Monday, July 31, 2006

Surveying the Territory

Perhaps it is premature and I will have to repeat this request periodically as interest in the blog grows (fingers-crossed), but I want to go ahead and start getting some 'feelers' out for Nazarene churches that are making gestures toward worshipping in a more liturgical/sacramental manner. While instances of churches doing a full-on liturgy or a weekly "word and table" service (i.e. preaching and communion) are precisely what I'm looking for, I'm also thinking of things like more frequent communion (every other week, say), or increased observance of the Christian calendar, or following the lectionary cycles for preaching/teaching.

This inquiry, which will be ongoing, of course, and may require a little research and asking-around on all of our parts, has a two-fold (at least) purpose: 1) curiosity, a simple desire to know, as it would no doubt lift our spirits and give us pause to pray for the efforts of such pastors and congregations; and 2) I would like to at some point create an additional section in the sidebar with links to various Nazarene churches that are moving in directions with/in their worship that are consonant with the perspective of this blog - sort of a liturgical "honor roll" for those brave churches. (Then again, why should it take bravery? These things are simply and irreducibly Christian, are they not...?)

Post 'leads' in the comments section, or email me.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

New Blogs on the Block

Though linked already on the "Blog Roll," I want to draw special attention to Nazarene Roundtable, which should be bookmarked by anyone interested in "thinking Nazarenes thinking Nazarenely"™ (that's my phrase, by the way).

Scott Collins and Joseph Wood have done us a great service by setting up this discussion space. Unlike this blog, Nazarene Roundtable takes as its only focus the mission expressed in its self-description: "a grassroots effort to re-educate our Church of the Nazarene about what they already believe."

Nazarene Roundtable began as an email discussion between a few friends about the Nazarene take on licensed ministry and ordination - namely, when does one become a "reverend" and why, exactly? That discussion, as it unfolded in the emails passed back and forth, is chronicled on the site, along with a few "blog-only" additions.

I intend to participate actively on that blog as well as this one and invite any and all who might be interested in getting involved here to get involved there as well. They, as well as we, have an open member policy, so if you would like to contribute original posts of your own, contact me (for Sacramental Nazarenes) or Scott (for Nazarene Roundtable) to get those privileges worked out. If you're interest is piqued but not enough to bother contributing per se, comments there, as here, are open to all.

Spread the word...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Reform? Revision? Revival? Renewal?

...or, as the handwritten (by my wife) sign on a big red tub in my kitchen reads: "reduce, reuse, recycle." That's where we chuck glass jars and bottles and tin cans to take to the recycling bins so our refuse can be melted down and refashioned into new and useful objects. But this post is not about tossing out old rubbish, while it is, in a way, about making things new. Actually, it might be more along the lines of that lefty tree-huggin' sport known affectionately as "dumpster diving" - rescuing from the waste piles anything of value that others have casually cast off.

Why "liturgical renewal"? Well, this title isn't set in stone, by any means. Very few things ever are for me. I have a quote by the late philosopher Jacques Derrida sticky-tacked to the wall by my desk which reads:
"I am trying, precisely, to put myself at a point so that I do not know any longer where I am going."
To me, this is the authentic life of faith. No "purpose driven" rubbish for this PK - that's "pastor's kid," not "promise keeper," although I do strive to be the latter, and I can't really help the former. Rick Warren has made his mint, and I'm sure he's done some wonderful things with the bounty - cast your bread on the water and all that - but I'm thinking in the opposite direction, if it is even a direction at the Children of Israel. Grace is gratuitous...unmerited...purposeless. At least by our estimation. Isn't this, really, the only space in which grace can really be encountered? When you've given up on it? As another favorite quote from another great contemporary sage (Fight Club's Tyler Durden) goes: "It's only when you've lost everything that you're free to do anything."

But I digress..."liturgical renewal." Well, I recall a conversation, an ongoing conversation to be correct, which the best conversations always are, with a dear friend who was raised in the Church of the Nazarene but has recently been chrismated in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and in this conversation, this Orthodox Christian friend (oh, how I envy him sometimes) pointed out to me that one cannot re-form, or, for that matter, re-vise or re-vive, something that one did not form/see/live in the first place. And I think he has a point. We in the Church of the Nazarene don't really have a liturgy to reform, or at least not one so well-formed in the first place to be worth reforming. We've never caught enough of a vision of liturgical worship to have anything to revise. So I've settled on the mantle of renewal, because I believe in a God who makes all things new, and indeed who always already has made and is making all things new. We need something new, but only to us. No matter what DC Talk once sang, I remain unconvinced that "God is doin' a nu thang." I think God is probably doin' the same ol' thang God is always doing. This is what I want in on, what I want us to get in on. An old classic thang that just happens to be new to us, like a beat-up '52 Fender Telecaster or a '64 (1/2) just can't improve on some things, and the merest attempts are not only a testament to bad faith, but are doomed to failure.

The Church of the Nazarene has been praying for revival for as long as I can remember - individually, locally, nationally, internationally. No doubt this has been going on even long than I've been around - given what sliver of history we do have, it's safe to say this has been going on since the beginning of the denomination. But what if the revival we've been looking and praying for didn't come about by some new thing, some great novel idea that some whipper-snapper pastor in Colorado Springs came up with in a dream, but instead came because we finally decided to look into the rearview mirror and see where we've come from...indeed, perhaps even stop, turn around and go back to check out a couple of groovy locales we passed along the way. (Or were we, perhaps, the infant in the car-seat, sleeping through the entire trip, and hence don't remember a thing, other than what we've been told about all that we've missed..."remember your baptism" indeed.) Even if we don't have a "liturgy" (per se) to "revive," I do believe - "hope against hope," as St. Paul might say - that liturgical renewal would soon become for the Church of the Nazarene precisely that revival we so desire.

On the other hand, I think it is inaccurate to say that the Church of the Nazarene, while doubtless lacking anything resembling a liturgical tradition, is entirely without a liturgy. If we take "liturgy" to mean simply "the work of the people," as its etymology indicates, then every church, and indeed every community - two or more gathered - has a liturgy. And indeed, some liturgies look like hand-painted icons and stained glass and smell like a swiftly-swung thurible, and others sound like praise-bands and are followed-up by a rousing round of PlayStation in the teen room after service. Every church has a liturgy: it's just that some are good and some are, well, not so good. And quite often the churches with the worst liturgies, in terms of their corporate worship, do some of the best "work of the people" in their compassionate ministry, evangelism and world missions: it is this, and quite often I confess this reason alone, that I still identify myself as a Nazarene Christian.

My heart aches at times...usually at those times in a Catholic Mass when I go forward at the communion with my hands folded across my chest so as to participate in the rite the only way I am invited to, or in an Anglican service where I am invited to communion, standing-sitting-kneeling-standing, singing "Tell Out My Soul," listening to absurd sermons that raise my hackles but thank God they're short and they give me something to talk about for days to come...the ache is that of a son who has noticed for the first time that his mother dresses in rags, even though she is beautiful, which of course she doesn't recognize, but that kills him all the more because he desires something better for her, something more fitting her overlooked beauty. But he doesn't want to leave her...he can't bear the thought. He is not as strong? weak? (which?) as Ricky Fitts in American Beauty, who sees this beauty in his own coarse-clothed and grey-haired mother but still walks out the door:

RICKY: Mom, I'm leaving.
MOM: Okay. Wear a raincoat.
RICKY: [hugs her] I wish things would have been better for you. Take care of dad.

This son knows his family is messed up in some ways, but it is his family. If it is messed up, he is messed up, too. Other families might be less messed up, or just messed up in different ways, and some of them might adopt him, or at least invite him to dinner...but they are not his family. In the end, they cannot and never will be his family, the family that claims him as its own even when he wonders if it's time to split.