Jesus Justice and Advent

Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”) is considered to be the beginning of the Christian Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. This season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30. Advent ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve occurs on a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown. We find ourselves as liturgical theologians and practitioners tasked with the awesome responsibility of countless worship experiences, Christmas concerts, cantatas, and plays. In today’s spiritual and political climate what will our work say this year about Jesus?  For those in the Western Christian tradition Advent is the season that seems to engender the warmest feelings associated with the person and work of Jesus. There is something so full of hope and promise connected to the babe in the manger who would one day be Savior of the world.

This year I would like to invite us to share in the rich liturgical opportunity that Advent offers us as we consider the facts surrounding the birth of this Jesus who is the Christ. Luke’s gospel does an amazing job of situating Jesus’ birth within the historical world of the Roman Empire (Hartin 2011).  Born under the rule of Augustus Caesar it is clear that Jesus is born on the underside of power.  Luke’s narrative also explains the sacrifice offered at the time of Jesus temple dedication; it indicates that Jesus was born a poor Palestinian Jew living under Roman authority. His parents were forced to use doves and pigeons for an offering because they could not afford the sacrifice of the lamb. Not only was Jesus born experiencing poverty, but that poverty was public (Thurman 1996 (original 1949)).  Perhaps the circumstances of Jesus’ birth informed much of the resistance work he would engage throughout His life?

I wonder if this year in our Advent celebrations we might consider those among us who are experiencing the effects of poverty and how we might hold space for lamenting the ways in which our churches may have been complicit in creating poverty for others? What if we took seriously the opportunity to be in solidarity with those people in our global community who for whatever reason live in an occupied land, struggling to maintain their cultural identity?  How could our worship experiences treasure differences and yet find commonalities by pointing to the central figure of our faith to understand how he experienced embodiment (Wilkey 2014)?

My prayer for each of you this Advent is that the gathering, shared meal, shared story, and all that makes your liturgy rich may come alive with the historical Jesus; that we may together find the truth in our tradition and have the courage to be true to the truth. Happy Advent!

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor

Works Cited

Hartin, Patrick J. 2011. Exploring the Spirituality of the Gospels. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.

Thurman, Howard. 1996 (original 1949). Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

Wilkey, Glaucia Vasconcelos. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland? Grand Rapids : William B Eerdmans Publishing.

 

 

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I would like to introduce you to an amazing student here at The School of Theology and Ministry. Sarah Turner is in her last year of study toward her Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership and is currently a student worker for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialog.  Known on campus as a hymnologist she is often tapped as a resource in liturgical preparation.  I trust that you will be inspired and provoked by her passion and prose.

 

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

 

I was about five years old when I declared my first favorite hymn: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”  While the reasons for my choice are beyond me now, I guess that it had a lot to do with the repetition of the word “holy,” a word I could easily and quickly read each time it occurred in the hymn, and the relatively simple tune.  Nearly three decades later, my favorite hymns number in the dozens.  Even though “Holy, Holy, Holy” is currently not among them, I still smile for the five-year-old who was excited to sing it on a Sunday morning and who found her way into singing the community’s song.

In recent years, encouraging and enabling congregational/group singing in and outside of the context of liturgy has become one of my passions.  This passion arose from enjoying singing with others, starting as a young girl to singing hymns in the car with my mother as a teenager.  As an adult, I discovered gifts of profound connection with people with whom I sang, spiritual experiences that surprised me, and hymns and other songs that travel with me like good friends.  I love to perform as a soloist and in choirs, but my deepest joy comes when I help others find their voices in the literal and metaphorical song and enable and empower singing in community.

As our communities respond to injustice throughout in the days to come, I believe that it is essential that we make group singing part of our work.  Miriam and Moses led the Israelites in song after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15) and the disciples sang the night before Jesus’ death (Matthew 26:30).  The participants of the American Civil Rights Movement and the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement sang throughout their struggles for justice.  Group singing proves to be community-building, liberative, and ultimately dangerous to present-day Empire and abusive systems of power.

I believe group singing, both within and outside of the context of worship and liturgy, needs to be one of our essential tools in our work for justice that we currently and will continue to face in coming years because:

  1. Singing together allows the community’s story to be held collectively rather than by a single leader.  It helps us name and jointly proclaim our shared values and create shared experiences.  Justice work is enabled by community building, joint shaping of values, and shared expression of emotion and creativity.  Group singing is one way to make this happen.
  2. Group singing reinforces a participatory music culture rather than a performance music culture.  When we face dominant cultural norms of consumerism, consumption, passive receptivity, and individualism, group singing reinforces countercultural norms of participation and engagement.
  3. Group singing pushes against Empire and abusive power does not only with the words of a song.  Mark Lewis Taylor, in The Executed God, argues that all of the arts have the ability to create the world for which we work and to taste it now (p. 117).
  4. Singing together is fun!

The lesson my five-year-old self has to teach is that the music we sing together should be accessible so that everyone’s voice finds a welcome.  Inspired by a workshop I attended last year by Music that Makes Community, a personal project I decided to take on in recent weeks is to compile a list of songs with lyrics and helpful recordings that can be taught without paper in order to serve in our movements against oppression and abusive systems of power.  Given the deep desire for connection with others in the enormity of this work I feel, my instinctive response is to find someone to sing with me.  Will you join me?

 

Works Cited
Taylor, Mark Lewis.  The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.

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Liturgical Theology as Public Theology

The best of religion calls us, as humans,  to develop our power of reason in order to understand ourselves, our relationship to others, and our position in the universe (Fromm 1978). The best of theistic religion also calls upon humanity to be in right relationship with the Divine. It is from that relationship we are to engage the world around us. Christianity at its best is tasked with engaging the world by living out the principles embodied in the person and work of Jesus.  As a prophetic religion, Christianity seeks to transform the world in God’s name (Volf 2011). From the gathering to the sending of our corporate worship experiences the Church seeks to be the place where justice is elucidated, while injustice is interrogated so that upon leaving worship we are agents of the Divine in bringing Light where there is darkness.  The Church in its liturgy, and praxis, is where religion and culture come together.  Religion is never incidental to a culture, and every theological formulation, no matter how primitive, no matter how sophisticated, must ultimately be seen against it in conversation with the culture that produced it (Lincoln 1974). The Gospel message makes Christianity and the Church different from the culture and yet essential to the culture at the same time.

With this in mind we consider that liturgical theology is in some ways always public theology. Liturgical theology inquires into the meaning of the liturgy and asks whether our signs and words say something authentic and reliable about God (Lathrup 1993). Public theology engages the broader society in gospel values, much the way the public intellectual embraces the opportunity to participate in public affairs to make academic ideas accessible to a broader public audience (West 2006).   A common problem with prophetic messages and messengers is that they sometimes overwhelm their audiences with the magnitude of injustice in the world, leaving individuals feeling that nothing can be done to make a difference (J. A. Jr. 2006). The project then of the church, in our corporate worship, must be to make accessible to the faithful worshipper, and the welcomed guest, the truth about the character and nature of God. Those tasked with leading worship within the Christian tradition, must lean into the responsibility to be reliable communicators of the principles of the gospel as revealed in the person and work of Jesus. Those outside the Christian tradition, who may lead liturgical moments, must also lean into the responsibility to be reliable communicators of the best of that particular religious heritage. Public worship experiences are neither the project of individual enterprise nor of collective enterprise, but rather a synthesis that regards both.

This week let us be invigorated by the prophetic call to engage gathering worshippers in the prophetic call and witness of the church through the life of the liturgy of our congregations. One of the gifts that liturgy brings is the opportunity to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and let social misery be put on the agenda of those in power. As Dr. King once pointed out we may have been prone to judge our success by the index of our salaries or by the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationships to humanity, but we can offer a picture of a preferable future through the beauty of worship (Jr. 2015). We design our worship experiences knowing that moral action is based on a broad, robust prophetism that highlights systemic social analysis of circumstances under which tragic persons struggle (Buschendorf 2014).

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor

Works Cited

Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.

Jr., J. Alfred Smith. 2006. Speak Until Justice Wakes. Edited by Jini M. Kilgore. Valley Forge: Judson Press.

Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Lincoln, C. Eric. 1974. The Black Church Since Franklin. New York: Shocken Books.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Pulic Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good . Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

West, Traci C. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Woman’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.

 

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Prophetic Liturgy of Unity

David in Psalm 133 communicates the joy of unity. In fact, the writer indicates that siblings who are unified express something of the beauty of God’s essence. It is fascinating to me how masterfully the picture is painted in the Psalm of the very best of human relations being reflective of God’s self-nature. With the realities of elections here in the United States upon us, we realize exactly how fractured and deeply wounded the human family can be. I would like to remind us as liturgical theologians it is our prophetic responsibility to respond to this political moment and any time of partisanship in our communities. We must always remember as C. Eric Lincoln suggests, that a viable religion is that has a working reciprocity with that culture that produces it or with which it interacts (Townes 1995). This response may take a myriad of directions, but particularly as we gather in our houses of worship during this season, our liturgy and worship must be in conversation with the cultural realities of the gathered.

It is my belief that worship takes form in tradition, and that culture provides context for all things human. (Wilkey 2014). Together culture and tradition shape and reshape each other and ultimately our worship is born out of a God concept birthed in this union. Liturgical theology is always inquiring into the meaning of the liturgy and as is the elucidation of the meaning of worship (Lathrup 1993).  As a branch of theology it seeks to examine the proclamations of the church and criticize and revise the language of the church (Cone 1997).  Despite the biblical call to unity somehow the church has become much like our world at large fragmented into exclusive and mutually suspicious groups and sects, but in our liturgy we have the opportunity to seek the healing and unification so desperately needed.bible

I encourage our entire community to remember in the design and execution of this week’s worship experiences that we are a nation that has the potential and possibility of being free, equal, and just; treating other nations with respect; and multilateral in its foreign policies (Buschendorf 2014).  As we consider the ordo within our varied faith traditions may the scripture readings, the prayers, the music, and shared story call each parishioner and the community as a whole to become the place where the disparate parts of our humanity can be bound together because human beings cannot incorporate all that we are into wholeness by ourselves (Spong 2001). The Church through its liturgy, no less, becomes the animating center of humanity’s redemption.  Let our liturgies this week be truly prophetic. Let them threaten culture’s power by holding up a mirror to it’s folly and showing where such folly leads.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor

Works Cited

Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.

Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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