May 8, 2013

A bit more on the subject of worship ...

As I was finishing what I wrote last week, I realized that I had a lot more to say about the subject of worship. But my limited word count and scope kept it brief. So I wanted to write down just a bit  more on the subject. 

A couple years ago, I shared a speech by David Foster Wallace in which he says, "There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship."

When I walk neighborhoods with church folks I often tell them that while they walk they should ask, "What does this city worship?" I ask this because worship is more than rituals, more than songs. As I said in my article, when worship is done right it is integrated with the rest of the week. I've often referred to Sunday morning as a set of glasses that when you put on help you "see" the rest of your week in a particular way.  

What Wallace intends to say is that even those that do not participate in a weekly ritual worship as well. It's how we live, as Romans 12 and James 1 points out. Therefore the form–our ritual–ought to shape how we live out our lives in the rest of the week. If this isn't happening, what about the shape and form ought to change? 

I was surprised–quite frankly–to find the preface to The Book of Common Prayer starting with this:
It is a most invaluable part of that blessed "liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free," that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in ever Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people, "according to the various exigency of times and occasions." p. 9 (Thanks, Jane)
Yeah, I know, rough language. But the point seems clear: the form of worship does not matter so long as what is worshiped is made clear. As I've written before worship is witness–a witness as to what we worship. But ritual alone isn't enough. Relationships are equally requisite.

James K. A. Smith does a masterful job of explaining the liturgy of consumerism in the introduction to his book Desiring the Kingdom. But as I read through Smith's imagery I kept thinking about how much of this "liturgy" he is describing is taught. Imagine all the parents regularly pushing youngsters in shopping carts embodying, modeling what it means to be a consumer. Imagine all the toddlers playing with little toy cash registers already mimicking the use of credit cards. We do well at teaching others how to be consumers. How well do we teach others how to be Christians? Do we "unpack" our rituals in worship–explaining what just happened over coffee or describing how things such as kneeling, praying, reading, singing and eating together shape how we function in the world as the people of God? The rituals and the relationships matter.

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