Thursday, August 31, 2006

[THO] The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

I was one of the 300 who worked on this call to an evangelical reformation. The drafts stopped coming and I wondered if the project dried up. I was happy to discover that it had not. I think it would be useful here to explore some of what is in the call and some of the implications. My hope is that this document will not fall into the obscurity that is the 1977 Chicago Call.

Here is the link.

The Prologue

One of the hardest things to do with such a diverse group as Christians are is to come to an articulation of what is core and essential. We often start off saying that Jesus is the only core value, but as we begin to see that different parts of the Body understand even the person of Jesus in slightly different ways, then our backs go up and we begin to stake the ground a bit closer to our own particularities. This ambitious project includes some 300 reviewers from all across the spectrum of Christianity. My main concern for the prologue is that it would be concise, exciting and understandable.

Concise in that it wouldn't be bogged down with too many particularities and endless explainations, I think it accomplishes that fairly well.

Exciting in that if this is going to be effective it has to capture the imaginations of Evangelical leaders, leaders who for the most part are used to endless fads coming through the chuch. I am not looking for something exciting in that it takes on a fad status, but something so clear that it cuts through the usual BS that gets thrown around in the Evangelical church and grabs the hearts of those leaders passionate about seeing the Church become all it can be so that it can more effectively reach the lost (after all we are evangelicals being called in this document). The prologue begins with a strong statement that should capture the hearts of those who long for Holy Spirit change in their churches. But I feel the sentence is still a bit clumbsy. If they make it into the second and third paragraphs then there is enough that this should capture a range of Evangelical hearts.

Also it had to be free from jargon, jargon always makes a document harder to understand and potentially excludes those who do not use the same lingo. Part of the issue is that in order to convey what needs to be conveyed the call does use a few fairly packed terms. But I think it would be very hard to convey all that it does without these terms. It might be helpful, for the future, to have a compacted and simplified version for mass consumption. How this is framed shows that there were academics involved, I would hate for that to exclude the large segment of Evangelicalism that is still suspicious of higher learning.

The specifics are next...

[DDM] Warlords of Meldore

For those of you wondering, yes this is my famous Warlords of the Fallen Gong. The storyline is the same, only the name has changed. I am very excited to get this one published, I've been running it almost as long as I have been playing D&D miniatures! I have very fond memories of the first time we ran it, starting at noon on New Years day and ending some blurry time after 3AM! Intense. I still have the golden gravehound with the certificate for "Most Jovial" player. Steve took the Golden Snig that year. Good times, good times.

For those of you who have played it you will note that the final battle is missing, yup, this version in con friendly. No worries I'll get the rules for an uber battle out there soon. In fact my next project is for 3-4 players and has the nasty name of Assassin. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

[THO] Jaspers on What is a Bad Theologian

"a bad theologian, one who makes promises that he does not keep." (Myth and Christianity, Karl Jaspers & Rudolf Bultmann, Noonday, 1971. p. 54)

This really resonated with the lectional gospel reading today from Matthew 23!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

[FUN] = madness

Robby Mac pointed me in this blog's direction. Oh my life will never be the same.

yi yi yi!

Eat this folks, eat this.

For those of you who missed Chick tracts altogether, you should thank Jesus a lot. I am sorry to have to introduce you to them, but this is way too messed up not to. Chick makes Ray Comfort look good. My personal favourite is how good old Jack Chick propogates lies about Dungeons and Dragons, his tract on the subject is the single most parodied gospel tract going.

Why is Mary crying Jack? Why indeed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

[THO] Good Old Karl Jaspers

I'm starting to get my head around Jaspers a bit better. I see that he is mostly trying to get at his understanding of Bultmann, but I do find that he still misses something. But there is much to really appreciate about his "comprehension" of revelation. One powerful insight he has is a screaming indictment of dogmatism, when we believe we possess the absolute truth then we shut ourselves off from the revelatory nature of Scripture. (see p. 40 using Lessing as an example of virtuous liberalism). Recently fellow blogger, Hosea talked about the weakness of context irreverant preaching, what I call prooftexting. Reading Jaspers I was left wondering how much of our need to maintain dogma actually hinders our ability to approach scripture in a manner that opens us to new discovery and wonder. Maybe liberalism isn't the enemy of good preaching that my fundamentalist friends believe, maybe the true enemy is in their own theological backyards. There is a difference between being aprehended or captured by the Truth and comprehending the truth perfectly, doesn't St. Paul have something to say about our earthly comprehensive abilities?

Also I am falling in love with Jaspers' term, 'the Encompassing'. It just sounds to warm and embracing to me. He is referring of course to the perception of life from the perspective of faith.

After all this I am eager to hear Bultmann's response. This is a zinger of a book!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

[THO] Worship IV.II

When we talk about worship we really need to consider the whole of the liturgy. So while the songs of worship are very important (previous post), there is much more than singing that goes on in the corporate setting. Specifically there are spoken/read bits and there are symbolic bits that also need to be considered in a thorough treatment of the topic of worship.

In my own tradition we have greetings, prayers, sermons/teachings, readings (although not as frequent as in other traditions) and announcements. Yet we could add to this, intercessions, collects, benedictions, homilies, creeds and many other verbal elements that belong to the worship of the Church. (Note Jonatan has excellent series on liturgical elements from the Lutheran tradition). Generally these spoken parts are oriented in two directions, those that inform and those that collect.

When I talk about collecting, I am referring to those elements that gather or unite our worship into a corporate declaration or prayer. Corporate prayer is the obvious candidate for this category, but equally fitting are community declarations such as creeds and responsive readings. These elements align our hearts to worship in a corporate way. They are also touchstones with which we all commonly engage with worship (much like singing). They are intended to give voice to the community in the dialogue of worship that is the liturgy. This is where they differ from those elements that inform.

When we think of the sermon, no matter what you call it, the primary goal is to inform the congregation about a specific topic (ideally as flows from the scriptural readings). In fact it is hard for many of us to imagine a service without some form of message delivered in this way. (Except of course for those of us who have made a point to experience a liturgy with no sermon which our community enjoys monthly as our Eucharistic celebration).

Both directions are needed in the liturgy. We need to unite our hearts but we also need to be brought into the presence of God, which is entirely individual, it just happens in a corporate setting. So those elements that collect prepare us corporately for a personal experience. The personal experience is where we recognize Christ and are transformed by this encounter. In Lukan terms the good liturgy must take us into the tent, not just further along the road to Emmaus.

Now the very elements that collect us can also be the vehicles for this encounter. And I would say that the line between a good corporate experience and a good personal experience is as fuzzy as the line between that which collects and that which informs. I find it helpful to view the elements of the liturgy as potentially liminal. Liminality refers to a sense of crossing over from one place to the next, and indeed there is a invitation into the recognition of God’s presence that is very evident in corporate worship. I would even say that this is the purpose of our coming together corporately. (I would be surprised if this notion is not challenged though). Liminality is even more apparent in those elements of the liturgy that have a symbolic nature.

Unfortunately many traditions have a suspicious view of the things I lump into the symbolic bits of a liturgy. Yet these elements provide a rich place of meaning for a corporate worship experience. Our fear is that we always need to explain things so that people don’t get the wrong idea. But when we situate these things into a purely didactic form then they are stripped of their ability to mediate new meaning, even transformative meaning, to the worshipper. In simple terms how can we recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread if we are aren’t willing to let the symbol mediate itself? Symbols are not signs; signs are flat and have single definable meaning. Symbols are not flat representation, but a dynamic interaction between the symbol, the represented object and the experiencing subject. Many times after a service I will have parishioners tell me how an element of the liturgy gave them insight into God and God’s heart for them. Because these aren’t directed, they become powerful meaning for those individuals, meaning that they will live over and over again in the corporate worship setting.

So good worship is that which allows a variety of interactions between the worshipper and the liturgy. The liturgy indeed is the work of the people. It provides praxis for God encounters, where we recognize Christ in the liturgy. These encounters transform the worshipper and feed back into the liturgy enriching the experience for everyone. Healthy worship makes healthy worshippers.

Next a little insight from Dr. Seuss.

Friday, August 25, 2006

[THO] Theological Catfight: Jaspers vs. Bultmann

Since I picked up this little book, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion Without Myth, I keep picking it up. I like to read the first few pages of a new book just to get some bearings on it, well when you start a book that has the first article coming out punching the other guy - I feel bad, but I want to keep reading. So with Volf out of the way this little text has risen up to supplant whatever was next on my reading list, Doh!

But something is bugging me about Karl Jasper's position. I think it is the fatal flaw of enlightnement philosophy. He seems to have constructed God in the image of his own suppositions and I think his thinking is reinforced by an Anselmian ontological proof, though he hasn't outright said this, I see Anselm's 'proof' as a basis for Kasper's vision of God. So this causes Jasper to insist on two things that do not square - the absence of the supernatural and the existance of God.

Now I do get that he is working within a framework of reason to accomplish his task, and he seems to get things right, but every right answer leaves me saying 'but, but..' because it misses the whole dimension of revelation. Knowledge of God seems to be something Jasper's believe you acquire through reason alone. Yet the process of reasoning our way to God often neuters god, indeed despite Jasper's claims that God is that "which no myth can fully express for it surpasses them all" (p.17) still leaves us unconvinced. Especially when preceeded by a bold statement like, "A corpse cannot come to life and rise from the grave." (p.17).

I think this neutered image of God, who is restricted to the realm of thought is a useless god who cannot act on behalf of the poor, needy and oppressed. This thinking flaws his desire to restore a mythical language to Christianity, even though that is a project I admire. This flaw affects his brilliant observations on the function of myth in religion (see his observation of how we derive strenght from the bible on page 20). It causes them to stall just short of the prize. I read them and feel a 'yeah, but' deep inside me. Not that I disagree with him, just I feel like something is missing. Maybe it is just the philosopher's god I am troubled with, but if his jabs at Bultmann are at all justified I fear I might have the same battle with him defence.

It is a short book and I've only really just begun, and both are authors I've wanted to be exposed to. Especially since I am already convinced of the power of myth in religion, even the necessity of myth. I would agree with Jasper's critique of a utilitarian use of literalness (p.19), but I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Karl Jaspers & Rudolf Bultmann, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion without Myth, trans Norbert Guterman, Noonday Press: 1971.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

[LIF] Not Worship IV.II

Sorry, I'm still working on this one. Seems like I have only brief splashes on the computer this week. But I do have some news. How about a 1 year MTh news! Oh yeah. I was in to talk to the head of the Theology Department, still trying to line up my ducks for a PhD. Their MTh is a single year and is basically set up to see if you are ready to do a PhD! No Thesis just a 40-60 page paper and research courses. And it's pretty durn cheap compared to what I've been looking at! What's the catch you might be thinking. Non parle vous francais. Yup I need to get my arse in gear and learn french! Fortunately I have lots of french speaking friends to help and went to Chapters to pick up "French: The Easy Way" and a series of audio CDs for my van. Yup, that will be me repeating gay phrases in french at the red light, no I am not talking to anyone and yes I am probably disturbed. :-)

Also I couldn't resist my favourite local used bookstore, no french aids but a cheap copy of Bede's 'History of the English Church and People' and for $6 'The Oxford Companion to Philosophy'! Snap!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

[FUN] One Book Meme

Pretty sure no one tagged me but I want to play too!

  1. One book that changed your life: Trinity and the Kingdom - Jürgen Moltmann
  2. One book that you’ve read more than once: The Bible
  3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Bible, specifically the Psalms
  4. One book that made you laugh: A Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren
  5. One book that made you cry: The Bible, the epistle to the Ephesians made me cry when I realized God's love transcended everything I had done or will do wrong.
  6. One book you wish had been written: Where America went off the Rails and how it is taking the rest of the World with it - zefrank
  7. One book you wish had never been written: Anything by Tim LaHaye.
  8. One book you’re currently reading: Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Nietzsche
  9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Idea of the Holy - Rudolf Otto
  10. One book you’d like to write: Let's Break the Mold Together: The Freedom to Be Church in the Midst of the World you Find yourself In

I wasn't tagged so I'll refrain from tagging others. BTW I'm halfway done Worship IV.II, watch for it soon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

[LIF] Books!

Today I went out to pick up a little present for Kenny. I bought Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion for myself the other day and knew there was another copy. I figured I'd take a run around and see if by some chance there was a copy of Trinity and the Kingdom around, but alas I have yet to see Moltmann in a bookstore in Ottawa. Anyway, I had in my head what I would write in a book for Kenny and I never really know what to write in cards let alone books and I am sure he'll appreciate this text. His gal Candace threw a surprise party tonight so I had a nice chance to give it to him.

Speaking of books, I am so excited that I won a copy of Ray Anderson’s "Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches" over on Ben Myer's Blog. He ran a contest and apparently I won with the most interesting comment and Byron won for the most entertaining, his is really quite cute. Sweet!

One good book story deserves another, so this is what I found on my outing to get Kenny's book.

  • Myth and Christianity - Karl Jaspers and Rudolf Bultmann (just looked fascinating)

  • The Symbolism of Evil - Paul Ricoeur (This one was not cheap, but one of the Ricoeur texts I've really wanted!)

  • Outlines of the History of Dogma - Adolf Harnack (I got mixed up once and told someone I owned Harnack but really meant A. H. Newmann, I was thinking history... so now I legitimately own Harnack just not the text he outlines - someday maybe)

  • Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? - David Wenham (I'm hoping to do a course next semester on Pauline literature and there was some things that popped out at me thumbing through)

I think I did well. Next book purchase will be my texts for the year. I meet with someone from the St. Paul Theology department Wednesday to see about grad work possibilities there, if I have to do a masters first then I probably should know my options there.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

[LIF] What's Going On

Been really busy this week. Lots of things on the go as I get ready for the coming semester. I was in tweaking my courses and I set up an appointment to see about grad work at St. Paul. We were talking about me doing a remote programme but some of the ones I have checked into still require too much onsite work for us to do as a family. That's a bit frustrating but actually it is very hard to consider relocating for school. First Sharon wouldn't be able to work, second the kids would get uprooted from school and community and third our church still needs us. So barring God telling us to go to a specific school a remote degree is the only option. I am seriously considering doing some writing on my own though, I think it would be be good for me and it would help me later on. I have a new DDM scenario published (see the sidebar) and an article accepted for publication in the next Christian Week. I'm hoping to continue my Worship series early next week, how are you enjoying it?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

[LIF] Grad Schools

I am in the process of trying to figure out what I'm doing after my BTh is done. I've had some great talks and begun to put out feelers at St. Andrews (Scotland). Ideally I would like to do a remote PhD in either systematic or liturgical theology (actually a combination of both). St. Andrews has Ian Bradley whom I know from Celtic studies. And I've been web surfing a number of other Universities in the UK, US and Canada. Because I want to focus on research I am biased towards remote work and I would prefer to move right to a doctorial programme. I know there are readers here from a variety of Universities, where would you suggest I also investigate? What professors do you think I would resonate well with? Thanks.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

[LIF] God's Wink

One of the guys who made it to the GenCon Christian Gamers Guild Church service says they had 65-75 gamers! I sooooo want to be there next year. Imagine that, gamers taking time out of a gaming con to do church. Kinda restores my hope a bit.

[LIF] Sad About the Church Today

Last night a dear friend called me, about 11:45. He was experiencing acute abdominal pain and wanted someone to help him. Sharon was over at her mothers because Billie (my mother-in-law) was in the hospital ER all day so it has been exciting to say the least) and I was home, carless with the kids. This guy has a lot of chronic pain so it is not unusual for him to call us, even at ungodly hours. And as he began describing this pain I knew this was something new and not something he should mess around with. So I was encouraging him to call Ontario Telehealth and see what they said, or if it was unbearable to just call an ambulance. He was hesitant to do both.

Now here is where it gets complicated. I know this guy also goes to two big churches. A well established and respected Pentecostal Assemblies church and a Charismatic church spun out of the merger of Partners in Harvest and the Pentecostals who hang out in Toronto. Both bigger bodies and apparantly more to his liking than our group - he was attending Freedom but left when he realized that a number of us played Dungeons & Dragons. This is one loss I've always been sad about, but his reasons for leaving have never made sense enough to override what we strongly feel God has called us to do. He tends to be a bit on the simple side and is easily caught up in the wind of fear based theology that inhabit the church world he gravitates towards. Anyway we've been walking this out as friends for a year now, it has gotten better. I think the most troubling thing for him is that he sees God in my life.

He must see God in my life because he always calls here when he has a crisis. I suggested he might call someone from the Pentecostal church to help him out, I know really great folks there. But he said he didn't know anyone there well enough to call them this late at night for help??? That made me sad inside. He's been there maybe two years. Worked on their church building (he does wonderful stained glass work). Participated in their worship band practices and even participated in small groups. Yet out of that experience there is no one he can call? I thought maybe he is just shy, but then remembered this is the guy who calls at 4AM if his pain is unbearable. He isn't worried about us rejecting him??? Then again we never have, that is probably why we have continued wrestling with the D&D issue and have never lost our friendship, strained as it might be.

So we keep talking and he spins off into something about "golddust" appearing in times of worship at this new Charismatic church he's been going to. I didn't ask if he'd personally experience it, if I go down that road he sometimes feels attacked so I just told him that sounded neat while grimmacing inside as I wondered what new wackiness is going on these days. He was telling me this was a manifestation of God's glory and so I asked him if there was maybe someone in that church that could drive him to the ER. I was drawing a blank on folks in his end of the town that could do it from our community, most of our folks are in the other end of the city and I'd sooner just pay for his cab myself. But he really needed a person to be there with him. So when I suggested that maybe someone from a church that apparently God is showing up in could help him, he said the same thing. Actually he said, "I don't know anyone that could help me, especially at this time of night." So I asked him to call Telehealth and do what they asked him to do, even if that is get an ambulance to the hospital. Also to call me in the morning if they keep him because at that point I can get a car and come to see him, bring him something to read. I offered to pray, but he has been hesitant about me praying for him, but I was more concerned with him having a rupture of some sort so I told him I'd pray soon as I hung up and he should call just as I instructed him.

As I prayed my heart was heavy, not just for this precious bruised brother who has had more than his fair share of pain. But also for the church. How can we call ourselves a church if people don't feel they can ask us for help when they need it? How can we follow Jesus and think our lives should be ordered and easy? How can we claim to have God in our midst and ignore our neighbours around us in the pews? How can folks as hurting as this guy go to church and not get loved as he should be? It is just not right. I don't care if a manifestation of Jesus rides a Harley up and down your aisles in worship if you miss the poor and the needy it is all just so much religious bullshit.

[EDIT] Just got off the phone with this young man and the hospital did send him back home after some observation.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

[THO] Worship IV.I

Every liturgy is different. For me this is much of the beauty of the Church, it is a living celebration of the diversity of God united through worship. Sometimes this diversity causes tension in the body. Tension can be either good or bad, depending on how we respond to it. I am going to assume, for the purposes of this article, that we can rejoice that God is being praised and put aside our preconceptions about the specific ways that God is being praised. What I would like to accomplish in this article is a survey of some “common” liturgical elements and how we can assess their role in our worshipping communities. I added quotes around common because the commonality of elements is completely relative to tradition and community.

Because many of the traditions I have the experience with wrongly see worship as that time where we sing songs together. I am going to begin with some exploration of worship in song then move to some of the spoken aspects and finally look at liturgical actions. Because of the scope of this undertaking I will try to accomplish this in two or three posts instead of one, hence Worship IV.I.

A number of years ago I found myself in a Hispanic worship setting, although I didn’t know the language I was still moved by the time of singing, more so than the verbal portion which was graciously translated for me by one of the congregants. But there was something about the music that transcended the language barrier. Music is a universal language. But what was more powerful to me was not the fact that they were singing songs, or even common melodies. But there was an invitation made by people who had engaged with the worship of song, an invitation to worship, and as I worshipped I became acutely aware that God was there.

Music is a major part of most liturgical forms within the Church. Some groups disdain the use of instruments (apart from the voice) but still engage with song. Indeed Judaism is also replete with worship in song. But what about music and song is helpful for the worshipping community?

I am a huge advocate for accessibility. For music to work in a community, it has to resonate with that community. Sometimes that involves finding a common ground or at least the common ground in your tradition, ours is folk rock btw, and then moving from there. But to work for the community it has to be music that the community can relate to. I know a great church in town we affectionately call the polka church, the reason is they do 80’s contemporary worship to a polka beat. It is downright quirky, but it works because most of the people are older and relate more to the lilt of polka than they do to the steady drive of rock. But what is interesting is that they have a great affection for contemporary songs, especially with intimate lyrics.

When you are programming music for your community you need to understand what is accessible to them and them worry about how you can challenge them to break the route of familiar worship. This church has done so brilliantly by introducing very modern, sung to God songs, and keeping an orchestration that will not throw off their people. This Anglican church, that’s right Anglican, is also bridging the gap to a younger generation of worshippers who know the lyrics and adapt to the music.1

Also the lyrics are important for a community. I have another friend who is involved in worship at a Roman Catholic parish. His community uses a lot of contemporary (90’s on) worship but shifts the language from singular person to corporate. Instead of ‘I’ it is ‘We’ and ‘my’ becomes ‘our’. For him this makes the lyrics accessible to his fellow congregants, they would find the intimacy of ‘I’ out of place in their liturgy which is to them a very corporate act. Yet he is challenging their music by pushing into newer forms, which are culturally relevant. I am eager to see how this resonates with the younger folks in his community.

When we are assessing music and song we need to ask the questions:

1) Do the music/songs invite participation?
2) Does the music alienate the congregation by being too foreign?
3) Does the music invite real worship, that is the encounter of God?

Notice I didn’t talk about the music/songs teaching the right things. That is deliberate on my part. Songs are not merely vehicles of theology. But the theological implications of lyrics should not be overlooked. In fact I would categorize this as part of the third question because when the lyrics raise theological questions this interrupts the flow of worship. Hymns have been seen as a form of creedal affirmation, and there is a place for this in worship. But if singing is reduced to giving intellectual assent to the tenets of faith then much of the richness of worship is being forfeited at the altar of modernity.

We should note that there is an interaction between lyrics and belief (and visa versa). I’ve dropped songs out of rotation when I find myself wondering if I really believe what they are saying, especially as the community grows in its love and knowledge of God. You can usually tell what a community believes by the songs they sing. Songs reinforce and inform the theology of a community, but they also reflect the beliefs of that community. It is interesting because occasionally I will find myself in a community worshipping and when we reach a song that is new to me I often refrain from singing until I am confident that I believe what that song is saying. When you are visiting that isn’t so much of an issue, but if this happens too often in my own community then I have to wonder who else is experiencing worship interruptus. So when we are developing worship, lyrics are very important. Not that this replaces our creedal affirmation but that it is part of that commonality in worship we build from.

Next I’ll move into other aspects of the liturgy.

1. As an insight into worship development beginning where people are at and taking them deeper should not be overlooked. We started the series talking about the need to develop (ongoing) worship in our communities and I really want to keep coming back to that as an overarching purpose for this series.

Friday, August 11, 2006

[LIF] Reading Schedule

Summer is almost done and soon I will have a new required list of reading. The schedule I set in July is still my intention, but I am pretty sure I will only get through about half of them, if that! I took Otto and Ricoeur/LaCoque with me on holidays and read a bit of Thinking Biblically, really enjoyable but after the first two chapters it is really Ricoeur interacting with LaCoque (instead of the back and forth of the first articles). I am almost done Volf's Exclusion and Embrace and am still very impressed. I added Thus Spoke Zarathustra to the mix, a very fun book. And of course I always try to find a moment each week to sneak in a bit of The Crucified God. Nouwen is almost finished, I think if I ever do a course that is an intro to the Eucharist that is the book I will have them read (With Burning Hearts) it isn't a theological text but introduces the mystagogy of the Eucharist quite handily. Of all the books I've bought recently, and many are tempting me from my bookshelves, I think Naturally Supernatural deserves a soon read, maybe after Otto. It is a book I've been anticipating for a long while now. I was hoping to get a copy of Wimber's The Way On but alas none to be had. I'll have to order it I guess. I might wait until in between semesters though as I know that will be an immediate read!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

[LIF] More Books

I decided to visit the local used-book store on my way home from getting groceries. Just yesterday I took the Eucharistic Theology quiz from Patrik's blog only to discover I am something like 77% in agreement with Calvin on the Eucharist? I had no clue what Calvin thought about the Eucharist so was I ever delighted to see in the bookstore Janz's "A Reformation Reader" which has Calvin's own words about the Lord's Supper (p.278ff). So I snagged that puppy and went looking for more treasures. Borg's "The Heart of Christianity" was there for the taking, so I did. I approach Brog with fear and trepidation having heard mixed reviews - I think my biggest fear is that I will really like him. I needed to get out of that section but couldn't resist getting my own copy of Plato's "Republic" as I left. I have wanted to read "The Brother's Karamazou" for ages now, it wasn't there but I felt I should pick up "Crime and Punishment" so that I can get my feet wet with Dostoyevsky. The brothers will have to wait until my next outing. I think I did pretty good this time, you never know what treasures await you in a used-book store.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

[LIF] The Downside of Bad Theology

An old friend called me yesterday, he often does this after going to various meetings in the city. I actually like hearing from him as he is quite depressed and dear to my heart. But inevitably the conversation turns to the latest horrid theological proposal he has been exposed to and it is there that I cringe. Not because there is a lot of horrid theology out there, that is a given. But how it affects him. See my friend is quite simple. He often tells me these things as if they are uncontestable truths while at the same time saying he doesn't understand them. This causes quite a bit of anxiety in me actually. There is no constructive way to challenge these notions (believe me I have tried).

But the reason it causes so much anxiety is that this friend is in a lot of physical pain. He is always looking for the fix to that problem, so he grasps desperately to anything and everything. So when the prosperity freaks begin irresponsibly boasting of their extravogant giving, he sucks it all in. When the prophetic freaks begin to talk about inane things like the 'exact' nature of heaven based on their wacky interpretation of the KJV, he laps it up. But most sadly when they tell him he just isn't believing right to get healed he receives that tidbit from hell and is stripped of all hope.

This all makes me sad. It makes me long for the day when all these wacky voices will be silenced. It also makes me consider my own words and how I've done the same thing through ignorance and pride. God is our only hope. So today I offer up my frustration on this blog and my prayers to the only one who can help me and my friend in this time. God touch my dear brother and remove the lies that swallow him whole. God touch me and let me please have words of life like Jesus. God we desperately need you, come, please. Amen.

[THO] Worship Interlude

Sometimes you need to step back and give some shape to a project in order for it to remain meaningful. As I wrote the last post on Worship (Worship III) I knew that I was trying to interact with the comments but also I was holding on to the tail of a fish that threatened to swim away. So in this interlude I just want to collect some thoughts and set a bit of trajectory for my series. Let’s see where this gets us and if at the end the fish still wants to play we can all hang on together for the ride!

Worship IV.IWorship IV.II – Elements and Appropriateness
  • I want to focus on some common elements and how they can help/hinder worship.

  • Worship V – Busting our own Liturgical Bubbles
  • I want to talk about how we can appreciate beyond our preferences taking some hints from Sam I Am.

  • Worship VI – Anatomy of a Worship Service
  • I want to jump back to the service I so love and look at how the parts function together.

  • Worship VII – Worshipaholic
  • I want to talk about the value of worship to the worshipper, this could get tricky.

  • Worship VIII – A Heart of Worship
  • I want to reflect on my own history of worship.

  • Worship IX – Theology of Worship
  • I want to develop the notion of worship theologically; I will probably need a few posts for this one and who knows how fast this fish might start swimming.

  • [EDIT] I'm adding links to the various sections. The start of this series can be found here. Each article will link to the next.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    [THO] Worship III

    What is good worship? This is a question entertained by leaders and congregants. Leaders want to provide ‘good’ worship for their churches and congregants want to be in a place where they can appreciate and participate in the worship. Yet the problem is what is good for some can be complete nonsense for someone else. For example, I really don’t appreciate choral music. I want to sing not be sung to and I tend to really dislike the music that is commonly associated with white protestant choirs. But I know lots of folks who feel elevated to the 7th heaven by such worship. Just because I can’t appreciate choral music does not make it bad – it just means that choirs are likely not going to create an atmosphere in which I personally can worship. So the task of evaluating worship needs to be clearly defined at levels of the Church, the congregation and the individual.

    Thank God that I don’t have to endure forms of worship I dislike, at least not on a regular basis. But there are elements of worship that belong to the Church and that should be acknowledged corporately. These matters of worship are not about form, but about content. Who we worship, as in the Trinity alone. Why we worship, because God is simply worthy of all worship and praise. What we worship, the person of God and not the creation of God. Where and when we worship, well this is defined at the next level. But as you can see the points that I propose are common, fairly plain and allow for a wide diversity of worship expressions.

    It is at the congregational level that we determine the characteristics of our worship of God. It is there that we craft language and liturgy. Before I lose some of you more traditional readers, there is liturgy and language that flows from the Church level to the parishes. But my claim is that this is not what makes those elements good or bad. Truly you can have all the right pieces liturgically and completely miss God and conversely you can have a complete liturgical stumbling and find yourself in the presence of God. I believe it is what happens congregationally that makes common corporate practices (denominational) good or bad. And so this is why we evaluate efficacy of forms at this level and not at the Church level.

    Language is really important to a community. I am not referring to the debates about liturgy in the vernacular, but there are some conclusions relevant to that debate to be found here. I am referring to the language that the community develops around their liturgy, the language that they incorporate in their worship of God. The ease with which we adopt the language of worship in a community the better our personal experience of worship will be. So it is important to evaluate what language is being developed and how it is enhancing or hindering the worship experience of the congregation.

    Language is tricky because the way we say things reveals what we think about those things. So when we have a worship language that is highly directional, we have the unspoken message that God and the church are highly directional. Yet more invitational language speaks of the invitation of Christ into Kingdom life. Directional isn’t completely bad, however, but we must always look at what is going forward by how we chose to frame our liturgical practices. Great worship language should (and will) depict a range of relational qualities reflective of the gospel itself.

    I isolated language from liturgy because I feel it is one aspect of liturgy that is simply assumed and not addressed. But it is as much a part of the liturgy as the actions, readings, prayers, reflections and songs. Liturgy is a rich composition of many divergent elements orchestrated in a way that allows the congregation to worship God. Liturgy includes physical elements as well such as bells and chalices. Liturgy is complex but evaluating liturgy is much easier than evaluating language. Each element or moment in the liturgy should meet a single requirement to be considered good liturgy – does it enable the congregation to worship God? If an element provides a stumbling block to worship then it is a bad liturgical element.

    I know that individuals use this type of evaluation to discredit alternate or divergent forms of liturgy/liturgical elements. Yet, the question is only really relevant in the context in which it is asked. So I may have a powerful aspect of liturgical dance in my corporate service and folks might tell me that seeing the movements of the dancers ushers them into the presence of God, but that same service of liturgical dance might be a stumbling block if used in the church next door that is still married to their pipe organ and fired their last pastor for allowing the youth band to bring a drum kit into ‘their’ sanctuary. You can incorporate the same elements in different setting and have completely different evaluations. Another example is the fad of being ‘seeker sensitive.’ Being seeker sensitive or insensitive does not make good liturgy. Good liturgy is that which allows the people who have gathered (ecclesia) to worship.

    There is a dynamic of participation; I have touched on it before. It is this dynamic that allows visitors to appreciate liturgy. I know that in places where the liturgy is foreign (and even in a language I do not speak) I am drawn to worship by the collective call of people worshipping. And the converse is true. Hang out at the back of a typical evangelical church and the disinterested youth will infect you with their disinterest. Go to the front where the keeners congregate and you will be encouraged to worship no matter how unfamiliar the elements.

    Now let me be careful, participation does not require demonstration. In other words to participate in the worship one does not have to be mirroring the actions of her neighbours. But there is something tangible that goes on with the worshipper when he actually participates in corporate worship. Some of the best worship times I’ve experienced had a diversity of responses to the elements of the liturgy. Which is why to carry on an evaluation of the congregational worship one must become aware of how the congregation (a collection of gathered individuals) is responding to the liturgy.

    This is the evaluation that I wish to concern myself at an individual level. How do I respond to the liturgy? Does it make worshipping accessible? Does it help pull back the veil revealing God’s presence? Does it help me turn my heart back towards God? Does it encourage me to deepen my relationship with God? Does it build me up or tear me down? Does it foster a sense of community? These are very important elements to consider as a worshipper. Now as a congregational leader I need to hear these evaluations so that I can improve the liturgy, and thereby the worship experience of my congregation, but also so that I can shepherd. When we ask these questions as worshippers, we are asking if the worship of this community is personally appropriate. But when we are shepherding we are trying to keep the gathered moving in the same direction. These evaluations sometimes reveal worshippers that might be best served by other communities. This is our realization that the body of Christ is made up of a multitude of folks all stumbling towards God in a lot of different, but amazing, ways.

    Next I will look at evaluating specific elements of the liturgy.

    Sunday, August 06, 2006

    [LIF] Approaching Montreal...

    About this time tomorrow we should be approaching Montreal. Our time in the Maritimes is coming to an end. It has been a good vacation, the Vineyard National Gathering was absolutely awesome! Especially the party at Graves Island (thanks Larry!). But the whole thing was tiring, so back in Truro we ended up just worn out trying to make the rounds of old friends and family. Lots of people got missed and even a few planned times cancelled (sorry Gerard and Darlene). We are really looking forward to getting back to our blooming garden and life as usual for the Emanuel family. I'll likely post a few pics when we return as well. I realized that we took very few photos all National Gathering??? We were busy with God stuff. We had the privilege of praying with a guy named Dave who had a heel replacement 15 years ago and had lived with constant pain all those years. He was completely healed and we saw him again at church this morning just beaming with God's love. He also gave up smoking last week and is still going strong! Just seeing that alone was worth the trip and still God did more in our hearts than just that. For me it was a time of God breaking my heart over my own pride, I get the feeling we are getting ready for something new in our lives as we head back to Ottawa and our fellowship of Freedom Vineyard.