a rant on worship

For many 21st century modern evangelicals, just the mention of liturgy causes a stir. Images of old cathedrals, monotonous readings, organ-accompanied choral singing, and uninterrupted periods of silent prayer (what, no music or video!?!) all betray what we’ve come to know as “contemporary” worship.

In my time studying theology and pondering topics related to church, Stanley Hauerwas has been influential (and challenging and frustrating!) to both my theology and how I view the church’s role in my life and the world (see here). I recently came across this clip of Hauerwas discussing (ranting about?) modern worship - and in particular, the problem of worship emulating entertainment:


To begin, I liked Hauerwas’ comment that “liturgy is the work of the people.” Most simply, liturgy refers to how worship gatherings are formulated and presented – be it readings, songs, meditations, etc… In this sense, all corporate worship involves liturgy of some sort, whether you are in a 'liturgical' tradition or not. Liturgy as the work of the people, however, implies our full participation, not merely our consumption of spiritual experience. And it’s in this participation of the liturgy, according to Hauerwas, that we experience transformation – we “discover we are made in God’s image” (Performing the Faith).

I agree, then, with the admonition that worship is never about entertainment. Hauerwas rightly comments, “If you compete with television, the television in the end will win cause it’s so good at what it does.” For us to presume that “we know what it is we need and want” implies an incorrect focus for worship, making our (selfish?) needs primary. We must remind ourselves that worship isn’t measured by its ability to sustain our attention. No, worship is measured by its ability to remind us who we are – “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12).

Through worship we discover the truth about ourselves, making possible lives of goodness otherwise impossible” (Performing the Faith)

One of the ironies of our times is that many ‘conservative’ Christians fail to understand the relation between truthful worship and truthful living…The question, then, is not choosing between ‘contemporary’ or ‘traditional,’ to change or not to change, but rather the faithful character of our worship, insofar as such worship shapes the truthful witness of the church to the world” (A Better Hope).

more than just the ability to drive

For someone interested in the impact of individualism (see here) in contemporary culture, the following quote stood out to me. It reveals an attitude behind something most of us take for granted and think very little about: the ability to drive.

“In modern society, getting a drivers’ license at age sixteen is a more significant rite of passage than being able to vote at age eighteen. After all, in many ways a young person’s life is far more practically changed by the ability to drive than the ability to vote. It represents the ability to direct one’s own path, to not rely on others for transportation”

(Albert Y. Hsu, “Spaced Out – The Impact of Commuter Culture” in The Suburban Christian).

BTW: I hope to share more on Hsu's book at some point. It's been a challenging read considering my context in Greater Vancouver suburbia.

as we remember


Lord God,
fill us with the love that flows from Your heart,
that we might be agents of reconciliation in a broken world,
ambassadors of the Prince of Peace in all our ways.
Give us the patience to wait on Your judgments,
rather than taking vengeance ourselves.
Give us the strength to yield,
returning evil with good,
and trusting in the power of Your love,
rather than our own love of power.

Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith - Liturgical Readings

application or implication?

I’ve been involved in various discussions over the years, and increasingly now as a pastor, over defining faithful Christian living in the 21st century. Well, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by a constant need – no, let's say demand – for application. I’m frustrated because in a culture dominated by consumption and immediate gratification, any provision of simple application for Christian living too easily glosses over why we do what we do.

And so people are eager to be told how theology applies to their context or what strategies they can employ to be more faithful Christians. And pastors and leaders perpetuate the situation, supplying said strategies and applications meeting peoples need to have everything laid out nicely. One only has to browse the Christian living section of Amazon to realize how widespread – and profitable – the consumption of application has become. Just this morning, for example, I read how certain pastors are promoting “strategic consumerism” as a way to combat problems associated with our consumeristic culture. Are you serious!?! Somehow I think we need a little more than strategy to combat consumerism. Faithfulness isn’t a strategy, particularly in the face of the economic brokenness we are all culpable of in North America.

Does this mean application and strategies are wrong? Absolutely not! I just think strategies need to be accompanied with life transformation – both individually and corporately. A transformation, additionally, that relates to my specific situation and the issues I face. Someone in Grand Rapids doesn’t know what issues Christians are facing in Port Coquitlam, so why would I want them telling me how to live? But our demand for application forces them to answer questions they never should have to answer.

At the study conference I recently attended, a fellow attendee made an observation that has resonated with me. Instead of looking for applications, he suggested we should be looking for implications. Returning to consumerism, instead of being given a strategy for Christian consumption, Christians need to hear how and why we should be thankful and content with “our daily bread” as Jesus taught. As we reflect on Jesus’ teachings, the implications of what he said will invariably lead to transformation of how we live. Application isn’t absent. Rather, application develops out of our wrestling with the implications of being a follower of Jesus in our specific contexts. This will be different for me. Different for you. Different for the CEO of a major corporation. Different for the roofer in Abbotsford. Quite simply, application isn’t given to us. Application is discovered.

Demanding easy applications attempts to “do” Christianity without having our lives transformed by the implications of following Jesus in our everyday lives. As difficult as it may be, I’d much rather explore the depth of implications than the emptiness of generic applications.

us/them

Check out this thoughtful and challenging reflection of Christianity and Nazi Germany from a friend of mine - "they'll know we are Christians by..." Considering how many Christians supported much of the evils of Nazism in WWII Germany, we as Christians today should ask ourselves "if we could be capable of the same things?"

Yikes!


halloween or not?

Any thoughts on how Christians should view/participate in Halloween?

From a Christian perspective, a celebration of "dark" sides of spirituality seems to counter our call to separate ourselves from things that go against God. Add to that the excessive partying and overly-revealing costumes (as seen on Granville street Friday night), and I've often wondered if there's anything good about Halloween. Why bother? And as Christians, perhaps we shouldn't bother...

This morning I came across a reflection by songwriter/storyteller Steve Bell. Bell contends that instead of fearing Halloween, Christians should engage in the positive aspects of the celebration such as "generous neighborliness." Hence his title, "Keeping Christ in Halloween." Bell closes his post with these provoking thoughts:

It seems to me that we could be out participating in the wider culture; joyfully, cheerfully, confidently handing out ’sweets’ in the various cultural arenas: politics, arts, education, science, festivals etc. We need not do this in the defensive, combative spirit we’ve become famous for, but with a caring neighborliness befitting the character of the Christ whom we worship. And we need not be concerned that we will be tainted in our efforts. For we do not draw from a shallow well, but the inexhaustible Christ who gave himself entirely so that all would know that the organizing and redeeming principle of the cosmos is not self-securing fear, but self-donating love.

Well, when my temptation is to withdraw from Halloween, often in a "self-securing fear" as Bell describes, I find myself challenged to reconsider how I engage with culture. And in particular, aspects of culture that Christians often demonize as evil (no pun intended:).

BTW: We couldn't resist dressing Landon up for Halloween.

what's the difference?

This reflection comes out of my experience of the Alpha program; and in particular, the presentation: “Why and How Should I Read the Bible?”

In an age of spiritual self-help books and endless publications professing to know the meaning of life and the path to happiness, the question of the Bible’s significance needs exploration.
Now, one approach is to argue to the Bible’s legitimacy within history, tracing the relevant evidence regarding original manuscripts, archaeological discoveries, persistence of the message, etc. Once we have established the Bible’s credibility, we can then accept it as a “manual for life” as the Alpha program presents. But in the face of the so many other “manuals for life” – e.g. spiritual self-help books – we need to understand what distinguishes the Bible’s ideas from all the other ideas about faith and successful living. Quite simply, we need to communicate to others that THE BIBLE IS NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK!

In the time I’ve been studying theology, my appreciation for the narrative quality of the Bible has only grown with time. More than abstract ideas about God, faith, and life, the Bible presents truth in the telling of stories – stories about real people, in real places, who have real encounters with God. Unlike spiritual self-help books that often attempt to provide ideas and methods in order to help us escape reality, the Bible offers stories that help us better understand the reality in which we find ourselves. And with our own life-stories full of situations of joy, hurt, disappointment, peace, and chaos, we can relate to a God who interacts with people’s joy, hurt, disappointment, peace, and chaos as the biblical narrative presents.

The church, then, needs to communicate the Bible’s significance as a story of truth, not just a bunch of good ideas. Our world has enough good ideas, but not enough good stories. This is what makes the Bible different.

The church is the community that is at once the storyteller as well as a character in the story that is required by Christian affirmation of God’s redemption of the world through the people of Israel and the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Stanley Hauerwas)