Thinking about the SCLM

I received a fairly annoyed note today from a regular reader and correspondent; in a nutshell, the message expressed a deep concern about whether the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) was actually listening to what the church wants or needs. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked something like this.

Indeed, M sometimes tells me that much of the work of the SCLM that I do seems like a waste of time as most people within the church ignore what it produces.

In a certain sense, this is generally not an issue. That is, in most triennia, it appears that we on the SCLM offer resolutions that create work for us to do, then we go and do that work that we have decided ought to be done and—as M points out—most of the church yawns and goes on with their usual business.

But things are changing.

Thanks to two resolutions, (A169-2015 and D060-2015) we are now considering both hymnal revision and prayer book revision at the same time.

As a result, the way that we listen to the church, hear the church, and seek to implement the will of the church becomes much more important with regard to these two areas than, say, when we decide that liturgies for creation need tweaking.

What are your thoughts? What is the best way for “the church” writ large to interact with the SCLM? What’s the best way for us to communicate with you? What would help you have an authentic voice in the process and to help us hear what the body of the church is asking for? The SCLM does have a blog—is that useful? Is it sufficient? Let me know. I can’t promise anything, of course, but I would like to hear your thoughts…

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Back to the Keys

I’ve been occupied with quite a number of things over the last several weeks, but I’m on my way back to regular blogging.

For those of you who read The Anglican Digest, the Autumn issue opens with a piece from me. Naturally, I’d urge you to read it!  (I don’t see it up yet at their main site, but you can see the Autumn issue on their Scribd feed.)My piece may be familiar to long-time readers, it’s an edit of something I originally published several years ago at the Cafe, and I still regard it as one of my favorite essays.

While you’re there, definitely check out the rest of the issue as well. There’s a very interesting line-up of people with content ranging from the devotional to the pastoral to the theological; this issue has a particular focus on the Communion of the Saints. I used to be a faithful reader of TAD but dropped off a while ago; it’s under new editorial management now by two solid folks who should be well known to Episcopal blog readers, Fr. Anthony Clavier and  Catherine Salmon (verger extraordinaire and daughter of Retired Bishop Salmon). They’ve been at the helm for about a year now, and are breathing new life back into it.

Duty calls—more later!

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Thoughts on the Creeds

A dust-up over the use of the creeds in worship is circulating on Facebook again connected to this post on Fr. Arnold’s blog (now joined by this post by Fr. Hendrickson). I do think that discussion about the creeds is useful and ought to be done quite a lot particularly because I think a lot of people aren’t exactly clear on what they’re for and why we have them.

I address the creed in a couple of different ways in my book on the spirituality of the prayer book that the folks at Forward Movement tell me will be coming out by the end of the year (yay!). In particular, I talk about how the creed serves as a set of hermenetuical boundaries for reading Scripture, but that part of the real genius of our liturgical system is that the Christian Year itself is a slow-motion meditation on the creed. Here’s my first draft of that discussion.

Truthfully, though, that was my second go-around on that topic. A decade ago (!!)  one of the first prolonging things that I wrote on this blog was a two-part discussion of the creeds that works through reading practices in Christian Antiquity, Origen, the place of the creeds in a clash of worldviews, and even some wrestling with (famous 20th century biblical guy) Rudolf Bultmann! You can find them here:

The Creeds I

The Creeds II

(These are the sort of posts that make me think I may want to troll through my old posts and craft some of them into essays…)

Posted in Anglican, Theology | 1 Comment

On the Identity of the Ungodly

As I was praying Morning Prayer, I was briefly distracted going through the psalms because I couldn’t remember for the life of me what Cassiodorus and Augustine had said about Psalm 10. Psalm 11 was no issue—actually, I’ve got a post lurking in my brain dealing with the opening lines of Psalm 11—but 10 was a blank until I finally figured out what was ging on…

Here’s the start of Psalm 10 as I read it from the ’79 BCP:

  Why do you stand so far off, O LORD, *
and hide yourself in time of trouble?
  The wicked arrogantly persecute the poor, *
but they are trapped in the schemes they have devised.
  The wicked boast of their heart’s desire; *
the covetous curse and revile the LORD.
  The wicked are so proud that they care not for God; *
their only thought is, “God does not matter.”
  Their ways are devious at all times; your judgments are far above out of their sight; *
they defy all their enemies.
  They say in their heart, “I shall not be shaken; *
no harm shall happen to me ever.”
  Their mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and oppression; *
under their tongue are mischief and wrong….

Now—here is the start of Psalm 10 as found in the psalter of the ’28 BCP:

   WHY standest thou so far off, O LORD, *
and hidest thy face in the needful time of trouble?
   The ungodly, for his own lust, doth persecute the poor: *
let them be taken in the crafty wiliness that they have imagined.
   For the ungodly hath made boast of his own heart’s desire, *
and speaketh good of the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.
   The ungodly is so proud, that he careth not for God, *
neither is God in all his thoughts.
   His ways are alway grievous; *
thy judgments are far above out of his sight, and therefore defieth he all his enemies.
   For he hath said in his heart, Tush, I shall never be cast down, *
there shall no harm happen unto me.
   His mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and fraud; *
under his tongue is ungodliness and vanity….

See the difference? It’s the difference between the plural and the singular.

For the Church Fathers, Psalm 10 was not really Psalm 10, but the second part of Psalm 9. Following the Septuagint (the 2nd century BC Greek translation), the Vulgate retained the acrostic structure lurking in the Hebrew and kept the two parts together; the Hebrew manuscripts and our English versions following the Hebrew separated them into two different psalms.

Augustine starts off his interpretation of Psalm 9 with a twofold indentification. The psalm starts in the “voice of the Lord” and therefore the “enemy” referred to in VgPs 9:4 (inimicum meum) is identified as Satan particularly since Augustine connects “retrorsum” with the “get behind me” of Jesus in Matt 16. But Augustine also says, “If, however, we prefer to understand the phrase, my enemy, more generally as a sinner or pagan, that will not be out of line” before concluding that the phrase “is more fittingly understood as spoken in relation to the devil.”

(Jerome, in his very brief Homily 4 on the Psalms, also brings the devil into it, noting VgPs9:29 thus: “Notice what the psalm says about the devil, he lurks in ambush with the rich. It is almost impossible for the rich man to be rich without robbing the poor.”)

 

At verse 19 and 20 (the end of our Psalm 9) Augustine brings in the Antichrist as the one who will be set over the heathen as “lawgiver” (a term not in our version/translation; here’s the Douay-Rheims for comparison). The Antichrist is that “lawgiver” and Augustine brings in the Antichrist a few more times as he considers the “ungodly” in the rest of the psalm.

Cassiodorus takes the hints that Augustine drops and develops the second part of the psalm as a prophetic narrative concerning the Antichrist and the unfolding of the last days. In his reading, the “ungodly” is not a singular noun collectively pointing to bad people but is pretty clearly the Antichrist. Within the psalm, then, Cassiodorus finds a fairly detailed account of the rise of the Antichrist and his actions against the poor and righteous which he bolsters by tying verbal details from the psalm into other passages across both the Old and New Testaments.

(At the same time, though, Cassiodrus insists on a historical reading at the start of the psalm, and, while Augustine brings in the devil at verse 4, Cassiodorus goes in a *completely* different direction: “Though David had many enemies, here we appropriately think only of Saul.”)

So—singular and plural terms in the psalms (or other Scriptures) can lead us in very different directions. The Hebrew, Greek, and Latin use the singular term (impius)  which leads the Fathers down one particular road. Yes, impious can be a collective noun, and Augustine reads it like that at points, but the use of the singular also moves them in the direction of a singular figure. Even though the BCP retains “wicked” as a collective, the use of plural verbs and then plural pronouns would never lead us in that direction.

What’s my point, then, to touch off a screed against inclusive language? No. Simply to make the observation that textual details matter. Certain textual features enable, suggest, or recommend reading in certain ways and close off other lines of interpretation. The shifting of grammatical number (from singular to plural) alters the way that we encounter the psalms. Psalm 1 and Psalm 10 are central examples. The Church Fathers identified the singularly evil person in Psalm 10 as the Antichrist; similarly, they saw the singularly blessed man in Psalm 1 as Christ.

We don’t.

Posted in Patristics, Scripture | Tagged | 5 Comments

A Great Slog of Witnesses

A few days ago I finally pushed “send” and A Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW) went off to the chair and co-chair of the SCLM for them to steward along the path to publication.

You have no idea how happy I am to have that out the door… Over the years, I’ve begun categorizing the various projects that I have agreed to do. The most difficult are those I refer to as “tar babies.” These are the projects that I’m not particularly fond of, but must do, and that seem to soak up a disporportionate amount of time and emotional energy, preventing me from working on anything else. GCW was one of these. But the bulk of the work is now complete as it moves on to other stages.

A few thoughts at this point in the process…

1. I’m still not particularly happy with GCW, but I do think that it was the best we could do at this time. As I’ve said before, if it were up to me, the calendar would consist largely of martyrs, monks, mystics, and Marian feasts (the 4M kalendar….). But it’s not up to me, and it’s not my calendar. Starting from Holy Women, Holy Men and the responses we received from that, I think this was the best possible option, though, given where the church is.

2. I’m more convince than ever that “first” is not a theological category. Indeed, “first-ness” may well be a good litmus test for determining if a given calendar is eschatologically-oriented or historically-oriented. GCW, like HWHM before it, is primarily oriented towards history. Is that in keeping with the classic Christian conception of a sanctoral calendar? No. Is that in keeping with where the Episcopal Church is right now? Well—yes… But hopefully this will change at some point in the future.

3. I think the use of expanded commons will be a true benefit for two reasons. First, I think we had some fairly tortured readings in HWHM because we didn’t want to re-use readings and we wanted them to be appropriate. When you’ve got 287 lesser feasts to work with this becomes quite challenging! Giving a good range for local communities to select from makes far more sense. Second, it becomes much more clear that these readings are not now (and have never been!) intended for use with the Daily Office. The readings for Lesser Feasts & Fasts have always been for Eucharists, not for the Office.

4. There are a lot of really interesting people and true saints in GCW. I am glad that the church is being exposed to them. It is a decent starting place for exploring our history as Episcopalians and Christians as well as a means for getting to know those who are presently interceding with and for us.

5. We’ll see how the tags get used. There are two different kinds of tags in the resource–liturgical use tags and biographical tags. The liturgical use tags are those that indicate what liturgical materials to use for Eucharistic celebrations; these are balanced between the sanctoral commons and the Propers for Various Occasions. I do hope we’ll begin to see an expanded awareness and use of the later. The biographical tags are tags intended to help readers categorize and connect figures and groups of figures together. These identify things like ordination status, church community, time, place, and also charisms and virtues represented by the variou figures. Clearly, these will be more useful in an electronic version of the resource than a print publication—we’ll see what comes of that.

Hopefully, posting will become more regular now that this is done!

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Repeat Performance: Talking Mary with the Collect Call

When Brendan and Holli invited me to appear as a guest on The Collect Call podcast, they were recording a double-header. The first was on the collect for the Eucharist, the second was on the collect for the Feast of St. Mary which is now up in time for the feast today.

I did have to bail early to deal with some familial turmoil, but before that point had a great chat with them.

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Talking Eucharist with The Collect Call

We just returned from the summer’s second major trip; M was doing the triathlon national championships in Wisconsin. I’d hoped to see some blog folks while we were up there, but between race preparations and managing children very little of that actually happened…

However, others were busy while I was gone and I returned to find that the new episode of The Collect Call is up—and I’m on it! I’m talking about the collect for the Holy Eucharist with Brendan and Holli, and stray off into other topics as well. Communion without Baptism, alien abduction, the usual… Check it out!

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Another Name for Essentialism

When I saw this post, “Secular holiness, or how to be happy in the zombie apocalypse,” over on Covenant, I knew I had to pick up and read the book to which it was referring. The book is called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The review on Covenant and conversations that M and I have been having for months made it a no-brainer.

M gave me the book yesterday for my birthday; according to my Kindle I’m 53% through it at the moment, and it is—indeed—what I expected and hoped for so far.

M and I have diagnosed the situation that we live in as one of constant and tragic over-commitment. Indeed, looking at our lives and the lives of our friends and family, we think that this is the condition of most folks in our general situation. Stated succinctly, middle-aged, middle-class parents have more going on than we can handle; busy-ness, anxiety, and turmoil are defining features of our mental and spiritual landscapes.

McKeown’s book offers a philosophy—Essentialism—to address this situation. It doesn’t offer a coping mechanism to help you handle it all better but advocates a complete shift of habits and intentions to root out the problem altogether: less but better.  The reasons why I feel so attracted to what he is saying in this slim volume is because, in the review above and in the brief sample I read, I recognized that McKeown is not saying anything new. Indeed, he’s been saying something that we in the church have had in our bag of tricks for a very long time.

“Essentialism” is business-speak for “simplicity.”

Christian simplicity and teachings about it—and even some of its secular variants like the Minimalism movement—often focus on “stuff:” specifically, having less of it. But that’s not what it’s really about. Simplicity isn’t about stuff, it’s about focus. You put your energy and your resources on the correct focus and pare away the distractions and irrelevancies that take up so much of our time and space. Yes, at the end of the day there’s less stuff and you’re better off for it—but you can’t get stuck in the stuff or even the lack of it lest you miss that the point is focus!

I haven’t said a whole lot about my Lenten project, in part because I’m still mulling it over—and this book and the lines of thought associated with it is helping me with concepts and vocabulary to better understand it. For instance, I realized this morning that when I added categories to to my time-tracker I did so on an ad hoc, as-needed basis. That is the perfect illustration of letting external people and projects define and claim my time! I’m thinking the far better way is for me to define my time and categories—and if something doesn’t fall within those pre-defined sections, it’s something to decline…

Church often presents itself as anther institution vying for my time and attention amidst the host of other demands. Too, often we as church people present and push it in this way and with this language. Just think—part of our accepted wisdom (likely through the channels of The Purpose-Driven Church and books of its ilk) is that once a person or family starts attending, you need to get them on a committee or plug them into a small group to keep them engaged. Really? I recognize the intention and it does make sense. I think the intention is good, but too often the language or application is off:  where I’m standing, this is precisely another demand on time, my most limited resource. If the option is to accept the time-demand or go away, many will choose (or are choosing, or have chosen) the easier of the two options and just go away…

McKeown makes a point fairly early in the book, “What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like?” The society never will; these things are the grease that make it all go, the bedrock of a consumer-driven materialism.

But the church must.

I think this is part of where I’m heading with all of this. For people in my situation, the church can’t simply be one more demand on my time. Instead, it must offer a profoundly different vision of what the world is and what our place within it can look like. This is a central spiritual undertaking for our time: How do we conceive and communicate Christian simplicity as a workable means of focusing on what truly matters while yet addressing the fundamental practicalities of embodied existence?

Posted in Holistic/Regular Life, Spirituality | 2 Comments

Rite III EP for the Young: A Modest Proposal

Background

The ’79 Book of Common Prayer has two formal “rites.” “Rite I” uses traditional language and retains a direct connection with the classical Anglican liturgies of the earlier Books of Common Prayer; “Rite II” uses contemporary language and reflects the influence of the 20th century Liturgical Renewal Movement. In addition to these, though, sometimes the informal label of “Rite III” is given to the Eucharistic Prayer material under the heading “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” on pages 400-405. Not truly a separate rite, this collection of materials offers even more flexibility in the celebration of the Eucharist. The idea here is that this section gives a general framework and requires only certain given texts that nail down parts of the Eucharistic prayer. The presence of these elements is intended to ensure that even in its widely permissive flexibility there will be some core elements that align with our understanding of Episcopal common prayer.

Now—I’ve written quite a bit before about the Book of Common Prayer as a contract within the congregation. In a sense, the book protects the laity from the whims of the clergy. The text is the text and we’ve all agreed together that this is the material we’re going to use. Given that perspective, I’m not a huge fan of “Rite III” because it alters that balance of power; clergy, in their eagerness to be fresh and relevant, can do what they like without the input of the laity upon whom it is being inflicted.

The Rite III material has two brief rubrics directing its use on the top of page 400:

This rite requires careful preparation by the Priest and other participants.

It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

One of the actions of General Convention that I watched with great trepidation was D050: Authorizing “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” as a Principal Service. In its original form, it would have essentially nullified the second rubric above and made the Rite III option equal with the other two. This was not to be, though, and the version passed by Convention was altered to include some ecclesiastical oversight. Here’s the current text that passed:

Resolved,  the House of Deputies concurring, That a bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority may authorize a congregation to use “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” (BCP pp. 400-405) at a principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if the Eucharistic Prayer is written and submitted in advance of its use to the Bishop; while the BCP states that the rite “is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” the BCP does not forbid its use in such contexts.

If we were going to do this, this is a good way to do it. Its chief thrust is to ensure that a Sunday/principal Rite III prayer is a written text, not something ad libbed off the top of the priest’s head. (That can be done on weekdays and non-principal liturgies, though.)

As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” so—in that spirit—here’s my own Rite III liturgy. Bishops, feel free to give this your ecclesiastical blessing… In particular, I’m orienting this towards the young, defined generally in the Episcopal Church as any one below the age of 55.

The Rules

Rite III provides a general pattern, a “shape of the liturgy” if you will, then two forms (Form 1 or Form 2). You can either use the Eucharistic Prayers from Rite One or Rite Two or you can use one of these two forms both of which are a combination of set texts and flexible general directions for what sort of material ought to appear in what order.

I’ll also note the presence of  the permission on page 14 of the BCP permitting that “the contemporary idiom may be conformed to traditional language.” Too, I’ll also agree with the editors of the Anglican Service Book that conforming liturgies to traditional language involves more than swapping in “thees” and “thous.” Word order, syntax, and cadence are also important and need to be considered as well.

That having been said, here’s my version utilizing Form 2

The Prayer Itself

Celebrant: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all.
People: And with thy spirit.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up unto the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
People: It is meet and right so to do.

Celebrant: It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.

[Incorporates or adapts the Proper Preface of the Day.]

…Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,

Celebrant and People
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts:
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord most High.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Celebrant: 

Almighty and everliving God, which by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks for all men ; We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to receive
these our prayers, which we offer unto thy divine Majesty; beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: and grant, that all they that
do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love.Most merciful Father, we humbly pray thee, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, and we ask that thou accept and bless these gifts, these presents, these holy and unspoiled sacrifices. We offer them unto thee, first, for thy holy catholic Church: that thou vouchsafe to keep it in peace, to guard, unite, and govern it throughout the whole world; together with thy servant N., our Bishop and all the faithful guardians of the catholic and apostolic faith.Remember, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids [N. and N.] and all who here around us stand, whose faith is known unto thee and their steadfastness manifest, on whose behalf we offer unto thee, or who themselves offer unto thee, this sacrifice of praise; for themselves, and for all who are theirs; for the redemption of their souls, for the hope of their salvation and safety; and who offer their prayers unto thee, the eternal God, the living and the true.United in one communion, we venerate the memory, first of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ; of Joseph her spouse; as also of the blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddaeus; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and of all thy Saints: grant that by their merits and prayers we may in all things be defended with the help of thy protection.

O God, heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world ; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to celebrate a perpetual memory of that
his precious Death, until his coming again:

We beseech thee then, O Father, graciously to accept this oblation from us thy servants, and from thy whole family: order thou our days in thy peace, and bid us to be delivered from eternal damnation, and to be numbered in the fold of thine elect through Christ our Lord.

On the night in which he was betrayed unto suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks unto thee, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

Likewise, after supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink ye all of this: For this is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it for the remembrance of me.”

Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we thy humble servants do celebrate and make here before thy divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, the memorial which thy Son hath commanded us to make: having in remembrance his blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection, and glorious Ascension, we await his coming in glory: rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumberable benefits procured unto us by the same; entirely desiring thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, this memorial of our redemption; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the Merits and Death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his Blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his Passion.

Vouchsafe to look upon these gifts with a merciful and pleasant countenance; and to accept them, even as thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gifts of thy servant Abel the Righteous, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham; and the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim, which thy high priest Melchisedech offered unto thee.

Vouchsafe, O God, we beseech thee, in all things to make this oblation blessed, approved and accepted, a perfect and worthy offering: Sanctify it by thy Holy Ghost that it may become for thy people the Body and Blood of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.

Remember also, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids, [N. and N.], who have gone before us sealed with the seal of faith, and who sleep the sleep of peace. To them, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, we beseech thee to grant the abode of refreshing, of light, and of peace through the same Christ our Lord.

To us sinners also, thy servants, who hope in the multitude of thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with thy holy Apostles and Martyrs; with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and with all thy Saints, within whose fellowship, we beseech thee, admit us, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses; through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create all these good things; dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us;

By whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. AMEN.

What is this?

It’s a proper Rite III prayer that follows the rules as I understand them. It’s a mash-up of the Tudor-era canon of the Mass attributed to Miles Coverdale (though likely not by him), the Eucharistic canon of the 1549 prayer book particularly as adapted in the current Rite I, and the required texts laid down in Form 2.

Is this some kind of a joke?

Well, maybe some kind… But for the most part—no.

Here’s the thing. Those who champion Rite III and its ilk assume that what the church needs is to become more informal. Take a look at the broader culture. Things are far more informal in our dress and in our speech than we were in prior decades. We watch Downton Abbey and marvel at the array of clothing for each meal, occasion, and time of day, the intricate codes of what was appropriate at one moment, season, or gathering but not for another. We’re not like that anymore. Only a few places exist in our everyday world where I can’t go in a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sandals.

But is the inherent corrollary of this movement that the liturgy of our churches should necessarily become more informal?

For one thing, I’m developing a suspicion of the notion of “liturgical evangelism”—that a (if not “the”) primary function of our liturgy ought to be not scare off newcomers. We must be welcoming and hospitable—absolutely—but what does that mean and what does it look like? Are we being hospitable, truly welcoming stangers and vistitors to something, if we suppress or jettison altogether our identity and integrity?

For another there’s a difference between informality at church and informality in the language of the liturgy. The language of this liturgy does not care if you are slumming it in flip-flops or rockin’ a three-piece. That has far more to do with, once again, practices of hospitality within the gathered community.

For yet another thing, I perceive among myself and my circle of friends a reaction against some of our current culture’s informality. In my house we call it the Mad Men effect.  There is, particularly on the part of younger Gen-X and Gen-Y folks a desire for some of the structure—and style—that we think we see in Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and other perceptions of the Time Before the Sixties. There was a clarity there in roles and responsibilities we find lacking in today’s world. I’m very sensitive that this is a nostalgia for something we never actually experienced. That’s a whole other topic that we’ll get into some other day. The point I’m making here is that those looking for depth and authenticity increasingly hard to find in a shallow consumer-centered culture may be looking for something else. Perhaps language redolent of long-lived experience that actually is in direct contact with over a thousand years of Christian tradition is what they’re hungering for.

The line I’ve heard most frequently since prayer book revision was announced is: I hope they keep Rite I. And it’s not been old people saying this either.

Our culture has informality—but it lacks transcendence. A liturgy of this sort has transcendence in spades.

Surprise!

One last observation before wrapping up. I’d argue that this Eucharistic Prayer actually does a better job of representing baptismal ecclesiology than some in the ’79 prayer book. Note the two lists of saints and the references to the local community, both living and dead, imaged in the prayer. This prayer sketches the Body of Christ more fully by naming specific people and categories with whom we gather when we pray not named in our current prayers.

Bottom Line

Prayer Book revision is coming. Rite 3 approval has occured. We will be entering into a time of experimenting with liturgy and liturgical patterns. I urge us to be broad and diverse in our experimentation. My fear is that we will only think about experimentation and diversity in narrow ways–things that are more informal and less structured. But that’s only one direction out of a host of others. Exploring the riches of our past has got to be a part of the picture as well.

Posted in Anglican, Sacraments, Trial Liturgy | 10 Comments

Songs of Absence

[This was first published during Holy Week 2014]


My daughters, 10 and 8, are approaching the end of their first year at a Christian school. It’s been a bit of a shift for us, moving from the public school system. One of the chief things we’ve been adjusting to is contemporary Christian culture. While the school is non-denominational and has a roughly even blend of Roman Catholics and Protestants (and, yes, both are equally puzzled by the appearance of our Anglo-Catholic girls who don’t fit any of their paradigms!), there is a general embrace of the evangelical-flavored Christian subculture.

When my younger daughter arrived in her second grade class, she was quickly asked whether she preferred TobyMac or Justin Bieber. It was a culture question: do you participate in “Christian culture” or “secular culture”? Predictably for her, she said, “Neither one,” messing with their simplistic paradigm. (I still don’t know who TobyMac is…)

I do understand the desire behind the construction of a distinctly Christian subculture. Parents who choose to go in this direction can feel secure knowing that their religious values will be reinforced by the culture their children consume. It represents a way to conform externally to the same kinds of entertainment as the broader culture, but without the culture’s more problematic content. That’s their choice; that’s not the road that we have taken.

While there can be something very comforting about a “safe” Christian subculture, in the end I find its intention to insulate Christian culture from the broader culture misguided and ultimately dangerous. Yes, there are philosophies and attitudes antithetical to Christianity and Christian living in modern culture, especially in pop culture. Yes, there are songs and movies and such that I don’t let my girls listen to and watch. But ignoring them won’t make them go away; attempting to hide your children from them is not a tenable long-term strategy. We regularly discuss the lyrics of the songs on the pop station in the car on the way to ballet, and I model for them what it looks like to listen and critique, noting what is both positive and negative.

More generally, though, we do a disservice to our work of evangelism, and to our own deep wrestling if we ignore what the culture is saying generally, and in particular what it is saying about and to the church.

I drove the girls to school in my wife’s car this morning. The radio was on, and, in an attempt to avoid the disc jockeys’ gossip about the latest pop princess, I switched over to the CD. I didn’t know what Meredith had in there; as a result, the soundtrack for our drive to school was Suicide Commandos’ “Plastic Christ”:

Do you believe,
Praying to a plastic Christ,
Do you believe,
That God will hear your cry?
Do you believe
In eternal life?
Do you believe
That you will never die?
Do you believe,
Praying to a plastic Christ,
Do you believe
That God will save your life?

The name of the band might tip you off to the fact that this is not a Christian group; half the moms in the second grade class would probably freak if they even suspected its presence in our car. However, there is no doubt that the lyrics wrestle with fundamentally religious questions.

My wife and I have never been into pop music. For my part, I find most of it musically and philosophically anemic. I much prefer the Goth and Heavy Metal from my youth, and, these days, much of the new music I listen to is best characterized as Industrial.

Industrial and its related genres like EBM (Electronic Body Music) aren’t all that common here in the US; it tends to be a more European and continental phenomenon. Nine Inch Nails is probably the best-known American representative of the genre. Like metal, it’s best listened to at loud volumes; like Goth, it tends to wrestle with emotion, meaning, and aesthetics. Characterized by a heavy use of electronic instrumentation, sampling, and computer manipulation, as a genre it investigates the philosophical hole at the center of industrialized society in a post-certainty world. That is, in the aftermath of the 20th century when we saw the two great pillars of the Western social contract, the state and the church, fail humanity in dramatic fashion, where do we turn now for certainty, authority, and meaning? One possible answer is a Nietzschian nihilism trending towards hedonism as exemplified in the lyrics of folks like Marilyn Manson and Thrill Kill Kult. And yet, there are also much more articulate and nuanced approaches that explore humanism, spirituality, and post-Constantinian faith. Particular standouts for me are Assemblage 23 and VNV Nation.

While I’m sure some of the parents at my children’s school would be scandalized by our choice of music, I see it asking some deep and important questions that the church needs to both hear and be able to answer. The lyrics to “Plastic Christ” can be read in at least two ways. One interpretation can see it as straightforward mockery of a simplistic faith. A better interpretation, I think, reads it as deeply ambiguous. The act of posing the question—rather than simply making an assertion—invites the listener into the question itself. Do you believe this, or don’t you? It invites soul searching. My answer is, naturally, “yes”—but the act of investigating the question, seeing how I qualify and interpret it, is an exercise worth conducting.

At its root, I see this song as participating in a body of songs in this genre that grapple with the question of the presence and/or absence of God. Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours” and VNV Nation’s “Gratitude” spring quickly to mind as other examples. We can, like the Christian subculture, try to duck the question. Or, as people of faith in but not of the world, we can listen to the question with integrity and attempt to respond to it in kind.

Indeed, I find this season of the year, as we walk through the last days of Lent and move towards the cross in Holy Week, the question of the presence or absence of God in the midst of suffering to have a particular poignancy.

Assemblage 23, brain-child of Seattle-based Tom Shear, confronts listeners directly in the catalogue of his own deeply personal struggles with this issue in “God Is A Strangely Absent Father”:

Depend on me
And I will let you down
Repeatedly
You’d think you’d have learned by now
In your hour of need
I’m nowhere to be found
And while you bleed
I’m indifferent

[Chorus] God is a strangely absent father
His back is turned perpetually
All the orphaned sons and daughters
Abide in their suffering

That is the first verse and the chorus; there are two additional verses in the same vein.

What do we do with this? Some would simply write it off as modern impiety. But is that the best we can do? I’m a grown-up—I’ve heard blasphemy and impiety, but what I’m hearing here is pain. I’m hearing someone who has looked to God for solace and hasn’t found it.

First, I choose to treat this song as an honest question that people—particularly seekers—bear in with them through our doors (if they make it that far). Do we have an honest answer for them? If Tom Shear walked into your parish, sat next to you in your pew, and asked you point-blank questions about where God was in the world and in our lives, would you be able to give him an answer that doesn’t sound glib in the face of personal pain?

Second, hearing his lyrics remind me of others. Try on these:

[God,] Take your affliction from me;
I am worn down by the blows of your hand.
With rebukes for sin you punish us;
like a moth you eat away all that is dear to us;
truly, everyone is but a puff of wind.

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears.

For I am but a sojourner with you,
a wayfarer, as all my forebears were.
Turn your gaze from me, that I may be glad again,
before I go my way and am no more.

Or, perhaps, there’s this set:

Lord, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me?
Ever since my youth, I have been wretched and at the
point of death;
I have borne your terrors with a troubled mind.
Your blazing anger has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me;

They surround me all day long like a flood;
they encompass me on every side.
My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me,
and darkness is my only companion.

Recognize them yet? If not, here’s your final clue:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.

These impious lyrics, these words which Jesus uttered from his own lips in his last moments, are all from the Psalms. That’s Psalm 39, 88, and 22 respectively. Usually psalms of lament will have sections like this, then make a turn that praise and thank God for his presence and salvation. Psalm 22 does this, and the end speaks of the vindication of the sufferer.

But Psalms 39 and 88 lack this completely. The sections I’ve excerpted contain the ends of both psalms. There is no happy turn. Psalm 88 literarily leaves us alone and in darkness.

Hearing “God is a Strangely Absent Father” gives me new ears to hear these psalms again. It helps me to be confronted and challenged by these scriptural words which confess the experience of divine absence spoken by unknown Israelites sometime over 2,500 years ago. It reminds me that our tradition made the deliberate choice to include and retain these psalms as words to be heard for posterity. These psalms give us no glib or easy answers, and they take on new poignancy as words from the cross itself, words spoken by the dying Christ.

In turn, the psalms lead me back again to the song, and ask me how I would hear it if it appeared under the rubric “psalm of lament”? Does it really sound so foreign alongside the words of the psalms? The psalms remind me that this is no new song—songs of absence have been sung by believers and non-believers alike throughout recorded religious history.

How often are we guilty of trying to shelter the church from the difficult words of Scripture and, in so doing, lose hold of the very passages where we see our forebearers—and our Lord himself—wrestling with these same hard questions that do not resolve themselves with easy answers?

If we were to cut ourselves off from the music and the art (and—dare I say it—the Scripture?) that asks us the difficult questions, does that makes us safer or more complacent and ultimately more afraid to face the hard questions ourselves?

As we enter the last days of Lent and the period of Holy Week, Jesus calls us into a place of suffering. It’s a suffering very much experienced in the world around us—as well as in our selves. Sometimes we are blessed by the power and presence of God in these moments.

Sometimes we’re not.

Sometimes we need to ask with Jesus “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Sometimes we need to hear it and take it seriously from the lips of those around us.

 

Posted in Evangelism, Spirituality | 1 Comment