The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag liturgy

Formation over information

My old man emailed me a link to a blog post by singer Ashley Cleveland. In it she relates some of the history of her spiritual journey, and it is well worth a read. One line in particular stood out to me, regarding her transition to the Episcopal Church:

My desire is less for information and more for formation, less like Martha, more like Mary.

Formation over information. It has a nice ring to it. She continues:

To that end, the beauty and repetition of the Episcopalian liturgy which is built on the scripture, the common worship, the symbolic gestures and the centerpiece of communion have given me a rich experience of worship and a place for practice, regardless of my spiritual fitness at any given time.

All churches are repetitive. Some like to pretend that they don't have a liturgy, but they really do. Yet there is something distinct about the never-ending cycle of the Church Year. We repeat the same seasons and the same feasts year in and year out. We read through the lectionary every three years. And we repeat the same form of the Eucharist each week. All of these provide signposts by which I can look back and assess the progress of my Christian life. Formation.

It's not that information is bad. I have an advanced degree in Christian information (Biblical Studies) after all. And it's not that Biblical exposition in a church setting is wholly inappropriate (though I do think that Sunday school is probably a better venue for it).

One of the main things I came to appreciate early on about the Episcopal church was the short and sweet sermons. They are detached from a need to convey a lot of facts about the reading and instead provide a moment for reflection in the midst of worship. They are the opportunity for the clergy to provide some context to the never-ending liturgical cycles.

So yes: formation. It is a good theme to focus on in this Lent.

I love a short sermon

I grew up with long sermons. They were of the 30-minute variety. And in college not only were the sermons long, they had to be expository. I used to think that people who liked short sermons were intellectually lazy or something.

But now I know better. I am actually more impressed by a preacher who can make one really good point in 5-10 minutes than one who can make three points in 30. If your sermon requires the congregation to take notes in order to understand it, you are doing it wrong. I think it is more important to make a sermon memorable than to make it extensive.

Expository sermons are great, but I think that Bible study is best done outside of the context of a worship service. Sunday school and in-home Bible studies are perfect for learning what the Bible means. Sermons are a great opportunity for the preacher to exhort the congregation on other matters.

I love a short sermon.

Worship: entertainment addiction?

This month's edition of Multnomah Magazine* has an interesting article on worship. Written by Benjamin Tertin, it is a rather thought-provoking examination on the connection between current trends in worship and entertainment. The crux of the article is based on a historical teaching (as exposed in Dr. Jon Robertson's class): Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. As glossed by the author, "how we worship is how we believe." I love any article which finds its central point in Dr. Robertson's class.

Reading the article took me back to my freshman year at Multnomah, to the all school retreat. We went to Wildhorse Canyon (now going by another name) in central Oregon. The very first night of the retreat, we were lead in worship by an excellent band. However, there was one particular song which made me quite uncomfortable. That song was "My Glorious," written by Delirious. I'm not a particular fan of the content of the song, and neither am I a fan of the presentation by Delirious or the band that night at the retreat. Simply stated, I felt like the song was manipulative. That is probably unfair and overstated, but it was (and remains) my personal observation. The entire presentation of the song, music, lyrics, vocal style, etc. seemed aimed to produce a massive emotional response. I didn't like it. It didn't feel right. I perceived that most other people there had no problem with it. This was uncharted territory for me, since relative to my own church experiences, my home church was pretty rock-n-roll (especially compared to my grandparents' Christian church worship). In retrospect, that experience probably contributed to the fact that I never quite felt at home among the Multnomah student body. The other contributing factor was of course that I lived off campus (as a senior I once had a sophomore ask me if I was new).

All this is to say that I think Tertin makes a good point: sometimes I think worship can come too close to amusement. We have to discern the difference.

* It seems as though only the most recent edition is available online.