Saturday, February 17, 2007

gosh, the days are slipping by

Well, another week has come and gone and I've not accomplished much on my thesis. Though, I do have a good excuse this time. I've been a bit preoccupied with things this week. On Monday morning, our Assistant Director of Music Ministries underwent a kidney transplant, receiving a kidney from her daughter. So, Monday, I was at the hospital, hanging out with the family and many church members. Then, every day, I've been up at the hospital part of the day and helping to keep things going at church the rest of the time. My head has been far from my thesis. Monday night, I was talking with Marilee, who despite the fact she had a new foreign body hanging out in her side, was feeling like a million dollars compared to earlier that day. She commented that the outpouring of love from everyone at church has been so wonderful. I mused that it must be pretty awful to go through something as drastic and scary as a kidney transplant and not have this wonderful thing we call the Body of Christ to surround you. I just don't know how I would make it through even one day without this community. I know the big gift from God is the whole grace thing and eternal life, but this gift of community really rocks!

So, I did get some work done today. I haven't read much in the last week, but I did write some on the proposal. Well, some of it was on the proposal, and some was just writing to organize my thoughts. As I was lying in bed this morning in that weird half awake, half asleep state, my brain wandered through all the church history that I could remember and mused about the cyclical nature of worship and how it vacillates between participatory and passive, pretty much in lock step with renewal and whatever the opposite of that is. I can't think this late what word I want there. Sluggish mire? So, when I finally realized it was time to get my butt out of the bed, I wrote all those thoughts down. They'll probably never see the light of day, but it was good organizing for my brain, nonetheless.

When I was developing the thesis idea in Florida back in January, I had trouble figuring out what the actual thesis would be - would it be about the advantages of designing worship by team or would it be about passive vs participatory worship? It has become so clear over the past week or so that my big battle cry word this year is going to be Participate! That's definitely the thesis. Now, I just have to get busy with it.

So, March 1st is coming fast and I really want to get my proposal turned into my advisor by that date. Listen carefully now... that grinding noise you hear is my nose... um... on the grindstone.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Look out Nike...

This evening, I'm going through my house, turning off lights in preparation for bed when I come across this pamphlet sitting on the LBP*. This is one of those fliers you get from local churches telling about their latest and greatest worship services, or the 7 steps to salvation, etc. etc. Anyway, it was advertising their new service where you can 'experience worship as it once was.' I'm assuming they mean they're offering a service that is supposed to resemble worship in the first century or so. This flier is not the first one I've seen. Many churches are adding these types of services and frankly, this last bit of advertising kind of irritated me. My first thought when I read it was, 'Oh, there's another church jumping on that bandwagon.' Geeze, when I actually read that written down, it seems a little harsh and bitter. Really, I'm not bitter, I promise. Just sometimes I get a little sick of all the hype. Why do we need to try to worship like this church or that church, the first Christians or the Christians of the 8th century, or last century, or 50 years ago, or tomorrow's Christians? I know this sounds kinda like "can't we all just get along?" but, can't we just worship?

Just worship!

*this is what we call the piece of furniture next to the front door where we put things for Lack of a Better Place

Monday, February 05, 2007

Is it a lack of passion?

So, I'm back on track. Today I have been reading from Ronald P Byars The Future of Protestant Worship: Beyond the Worship Wars and some things really grabbed me. Some of it was kind of the same 'ol same 'ol discussion about why we're in the midst of these worship wars and what are people looking for and why can't the old people and the young people just get along. But, some things jumped out at me and made me think a little further than other books I've read so far.

  • In chapter 2, Byars lables a section "The Playfulness of Worship" where he compares worship to children playing dress up or acting out a drama. He says that when we play, we step out of ourselves and even loose track of time as if we get caught up in another world where we are completely present to the moment. Worship at it's best is like that - we loose track of time and of the worries of our world - our whole bodies are involved, not just our heads. Byars comparison reminded me that when I was younger (and still to some extent) I wished I were Catholic. What I longed for (and still do) is the physical nature of the worship I saw in the few Catholic services I attened with friends as a child. I wanted to cross myself, kneel when I prayed, bow before the cross before sitting in my pew, walk forward for communion, etc. I didn't really understand why at the time, I just was facinated by that kind of worship and wondered why we didn't do that over at University Christian Church. Now, I know what it was I was longing for. I've never been a very good passive obeserver. I can't just listen to music, I have to participate in it; I was always one of those annoying students that had to say something during class discussions; I have a hard time staying quiet while watching a movie at the theater. Church didn't give much opportunity for me to participate - it was just a matter of sitting down quietly and listening. I was longing for a worship that allowed me to participate fully and not just from the neck up. Byars asks the question if worship "that respects body and soul, heart and mind" in a church "which is capable of taking by the hand those who hunger and thirst, and [lead] them to the crucified and risen Savior" could be labled 'contemprary' or 'tracitional?'
  • Chapter 3 is on 'traditional' worship - and with many other voices, asks what in the world these labels can possibly mean. He holds the same idea found in What Are the Essentials of Christian Worship that the traditions that matter most, that have managed to withstand time and all the abuses we've heaped on to them are the Word, Baptism and Eucharist. These three elements are essential to Christian worship and are the 'tradition' we should be holding to. I'm going to rabbit trail here for a bit - One statement jumped out at me and allowed me to let go of a fairly strong held idea. Byars writes "Bath refers to baptism, wheter preceded by teaching or following by teaching" (Byars, 40). Last semester I did my project on baptism, helping parents to prepare for their infant's baptism in particular. One of the reccomendations I made to our session was that baptism should follow the service of the word and not come before. My argument (supported by the Book of Order and many other sources) was that baptism is our response to the Word and that by placing the baptism before the Word we do damage to the structure of the worship by bowing to convenience. However, Byars' statement opened my eyes to something I had failed to recognize, that now seems so obvious. The Presbyterian church baptizes infants with the theological understanding that in baptism (an outward sign of grace) God acts first, choosing us before we ever choose God. We recognize that while God's gift of grace and our acceptance of that grace may be separated by time, they are one and the same event. The Presbyterian church baptizes infants before they even understand a single word of the Gospel and then pledges to teach that Word to the child as he or she grows with the hope that one day that child will accept that grace already extended to them by God. Well, why then couldn't the baptism come before the service of the Word - so perfectly illustrating that God's grace comes to us before we even hear about it - THEN we hear the good news and accept it. I don't know why I didn't see this possiblity so clearly before. I was just hell-bent on the idea that the only proper place of the baptism in the worship service was after the Word.
  • One section in chapter 4, on contemprary worship, really grabed me this afternoon. Many of the arguments between 'traditional' and 'contemporary' worship that are put forth talk about how the young people today just don't like the old music, want their worship to more closely resemble the music and other entertainment items that fill their everyday life, etc. etc. etc ad naseum. And on the other side of it is the arugment that the old people are just stuck in their ways and can't understand the new paradigm shift from modernism to postmodernism, etc. I'm not necessarily refuting these arguments - there is definitly truth to these statements. Has there ever been a time in the history of the world where the young had the old have not been divided over most things in life? Byars points to another reason for the 'generational divide' and that reason is passion. He sites an article by Rodger Nishioka published in the journal Reformed Liturgy and Music (vol. 32, no.1 1998) that interviewed young adults about worship. Two big themes became clear - 1) young people who were going to church were not necessarily dissatisfied with worhsip as much as the lack of connection with other members. They longed for small group interaction and relationship. This part of church life is a huge focus of many of the contemporary church models like Willow Creek, Vinyard, and Calvary Chapel. 2) and this is the one that finally put a finger on what I have not found the words to describe: passion - or lack thereof. While Byars says this is a misperception on the part of the young people in question, they say the cannot discern any passion in their parents generation. Worship is too cerebral, the faith is too 'low-profile.' "This kind of low-profile faith, tending toward a generic religiosity simply does not commend itself to people who are looking for a faith that claims them in heart and mind." I think it shows up in how church so many times is something people do for an hour on Sunday morning, but has no obvious impact on the rest of the week. Church for many people, it seems to me, is just something to do because that's what your supposed to do. If that's the case, no wonder our churches are dwindling. Perhaps that worked fine when we lived in a Christian society, but we don't any more. As each generation as grown up and seen less and less passion in the lives of the 'Christians' they had less and less reason to go to church - other ideas and religions seemed to grow and attract people away from the Gospel. I know these are rather blanket and generic statements - this is really an exaggerated focus on mainstream American Protestant churches. You know, you look at your parents and what seems to you as a huge, unforgivable character flaw, is really not as big or as bad as you think. But, then again, I think Byars hit on something important here - worship that is only cerebral, where you sit down, facing the back of someone elses head, listen to a sermon and maybe sing a few hymns, worship that doesn't get the whole person into the act feels certainly passionless. At least to me. Maybe that's why I wanted to be Catholic when I was younger - I wanted what looked like passion to me. I know now that passionlessness can take the form of extremely physical worship - it too can become routine and pointless, this time only offering worship for the body and not the mind.
Passion, participation, transformation, true communion with God and with the Body of Christ - these are elements that I pray will be a part of the worship we plan, for this project and for the continuing worship life of this congregation. I know how powerful this kind of worship can be 'cause I've experienced it at IWS, at Grace Anglican church in Florida, yesterday at the Women's Retreat worship service, and other places and times in my life. It's not about 'traditional' and 'contemprary.' It's about worship with the whole church, past, present and future and with our whole hearts, minds, souls and strengths - like David in front of the Ark.

Friday, February 02, 2007

That whole accountability thing

I guess this is where the accountability comes in... I have accomplished absolutely nothing this week. For a variety of reasons ranging from the very best of excuses to the lamest of them all. After the women's retreat this weekend, however, I'm back to the grind stone.