Tuesday, April 22, 2008

“Shouldn’t you say some words?” The humor and the weight of that story hung over us. Dr. Calhoun related a tale of a man who had never tried the sweet resin of a tree. (Was it a maple?) The man’s friend offered to rectify the situation, and he accepted. As the man humbled himself by letting his friend pour the sweetness into his mouth—nay, he paused just before and asked the question. And it contains the profoundest wisdom; I summarize it thusly: We humans instinctively need to mark the moments of our lives with ceremony, with ritual. In every area of life, we follow patterns. We are creatures of liturgy. Indeed, we are made to worship, and to do so continually. I gratefully acknowledge the pastoral instruction of Travis Tamerius on this; I have not had an original thought ever in my 28 years of existence, and my best ideas, I stole from him, at least for the last 6 or so. (smile) So why—in the face of so many monstrous idolatries and competing allegiances—have we in the American church decided that the answer is in throwing off the familiar, the old, the repetitious? Sin and death continue their liturgies undeterred, it seems, and our reaction is to remake the church, to re-brand her. Either we think we are beyond the barbaric tendencies of our forefathers, or we think our days are so novel that the old ways won’t help us. In either case, we are profoundly mistaken. Have we considered that this postmodern age throws off all hints of memory because it truly believes it has nothing to commemorate? Are we as Christians certain that we want to affirm that notion? Indeed, have we unwittingly cooperated in this process of historical erasure because we are ‘bored’ or we want to be ‘relevant’? For whom, and to what end, do we modify our Christian tradition? [Quick, dangerous aside: With the holy catholic church in pieces, can I say ‘our tradition’ without being na├»ve, or burned at the stake?] If we come as the Body of Christ to a fuller, purer, understanding of ourselves and our mission in the world, fair enough; a more noble reason to modify tradition could not be found. But, if we modify it in a rush to please those outside of Christ, that is folly. Make no mistake: A clear affirmation of the historic, apostolic faith in every culture is what attracts people to Christ, not that we are like the cultures in which we live. Here in America, we are so afraid of offense that we try to be as ‘normal’ as possible. No wonder, then, that we are now irrelevant.
This is not simply an apology for traditional liturgies in worship, though it is not less. But it is a call to begin again, to remember. We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, then have had the gall to blame the baby. The ones who throw their elders off a cliff will soon forget the way, and compound their mistake.