Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blog response!

The following section was posted on a comment about a post on "Being Relevant as a Form of Cultural Insecurity." I'm so eager to engage others through this blog, that I thought I'd take the time to write a whole post in response. She has some good thoughts and concerns here that deserve good discussion, and further, that previous entry on cultural insecurity needs to be teased out some more so that I don't overstate my position.

"What is the place for 'I' in corporate worship? 'I' needs to meet Jesus in private worship all week so that 'I' can spill into the river of corporate worship like a tiny, bubbling stream." There's more, but it occurs to me that this speaks to the liturgy as well as the artistry of our worship. And, to switch analogies, might it be much the same way I prepare an event for my large, extended family? By sheer number of people and diversity of personality, I simplify the meal and the activities in order to be a welcoming place for everyone. But the joy of experiencing the time together overcomes any simplicity or familiarity of the offerings. In fact, in these gatherings simplicty and familiarity and custom and tradition are celebrated because they create our common bond. I could go on and on, but I'm quite positive, if this analogy holds any merite at all, being *cool* is like the last priority on anyone's list. The problem for us here where I live, is that we lost track of the tradition and "family" customs that bonded us. That is a big-time source for our insecurity.

There are a few things here to think about:

*What is the place for I in worship? I've been deeply formed by the late Colin Gunton's work with Basil of Caeserea. Basil taught the definition of a person in terms of the Trinity is a being in relation to. The "I" has a place in worship if it is a dynamic rather than a static "I." Gunton explains that a Trinitarian concept of person is neither lost in the collective of communism nor isolated in the narrowness of the rugged individual.

There is much frustration today with the over use of the first person singular "I." Back when we used transparencies for our worship choruses and kept them in file cabinets, I remember just about fainiting once when I saw how many songs we had with titles that started with "I." For some time I reasoned that the Psalms themselves are riddled with prayers using the first person singular. Further Biblical training and reflection has since led me to be very willing to change the "I" to "we" primarily because of our context here in North America. We are hyper individualists. The "I" that we use today is pyschologically and philosophically different than the "I" of the Hebrews. Often it is possible to interpret the "I" in a Psalm with a double-valence: the "I" of the author could also be read by the Hebrews as the "I" of Israel as a people.

My conclusion is that we need to be much more careful with the first person singular today. When we switch between singular and plural pronouns as worship leaders, we need to draw the congreation's attention to the switch so that they can live into and grow into the difference. We are communal individuals. Bonhoeffer warns (sorry ladies of the lack of gender inclusivity), "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone." The way we use pronouns today can help shape a properly theologcially inspired person while subverting rugged individualism.


*Custom and tradition are celebrated because they create our common bond.
I really like your point that the insecurity is a result of a lack of customs and traditions that form a family-like community. Perhaps we can then say that the emphasis upon being "relevant" is attempt to fill the void of family-like relationships? We can apply Augustine's lithmus test to this. Whatever ultimately does not bear the fruit of love for God and neighbor must not be from God. I am positive that an outsider might object to the worship music I write, lead and record as clearly engaging the aesthetic of "the cool." Hopefully, for those who are within our campus fellowship here, the music if first and lastly about love of God and of neighbor, to create a culture that mediates a common bond of love. If the music does betray an engagement or an expression of the cool, my hope and prayer is that it does so critically, even subversively, and especially not self-consciously.

So, yes, the worship service is a cultural expression that does mediate fellowship with God and brethren. My thoughts about the impulse to be 'relevant' is exactly to bring our attention back to this kind of mediation...that we might gather together the fellowship of the saints (true worship) rather than just forming a crowd (being cool).

1 comment:

livingpalm said...

Wow. That was a fast and thorough response! Thank you. I'm reading. And thinking.

Thank you for this especially: "The "I" has a place in worship if it is a dynamic rather than a static "I." Gunton explains that a Trinitarian concept of person is neither lost in the collective of communism nor isolated in the narrowness of the rugged individual."

And this: "When we switch between singular and plural pronouns as worship leaders, we need to draw the congreation's attention to the switch so that they can live into and grow into the difference."

And here's what I think about this:
"Perhaps we can then say that the emphasis upon being "relevant" is attempt to fill the void of family-like relationships?" Yes. I think maybe we can say that. It's the same problem that insecure junior high kid has, right?

And also this:
"If the music does betray an engagement or an expression of the cool, my hope and prayer is that it does so critically, even subversively, and especially not self-consciously." Amen and right on!

(Sheesh, now I'm rethinking giving up blog-reading for Lent! This is good stuff you're writing here.)