Holy Holidays

Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Las Posadas, Eid-al-Adha, and more; for different faith communities these are the celebrations of December. This is a most festive and joyful time throughout the world, and most of our congregations are places where the spiritual vibrancy of the community comes alive with the traditions and cultures of our congregants. If we are honest, this is precisely where many congregants can become disillusioned with the faith community. For many in our cities and towns cultural identities have become a source of violence and exclusion, and people of faith look to the spiritual community to be an agent of healing for the soul violence they have encountered elsewhere. Everyone wants to be seen and known, i.e., to have a voice. And since many of our churches have become home to people of multiple belongings and intersectional realities, it is easy to feel that the worship life of our local church doesn’t hold the depth of meaning for individuals that we and they would like to experience.

While our liturgy is always about the Divine, it is also about humanity and community. In fact, the Christmas story itself holds the very moment when the Divine breaks forth into humanity to be with and among. For the Christian Church, a given culture’s values and patterns—insofar as they are consonant with the values of the gospel—can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship (Wilkey 2014).  In other spiritual communities this is also true, provided cultural patterns are consonant with the core tenants of that particular spiritual practice.  As we consider the needs of our human communities this holiday season, we might consider our awareness and inclusion of cultural elements in liturgical design. Culture is important to people’s sense of belonging as it comprises people’s total social heritage, including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, traditions, arts, artifacts, and symbolism (Douglas 1999). In what ways are our congregations, through liturgies and worship experiences, intentional repositories and celebrants of culture?

Faithful community building behavior suggests that each member of the community concerns themselves with the good of the whole community and how their behavior affects that community (Flunder 2005).  As liturgists our responsibility to our communities is to be mindful of the ways in which the worship design both portrays and betrays the gospel narrative. When cultural realities are left out of the equation we run the risk of missing the mark as it relates to our full responsibility.  What would our worship dare to say about God if as we craft our celebrations we take into consideration the full array of God’s people and their particularities.  How might our congregations come to life as together we explore the nature and character of God through the lens of art produced by those in your congregation who do not make up the majority demographic? Perhaps this year our December celebrations will be marked by the self-conscious awareness that all of us are, or can be, God bearers and life givers and that our deepest religious task is to give ourselves away (Spong 1998).  I invite each of us spend a few moments this week contemplating the impact of culture on our liturgies to see how we can expand to include others’ realities.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

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

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

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.

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements