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.


Joseph said...

This is in response to the particular paragraph on the claim that every church has its own liturgy, some good and some bad. My question is: When you say, Church, do you mean local, denominational, or traditional?

If local, yes, I agree that all local churches have a liturgy, a work of the people. I guess the question that comes to mind in light of this is: Does the liturgy of this local congregation adhere to something bigger than the local congregation, or is the liturgy solely lived out by the local congregation? There is something to be said for a congregation that can accept the fact that it is a part of something bigger than itself. Knowing that thousands, or even millions, of people are "working" in the same manner as one's own local congregation is not only an overwhelming thought, but a comforting thought. It is comforting to know that all around the world, people are practicing the same faith you claim in the same way. Not only are they practicing it now in the same way, but also it has bee practiced in the same way for generations (in some traditions).

I have attempted to explain this fact to the youth that I teach on Wednesdays. We were talking about the spiritual practice of prayer and I explained to them that when you pray, you never pray alone. We may be alone in a closet by ourselves praying, but we have to understand that at any given moment in time, there are millions of prayers being prayed. Millions of people may be in their respective closets at that exact moment in time praying to the same God through the same Christ.

Not only are we praying with those who are praying at the same time, but we are also praying with those who have gone before us. Where did we learn to pray? We learned from those who prayed before us. Where did they learn to pray? They learned from the ones before them. The "prayer chain" spans all the way back to the One who taught His Disciples to pray, "Our Father,..."

When we pray, we pray with those who are praying today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

Just looking at the practice of prayer shows how big the connection is to the liturgy of the people of God. Is a common liturgy important? Yes. Again, as I have said before, all Christians began at the same place with the same Teacher. The liturgy of those people was intended to be passed on through the generations to us, and we are to continue to pass it on.

Reform, Revision, Revival, Renewal?
I submit, we steer clear of reform, because we know where that leads. We revise our current methods to renew the liturgy of the past, which will yield a revival of our church.

The Godfather (Hoskins) once said, "The Church begins and ends at the local level." Liturgy is local, but the local Church must realize that it is a part of something bigger than itself, and that "something bigger" has done the work for almost 2000 years, and no program, or new-hip-cool gimic is going to replace the work that Christ set forth in His teaching.

In regards to the practices of the faith, we do need to strive to be in the goal of Derrida, but maybe with some revision. "I am trying, precisely, to put myself at a point so that I do not know any longer where I am going, but I have a way to get there."

Steven D. Sorrell said...

This is just a quick anecdote Speaking on the commonality of the Liturgies of Local participating in the Universal.
There was a baptism this past Saturday at my church where three nationalities, cultures, and languages came together to participate in this Sacrament. A Lebonese man (Antiochian Orthodox) who lives in Tullahoma, TN called our parish priest to perform the Baptism for his infant son. He was originally going to go back to Lebanon this week to have the service done, but because of the war, the US would not let them leave. His wife is Ukrainian (Russian Orthodox) and her mother (who only speaks Slavic) was in town visiting. Also the man's parents (who only speak Arabic) were in town. So my priest had to deal with two grandmothers with two different nationalities, but because of the universality of Orthodox Liturgy, these two families worship and participated in the Baptimal liturgy of their grandchild without getting lost or not knowing what was going on, though the liturgy was in English.

I know that this is not a Nazarene example, but it does show that it can and does happen.

Joseph said...

The joys of orthodoxy, and the "holy catholic church". That's a beautiful story that should occur more often than not. Is this not the intention of the early church? Also, is this not the reason for a universal creed? Thanks for the story Steven.

Brannon Hancock said...

I echo Joseph: thanks for sharing this story, Steven.

As it happens, I have heard about multi-cultural Nazarene churches in the US making gestures in this direction. For example, a church that has, say, a primary English speaking congregation and worship service, as well as a Korean or hispanic service that takes place at a different time. In order to foster continuity and community between the dual-congregations that make up one 'church family', I have heard of pastors realizing how valuable such orthodox traditions as following the lectionary cycle for scripture reading and preaching, or following the liturgical calendar, or even adopting some sort of a liturgy (however degraded from its proper majesty) are in such situations.

This encourages me, and also confirms to me that this is the direction we MUST move as a denomination if we are to continue to be missional, international, trans-cultural, else can Nazarenes in Europe, Africa, S. America, the USA, or worshipping in secret in China hold anything in common (other than, of course, some loosely construed, quasi-gnostic experience of sanctification, completely separate from anything material or practical - i.e. the sacraments - that can be shared with and amongst others).

If we truly want to work toward Christian unity, not only in the universal Body of Christ but even within our own denomination, we must begin listening to and learning from those very sectors of the christian tradition that we have labored so long and hard to distinguish ourselves from.

Joseph - I will respond to your first comment soon...e.g. when it's not 4am. It deserves a bit more time and energy than I can give it right now.