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 all...purposeless...meandering...like 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) Mustang...you 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.