fastidious or dramatic few, but were truly liturgies of the whole parish. My first Easter Vigil was compelling and exciting not only because it was new to me but also because the whole gathered local body of St Peter’s parish understood what it was doing and saw it as a key component of the Christian life.  They may not have added any bells and whistles to their liturgical performance but their hearts and minds were attentive to its meaning and importance.  It was truly an act of devotion and worship for the entire parish.

Looking back on that time of sojourn with the parish of St. Peters, they attended to the various liturgical patterns more or less equally. No one service or liturgy was given precedence, rather it all was part of who they were as the body of Christ, no liturgy was just for those certain type of people in the parish. When I recollect, I see there was nothing remarkable nor did they do anything that would stand out to a liturgist or expert on worship.  St Peter’s did nothing to call attention to their faithful participation in the liturgy and festal cycle of the Church year.  No one could write a book on how to do liturgy like they did at St Peters of San Pedro, California.  As I think back it was all basic boring stuff, it was traditional and unremarkable.  Yet it was their faithfulness, and their understanding of the liturgy as central to the spiritual life of the Church that made that Lent and Easter one of the more memorable and exciting seasons of my life in the Church.

The Joy of Transformation

Texts for contemplation: Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-21; John 1:19-34; John 2:1-11

Although we have left behind the celebration of Christmas, liturgically we are still basking in the light of God manifest in human flesh.   This is also the time of Carnival and Mardi Gras.

We tend not to give much thought to this period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday.  We may stop briefly to hear God’s call to the Beloved and speak of God’s love. Yet, We wait to hear the call to repentance till we enter the somber self-reflective desert landscape of Lent.

Epiphany iconWe first hear John the Baptist cry of metanoia, repentance, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, and we encounter the fiery prophet John the forerunner again as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ at Epiphany.

We are in a moment of enlightenment, of ecstasy or celebration.  The joy of Christmas hasn’t come to an end, not yet.  From Epiphany to Ash Wednesday we continue in that joy through deepened understanding and enlightenment.

God the Father speaks to the Son Jesus of Nazareth as the Spirit confirms and presents this speech, “this is my beloved in whom I’m well pleased.”  These words are spoken to a human being.

The gift given to all through God’s words to Jesus of Nazareth in that moment of the Baptism is something we have to prepare to receive.  John the Baptist proclamation and call to repent calls us to prepare ourselves for the joy of transformation.

In this moment in which God as trinity and God as incarnate in the human Jesus of Nazareth is revealed we also can see God’s love for all humanity and all creation.  In Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God the Son, all humanity and all creation is taken up into that address.  In Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son in human flesh, all humanity is the beloved in whom God is well pleased.  At the Baptism the individual Jesus of Nazareth isn’t the only one addressed, nor is this address addressed to all humanity without the mediation of Jesus of Nazareth.

How do we receive this amazing address and how do we find ourselves able to receive this love?  In some sense Johns preaching and call to repentance, or change of mind, way of thinking, addresses two very human responses to God saying you are my beloved: either we say Well yes of course or no that can’t ever be.  Both actually keep God at bay and at arm’s length.  One with a presumption of relationship the other a refusal of relationship based on an enlarged sense of shame and unworthiness.  Both underlie much pain and are the result of hurt we inflict upon each other as human beings.

This moment of revelation enlighten and manifestation should shake us.  God’s love is intense, it seeks our transformation into who we truly are, beloved of God.

We all have barriers to hearing God’s address to us in and through Jesus of Nazareth.  We must be prepared to receive God in human flesh; we need to prepare ourselves to receive the gift of being beloved of God in Jesus of Nazareth. We prepare to receive this gift in celebration and in joy, not in self-denial and sorrow (these are coming).

Liturgically, it is significant that we hear the call to repentance and God’s address to us as beloved, in a time of celebration and not first in the desert landscape of Lent.

If we are unaware of this season after epiphany and its joy, ecstasy and continued celebration of the incarnation, we may have a primarily negative view of repentance.

There is a place for the being cut to the quick by our human failings and the asceticism of Lent.  However, for us to have the means to thoroughly examine ourselves in Lenten discipline we must also know the joy of being called to repent because we are loved.

The first sign the Jesus performs according the Gospel of John is turning water into wine at the wedding wedding_cana_bulletinat Cana.  In the Gospel of John this follows directly upon Jesus baptism.  Jesus ministry and the reason his disciples and others first believe in him is because of this unnecessary and celebratory act.  Jesus attends a celebration of life and through turning water into wine not only allows the celebration to continue but does so with fine wine, some of the best the steward of the feast has ever tasted.

In this moment between Christmas and Ash Wednesday we are called to be opened to God’s justice and righteousness through celebration, in light.  We celebrate and in that celebration are called to repentance, to the change of mind and heart.  We tur to God not in shame, but the joy of God’s embrace of humanity and all creation in the person Jesus of Nazareth.

Sacramental Politics: A Review

In Sacramental Politics: Religious worship as political action, Brian Kaylor explores the various ways religion and politics commingle, focusing on acts of worship and political activism.   The book presents a problem: Two things that don’t go together and we think of as separate and radically different things do in fact often come together, religion and politics. Religious worship can influence and affect politics and politics can effect religious worship.  Given the dominant view of religion and politics that they are two irreconcilable and separate realms, Kaylor offers a theory of how to account for the times that religious worship and political action and activism do come together and commingle.  His theory for how this occurs uses the doctrine of transubstantiation as a  controlling metaphor as he explores this commingling of religion and politics varying from prayers said at Democrat and Republican party conventions to Shane Claiborne’s 2008 Jesus for President tour.

At first Kaylor’s uncritical acceptance of our current beliefs and assumptions about religion and politics was disorienting.  At first it seems that Kaylor merely accepts the assumption that politics and religion are entirely separate spheres that have (or should have) nothing to do with each other while seeking to give an account of the many and varied ways religion and politics do in fact have a great deal to do with each other.  This apparent acceptance of this view, affirmed that religion and politics really were these two absolutely distinct substances that couldn’t naturally commingle, yet the author also seemed to want to give a positive or at last neutral account of the transubstantiation of politics in worship and worship in politics.  It was difficult to tell in the early chapters whether Kaylor was arguing that this “transubstantiation” was something to avoid that violated the clear and true realms of political and religious activity, or if the author was meaning that religious worship had a relevance to the world and politics and thus “transubstantiation” was the way this was allowed to occure.

The first four chapters given the acceptance of our general assumption that religion and politics should be and are separate and irreconcilable things, seems to critique the ways both the religious left and religious right make use of  transubstantiation.  Though, Kaylor’s stance is one of academic and scientific description of what occurs without judgement.  Also, I had the unease of if one accepts the absolute separation, then religion and worship are meaningless activities that can have no relation to any real action in the world political or otherwise. By the fifth Chapter “Religious Worship as Political Space” the transubstantiation theory begins to be an indirect critique of the assumptions about religion and politics the author seemed to accept as a given.

Chapters 6 and 7 get to the heart of Kaylor’s position: “Religious worship as inherent Political Action” and “Relgious worship as Politics.”  For Kaylor there is no way to actually separate out religion and politics, politics will at moments simply be transubstantiated in religion or worship and religion and/or worship will be transubstantiated in politics.  However, Kaylor believes we should be aware of how and when this occurs and shouldn’t accept all instances of this transubstantiation

Sacramental Politics offers a good and extended reflection on the various ways that religion and politics interact, mix together and influence and participate in each other.  His theory of “transubstantiation” is useful only in the rhetorical structure of the book that seeks to undermine our assumptions about the absolute and impenetrable “wall of Separation” between religion and politics that if it were true would render religion and worship to be a merely meaningless private individual subjectivity that would have no effect or consequence for how one would live their daily life.  And would render politics as a realm that any true person of faith couldn’t enter into as a person of faith.  What Kaylor in the end offers is a way to move beyond our current assumptions and dogmas about the separation of religion and politics offering a way to evaluate and critique any particular instance of the commingling of religious worship and political action. However, I’d argue since the “theory” presented in the book functions more as a rhetorical device to avoid a direct critique of our cultural and societal assumptions and dogmas, for Kaylor or anyone to move forward one would need to leave the author’s theory behind.

On the Web:

Brian Kaylor

Brian Kaylor on Twitter

Biran Kaylor on Facebook

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Good Friday: Just another day in Post-Christendom

Yesterday, I had an appointment with someone, in the conversation my being pastor came up (it wasn’t about anything church or religiously affiliated), but that we met on Maundy Thursday, nor that today was Good Friday came up in the conversation.  The person whom I met seemed to have no sense that I as a Western Christian was in the midst of our high holy days, and that Sunday was Easter.

As I traveled to the Oratory’s Maundy Thursday service with a member of the Oratory, the business of the City was unchanged, people coming home from work as any other day.  I went out briefly today and the feeling is the same.  This week I’m running on a different time than many of those who are about me.  In this post Christian and post-Christendom world we have these strange remnants like Christmas, and people talk about the war on Christmas, and of course the Media has been putting out the requisite biblical or Jesus stories (though even that seems less prevalent this year, than in past years.)

This isn’t a complaint.  But it does feel like I’m going about this celebration in secret. Part of this is that the week has been less intense for me since, the Oratory will only have held a Maundy Thursday service.  We are going together to other congregations for Good Friday and for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services.  I have more time to see that many others, some of whom may be Christian aren’t as taken up in to this the central holiday of Holy Week and the Three Days.  I’m also more attuned I guess that for many Easter Sunday will come and that will be that.  The center of our faith will be a blip on events that fill up their lives.  That this is so for the Christmas and Easter crowd is fine, what I find more problematic is when due to a variety of factors otherwise committed Christians won’t take the time to sit with the passion, death and Insurrection of Christ.

Even so, I understand.  This week has, as I said above, has been less focused then in previous years where we had a dramatic liturgy of Palm?Passion Sunday with Palms and processions and dramatic reading of the passion Gospel, and having the full three days celebrated with one or two other congregations.  This year I will be celebrating the three days but this week hasn’t been so consuming.

This isn’t a complaint. There is something of a truth in that Holy Week seems to be something barely noticed and passing by without remark.

What God did in Jesus of Nazareth isn’t obvious.  What was happening on that Friday in ancient Roman occupied Palestine, was just another execution of yet another failed resistance to Roman rule.  Yet another “messiah” crucified.  Move along and make a few snarky comments, nothing more, life goes on.

Tonight, I along with many other Christians will adore this once common implement of execution.  Granted it has other symbolic resonances, yet at base we adore tonight what should have been failure and the end of the story. We do something strange, because what we adore is hidden from view. The significance of these three days is almost to common, or rather like a treasure hiden in a field, it isn’t obvious or remarkable on the surface.

This is just another day, nothing special, life will go on.  Yet, we assert something remarkable happened and happens.  Something slowly is transforming the ordinary into something more, revealing the inner beauty and reality of the ordinary as what is quite extra-ordinary. And this began in a torture and death of one particular human being, a seemingly unremarkable and ordinary human being on the edge of a great empire over 2000 years ago.

 

The House and the Smoothie: John the Revelator and The Liturgist

This is the third post in what seems to be the beginning of series of posts on Liturgy and Worship. The first in this series can be found here, the second is mentioned in the first paragraph below. LEK 3/13/05.

In my previous post on liturgy and the Liturgists and Phil Kline, I was feeling my way towards something.  I was following a path that I could barely make out, but I think I’ve come upon a clearing.

In this clearing I see The Liturgists as taking pieces from various sources within Christianity and offering up a blended and recombined liturgies to be used in worship or meditation, as may strike one(this description is in part taken from Facebook exchange with Mike McHargue).  The liturgist are offering up a meal or a smoothie: One could enjoy it on the go, or sitting down with friends.  One may cook something up yourself using the same ingredients and following their recipe.  Kline’s approach in the John the Revelator Mass is more holistic, in terms of  the liturgical tradition, he takes up the Mass as a whole. ( granted the reason for this is he was commissioned to write a setting of the Mass) Kline takes the Mass as a place to set camp.  He then invites disparate elements often totally unrelated to the tradition of the Mass into the encampment, and invites us to live there, or at least allow ourselves to be guests inhabiting the liturgical tradition of the mass for at least a time.

Both are forms of hospitality and gift.  But very different.  Kline offers up a hospitality of space and clearing, invites us, and the disparate elements of music, his own composition style, poetry and folk hymns into the space of a tradition.  The Liturgists want to feed you, give you the various flavor of things they’ve tasted on their travels, they’ll mix it up for you, cook it up, and/or give you the recipe for you to cook up your own liturgical meal or smoothie.  You don’t have to stop and live in their space, Just come in pick up the smoothie – enjoy and be fed and then be on your way.

In the John the Revelator mass the liturgical tradition is the space into which disparate elements are gathered into a whole and are transformed into something else as they are brought together in the house of the Mass.  For the Liturgists and their liturgies it is the tradition that is transformed as they mix blend and recombine various elements to offer up something to the passer by, content that people are nourished by the flavors and the sustenance found in various fruit and vegetable they’ve picked from the gardens and habitations of other Christians.

Kline’s Mass affirms that to inhabit the Tradition is a potentially a deeply creative space.  There’s a lot of room to be in this space even as that space will, if you live there, form one into something else, rather than one transforming pieces into something else to live in one’s own encampment.

Kline’s Mass is significant for me because it demonstrates what I hope the Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler (Facebook Page)  and the Community of the Holy Trinity (Facebook page) offer is a space to inhabit, or rather I want these to be an invitation into a habitation, away of being.

Cultural Identity and Expression in Worship

My Covenant Colleague Josef Rasheed‘s recent post about worship and cultural identity beautifully and gracefully articulates the role cultural expression plays in worship as well as its dynamic complexity.  However, I am aware a white pastor saying some of the same things would come off very differently (this isn’t a complaint, there are very legitimate reasons why Whites can’t speak in exactly this way about heritage and cultural identity and worship).  But I wish here to reflect on cultural identity, worship, and contemporaneity in dialogue with Rasheed’s post looking for that place of meeting he articulates so well in his conclusion, which I’d argue is beyond cultural identity or worship as expression, but union in Christ and the Body, the church.

Rasheed’s post has me asking what is my heritage (this is my word not Rasheed’s), what is my cultural identity?  As White this question is full of pitfalls, traps, and possible wrong turns.  Where as Rasheed’s cultural identity and heritage may be labyrinthine (he says it has taken many turns, and he has found it in unexpected moments) as White, for me to speak of cultural identity is mazelike.  Taking a turn may not lead to the way out, can lead to dead ends.  As White I can get lost in this talk of heritage and cultural identity.   Claiming my cultural identify as Swedish or German can simply fall into the realm of facade and kitsch, or worse kitsch as hyper identity. Even this hand wringing over what is my cultural identity is one of those pitfalls: cultural identity, heritage, and the like are what those exotic others have, I’m just White, the default, the measure.  In this pitfall we, who are without “cultural identity”, borrow, appreciate, and identify with what isn’t ours (this can happen in worship in multicultural congregations and worship).  The flip side of that is to attempt to guard against all that isn’t White, to bewail the loss of this or that, that the youth are into other people’s music or culture, etc.

All of this is of course bound up in failing to recognize, at the outset, that part of the heritage of White and European is the oppression of people of color in the process of creating White identity.  It should not be surprising that some of us take refuge in either the worship styles of “contemporary” or “traditional”(really what is familiar from our childhood).

What leads down some of these winding dead ends for Whites is to limit conversation of worship to that one hour (and for Whites it usually is exactly an hour) of worship on a Sunday morning.  When Rasheed talks about worship expressions outside of the Sunday worship service, his example is the funeral.  This resonates with me yet,  I remember in seminary we were taught that we may need to insist to our (White) congregations that funerals were worship.  If it is difficult to talk about worship and cultural identity as whites its in part because everything is so contained, things don’t bleed into each other.  Either worship is an isolated thing with it’s own sets of rules and music and “culture” or it must be seamless with the current culture of the individuals who show up to the worship service.

Through my goth identity I have opted for what is contemporaneous, a cultural identity without heritage. Though Goth now has a history, and may be forming a tradition of sorts. I’ve never been one who felt the need for this my pop culture identity to be expressed in worship.

In college I often spent time with an Armenian friend’s family at Easter.  There was food Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, a wonderful feast, and there was music.  Armenian Apostolic services are chanted and there is no instrumentation, the music sung outside of church and the chant are quite different. Yet in the family celebration was continuous with the Divine Liturgy. The two celebrations were one, yet neither reflected nor reproduced the other.  This resonated with me because I remembered such seamless but differentiated celebrations on the feast days in the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church of my childhood. By the time I was in college that cultural expression of worship (of the congregation in which I, my mother, and grandfather had all been raised) was a memory.  In the several thousand member church with multiple services and a contemporary worship service with rock band, worship was just another discrete thing I did in a week .  Neither “traditional ” nor “contemporary” worship appealed to a “sub-culture” an identity I was forming around alternative and goth music. Whether we sang traditional hymns or the latest worship song neither were current expressions of my identity.

I have long been drawn to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worship.  This began when at 8 and 9 when I encountered the Cathedrals of Europe as places of mystery and awe.  Part of the draw is some worshipful connection to my Swedish and German cultural identity. Yet it is a bit complex, as it also alienates me from that cultural identity since most directly that identity is Lutheran and not Catholic.  In some sense often what draws me in worship is a sense of deep historical and cultural connection, liturgies and songs passed down through European Christianity from the Mediterranean. Chant Gregorian and Eastern also relate to childhood encounter of the European cathedral.  Though, I have difficulty except in a most vague and abstract way accounting for chant as an expression of my cultural identity.  To some degree connecting to this ancient worship expression fits with family stories of immigration that also seek to keep some historical and familial memory of Sweden or Germany alive in the foreign context of the U.S.

Where does this meandering in the midst of worship, expression and cultural identity lead?  In part Rasheed and I are talking about recognition and reception. Rasheed recognizes the Body of Chirst  in people singing a hymn in the Bahamas in worship in the Congo: the recognition comes both in discovering something familiar in what was initially thought to be unfamiliar and in finding one’s place in what was simply unknown.  In  the cathedrals in Europe, in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worship I too find familiarity in what seem unfamiliar and my place in what is unknown.  Our recognitions are bound up in our cultural identities but not entirely accounted for by them: As Rasheed concluded “I was no longer American. They were no longer African. It is moments like these where the cultural expressions which are embedded in the soul of my people say Yes! We are God’s children, privileged to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.”

In these various worship expressions reflective of various cultures we encounter more than our own or others cultural identity in recognizing and receiving that which forms us into the Body of Christ. One may say that another cultural identity is to be formed out of these cultural expressions.  It is then possible that we may discern what forms us and does this work of formation, of knitting us into the living Temple, Christ’s body.

Here I’m brought back to all the pitfalls of saying these things as a White person. Whites have tended to assume that our way of doing things was God’s.  Through White ideology Europeans ceased to be those gathered with others from other nations and people but those to whom others were gathered.  When this heresy goes unrecognized it distorts the ability to recognize and receive, it undermines our ability to come to know the forms of the Body of Christ.

This is turning into the first in series of posts exploring worship, liturgy, culture and the roles of formation and expression in worship that forms us into the Body of Christ. There are two more posts in this unexpected and emerging series: here and here. The connection to these three posts isn’t at the moment self evident.  In part the series is about linking these up. LEK 3/13/15

Holy Week, Grief and the Unexpected

As has become our custom at Reconciler, I didn’t preach.  We let the liturgy, the scriptures, sung and read, the hymns preach.  We walk a lot in our Palm Sunday service: We the Palm procession, we also process around to different stations for the reading of the Passion Gospel, we process up to gather around the altar, and we then process to the baptismal font for dismissal.  It’s a beautiful service.

The triumphal entry and palm procession didn’t move me this year, or rather it rang hollow.  The griefs of the passion story was more palpable for me this year.  This time around the knowledge that the crowds shouting “Hosanna” would soon melt away muted  the celebration at the beginning of the service.  Grief, loss and the unexpectedness of the liturgy and the Gospel were prominent in my consciousness as I presided in the liturgy.

This is not surprising given that  2013 was a year of loss and grief.  Very little went as I had thought and my father  passed at the end of 2013.  Little of what I’m facing now did I expect to be facing when I last celebrated Palm Sunday and entered Holy Week last year.  A year ago we we’re wondering whether or not my dad’s recovery from a major stroke would be a slow or quick recovery.  Nothing indicated that in 7 months he would die.  I also didn’t expect that the community would be down to four people in a temporary space big enough only for the four members curtailing much of the activity of the community (I’ve written about our “winter” here and here).  The events that are remembered and rehearsed in Holy Week, weren’t anticipated by the disciples and full of distress, loss, grief, and confusion.

Even the hopeful reality of Easter and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, wasn’t what the Apostles and disciples of Jesus expected.  The whole of what we celebrate and enter into in the liturgies of this week are tinged with loss, grief.  Even the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth means a certain loss: Loss of what the Apostles thought was about to come in the life and ministry of Jesus.

We may fail to see the complexity of the story and the liturgies.  We know the story, the path of the liturgy is well worn.  But life happens, and we find ourselves in unexpected places with griefs and losses that we didn’t have the last time we walked this way of Holy Week, of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  If we pay attention we can find these liturgies, these scriptures not only speaking to our situation, but showing us something we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

We  come again and again over our lifetime to these Holy Days, both to interpret our lives, but also because there is always more to learn and experience in these liturgies and these Scripture texts.

Whatever the intervening year has brought you, I encourage to attend to it and how the liturgies and Scriptures are experienced differently because  you are in a different place.  Come to these familiar rites and texts with anticipation.  There is more than you expect in them, there is a deep reality and resource in them.  Encounter them in the difference that life has brought you since you were last here.

Oh wait, I’m not alone(sort of), others are talking about the Church

I’m working up some reflections on David Fitch‘s End of Evangelicalism.  I have some questions about why one would continue with a particular identity like evangelical, when ones theology is so clearly drawn from such an ecumenical place as David Fitch seems to be coming from.  Also, I feel that what the book addresses cuts across any particular Christian identity.

But for the moment only a wetting of the appetite, because I’ve been reading others who are exploring this thing we call the church, or the ecclesia, the Body of Christ.  This extended reflection and quest I’ve labeled Ecclesial Longings should at least acknowledge these other bits of ecclesial reflection (possibly with with a bit of comment from me, most of the links here I’ve left comments on the posts themselves.)

We’ll start with some of the articles that responded to the whole controversy Donald Miller sparked by admitting he doesn’t go to church that often.

Justin Harvey‘s Peregrinatio In Defense of Donald Miller.  Like the author I’m not terribly concerned about infrequent church attendance. I appreciate that the author saw that the discussion required asking “what is the church?”.  I appreciated the basis, but in my comment pushed back at what I was seeing as a reduction and pointed to the more robust picture we find in the metaphor of church as Body, and in the mixed metaphor in Ephesians.

Relevant Magazine interview’s Donald Miller about the controversy: My thought is Donald and Relevant seem to be putting gathering together and community on one side and relationship with God and following Jesus on the other.  There’s the affirmation of the importance of gathering and community but say the real thing is having a relationship with God and following Jesus.  This parsing of the problem seems to me to lack reflection on church as Body of Christ.  My reading of the metaphor of body is to say that having a relationship with Jesus is in being connected with all others who also follow Jesus (granted there’s the question of how this is lived out locally etc., so I understand that not going to a particular “church” isn’t the same as being out of fellowship with the Body).  As I see it, this whole controversy (Both Donald Miller’s remarks and those of his critics) shows that we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about and thus why such an extended inquiry and quest, as found here, is needed.

Christopher Smith at the Slow church Blog on Patheos begins to get at this at the end of his blog post in responce to the controversy.  God gathers a people, a good place to start.

And so we leave the church attendance fiasco.

Then over at [D]mergent (don’t ask) John O’keefe posted Moving out of Ecclesiology, into Koinology .  Read it and my comment. If you, reader, want let me know what you think of it and my response.  In summary, if I followed O’Keefe I’d rename this thread and quest “Longing for Koinonia”, or “Koinonia Longings”, something like that.  I don’t think koinonia and ecclesia need to be pitted against each other. Wait there seems to be a pattern emerging: our analysis tends toward pitting thesis against antithesis. I want synthesis.  Why are we stuck in an Hegelian nightmare! 

Then over at Hope in Time, Anthony Bartlett’s Nonviolent Bible Interpretation III: Church, as you can see from the title its part of a series on hermeneutics.  I don’t know where to begin. I’m sympathetic to Girardian take on things, but I’m not one to take Girard and Mimetic Theory as gospel (as my dad used to say.)  So, that isn’t going to be my exclusive hermeneutic lens. Also, I’ll admit I think anti-Constantinianism, that is so fashionable among protestants of just about any stripe, is bunk.  Also, if you think you understand what Constantine did, and what it means for the church I think you don’t understand it.  So, I’m having difficulty seeing beyond the anti-Constantine bias in order to really evaluate the essay.  I know I’m reacting to it, and not really responding.

Lastly over at the Sub-Deans Stall the Irrelavance of Relavance. The Revd Canon Robert Hendrickson comes closest to my own sentiments about church.  But I get lost in his various uses of church, and church still then seems a little to much about what we do. However, I agree pretty much completely with what he writes, but I ask what is it that forms such a group of people?  Is church then a goal, something that is in process being built? by whom?, by human beings, or by God?  Ephesians looms large in my thinking you may have noticed, that may or may not be a good thing.

So that is what I have.  This is what thanks largely to Tripp Hudgins I’m engaging with at the moment around the nature of the ecclesia, the Body of Christ.

Have you come across other reflections on the church?  Leave a link and your thoughts on the piece if you have.

 

“Going to Church” and the Church as Body of Christ.

I mentioned in my reflection on intimacy and public worship that I had some more ecclesiological thoughts in response to Donald Miller.  Instead of putting Donald Miller’s ecclesiology to the question,  I will simply explore how we are talking about church attendance and how we may approach that from asking questions of what sort of thing we are as the Body of Christ, the Church.

My corner of the interwebs tells me there is much anxiety and frustration about church attendance.  My sense of all this is that we want to make church many things: intimate encounter with God, community, cultural expression, an environment for learning, etc. In many ways church is all those things and more.  However, one can find those things elsewhere.  They don’t give compelling reason for why there should be church, and even less compelling reason to attend church.  These reasons for going to church or being part of a church are all good things, but not sufficient reason to bother with church.

The Apostle Paul uses the language of body to talk about the ecclesia.  This language is both political, that is in the sense of body politic, and biological, as in what makes up a biological organism.  Elsewhere Paul also uses the language of a temple, a structure that is both built and organically grows (ya, he mixes metaphors to get at what the ecclesia is).

Then we have our english term “church” , which translates the greek word ecclesia.  Our usage “church” varies. Church can, in its broadest sense, be any religious institution.  More specifically and more commonly “church” means any institutionalised group of Christians, a local congregation and/or a denomination of Christians.

 If I’m remembering correctly the etymology, is the germanic Kierke which was derived from the greek Kyrie (Lord), that which belongs to the Lord (God, Christ).

As the Church we are the people of God, an ecclesia, a gathered people, called and gathered together by God.

What I’d like to suggest is that to be the Church, and to do what the Church does, ie worship, is formative.  We are formed, built and grow into what we are.  This takes all sorts of rites, rituals, and activities.  These have various forms corporate, bodily, personal.  Yet, none of those things exhaust who we are and who we are being formed into.  This is formative and it is collective.  Church and worship are about being a body, stones built into a living temple. Through baptism, faith, Eucharist we are becoming, and are, a holy nation of priests, together.

It’s possible that we can be tempted to reduce church to only one aspect of our usage, such as  if we were to assume church is only a building based on  english usage that elides the architectural structure of our being gathered and who we are as the people of God, because the building and the group carry the same name.  However, the problem isn’t that the place of our gathering bears the name of who we are as the body of Christ, nor is the problem that it comes to be attached to the activity of gathering.  The problem is separating ourselves from what we are through seeing church as a building or an activity that exists or goes on without us.

I want to suggest that our participation is key in becoming what we are, but this formation doesn’t occur because of our action only.  Our actions are what agree with what God is doing.

We get baptised, we eat bread and wine, we are anointed, hands are laid upon us, and these things form us into a particular type of “being”, but they do so because of what God is doing in and through these rituals rites, actions, words, music, and eating.

We can neither be solely focused on God, nor solely focused on what we do.  Nor is this about my personal individual experience, unless by personal one posits the presence of others, and God as the ultimate other, as part of the makeup of the person.

What I have said here, simply scratches the surface of what church and worship are and do.  We are and are becoming what God forms us into. We are what God gathers us to, we become the people of God , the Body of Christ, the Ecclesia, the Lord’s.  We are the church and so we go to church, and we attend church as the church.  And language fails us, and language helps us  know who we are becoming, a living temple.