Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Borrowed Words: Donald's Worries

I am borrowing from the church newsletter article written by my successor at a previous church. Then again, she borrowed from Erma Bombeck. Who in turn was borrowing from a young boy named Donald who was worried about school. So I don't feel too bad about borrowing.
My name is Donald, and I don't know anything. I have new underwear, a loose tooth, and I didn't sleep last night because I'm worried. What if the bell rings and a man yells, "Where do you belong" and I don't know? What if the trays in the cafeteria are too tall for me to reach? What if my loose tooth comes out when we have our heads down and supposed to be quiet? Am I supposed to bleed quietly? What if I splash water on my name tag and my name disappears and no one knows who I am?
How often do we feel this way in church?

How often do those who have no church background or a different background than ours feel like this?

How often do we assume we are supposed to bleed quietly, not let anyone know our hurt, our pain, our brokenness?

How often do we assume no one will know our name?

Donald's worries about the start of school are all too real for way too many people who need a kind and gentle welcome into church.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Uneven Steps

It seems strangely right that the bed and breakfast has such uneven floors and stairways. It is an old building, which has surely settled over many years. And we are taking new steps into strange and uncertain territory as we listen to Brueggemann extol the radical interpretive moves made in Deuteronomy, and so in our faith and preaching, so having uneven steps just makes sense.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Unmetered Worship pt. 2

Building on some of my thoughts in this post, I was listening to Walter Brueggemann field questions this morning, one of which was on the state of contemporary worship and "praise music" (whatever that is). He was asked what he thought of it, and he responded, "I'm an old guy, so I don't like it."

We laughed, and many of those in his same demographic nodded agreement.

He then went on to treat it with some seriousness, and said he saw two problems with praise music as it is currently being done:

1. It does not draw us back into the narrative of faith.


2. It is too easily tempted to slide into entertainment.

The first objection is a difficulty not realized by many parishioners of many churches, probably because many of the pastors have failed to frame worship as a draw back into, a foretaste of, a practice of, a recitation of the narrative of faith.

The second objection is to let worship become even more consumeristic than it has already become, and let whim and style rule over substance and deep meaning.


What if new music were written in the style of current musical sensibilities, but drew us more deeply into faith narrative, and did so with an intentionality that precluded it being mere entertainment?

What if liturgy were made a living and active force for faith development again (with apologies to those churches for which is already is), and we held these warnings in mind regardless of what we are doing?

I think such music is possible, and hope to be further inspired in its creation.

Is that Isaac Watts I hear laughing in the background?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Inappropriate Behavior

Coming off of this morning's sermon by Walter Brueggemann (don't you just love name droppers?), and having lunch at a place where children got scolded for overfilling their cups at the drink dispenser, I started thinking about inappropriate behavior.

Why do children get yelled at in the grocery store, grabbed and furiously whispered to at funeral visitations, and generally scolded wherever they go?

Mostly, I believe, for acting inappropriately for their surroundings or circumstances. Running around playing tag is inappropriate for a funeral home. Indoor voices only here in the house, please.

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:3-6, RSV)
There is not simply a suggestion that childlike faith is good, there is a warning that without some quality like that of a child, one cannot be a part of the new life Jesus is preaching. With it comes a warning to those who would exploit this childlike quality.

But what is the quality of a child being commended?

Perhaps it is the ability to be inappropriate. I do not mean licentiousness or self-centered greediness or meanness. It is the ability to give an inappropriate response that is of the kingdom, of the neighborhood (to use Brueggemann's term) that Jesus preached. I mean an answer that is inappropriate to empire, to consumerism, to the world that would have us be lovely little cogs and productive little ants and anxious security-minded people who are always at level orange.

A response of hospitality is inappropriate to a threat of violence, and yet it might be an entrance to a whole new relationship and way of being.

A response of joy in the midst of a funeral is inappropriate to "how grown-ups ought to act," and yet how many of us laugh at a memory of our dearly departed with her favorite hat on at a jaunty angle or with his favorite pipe doing a Popeye imitation?

A response of thanksgiving in the midst of suffering is inappropriate (ought we not be yelling that we are the victim here?), and yet Martin Rinkart wrote "Now Thank We All Our God," while serving the church during the Thirty Years War and the severe plagues and famine that followed.

A response of kindness, of forgiveness, of compassion is inappropriate before we secure our recompence and our revenge and whatever passes for justice in our minds and hearts.

Children act inappropriately, as if they don't belong to the situation they are in. Adults reprimand them, teaching them what is appropriate and what is not. We children then become us adults, well conformed to expectations and the ideals of our age.

And yet faith, obedience to the Gospel, often requires an answer, a word, a stand, an attitude so foreign to the situation of the world, that it is hard to give in our conformity.

If we would but remember that we don't belong to the situation or the expectations, we belong to God. And if we are faithful, we will act inappropriately. Not in ways that hurt or demean or damage others or our community or our common humanity, but in the ways that build it up and deny these very hurtful, hateful ways of the world.

To be like a child is more than simply being able to play. It is belonging to a family, a faith, a hope, a life, that disregards the demands and expectations of the world we all think we live in for the sake of the neighborhood to which and in which we all belong.