Liturgical theology is the elucidation of the meaning of worship. When we talk about liturgy, it is always in the context of volunteer gatherings of diverse people in local communities enacting shared vision that has public and communal meaning, combating the deleterious effects of individualism (Lathrup 1993).Worship takes form in tradition. Culture provides context for all things human. Together they shape and reshape each other, offering resources of faith, consolation, and mission (Wilkey 2014). The present sociopolitical climate is reshaping our culture and therefore the idea and practice of worship. We are as individuals and as a collective what time, circumstance, and history have made of us (Baldwin 1983). As I attended a #BlackLivesMatter rally this summer it occurred to me that protests and rallies are literally liturgical worship spaces for a whole segment of the population. This new liturgical moment is grounded in a theology that privileges proximity and engages a hermeneutic of hunger. The hermeneutic of hunger suggests that spirituality is the answer to what oppression, illness, lack of education, and apathy inflict on human beings (Soelle 2001). The work of the people is literally arising from among the people as they gather around the shared commitment to changing the world for the better.
After an opening homily (speech) made by the organizer who served as worship leader for the day, there was an invitation to anyone who wanted to “speak out”. This invitation to witness, testify, or preach reminded me immediately of the stillness of the Quaker church waiting for Spirit to prompt the sermonizing for the day. It also reminded me of the Methodist/Baptist/Pentecostal traditions of the Black church; holding space for the Holy Spirit to move in the people. As a song arose spontaneously from among the people, the chants changed in the most undirected and congregational form. Protest singing carries an eschatological expectation of justice in this present world. All of the singing operated as what could be called a discursive formation of resistance and came from within the group representing both the particularities of the participants and the collective experience of the whole simultaneously (Hendricks 2011). Social scientists inform the conversation by qualifying religiosity as believing, belonging, and behaving; the phenomenon of protest rallies is certainly religious (Campbell 2010). This rally was undeniably liturgical, but I had yet to find out what the focus of worship was.
Just as I was about to abandon my thoughts, it became clear to me. “Love defeats hate,” they chanted, and it became clear what the worship moment was dedicated to. The next chant brought even more clarity: “Racism stops with me.” If it is true that in worship we celebrate together God’s gracious gifts of creation and salvation, and are strengthened to live in response to the Divine, then this liturgical moment had become true worship, bearing in mind that true worship always involves action not merely words (Wilkey 2014). The march was liturgy moving through the city as a gift of worship from the public to the commons. This was worship that was not at all authoritarian for it called each person to develop their powers of love for others as well as themselves and experience the solidarity of all living beings (Fromm 1978).
What if our temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship came alive with the energy of these protestors? What is germane to protest that draws people in such large numbers that is missing in the liturgies we experience weekly within our communities of faith? There is clearly a source of life so attractive to the masses that it moves them to attend marches and protest while our houses of worship seem to be experiencing decline. I invite you to ask yourself what lessons the liturgical theology of protest has for your context that might spark a new burst of energy and change the landscape of your worship.
Peace Is Possible,
+ Edward Donalson, III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Baldwin, James. 1983. Notes of A Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press.
Campbell, Robert Putnnam and David E. 2010. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York : Simon & Schuster.
Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.
Hendricks, Obrey M. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible , the Church, and the Body Politic. MaryKnoll: Obris Books.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.