08 February 2008

I'm not alone

Well, I know I'm not alone from some from reading some of the combox entries here. But sometimes around here I feel that way. There's an excellent article at Christianity Today on the movement in evangelical circles toward revisiting the past, as in liturgy, the Christian calendar, Advent, even the Divine Hours, candles and incense. And it's primarily coming from 20-30 somethings, not their parents. Any reader of this blog will know that this particular passage connected with me:

In 1985, I gave my life to Christ in a Canadian charismatic church. It was a modern-church setting with a giant, auditorium-like sanctuary that someone had decorated to look like a suburban living room, complete with sea foamgreen carpeting and rubber plants. On Sunday mornings, I would walk in and feel the palpable presence of the all-powerful and all-loving Lord. On Saturday nights, at cell-group prayer meetings, I was mentored by wise "fathers and mothers in the Lord." On Monday nights, I participated in the music ministry of a dynamic youth group.

Yet through the years, though this wonderful church formed me in the joy of the Lord that was my strength, I felt like we were missing something. As a stalwart outpost of the kingdom in a threatening world, our faith seemed somehow precarious. We stood, as we faced that world, on a foundation made of the words of our favorite Bible passages—our "canon within the Canon"—and the sermons of our pastors and a roster of approved visiting evangelists. There was utterly no sense of the mystical massiveness of a church that had stood firmly for 2,000 years. No sense that our foundation actually stretched down and back through time. I didn't have a clue who John Wesley, Martin Luther, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Antioch were. I just knew that I felt like I was part of a church that was in some ways powerful, but in other ways shallow and insecure in a threatening world that did not share our faith.

I now see that my early sense of the church's insecurity stemmed from what J. I. Packer has called evangelicalism's "stunted ecclesiology," rooted in our alienation from our past. Without a healthy engagement with our past, including historical definitions of "church," we are being true neither to Scripture nor to our theological identity as the church. Though Packer doesn't put it this way, it is easy to see ways in which their stunted ecclesiology has led evangelicals to allow the world to shape the church.

So true. Now, I knew who everyone except Bernard of Clairvaux was, but that feeling of floating around without an anchor (or at least one that wasn't big enough), that lack of understanding of the "mystical massiveness" of the historical church was there even before I knew how to put it into words.

And it's good to know that other people feel that aesthetics matter. Part of me feels guilty saying that. I was taught that it shouldn't matter whether you're in a beautiful cathedral, a modern state of the art worship center or an inexpensive rented storefront with folding metal chairs. You should be able to press through and block out the surroundings and focus only on God. And certainly there is some validity to that. If Paul and Silas can praise and worship God in a dank Roman jail cell, certainly I don't have to have the perfect little stained glass sanctuary with plush padded kneelers nor quibble that the worship space looks like a school auditorium or a massive living room. Yet it matters to me. It's not that I'm unable to worship God in those settings, I just find a traditional church setting with beautiful architecture, imagery, pews and so on more conducive to doing so.

I also related to the feeling Sharon Carlson describes. Though she speaks of the Plymouth Brethren, she may as well be talking about my Pentecostal days or many generic evangelical gatherings:

Carlson described the Communion experience as "tearing up bread and passing around cups of grape juice after men in the assembly spontaneously stood and repeated the words that they felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to say," and she felt that was no longer enough. As Campbell reports, " 'I want to be more connected to history, the history of the Christian church,' said Carlson, who relishes the knowledge that she is worshiping the way Christians have for centuries. 'There have been generations of people before me saying the same prayers.' "

Carlson found it difficult to attend emotional, upbeat, and impromptu services on those days when she did not feel the fervor to worship. When she encountered liturgical worship as a student at Gordon College in Wenham and during a year in Oxford, England, she noticed herself gravitating toward the Anglican churches, where she could reaffirm her beliefs with a creed, regardless of her feelings. She also liked following a church calendar that connected the seasons of the year with the seasons of Christ's life. Now Carlson uses the Book of Common Prayer regularly and worships at Christ Church, a theologically conservative and highly liturgical Episcopalian church.

Geez, I'm tracking with you sister. I can't tell you how many times I faked it through upbeat, happy-clappy services when all I really wanted to do was be left alone and cry because life was hard and my faith was weak or because I'd committed some sin that week and felt utterly unworthy to be in God's presence. At times like those, clapping and smiling is at best not the proper response and at worst dishonest and hypocritical. But that's sort of what was expected. There's comfort sometimes in being able to say the words of others when your heart is in tatters. The Creeds, the collects and other prayers say for you what you cannot.

But, I've struggled with trying to analyze my motives on all this. There's a certain streak in me that likes to be the one who likes what's different from everyone else. I'm a beer snob and admit I take more pride than I should in not drinking the regular stuff most folks grab at the grocery store. I have extremely varied tastes in music and love discovering little known bands and not just jumping on the hot and trendy. My political views don't jive with many of the conservative Christians I know (in other words, I tend to buck the Limbaugh/Coulter/Hannity party line a lot). So, is this just another instance of me just wanting to be different?

I live in an area of the country dominated by Southern Baptist and Charismatic worship settings. And if not those, it's just a contemporary, non-denominational evangelical gathering. There are three Catholic and three Anglican parishes in my city. And three of those six are rather small (one has around 20 people on a Sunday morning). Compare that to dozens of Baptist churches, a healthy dose of Pentecostal/Charistmatic ones and more Methodists and Presbyterians than you can shake a stick at. Some of these churches are huge and many others have several hundred in attendance. The subject of church comes up and what kind of place I'd like to find and you just get this look like they can't fathom why you'd want all that tradition. But the main thing is, it's completely against the current of what's going on these days. How much of this is me just wanting to feel cool and different?

I also wear myself out wondering if I'm not giving other churches a fair chance over matters of taste and personal preference. Why does this stuff matter to me? Am I doing this for sound biblical and theological reasons or just because I'm bored with the kinds of churches I've been attending (and enjoying I might add) for the last 20 years or so?

This article felt like a little validation today and had I not been at work when I read it, I might have teared up a little. I'm not going crazy. I'm not the only one. Other people are looking around the contemporary evangelical churches they've loved for so long and have been such a big part of their growth as a Christian and feeling like they want something else and it's just beginning to dawn on them that they probably won't find it there. And it's sad. And a little scary. They don't know how to explain it and they feel misunderstood when they try.

Just knowing they're out there makes me feel better.


Qatfish said...

There's a certain streak in me that likes to be the one who likes what's different from everyone else. I'm a beer snob and admit I take more pride than I should in not drinking the regular stuff most folks grab at the grocery store. I have extremely varied tastes in music and love discovering little known bands and not just jumping on the hot and trendy.... How much of this is me just wanting to feel cool and different?

While I think it's good to examine your motives, ultimately moving towards Catholicism or even Anglicanism shouldn't really be viewed as moving toward something "different" or "cool."

Different? There are over a billion Catholics in the world, and over 73 million Anglicans. They may be minorities in your town, but in the current global light, you wouldn't be doing something very "different." Because the churches we're talking about are so populous, in a sense they are more like beer you can find at any grocery store than beer you get at a specialty store. It's made for everyone and widely available. It's the peculiar non-denominational mega church that's more like small beer in this regard: you can really only find it one place, not everywhere.

(But the analogy is limited, of course. For it turns out that, unlike beer, the "Budweiser" churches really have more flavor and diversity.)

Cool? I love my church (Catholic) and think there are many cool things about it. And I love my previous church (Episcopal) and think there are many cool things about it too. But that's not usually the way others view us, especially in the United States. These churches may be populous, as mentioned above, but they're often not popular.

I don't think this is really the little-known hot and trendy move. This is getting into a well-worn groove.

Ragamuffin said...

Well, I meant different as compared to what I'm surrounded by in this part of the country and in terms of my circle of friends and my family. It would be very different. I know there are millions of fellow beer snobs across the country and around the world too, but in my circles, most people just drink Bud Light.

"Cool" as in, "cool because it's different." Baptists are a dime a dozen. Contemporary churches with second rate soft rock bands are the same way. But liturgical worship and this kind of contemplative spirituality that sort of naturally flows from it is "cool" in it's own way. At least to me. Or maybe it's just the way I'm wired.

Qatfish said...

I get that. But I'm saying it looks very different from another perspective. :)

Ragamuffin said...

I hear you.

But I'm being honest. Sometimes I wonder if I zig when everyone else zags just to stake out 'different' territory for myself. That's fine when you're talking about music, TV shows or beer. But it's kinda stupid and self-centered when it comes to religion.

Qatfish said...

Heh heh :)

Christine said...

Hi there Ragamuffin,

So sorry it took me so long to return the blog love and link you. I was a bit distracted last year. Look forward to catching up with your ragamuffin thoughts : )

Ragamuffin said...

Not a problem Christine! I'm honored. Been reading "Growing Up In Church" for several months now. Excellent stuff.

I believe you're Anglican are you not? Perhaps your insight on some of my dilemma would be helpful.

Christine said...

Well, I don't know if I have much to offer. But I'll wade in a bit.

I was exhausted by 8 years of a liturgy of 30 mins. of often mindless worship, followed by a long sermon. I was disillusioned by celebrity evangelical culture, which I was intimately familiar with through my work. I had been longing for something deeper and richer, a reconnection to my childhood roots as a Presbyterian.

We happened upon a Spirit-filled Anglican church. I've only officially been an Anglican for a matter of months, but I'm no gung-ho Anglican. There is something substantively different about a liturgy that includes communal prayer and repentence. The Anglican service does not culminate in the sermon, but in the eucharist, the remembrance of Christ's body and blood, broken for us. I think this is right. We preach the gospel to ourselves in this way every week.

Mark Galli, who wrote one of the CT articles on this topic, is coming out with a book on liturgy this year. It should be good.

So, I think I have found my home, but I still love to visit the Baptist church of my youth, and the only other Anglican church I have visited was not someplace I would ever go again.

I'll pray for you as you discern your path. Have a good day~

Ragamuffin said...

I appreciate you sharing your experience and agree with your sentiments. I even wish I could find a church that's even more involved such as observing at least the daily morning prayers. I would love to gather with other Christians in a prayer service based on the BCP or Anglican Breviary. There's something really enriching about offering those prayers and inserting more specific requests when needed...but it would be even more so in a corporate, more communal setting.

Thank you for the prayers. I really appreciate them.

Jeffrey said...


Many liturgical churches offer such services early in the morning and sometimes at noon. Ours does a couple times a week. In fact, it was the Wednesday noon eucharist service that I first visited.

I love those services too.


Christine said...

okay, that was me. Not sure what I did to turn into my husband. We are one flesh though right : )?

Ragamuffin said...

Heh. Tell Jeffery I said it was nice to meet him. ; ).

Two of the three Anglican churches here in town don't do that. One because they are using another churches facility until theirs gets built. There is one that does do this on Fridays, but its that very small church I mentioned visiting that uses the 1928 BCP and all that. The entire congregation was 20 people. My only fear is that if I start coming, it will raise their hopes that my family may start attending there. They were quite eager for a young family like ours to become a part of their church, but I really didn't feel like it was the place for us.