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I was hanging out with Asher today in his bedroom with the window open. As a plane flew overhead, he spoke the “word” he uses to refer to planes.

“Dool”, he said.

I think that stands for ‘duel engine aircraft’.

Anyway, planes fly overhead all the time and he always points up and says his word. Today, however, the plane sound was immediately followed by another familiar city sound – that of sirens. That is, it’s familiar to me. Somehow, Asher hasn’t heard these as often in his short life. He simply gave me a puzzled look. I’m sure he’ll soon have a word for sirens, too.

I’m not sure what he was thinking, but for me, a very specific past experience came to mind. I suddenly remembered something that I hadn’t thought about for quite sometime.

planeBack before I was married to Nathalie, we had a small group – like a simple church – which was made up mostly of her girlfriends who worked with her at Moose McGillycuddy’s bar. What I remembered today was what one girl used to say when ever sirens were heard.

“God Bless,” she would utter, almost under her breath.

I also remember that Nathalie picked up on this at some point. Based on accompanying utterances (usually also whispered) I found that this public expression of blessing was really a spontaneous prayer for those who may be injured in whatever accident to which those public servants were being called.

This memory got me to thinking: What other daily liturgical practices do we engage in without even noticing it?

The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgia. This word, used in the Greek city-states long-before Christian worship existed, means “public works”. The Assembly of the city-state would assign specific projects to its rich citizens. These assignments were works designed to enhance public life.

When the term was co-opted by Christians (it appears thoughout Scripture and is often translated “ministry” or “worship” in English) it came to refer to specific works done in the context of a public worship service. The Liturgy of the Mass involved (and involves) specifically ordered acts of worship including prayers, music, and rituals. Even Baptists have “liturgies”. These basically consist of whichever practices are regularly used for worship, however “informal” we might label them.

Reflecting back on the original concept of liturgy as “public works”, I started thinking: Is there some kind of unique daily liturgy that each of us follow as we go about our busy lives? Do we perform “public works” – in the midst of others, on behalf of God?

Now, I am not talking about some official daily public works, such as the Daily Offices (prayer practice structured throughout the day at specific hours, originating in medieval monasteries). Rather, I mean: The casual words we speak and actions we perform on a semi-regular basis that somehow refer to our faith or point us and others to God.

“God Bless” at the sound of a siren certainly fits this category.

So would the blessing of someone when they sneeze. I also feel compelled to pray for strangers when I see ambulances at the scene of an accident. Our mealtime thanksgivings are certainly in this vein. What about non-prayers?

If we view our city as our “cathedral”, we might imagine that walking out our front door constitutes an “Act of Entrance”, just as the procession of clergy is, or call to worship songs are. Following the fourfold worship pattern, our “Word” piece, would have to do with the ways we listen for God’s voice as we tromp around the city streets. Do you hear Him in your server at breakfast? The news articles peeking out from the newspaper dispensers? Is he audible even in the midst of honking horns and blaring sirens?

In most churches, next comes some kind of “Eucharist” piece. Even if it doesn’t include the bread and the cup, this “Thanksgiving” time is typically focused on gratitude for the work of Christ on the cross. What is our eucharist of the streets? Perhaps it is our grateful response to that reoccurring (often nagging) realization that if it were not for Grace, we would find ourselves begging on the streets like that homeless woman, or yelling in anger at that shop-owner for getting our coffee order wrong. What is our grateful response to our daily state of grace?

Maybe we respond with a tangible act of blessing as we invite the homeless woman to share a bagel and some coffee with us. Maybe it is another silent but focused prayer that God would meet the angry man in his anger and the cursed barista in her derided spirit. With some intentionality, it is very possible that through these simple liturgical acts (public works) we could be remembering His body and blood and proclaiming his death until he comes again.

Finally, comes the Benediction – or “Sending into the world”. In our ‘world as sanctuary’ this part of the fourfold service seems a bit askew. Haven’t we already been “sent” as we walk along the alleys and sidewalks? Yes, but it seems that we often forget our “sentness” and our mission. Maybe all of the public works listed above – and the many more we haven’t mentioned – all function to remind us that we have gone into the world, and it is here we are to preach the gospel.

If necessary, using words.

Is technology appropriate for incorporating into worship? If so, how much and toward what end?

This is a loaded question. First of all, technology connotes ‘electronic media’ in most contemporary church circles. One immediately thinks of presentational technologies – anything that can be projected on a screen, for instance video, song lyrics, still images, etc. However, technology in the purest sense refers to those methods or ‘techniques’ we utilize for accomplishing something. In this truer sense, printed books are technology. At the advent of the printing press, it is certain that these compact, hand-held, widely available, compendiums of an author’s thoughts were considered ‘technological’ more in the modern sense – as we consider computers today.

A medieval scribe.

A medieval scribe.

Actually, another ‘technique’ that was quite controversial in the Church was the writing down and copying of Scripture. It seems almost silly today, but some – including major Church pundits – were not at all too excited about moving from a more ‘reliable’ oral tradition to the fixed, but open for unguided interpretation form of written tradition.

So, technique or technology is really just the idea that humans develop and are constantly developing new ways to accomplish tasks.

The task we are discussing is gathered worship. So, what techniques ought to be considered for use in the service of worship?

The general answer is, ‘all of them’. But, more specifically, I think each technology must be run through an ideological grid before it is employed toward the leading of the praise of God. The first, and most important question of the grid should be: What is worship? (Or, you might ask: What is the goal of worship?)

Simply put, worship is the dialogue between God and humans, in which God initiates the conversation and humans respond in cyclical fashion. The goal, then, would be to facilitate this dialogue (to the extent to which we can).

Once we have agreed upon our goal or definition of worship, there are more questions to ask that are specifically relevant to evaluating the technology in question. For instance, we might ask:

How will this technology help us ‘hear’ what God is saying to us?

Traditionally, we hear what God is saying in numerous ways: the reading aloud of the Word, words given by the Holy Spirit through individual worshipers, the Spirit again speaking through the preacher of the Word, etc. These all have to do with speaking and listening. What other techniques might we use for ‘hearing the Word of God’?

In the Middle Ages, most church goers were illiterate. On top of that, the Mass was said in Latin, which was not understood by most present for the Eucharist. The common people spoke whichever vulgar language they spoke. How did these worshipers ‘hear’ the Word of God?

In fact, they ‘saw’ the Word, to ‘hear’ the Word.

Bas relief stone carvings – which can be seen today in cathedrals all over Europe – depicted vignettes from the Gospels. Stained glass windows also depicted scenes from the life of Jesus, or Old Testament stories. Statues of saints reminded worshipers of the faithful ones who came before. The shape of the cathedral interior, the placement of the altar, and the seating arrangements (all technologies by the way) ‘spoke’ of the holiness of God, the reverence of the Meal, and God’s relationship to his people. These technologies ought to be – and have been – critiqued for their effectiveness toward hearing the Word of God.

A final interesting point here is that a really good and true evaluation of one techniques effectiveness is not eternal. While the images in a Roman cathedral may have been duly effective, by the time the Reformation had come and changed many hearts and minds regarding the uses (or abuses) of images, these became less and less helpful and perhaps more distracting to Protestants who assigned negative feelings to such non-verbal communication.

And, yet again, in our present age, images are familiar and prevalent. In fact, our culture is ‘image saturated’. Once again, it is necessary to judge the credibility and effectiveness of images. And, this must be done from one culture to another, and every time major cultural shifts take place.

Other important questions include:

How will this technology in question help us respond to God?

In the case of images, these can be viewed and reflected upon toward the offering of prayers. If practical, worshipers might even create their own images as prayer-offerings to God from their hearts. Negatively speaking, images tend to be limited in conveying complex ideas. In this sense, images may not always work as a communication tool for responding to God.

What are the possibilities for distraction?

Images that are offensive to some are not offensive to others. Those who plan worship must be well-versed in the values and sensitivities of their congregational body. Also, images that are displayed poorly or just wrought with a lack of skill can deter people from either hearing God or responding to Him.

Does the chosen technology/media change the message that is being communicated in a destructive way?

Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” In other words, all media take an intended message and alter it in some way before it reaches the receiver’s ear. In the case of images, the question becomes, how does a picture of something differ from a verbal description of it? What is gained or missed when a picture is employed instead of actual words?

We could go on listing these questions for there are many. But perhaps now we can better answer our initial questions posed here:

Is technology appropriate for incorporating into worship? Yes, in fact it is likely impossible not to employ some technique in worship.

If so, how much technology? This depends on which technologies are attempted and also what cultural sensitivities are at work in the society in which the worship will take place.

And toward what end? The end is worship -dialogue with God. We must always determine whether or not our technologies are promoting dialogue with God, or instead promoting entertainment and distraction.