Tag Archives: liturgy

11 things I love about the Episcopal Church

“I don’t always believe the words of the Nicene Creed. But I say them anyway. Sometimes they’re more a confession of desire than conviction, a statement of what I desperately hope to be true.”

Ben Irwin


My faith was saved in a gutted-out shopping mall.

I had reached a point where I no longer believed in God’s love—or rather, I didn’t believe it was meant for me. I thought it was something reserved for God’s “chosen ones,” and I just couldn’t imagine myself as one of the lucky few.

It was a trendy church with a famous pastor and a hip worship band that helped me reassemble the pieces of my faith. I will always be thankful for that church.

At that time, I had no idea my journey would lead from that gutted-out shopping mall to an old red door. But it did. Today it’s the Eucharist, the stained glass windows, and the liturgies of the Episcopal Church that are breathing new life into my faith.


I’m not alone, either. Lately I’ve been sifting through the stories of fellow travelers like Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Martin

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‘Value in Ritual and Ceremony’

Writing in his Abstract Notions blog, Utne Reader editor Christian Williams recently posted a short piece entitled, “Finding Value in Ritual and Ceremony.” Here’s an excerpt that touched on topics frequently mentioned on my blog:

I became reacquainted with ritual and ceremony this past October when my wife and I spent a week in Spain. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey outside of Barcelona. We went in the evening specifically for Vespers, which features Gregorian chant by the Benedictine monks who live there. It’d been a while since I’d spent time in a church, and watching the evening prayer service unfold reminded me of what I missed most about the faith of my youth: the familiarity and comfort of the liturgy, the feeling of singing in unison, and the opportunity for contemplation that being in a church provided. Above all, I remembered how those aspects of ritual and ceremony were essential in preparing my mind and body for the spiritual experience I was there to have. They served to establish my intent, clear my mind of distraction, and help me remain in the moment.

Read the full post here: http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/finding-the-value-in-ritual-and-ceremony.aspx#ixzz3NRN1XzCp


e.e. cummings for the offeratory


N.T. Wright’s comments on Christian worship, and a subtler implication

“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 bodythus 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.

Communicating truth — rationally and aesthetically

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)

Campus student ministry offers ‘silence’ and ‘incense’

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. Their response was simple: “That’s not church,” they said.

I figure they had expected something a little less like the rest of their lives.

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Stephen R. Holmes on history and location

“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.