Friday, May 10, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
Check out this clip from the film “The Dead Poets Society”.
For those of you who don’t want to subject yourself to Youtube, it is a classroom scene in which the teacher instructs a student to read aloud from the introduction to their class’ poetry textbook, an essay entitled “Understanding Poetry” by J. Evans Prichard Ph.D. In his essay, Prichard turns the understanding and appreciation of poetry into a simple algebraic equation, plotted on a two-dimensional graph. This so offends the teacher that he instructs the students to rip the essay out of their textbooks, and then tells them (with the help of Walt Whitman) that their appreciation and understanding of poetry arises not from the sharpness of their analytical abilities, but from the depths of their souls.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” the disciples cry out at Jesus rides into Jerusalem – just exactly what the angels sang at Jesus’ birth, way back in chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel. Concentrating on God’s radically offensive message of peace through weakness and reconciliation seems particularly appropriate for American Christians as we celebrate Palm/Passion Sunday so closely on the heels of the 10th anniversary of our unwarranted invasion of Iraq. In March of 2003, Americans supported the invasion by a 2 to 1 margin. Today, in retrospect, those numbers are nearly reversed.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
The desire to make permanent what can only, ever, by its very nature, be transitory, is a true bane of human personality. At any 12-step meeting you can hear addicts tell of the futile, but irresistible desire to chase their first high. Those who divorce within the treacherous 5-7 year window often blame the feeling of having lost the passionate love they formerly felt, as if such an emotion were sustainable over the long term. A mountaintop is a great place to visit, to misquote an old joke, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Except we do! Over and over and over again we strive to hold on to experiences, states of being, ecstasies that are perforce temporary, and thereby make ourselves either miserable or ridiculous.
In 2010, Michael L. Beck invited readers of Homily Service to reflect upon the transitory nature of the mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration, and to consider the necessity of leaving the mountain for home.
They want to preserve the moment, hold on to it… But we all know it is impossible to stay in those ecstatic moments. We have to live in the real world.So too for these three men: their idea of three memorials, three dwellings cannot be a reality (only recently have the three chapels appeared in the church on the summit of Mount Tabor) they have to go back and live in the power of what they have witnessed.The same is true for us. There will be times, perhaps very few, when we will glimpse something of the glory of God. It could well be in church, it might as easily be elsewhere. We may wish to hold on to that moment, but God calls us into the real world of great darkness in financial crises, lost jobs, lost homes, sick people, suffering children. There, the light, the shekinah of God’s presence, needs to be seen as much as, if not more than, in those glimpses we may be given. It is in sharing that light, that understanding, that we fulfill the command of the voice to “listen to him” and make God’s love real.
The Transfiguration is a strange little episode in the life of Jesus. Here’s my real question. What on earth do you do for a children’s sermon this Sunday?
Michael L. Beck. "Transfiguration Day", Homily Service 42:1, 165-166.
Michael L. Beck is is an Anglican parish priest in the Durham Diocese of the United Kingdom.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Those of us who preach the Word within communities that have a tradition of abstinence from alcoholic beverages can find it difficult to engage the biblical passages where wine is spoken of in a positive fashion. I remember years ago, at the height of the demythologizing craze, hearing a pastor preach a sermon on John 2:1-11 in which we were told that Jesus didn’t actually make wine, per se, because first of all miracles are not actually a thing, and secondly everybody knows that wine is evil.
Blessedly, that sort of thing seems to have mostly died out, at least in the places where I hear the Word preached.
Monday, January 14, 2013
The final article in the current issue of Liturgy examines the issue of “performance” from a different point of view that the rest of the articles. Using a more colloquial meaning of performance, Matthew Lawrence Pierce invites readers to examine the oft-repeated complaint that this or that worship service “feels like a performance” to a visitor. Pierce’s contention is that this complaint is most often voiced by those who visit worshipping congregations who utilize a style of worship which is unfamiliar to them, and that it has its genesis in the fact that two of the major styles of worship current in American protestantism are, in fact, derived from various theatrical practices.
The durability of an ethos, the effort required to cultivate it, and its ability to move from one sphere to another poses a perennial problem for those involved in the planning and execution of worship. Charles Finney sought to sidestep the problem by subordinating ethos and order to the question of practical effect: understanding conversion to entail a particular kind of human response, Finney constructed a worship service that helped to nurture and elicit that response. In the process, though, Finney borrowed the rationality and argumentation of the law courts as well as the drama and histrionics of popular theatre...From Finney onward, the Revival/Seeker service pattern will employ within worship an ethos crafted from other areas within the contemporary culture. Similarly, those who advocated for the aestheticizing of worship later in the nineteenth century borrowed the ethos of the ‘‘highbrow’’ theater by employing musical styles suitable for more ‘‘cultivated’’ audiences who, in turn, became an audience participating through their disciplined silence. In both circumstances, Christian worship took on a markedly theatrical character while importing a range of assumptions, behaviors, and habits of heart and mind.
Citing Kierkegaard’s exhortation that God (rather than the congregation) should be viewed as the primary audience for Christian worship, Pierce goes on to discuss the difficulty of helping congregations change their self-understanding from that of spectator and critic to that of actor and participant. He maintains that though changing the Order for the service to one that was deliberately constructed to maximize congregational participation (Word & Table) will not be enough to motivate a change in the congration’s ethos.
Do you think that the congregation with whom you worship think of themselves primarily as participants or primarily as spectators?
Matthew Lawrence Pierce (2013): Redeeming Performance? The Question of Liturgical Audience, Liturgy, 28:1, 60.
Matthew Lawrence Pierce is a doctoral student in the Laney Graduate School of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Monday, January 7, 2013
One of the central aspects of performance studies, with which the current issue of Liturgy is concerned, is the examination of the ways in which speech acts and embodied actions perform the relationships between individuals and the communities within which they are embedded and the relationships between small communities and the larger social order within which they are, in turn, further embedded. In “Performing Transformation: The Lord’s Supper,” Simon du Toit invites readers to consider two different examples of the rite of Holy Communion as performed in England, the first in the medieval period and the second during the protestant reformation.
In each case du Toit posits that the rite of Holy Communion required participants to perform their own personal transformation in various publically perceivable ways, but in neither case does his examination reveal that the locus of this transformation is entirely interior. The transformation performed in Holy Communion, du Toit maintains, can only be properly understood in terms of a shift in individuals’ place within the social order of which they are a part. Specifically, participants in Holy Communion perform their membership in a community which is distinct from their larger surrounding culture in significant ways.
In the conclusion to the article, du Toit then invites readers to consider the implications of this aspect of the rite of Holy Communion in light of the current decline in religious sensibility in the industrialized West.
Both traditionalists who assert the paramount authority of scripture and innovators who seek new hermeneutics are examining, reasserting, challenging, constructing, and deconstructing boundaries and markers that stabilize or destabilize the embodied representations of the sacred.
I believe that it is fruitless to attempt to reinvigorate a religious practice simply by changing its surface features, the frequency or location of its practice, or even the doctrines that surround it as stable representation. Unless and until a transformative religious practice such as the Lord’s Supper performs a meaningful distinction that all its participants can readily recognize and desire to appropriate, no enduring change will result. The practice will lose its performative force. In the context of what Ellen T. Charry has called the ‘‘hermeneutics of emancipation,‘‘ the central struggle facing the Christian churches in the midst of the West’s crisis of representation is to discover and assert distinctions that can meaningfully be made. From what do most people need to be saved? Toward what do people experience the need to be transformed? What performative relationship between body and scripture do we long for and desire? In grappling with these questions and others like them, the transformative force of our worship practices will be renewed.
Simon du Toit (2013): Performing Transformation: The Lord's Supper, Liturgy, 28:1, 53.
Dr. Simon du Toit is Undergraduate Chair in Communication, Media, and Film, and is also Sessional Instructor in the School of Dramatic Art at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.