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- "When someone opposes me, he arouses my attention, not my anger. I go to meet a man who contradicts me, who instructs me. The cause of truth should be the common cause of both." -- Montaigne
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"Referee won't blow the whistle / God is good but will he listen?" -- U2
- "If your anger decreases with time, you did injustice; if it increases, you suffered injustice." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- "And the missionaries, they tell us we will be left behind. / Been left behind a thousand times, a thousand times." -- Arcade Fire
Incapable of doubt, incapable of faithThe majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith. -- T.S. Eliot, Introduction (1931), Pascal's "Pensees"
Wittgenstein on Kierkegaard
"Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the[nineteenth] century. Kierkegaard was a saint." - Ludwig Wittgenstein, to his friend Maurice Drury.
Read Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality, and Philosophical Method by Charles L. Creegan free online.
Problem or Mystery?A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. -- Gabriel Marcel
- Our mistake November 11, 2014Keep your edge with The Latest News from indie bookstores, record stores, and short-film creators, only at BooksAndVinyl.com. Jason Bailey’s article for Flavorwire appeared in its entirety on BooksAndVinyl.com, and it shouldn’t have. […] The post Our mistake appeared first on Books And Vinyl.
- AC/DC Drummer Charged in Attempted Murder-for-Hire Plot | Variety November 6, 2014Keep your edge with The Latest News from indie bookstores, record stores, and short-film creators, only at BooksAndVinyl.com. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap? Update: Rudd was later released due to weak evidence. Alex […] The post AC/DC Drummer Charged in Attempted Murder-for-Hire Plot | Variety appeared first on Books And Vinyl.
- Chart: Expenditures on printed reading materials by age September 30, 2014Keep your edge with The Latest News from indie bookstores, record stores, and short-film creators, only at BooksAndVinyl.com. Mother Jones magazine calls this “The Death of Print” — at least on its website. […] The post Chart: Expenditures on printed reading materials by age appeared first on Books And Vinyl.
- Our mistake November 11, 2014
- gaslight: Dictionary.com Word of the Day November 24, 2014gaslight: to cause a person to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation.
- gaslight: Dictionary.com Word of the Day November 24, 2014
- Poem of the Day: In between November 24, 2014Late for the feast. Let me guess, she said, everything workedagainst you.Some pulverize experiences at the pool. When the air slaps, theyflip into the water and speak of the excitations of distress. Thestratagems of delivering an annulled emotion. And how is one to read a nod? Is a nod an exclamation?Does one kiss after a nod?A woman mutters something about […]Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
- Poem of the Day: In between November 24, 2014
- The Boom and After the Boom By Alice Lyons November 24, 2014By Alice Lyons
- The Boom and After the Boom By Alice Lyons November 24, 2014
- Neuroscientists Break into the Brain to Expose Its Workings October 30, 2014 Ingrid Wickelgren
- Brilliance Often Springs from Boredom September 11, 2014 Ingrid Wickelgren
- Parents of Young Athletes: Protect Your Child’s Brain in 8 Steps August 5, 2014 Ingrid Wickelgren
- Nelson Goodman November 22, 2014[New Entry by Daniel Cohnitz and Marcus Rossberg on November 21, 2014.] Henry Nelson Goodman (1906 - 1998) was one of the most influential philosophers of the post-war era of American philosophy. Goodman's philosophical interests ranged from formal logic and the philosophy of science to the philosophy of art. In all these diverse fields Goodman made sig […]Daniel Cohnitz and Marcus Rossberg
- Ancient Political Philosophy November 22, 2014[Revised entry by Melissa Lane on November 21, 2014. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Ancient political philosophy is understood here to mean ancient Greek and Roman thought from the classical period of Greek thought in the fifth century BCE to the end of the Roman empire in the West in the fifth century CE, excluding the rise of Christian ideas about... […]Melissa Lane
- Privacy and Information Technology November 21, 2014[New Entry by Jeroen van den Hoven, Martijn Blaauw, Wolter Pieters, and Martijn Warnier on November 20, 2014.] Human beings value their privacy and the protection of their personal sphere of life. They value some control over who knows what about them. They certainly do not want their personal information to be accessible to just anyone at any time. But rece […]Jeroen van den Hoven, Martijn Blaauw, Wolter Pieters, and Martijn Warnier
- Nelson Goodman November 22, 2014
- Resource Bounded Agents November 21, 2014Resource Bounded Agents Resource bounded agents are persons who have information processing limitations. All persons and other cognitive agents who have bodies are such that their sensory transducers (such as their eyes and ears) have limited resolution and discriminatory ability; their information processing speed and power is bounded by some threshold; and […]
- African Philosophy, History of November 20, 2014History of African Philosophy This article traces the history of systematic African philosophy from the early 1920’s to 2014. In Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates suggests that philosophy begins with wonder. Aristotle agreed. However, the pattern of discourse in the history of systematic African philosophy which began in the 1920s suggests that African philosophy […]
- Gender in Chinese Philosophy November 19, 2014Gender in Chinese Philosophy The concept of gender is foundational to the general approach of Chinese thinkers. Yin and yang, core elements of Chinese cosmogony, involve correlative aspects of “dark and light,” “female and male,” and “soft and hard.” These notions, with their deeply-rooted gender connotations, recognize the necessity of interplay between the […]
- Resource Bounded Agents November 21, 2014
- Failed Replications: A Reality Check for Neuroscience? November 19, 2014An attempt to replicate the results of some recent neuroscience papers that claimed to find correlations between human brain structure and behavior has drawn a blank. The new paper is by University of Amsterdam researchers Wouter Boekel and colleagues and it’s in press now at Cortex. You can download it here from the webpage of one […]The post Failed Replica […]
- How Your Facebook Updates Reveal Your Personality November 15, 2014The words you use in your Facebook posts reveal much about your personality, according to psychologists Gregory Park and colleagues in a new study just published. Based on a study of 71,000 Facebook users who reported their personality using an app, Park et al. found some quite unexpected words to be associated with given personality […]The post How Your Fac […]
- Do Rats Have Free Will? November 12, 2014New research on the neural basis of ‘spontaneous’ actions in rats could shed light on the philosophical mystery that is human ‘free will’. The study, just published in Nature Neuroscience, is called Neural antecedents of self-initiated actions in secondary motor cortex. It’s from researchers Masayoshi Murakami and colleagues of Portugal’s excellently-named C […]
- Failed Replications: A Reality Check for Neuroscience? November 19, 2014
- Evolution in the Holy LandAll creation is the doings of God’s hands, no matter how he did it. When I look at a painting, I can connect somehow with the painter, and the same goes with the universe and God.
- Ch. 11-12: Wrapping UpOrigins has given us a lot to think about, namely that there are indeed several “Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and ID”, as the title states. Genuine believers have thought deeply and carefully about the various kinds of evidence and have come to differing conclusions.
- From the Archives: Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 1From 2012: The dictionaries I checked don’t define the term, “theistic evolution,” so I offer my own definition: the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans.
- Evolution in the Holy Land
- Resistance in the Neoliberal City November 24, 2014San Francisco is rapidly shedding its radical bonafides as a second dot-com boom evicts more and more of its working class.Sabrina Alli
- Selfies without the self November 24, 2014Selfies are not about self-expression but advertising availability to the networkRob Horning
- Sunday Reading November 23, 2014salted earthSunday Readers
- Resistance in the Neoliberal City November 24, 2014
- Beyond the Façade February 23, 2014Vladimir Putin's Fragile Empire Fragile Empire Ben Judah Yale University Press, 400 pages $30.00 As the Olympic festivities wind down in Sochi, western attention on Russia has been at levels unseen since the Cold War. As the most expensive Olympic games yet (the most recent estimate is $ 50-51 billion by the Washington Post), President Putin has in […]
- The End of the Line? September 26, 201325 years after Chrysler closed the AMC plant, how has Kenosha fared? The End of the Line? Twenty-five years ago, Chrysler closed its newly acquired plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The event made national headlines. Only a few months before, Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca had announced that the company intended to buy out French automaker Renault’s control […]
- The Voice of Ireland June 15, 2013An Interview with Author Kevin Barry The Voice of Ireland My wife tossed The New Yorker on to the tabletop, You have to read this short story, she said. I did. And the rhythm of the language and the force of the story led me on the rampant search for more. The author was an Irish writer named Kevin Barry whose work consists of two short story collectio […]
- Beyond the Façade February 23, 2014
- In Search of Lost Soundscapes October 29, 2014 Cosana Eram
- Eating and Thinking with Alice Corbin Henderson on Remembrance Day October 22, 2014 Mike Chasar
- Preferences among preferences October 7, 2014 William Flesch
- On some books in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s library September 25, 2014
- Omeka links for the University of Colorado July 24, 2014
- The 7 Best Links to Digital Poetry Projects from MLA January 14, 2014
- Job: Assistant Professor of Medieval Studies (Digital Humanities) November 20, 2014
- Job: Digital Archivist at Kansas Historical Society November 20, 2014
- Job: Research Data Specialist at Florida Institute of Technology November 20, 2014
- Shaping (Digital) Scholars: Design Principles for Digital Pedagogy August 12, 2014
- Creating the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium April 23, 2014
- More Data, Better Learning? A Balanced Look at Adaptive Learning Systems October 5, 2013
- Review of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media (2014) November 5, 2014 Alex Christie
- Digital Contexts November 5, 2014 The Editors
- On the Origin of “Hack” and “Yack” November 1, 2014 Bethany Nowviskie
- Digital Historiography and the Archives November 1, 2014 Katharina Hering
- Using Computer Vision to Increase the Research Potential of Photo Archives October 14, 2014 John Resig
- Elevator Pitch November 18, 2014 Tom Scheinfeldt
- What The New Yorker Got Wrong About Lawrence Lessig November 5, 2014 Tom Scheinfeldt
- Getting into Digital Humanities: A top-ten list August 18, 2014 Tom Scheinfeldt
- Allusions and delusions
- ‘Dear Lord, I really want to love people…’
- Zombies take over philosophy departments!
- Donald Sutherland compares Jennifer Lawrence to Jesus
- ‘Dear Lord, help me become a minister and a psychiatrist…’
- ‘Postmodernism’ has jumped the shark: We are now post-postmodern
- ‘Dear Lord, I know the right positions, and I don’t listen to the wrong ones…’
Liturgy For The PeopleThe liturgy is essentially not the religion of the cultured, but the religion of the people. If the people are rightly instructed, and the liturgy is properly carried out, they display a simple and profound understanding of it. For the people do not analyze concepts, but contemplate. The people possess that inner integrity of being which corresponds perfectly with the symbolism of the liturgical language, imagery, action and ornaments. The cultured man has first of all to accustom himself to this attitude; but to the people it has always been inconceivable that religion should express itself by abstract ideas and logical developments, and not by being and action, by imagery and ritual. --Romano Guardini, "The Awakening of the Church in the Soul"
- From Christmas to Egypt; Jesus in a strange land
- How can you know if a Buddhist amulet has been blessed? The Buddhist amulet market crashes in Thailand
- 'Dear Lord, I really want to love people...'
- 'Dear Lord, I know the right positions, and I don't listen to the wrong ones...'
- Allusions and delusions
- Why Jesus died on two different days, at two different times, according to the Scriptures
- Killing dreams as well as nightmares; Green Day explains 'Restless Heart Syndrome'
- 'Postmodernism' has jumped the shark: We are now post-postmodern
- Islamic State using cult brainwashing techniques
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The Anguished QuestionIf you really enquire about God, not with mere curiosity, not, as it were, like a spiritual stamp collector, but as an anxious seeker, distressed in heart, anguished by the possibility that God might not exist and hence all life be vanity and one great madness -- if you ask in such a mood as the man who asks the doctor, "Tell me, will my wife live or will she die?"-- if you ask thus about God, then you know already that God exists; the anguished question bears witness that you know. -- Emil Brunner, "Our Faith"
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“If you have the right beliefs, then approaches, methods, and manners do not matter.” Innumerable American Protestants seem to take this point of view as axiomatic.
At first blush, the following defense of liturgical worship, a gentle defense from N.T. Wright, seems to fit perfectly with the axiom at hand: “If you have the right beliefs, then approaches, methods, and manners do not matter.”
In Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, Wright says, “Sometimes formal liturgy enables those who attend it to relax into the love of God in a way which the frenetic informal style, so popular in some quarters, never does. Beware of worship which simply reinforces the wrong kind of behavior patterns” (64).
Consider, however, Wright’s use of the word “frenetic.” It’s more subtle than perhaps even he realized.
According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, the origin of “frenetic” situates the word as a description of undesirable mental states.
The dictionary’s website says, “Middle English frenetik insane, from Anglo-French, from Latin phreneticus, modification of Greek phrenitikos, from phrenitis inflammation of the brain, from phren-, phrēn diaphragm, mind”.
More raw emotion, less organization, more spontaneity, less theological intention — these worship services become frenetic, or insane.
The internal experience of the worship service — we might say, the mindlessness of the worship service — becomes more important than the mind’s and body’s interaction with the worship service. The experience of the soul’s elevation to new heights diminishes the human body.
And yet when Jesus heard Lazarus had died, he wept. And Jesus did not say, “Rejoice! Lazarus has been freed from this earthly prison!” Rather, Jesus resurrected Lazarus, calling forth “Lazarus,” his entire being as one.
And furthermore, consider that the early church rejected as heretical the belief that Christ only appeared to have a body — thus affirming the physicality of the human frame.
Also consider The Fall, however mythological (in the best sense) the Genesis account is, involved humans as unified selves that did not become flesh-and-bone, did not tumble down into bodies, after sinning.
Liturgical worshippers want to have their bodies and senses engaged in worship because that’s how God made them. I’ve rarely heard a sermon about God’s created beings doing normal, creaturely things — as if created beings, doing creaturely things, by design of their Creator, cannot involve serious theology!
So I’m putting all this emphasis on embodiment and the created order and the Incarnation as an point of reference in all this. (Much Christian talk about the soul depends, after all, on shaky grounds.) Sure, you can reply with various proof texts. And I can reply with the promise of resurrected bodies. And you can throw angles on my comment. And so on.
I can bring up recent insights into the human brain and add speculation about the connection of the “mind” or the “soul” to the body. And you can throw doubt on science and certain philosophical commitments.
At least consider, as a possible movement toward a middle ground, C.S. Lewis’s defense of ritual — ritual is certainly a form of embodying beliefs through habits, repetition, and re-enforcement.
The only reason I bought the book 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology was because an Internet search for a handful of keywords produced a passage from the book’s entry on aesthetics.
The word “aesthetics” can mean one or both of two things: (1) thinking about beauty and (2) thinking about the human experience of beautiful things. Aesthetics tends to be an academic discipline within philosophy.
I want to quote a significant passage from the passage on aesthetics in the book, which was written by two faculty members at Calvin College and one at Gordon-Conwell seminary.
Some of the following terms might be a little dense, so I’ll bold-face the easier-read, core parts:
“While strands of Christian, especially Protestant, theology have adopted the more rationalistic stance of Plato, throughout history many theologians have affirmed the aesthetics as a central medium of both revelation and truth, particularly Neoplatonic theologians such as Bonaventure. The emphasis on aesthetics has received renewed interest in contemporary theology due to the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean-Luc Marion, and Jeremy Begbie. At the core of these theological aesthetics (or aesthetic theologies) is a rejection of the rationalist axiom, which assumes that truth is communicated only in cognitive propositions. Rather, there is a mode of truth telling that is unique to the aesthetic or ‘affective,’ that cannot be reduced to cognitive propositions. Appeal is often made to the liturgy itself as an example of this, particularly the rich eucharistic liturgies of Orthodox and Catholic traditions, where all of the senses are engaged in order to communicate the truth of grace.” — Kelly James Clark, Richard Lints, and James K.A. Smith (bold-face added)
On Wednesday, I was driving through the campus of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., when I saw a sign that provided additional evidence for what young people want in worship services.
I believe it was the Lutheran Student Center that had a sign out front with three big words on it. Passing by in a car, I was only able to catch the first two: “Silence” and “Incense.” These words were presented on the sign as offerings for hungry students.
As another writer has recent noted, college-age students already have access to popular music and entertainment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What’s drawing them to worship services is not more of the same, despite the complete inability of just about every minister to understand that.
What’s really awful about the “contemporary worship services” and the “outreach ministries” are their failure to know the people they’re trying to reach. I remember, while I was on my way out of evangelicalism and toward mainline Protestantism, noticing how evangelistic and apologetic efforts were always ginned-up from within the circled wagons of churches, believers, and seminaries. The people creating these moves seemed to be saying, “If I was a non-believer, I would probably think and believe something like . . . .”
However, they weren’t non-believers, and they had little understanding of people. The better folks doing the ginning-up had gained an understanding of cultural forces and the impact of ideas, but few knew and genuinely befriended people. When they did get to know people, it had all the genuine-ness of multi-level marketing sales. (Remember Amway salespeople of recent decades?) The individual was not an interesting person to the evangelist or apologist, but rather a prospect, a target, a challenge. Not primarily a friend or a person.
But to come back to my original point, I remember a story from a student at the campus where I teach, Coastal Carolina University. A young, zealous, Southern, evangelical student invited some Northeastern cradle-Catholics to a local rock-and-roll church — you know, one of the churches with “high-energy” worship, guaranteed never to be boring.
How did the Northeastern cradle-Catholics react to the rock-and-roll church? Were they surprised that church could be so cool? Were they delighted to hear a backbeat in the worship songs? Did they feel at ease around casual clothing?
No. They’re response was simple: “That’s not church,” they said.
I figure they had expected something a little less like the rest of their lives.
“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology
Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.
Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.
“When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine’.” — Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church
The historical continuity and connections have meant the most the me, regardless of changes in the liturgy over time. The changes within various liturgies are no where near as radical as the changes in approaches to worship. As Mead suggests, emotional highs have taken the place of both the solemnity and the education within the liturgical worship services.
One should ask why emotional highs are important to God, why emotional highs are important to individual spiritual growth, and why (for many churches) worship has become inextricably tangled with emotional highs.
Why is my rock concert experience worth duplicating in church? Why is my Super Bowl experience worth duplicating in church? Our emotions ebb and flow but God remains constant.
“The eye that sees the dangers of idolatry is a true one. But to correct a flood, one does not want a drought…. It is false to pit the visible world of solid objects against faith. We never do this in other realms of our experience. Indeed, we cannot, since we are physical creatures and not angels.” — Thomas Howard, in Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament
- Liturgy, ritual, imagination, and worship (liturgical.wordpress.com)
- Revitalizing liturgical worship: C.S. Lewis on ritual (liturgical.wordpress.com)
Thoughts about ritual worship, shared with my friend Danny on Facebook, with updates (and paragraphing !):
As for ritual worship: I used to go to churches with two parts to the services: sing songs and then listen to the sermon. Since I’ve joined Trinity, I’ve been able to memorize portions of the liturgy because they are repeated week after week. These phrases from Scripture and our godly heritage have come back to me in difficult moments and sustained me.
Furthermore, I think the less-liturgical and less-ritualized services ignore the full human being. Our lives are run more by our emotions and our imaginations than by our rational, cognitive faculties.
By imaginations, I don’t mean daydreams but I mean the unique image-based structures of our thoughts and feelings [memories and expectations tend to be associated not with abstract thought but with sensory impressions, whether visual, auditory, smell, taste, touch].
Protestant worship, as noted elsewhere by Thomas Howard, tends to focus on the sermon because of the abstract, cognitive orientation of evangelicalism. The unstated message is, God is for the mind, reality is essentially Mind, and spiritual living is mind over matter. Get the ideas right and, supposedly, everything else will follow. This seems much like Descartes’ famous conclusions following his sensory-deprivation experiment.
When I was at L’Abri Fellowship, surely an evangelical outfit if there ever was one, Descartes took punches for too radically dividing the human being. God made humans as creatures within a Creation, and any part of our Protestant heritage that delegitimizes that doctrine ought to be left in the past. We are promised resurrected bodies, not glowing orbs of souls that float upward to heaven.
So, people try to *will* themselves into good Christian living and worshipful lives, but their feelings and imaginations are saturated with popular movies, music, TV and the never-ending bombardment of marketing and advertising prompts (which in many cases do more to create our assumptions of reality than anything else).
Much worship today imitates mass media instead of providing a counterpoint to it.
The stories of Scripture and sermons can help the imagination enormously, but unfortunately, our short-attention-span culture does not provide meditative time to soak these stories into our “hearts.” The regular ritual helps the meditative process by working good words and good images into our feelings and imaginations. There is really nothing else like it available.
Of course, ritual delivers content — some specific kind of content and meaning, so ritual should be focused around good things: at Christmas, maybe great-grandmother’s recipe; in church, around the Risen God.
All in all, the more I learn about current brain research and breakthroughs in neuroscience, the more I think our liturgical worship is best. Changes in liturgies don’t matter so much as their historical antecedents and the content delivered by the liturgical rituals. The brain makes connections in certain ways. Liturgical rituals correspond to the brain better than rock concert-style worship.
“A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.” — C.S. Lewis, from A Preface to Paradise Lost
Philosopher James K.A. Smith writes,
‘In giving talks around the country about Desiring the Kingdom, one of the themes I regularly press is the refusal of any form/content distinction when it comes to Christian worship. This is central to my argument: when I claim that Christian worship forms and orients our loves, it’s not just any old version of Christian worship that does this. Indeed, much of what evangelicals think of when they think of “worship” (=music) does not have the potential to be formative in this way. What we need is Christian worship that embodies the unique logic of the Gospel, practicing and enacting the specificity of the Christian narrative. This is why, over time, the church, led by the Spirit, has communally discerned a certain given “shape” for core elements of Christian worship (which can then be “indigenized” in different ways in different contexts at different times).
‘The Gospel is not a “content” that can be distilled and just dropped into any old “form” that seems hip or relevant or attractive. You can’t distill Jesus from Christian worship and then just drop him into the mall or the coffee shop or the concert: while you might think you’re “Jesu-fying” this medium, in fact you just end up commodifying Jesus.’
From there, Smith gets into some interesting reflections on media theorist Marshall McLuhan, a convert to Roman Catholicism known for his saying, “the medium is the message.” Read more here: Fors Clavigera: The Medium is the Message.
“Any study of late medieval religion must begin with the liturgy, for within that great seasonal cycle of fast and festival, of ritual observance and symbolic gesture, lay Christians found the paradigms and the stories which shaped their perception of the world and their place in it. Within the liturgy birth, copulation, and death, journeying and homecoming, guilt and forgiveness, the blessing of homely things and the call to pass beyond them were all located, tested, and sanctioned. In the liturgy and in the sacramental celebrations which were its central moments, medieval people found the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives.
“For the late medieval laity, the liturgy functioned at a variety of levels, offering spectacle, instruction, and communal context for the affective piety which sought even in the formalized action of the Mass and its attendant ceremonies a stimulus to individual devotion. Ecclesiastical law and the vigilance of bishop, archdeacon, and parson sought to ensure as a minimum regular and sober attendance at matins, Mass, and evensong on Sundays and feasts, and annual confession and communion at Easter. But the laity expected and gave far more in the way of involvement with the action and symbolism of the liturgy than those minimum requirements suggest.” — Eamon Duffy, in The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580
- Musings on the Liturgy, In General (gloriaque.wordpress.com)
- When Liturgy Goes Off the Deep End – Troubling Trends in German Speaking Lands. Two Videos Depict the Problems (adw.org)
Dusted off: Below is an excerpt from Phillip Johnson’s essay, “Facing Orthodoxy,” which includes a review of Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy by Frederica Mathewes-Green. Johnson, a Presbyterian and a controversial figure in several ongoing public debates, is not necessarily a representative for my points of view. However, in the following excerpt, Johnson succinctly articulates the reasons behind my interest in liturgical worship, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy — while remaining quite Protestant!
Johnson had read the Mathewes-Green book to his wife in the evenings, which is where we pick up:
“We are Presbyterians who are just as satisfied with our local church (but not our denomination!) as Frederica is with her Orthodox community. Although our ship isn’t sinking, we still found much in her account to admire.
“For one thing, Orthodoxy provides a magnificent aesthetic experience. Worshipers absorb the faith not by hearing about it but by reliving the gospel and the passion in the liturgy. This gives them a sense of contact with the historic Christian tradition that is often missing in services centered on the sermon and more closely tied to contemporary culture. Second, Orthodoxy is demanding. Participating in the fasts and in the long services (often standing) discourages the attitude, so prevalent among Protestants, that going to church should be something like watching television.
“Finally, the Mathewes-Green parents seem to have persuaded their daughter and two sons to share a good deal of their enthusiasm. I need to hear of no further wonders. Those children are potentially more impressive answers to prayer than a thousand miraculously renewed icons.”
Johnson’s essay originally appeared in the September/October 1997 edition of Books & Culture. I dusted off the quotation because I use this blog as something like an informal annotated bibliography for future reference.
Bad habits tend to involve things we do with our bodies, but spiritual and religious cures tend to involve intangible, unseen things like prayers, beliefs, and will-power.
Habits are developed, maintained, and broken in the brain, according to this research from MIT.
The spiritual and religious cures that deal exclusively with intangible, unseen things ignore the full picture of human nature.
The spiritual and religious cures seem to be dualistic, making the body like oil on top of the mind’s or spirit’s water.
The assumption is if the mind or spirit gets right, the body will get right, too.
Is this dualistic view orthodox? Difficult to answer. In Christianity, the believer is promised a resurrected body.
Can we really overcome a bad neural pathway in the brain without directly engaging the brain? Tough question. God does seem to empower some people to overcome temptations.
No matter how you answer those questions, consider this: if our bodies engage with material things for bad habits, our bodies should also engage with material things for good habits.
Good rituals, and habitual engagement with good symbols, might not replace a bad habit, but rituals with good symbols would be better than no bodily engagement at all. (Along those lines, see my argument in favor of Montessori-based Christian education here.)
What starved senses in a man who can only think of his body as engaged in the bad, and only think of some intangible part of himself as engaged with the good.
How does this non-material, non-biological view of change track with the Incarnation? If flesh and bone is, in and of itself, sinful, how could He who knew no sin have taken on flesh and bone? I think “flesh” would include the brain.
As researchers interviewed for this MSNBC article said, humans can strengthen good habits.
Imagine Christian spirituality this way: At the bottom, we have natural law, or the moral law that C.S. Lewis describes in an appendix to his book The Abolition of Man. This is the moral law that seems to have been consistently intuited by humans throughout history. However, it is also a moral law that we all, to greater or lesser degrees, have violated.
At the top, we have God’s help, God’s power that enables people to do truly good things and overcome selfishness. As G.K. Chesterton said in his book Heretics, the only requirement for selfishness is to have a self (which is why “education” in information and basic knowledge won’t make better people).
At the bottom, the moral law. At the top, God’s help.
Here’s what’s in middle: family traditions, ritual practices, ceremonies, liturgical celebrations — the habits and cycles, associated with Biblical stories and Christian symbols, that write new neural pathways into our brains.
As noted in the New York Times article Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?, good changes in the brain are possible.
Let me jump back to a wide angle on this topic: I seriously doubt that Christian evangelists and apologists can adequately engage the world without some understanding of brain research. What makes us human? What’s the norm for being human? What do we assign to the intangible, unseen realm that is actually tangible, if located in the dark cave of the skull?
While my hope is in the free gift of the New Covenant, I do not believe that God controls everything we become. As it turns out, as humans, as biological beings with brains, at least part of who we are, at least part of who we make ourselves to be, depends upon what we do. We can be staunch believers in that New Covenant and still have no pattern of life or practice that associates with Biblical patterns or Christian symbols.
“…because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes, in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology
I like that quotation because, when I was younger, I felt like the Christian faith was about disembodied spiritual experiences, but that’s probably because (where I was for most of my upbringing) instant and immediate experiences of God were valued more than biblical study or any reference to previous generations of Christians.
So I place a slight stretch on the word “gnosticism,” applying it to any anti-materiality accompanied by specially obtained knowledge or experience. The “doctrine of creation” and, as academic as it might sound, “historical locatedness” are definite remedies for gnosticism.
“Liturgy is what Christians have performed in their public assemblies. Worship is both more and less than liturgy. It is more in that it includes the devotional practices of individuals and households as well as public praise and common prayer; it is less in that liturgy is not only prayer but ritual.” — Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy
I loved the way Francis Schaeffer engaged ideas. However, ideas can be overemphasized, both in apologetics and church life.
MYERS: The concern that I had — and I had this concern with Schaeffer — is that, Schaeffer makes it sound like all of Western history is a kind of excretion of practices which were purely based on ideas, rather than a complicated intermix between ideas, and economic and technical developments — and particularly economic developments. Well, anyway, this is taking us …
SMITH: Well, it’s interesting … I find this conversation about the relationship between practice and ideas really important, and I find it important for the church … that dialectic between practice and reflection is exactly the process of sanctification.
MYERS: Exactly … We participate in practices before we know what we are going to learn from them.
SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.
MYERS: We don’t participate in practices because we’ve learned all the things they represent, and now having signed the contract that we agree with all these things, we’re going to now do them.
(From Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 82)
This reminds me of a quotation by another contemporary Christian philosopher, Linda Zagzebski, from a personal essay she wrote for the book Philosophers Who Believe:
“The natural order of religious belief is not usually to form propositional beliefs first and only later to engage in the faith life of a community. If we disengaged ourselves from the practice of faith in order to ‘find out’ if it is justified, there is very little chance that we will ever find out.”
I think these things can, in part, point to the value of liturgical worship. Participation in liturgy is a kind of externalized practice that can work in conjunction with ideas to develop a whole person.
Thanks to First Lieutenant Shamika Hill for sharing this article and these photos.
Chaplain (1st Lt.) Barry Malone, Contingency Operating Base Basra hospital chaplain, and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tim Mallard, 1st Infantry Division chaplain, begin the liturgical Protestant Worship service with the processional. This was the first such service on COB Basra. Liturgical services have roots in Catholicism and follow many of the same styles of worship and traditions such as communal prayer, reading and hearing the word, a response of confession, weekly celebration of the Eucharist and the following of the church calendar. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Kemp, 1st Inf Div, USD-S PAO)
By Sgt. Jason Kemp
1st Infantry Division, USD-S PAO
COB BASRA, Iraq – The first liturgical Protestant Worship Service was held at the Contingency Operating Base Basra chapel on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010.
“Soldiers come from a variety of faith traditions, and we have some that come from traditions such as Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian or Reformed who are used to several different types of things in worship that are distinct and we are trying to incorporate those things into this worship service,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tim Mallard, 1st Infantry Division Chaplain.
Liturgical services have roots in Catholicism and follow many of the same styles of worship and traditions such as communal prayer, reading and hearing the word, a response of confession, weekly celebration of the Eucharist and the following of the church calendar.
“Our worship is based off the church calendar. So we will be following the lectionary and base our preaching off of that,” Mallard said. “The church calendar follows certain colors and themes throughout the year in accordance with numerous other traditions around the world.”
The Church Year is a series of holy days and seasons that mark the passage of time throughout a year-long cycle. The Christian calendar is organized around two major centers of “Sacred Time”: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany; and Lent, Holy Week and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The rest of the year following Pentecost is known as “Ordinary Time,” from the word ordinal, which simply means counted.
“It really is tied to Lutheranism, that arose out of Germany, or Anglicanism, which arose out of England. Then, with the founding of our country, those denominations or traditions came to America,” said Mallard.
Chaplain (1st Lt.) Barry Malone, Contingency Operating Base Basra hospital chaplain, and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tim Mallard, 1st Infantry Division chaplain, conduct the celebration of the Eucharist during the first liturgical Protestant service on COB Basra. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Kemp, 1st Inf Div, USD-S PAO)
From Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog at Beliefnet:
Early in September I sat down with Bryan Chapell’s new book, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, and studied his chart on the order of services in the Church, what he called the “Liturgy of the Word” which is to be distinguished from a eucharist service (Liturgy of the Upper Room). He compared the ancient Roman order with Luther’s, with Calvin’s, and with Westminster’s (c. 1645). The witness to a common order was clear, and what each included – Catholic and Protestant – was a liturgy that involved the Psalms, an OT reading, a New Testament reading or two, a sermon, and some kind of ordered ending, involving either the Nicene Creed or a Psalm.
McKnight goes on to wonder how the “low church” approach came to dominate evangelicalism. Read the rest here.