I spent the entire day yesterday listening to Catholic radio. I took in EWTN and Ave Maria in about equal portions, along with a couple of archived hours of Catholic Answers. I thought it would be interesting to the IM audience today to hear some of my thoughts on the “Catholic radio” experience.
Let me say a couple of things. First, some good Catholic friends have told me not to do this. Not because it is counter-productive as much as simply a bit distorted in its picture of the Church. EWTN is one kind of American Catholic experience, but it’s very much its own culture and flavor. There is lots more going on, some not as conservative, some far deeper and richer in flavor. I hope I counted all of this as I reflected on what I was hearing.
Secondly, I’m very open to what Catholicism has to say. I’m about as soft a sell as you could find right now. My own evangelicalism has made its case to me and while I remain part of the evangelical community, I am not manning the ramparts with weapons. I’m opening windows and doors, actively inviting in the voices of non-evangelical Christians and their experience of Christ.
Third, it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception yesterday, so I heard a lot of discussion of Mary.
So here are some of my reflections. No particular order or significance to placement…
Click here to read the rest. It’s an excellent piece.
Archive for the ‘Something Borrowed’ Category
Someone I know wrote this and he’s allowed me to share it with you. It meshes very well with my own feelings.
The Problem With Christian Music (or Skipping to the Last Page)
The song that brought this to mind is “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles.
Something always brings me back to you.
It never takes too long
No matter what I say or do I’ll still feel you here ’til the moment I’m gone
You hold me without touch
You keep me without chains
I never wanted anything so much than to drown in your love and not feel your reign
Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity
Here I am and I stand so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be
But you’re on to me and all over me
You loved me ’cause I’m fragile,
When I thought that I was strong
But you touch me for a little while and all my fragile strength is gone
I live here on my knees as I try to make you see that you’re everything I think I need here on the ground
But you’re neither friend nor foe though I can’t seem to let you go,
The one thing that I still know is that you’re keeping me down
The artist seems to have a bad relationship in mind. A choreographer on “So You Think You Can Dance” this past season reinterpreted it with one dancer playing the role of a malevolent addiction pulling the strings of control and holding down a person desperate to be freed from its clutches. Filtered through my Christian worldview I can also see this another kind of struggle. The allure and desire for something that is killing us can at certain moments seem overwhelming if we’re being honest. Whether it’s a daily struggle with alcoholism, the enticement of lust and pornography, the creeping discontent brought on by materialism, jealousy and envy or a smoldering, volcanic temper waiting to explode on those we love most, the fight is very real. And what gets us about it is that we often run to whatever it is for comfort and release, believing the damnable lie that the rush we feel from indulging ourselves will be lasting and fulfilling or solve our problems.
Now, I’m very aware of the problems with so-called “secular” music and entertainment. I’ve heard them nearly all my life. But sometimes, and not as infrequent as some may think, one of those secular songs or artists just gets it right in a way that Christian music rarely does when it comes to honestly assessing the human condition. Among the unwashed masses, there just doesn’t seem to be this need to pretty everything up and tie the neat little bow on the end of it. Everything’s not happy. Sometimes things don’t end well. Sometimes we don’t understand and relief isn’t in sight. But to listen to about 99% of the music on Christian radio, you would be convinced that God steps into virtually all of life’s situations and fixes them within the span of a 3 1/2 minute song. We know deep down that life doesn’t work like that but the songs make us feel good so we play along and perpetuate the lie.
I call this syndrome “skipping to the last page.” It’s that urge when you’re reading a novel and tragedy strikes the characters you care most about that makes you want to flip toward the end to make sure that they’re going to be ok, that the girl and boy end up together and so on. It also happens with the Bible. We tend to remember best the verses that talk about triumph, victory, God stepping in to fix things, how great Heaven is going to be and how Jesus wins in the end. But meanwhile there are these nagging reminders throughout Scripture that relief isn’t always measured in days, weeks or months. Sometimes it’s measured in decades or centuries where even some people’s lifetimes did not afford them the answers and relief they sought. Whole books are devoted to a near avalanche of regret and mourning such as Lamentations. Chapter after chapter goes by with very little reminder that God will bring healing and restoration. Ecclesiates raises question after difficult question, mostly without resolution. And given how long some of these chapters and books are (such that most people don’t read the whole thing in one sitting), I can’t help but feel that God did this by design. He actually wants us to marinate, to sit and ponder the heartache and lament because contrary to our typical way of wanting life to proceed, He doesn’t see the destination as the only thing that really matters. The path and the time it takes to walk it is just as important as where we’re going.
The truth is for many, this struggle is not solved by simply going to the altar, having some spiritual superstar pray it away or repeating enough “victory” verses from the Bible. That’s not to say that God never does the miraculous and completely rid us of a problem or struggle. But most of the time, His response is the one He gave Paul regarding his famous thorn in the flesh: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” We’ll have times where we don’t really think about it and other times where we can feel its hot breath right on our neck, but it’s always lurking around…right alongside our fervent desire to follow hard after Christ. And this is normal. There’s no need to skip to the last page or fast forward to the happy ending of the movie. God has purpose in the struggle itself and those purposes are good. But they cannot be accomplished without allowing for the struggle and suffering. Just be honest about it, both to yourself and to those around you. Call it what it is, how it really feels and then cast yourself on God, even if He doesn’t fix it in your preferred timeframe.
Now if we could just get that same kind of honesty from our favorite Christian music.
There’s an excellent discussion over at iMonk’s site about liturgy. I wanted to highlight one response from a Baptist minister in particular because he comes from a decidedly “non-liturgical” background. I’ve said similar things in describing why I like liturgy to my anti-liturgy friends but he does an even better job. Go check the full post at iMonk’s blog though to see the responses from the Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic contributors as well. Here’s the snippet I liked the best:
I think I’d want to start with the inevitability of liturgy. Here is something I’ve learned after a lifetime spent in churches that pride themselves in being free of liturgy and dead ceremony (terms used interchangeably in some places): the premise is absurd. There is no liturgy-free worship, and the monikor “non-liturgical” makes about as much sense as “government intelligence.”
The same churches that will ostensibly operate beneath the feigned guise of “free” worship or “Spirit-led” worship will inevitably, predictably, and without fail fall into a liturgy that is so set it makes the Greek Orthodox look like wild-eyed Pentecostals on speed. I’ve heard Baptist deacons anathematize written prayers only to turn around and say the same prayer over the offering plates that they were regurgitating back when Herbert Hoover was in office (i.e., “Father we just…”, “bring into the storehouse…”, “our tithes and your offerings…”, “bless the gift and the giver…”, with about 10 more “just’s” and “umm’s” thrown in). I’ve seen the same Baptist people who mock the formulaic worship of the liturgical churches respond to small changes in the customary bulletin layout with a venom that makes Genghis Khan seem like Stuart Smalley. I’ve known pastors in churches which chide the physicality and symbolism of liturgical churches almost get martyred in the center aisle for suggesting that the flag be moved from the sanctuary, or for putting their Bibles on the communion table, or for projecting a song instead of singing from the hymn book. The same Baptist who will condemn the Catholics for their relics will threaten to murder you in your sleep if you move the black-and-white picture of Miss Bussie from the display cabinet in the foyer. I’ve met more Tetzels in Baptist land than outside it.
The only difference between the “non-liturgical” churches and the “liturgical” churches is that the former’s liturgy is (1) present but denied, (2) inherited instead of intentional, (3) culturally defined instead of ecclesiologically mandated, and (4) largely pragmatic instead of theological.
Great article up on RelevantMagazine.com from a guy who has attended Southern Baptist churches all his life and decided he needed to branch out and experience how some of his fellow brothers and sisters worshipped on Sundays. In six weeks time, he visited a different Southern Baptist church than his own (with a different style as well), United Methodist, Presbyterian (PCUSA), Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Assemblies of God.
Go read the whole thing as it’s a really neat experiment and he’s a witty writer. I just wanted to share this excerpt on his Episcopal visit. I could have almost written this for him verbatim:
Then we recite the Nicene Creed, followed by the “Confession of Sin.” Together, as a congregation, we recite a wonderful prayer, including this passage:
We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
When we finish, the priest says, “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you of all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and it’s such a good reminder. I love this part.
For the Eucharist, we proceed a row at a time to the front. I hear the administrants’ voices: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”
I can’t overemphasize the satisfaction I get from this service. It’s contemplative, reverent and serious. There’s no swaying or hand-clapping, but the congregation participates through prayers, confessions and responses. I hear more scripture read than in any Baptist service I’ve attended…
The liturgy is different, but the words are deeply meaningful. I get the sense that the focus of the service isn’t on the music, or the preaching, or even on making visitors feel comfortable. It’s on Jesus. It’s crazy how that seems so revolutionary.
There is a fascinating interview going on over at the Internet Monk’s site right now with Josh Strodtbeck, a Lutheran blogger, on God’s Sovereignty…particularly compared to the Calvinist view. He’s unpacking all kinds of stuff from election, to assurance of salvation and other issues from a Lutheran perspective. You really need to check this out.
July 25th, 2007 by Michael Spencer
In Appreciation for Bishop William Willimon.
Mainline churches….we’re having a moment here.
Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ…do you know what I mean? We’re having a moment, and it’s slipping right by.
We’re having a moment when thousands of evangelicals are getting a bellyful of the shallow, traditionless, grown up youth group religion that’s taken over their pastor’s head and is eating up their churches.
It’s a moment when people are asking if they want to hear praise bands when they are 70…or if they will even be allowed in the building when they are 70. It’s a moment when the avalanche of contemporary worship choruses has turned into one long indistinquishable commercial buzz. It’s a moment when K-Love is determining what we sing in church and that’s not a good thing.
It’s a moment when some people are wondering if their children will ever know the hymns they knew or will ever actually hold a Bible in their hand at church again. It’s a moment when a lot of people are pretty certain if they hear the words “new,” “purpose” or “seeker” one more time, they may appear on the evening news for an episode of “church rage.” …
To read the rest of the excellent post from The Internet Monk, click HERE.
The guy is spot on.