The Call of Liturgist

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The Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University

I recently attended two very different religious rituals one being a Lutheran ordination service and the other being a church launch of a new congregation which, I believe, is in the Baptist tradition. These services were radically different in style, format, length, and almost every other way imaginable. The sociocultural elements revealed the same polarities we see presently manifesting in every sector of our society. What struck me most after these two very different experiences was not the differences as much as the similarities. Underneath all of our religious traditions there is a fundamental need for humans to develop shared meaning making experiences.

In our commodified culture people are seldom experiencing intrinsic meaning in their careers. Jobs have become a way of earning livelihood and earning status.  People are finding little substantive community and it is increasingly difficult to find spaces to sort out shared goals and values (Anderson 1993). Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets fail miserably to deliver on the promise of community, even if they are community building tools.  In a profit-driven climate there seems to be little consideration for what is profitable for the common good.  Much of our culture has held financial gain as its number one priority, making profit margins our standard for success at the expense of human flourishing. We seem to have relinquished to the goal of human flourishing and self-actualization in favor of corporate greed and consumerism.

Having attended these two religious communities aware of these realities, I am reminded of the role of liturgy in society. Religious communities should not seek to leave their home cultures and establish settlements outside or live as island within them. Instead they should remain in and change them by subverting the culture to bring them closer to the image of the Divine (Volf 2011).  The best of our liturgical moments pushback against ideological hegemony in that it resists those systems of practices, meanings, and values which provide legitimacy to the dominant society’s institutional arrangements and interest (Yarber 2015).

I realized by attending these two very different liturgical moments we are called as liturgist of all faith traditions to create a 360-degree liturgical narrative.  Everyone learns differently and that makes a shared meaning making experience challenging. Because there are in our communities of faith people who make meaning intellectually and those who make meaning emotionally, the liturgy itself must speak to both head and heart. We must understand that we cannot be married to one way of communication (III 2015).  In the Christian context, the liturgy is effective not only when it makes meaning of the Divine and the life of the congregant but when it is upsetting through the power of the Gospel, humanity’s criteria of judgement, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration, and models of life, which are in contrast with the sacred worth of each individual (Frans Wijsen 2005).  The way we develop our liturgical moments must reflect both the people of the congregation and the times they are historically situated in, but also a countercultural critique of those times.

What if our worship planning teams began to ask where is the invitation in this liturgy and where is the moment of transgressive resistance? I am holding hope that there is a group of liturgist who will continue in our local context the tradition of intentional cultural critique. The occasion of the liturgy should inform the content of the liturgy, and the people gathered will always inform the complexion of the moment.  Whether the coals are lit at the altar or the tambourine is played in the pews the actions and manifestations of corporate worship should always invite its participants to think differently about the world. Along with the experience of transcendence my prayer is that each community of faith would experience transformation toward creating a more just and humane world.

 

 

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Terence R. 1993. Walking the Way: Christian Ethics as a Guide. Vancouver, BC: Regent College.

Frans Wijsen, Peter Henriot, Rodrigo Mejia, ed. 2005. The Pastoral Circle Revisted . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

III, Otis Moss. 2015. Blue Note Preaching in a post- Soul World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

Yarber, Cody J Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microagressions in Ministry . Louisville : Westminster John knox Press.

 

 

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A National Epiphany

855239-morningThe word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and means ‘manifestation’. It celebrates ‘the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ’. The six Sundays which follow Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation.  For many Protestant churches, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The last Sunday of the Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday. It is a celebration of a spiritual moment of sudden insight or understanding. What if this Epiphany season we can reimagine the ways we present Jesus to world?

In a time when people in power in our nation seem to have forgotten the ethic of neighbor love and radical hospitality we may have the greatest opportunity to take seriously the person and work of Jesus.  Talk of building walls, limiting access to the stranger, and political expediency all fly in the face of God being revealed in the person of Jesus. Perhaps we need a national Epiphany. Much confusion has been made over Jesus Christ throughout history that has not served well to keep the principles of Jesus alive in our culture.  We must be clear Jesus was a person, historically situated, Christ is a title, a theological principle. Christ is beyond history and infinite (Spong 1993). While Christ is Divine, infinite, and unlimited, Jesus is enculturated and situated in space and time.  Much of Christianity reconciles these two realities through hypostatic union or the doctrine which says Jesus was fully God and fully man.

sunsplosionI wonder what would happen if this Epiphany we focused our attention on the lived reality of Jesus? According to the New Testament (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission is inexplicable apart from others. Others, of course, are all people, particularly the oppressed and unwanted of society.  Here is God coming into the depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing humanity from the ungodly principalities and powers that hinder people’s relationship with God (Cone 1997).

As Jesus becomes a friend to outcasts (Matt. 11:19), inviting them to eat with him, he epitomizes the scandal of inclusiveness for his time. What is manifested in his healing of the sick is pushed to an extreme in Luke 11 by his invitation to the ritually unclean to dine with him (McFague 1987).  Throughout the narrative of the life of Jesus we discover a heart for access to health care especially among those who are experiencing the effects of poverty.  The life and praxis of Jesus then does three things: (1) reflects an intimate relationship between Jesus and the oppressed; (2) radicalizes the oppressed to fight for their freedom; and (3) highlights the contradiction between the Divine and the oppressor.

This year as we consider the Epiphany season the opportunity to take seriously the embodied historical realities of Jesus the Palestinian Hebrew born under Roman occupation on the margins of society.  As a member of a minoritized group under the thumb of a controlling dominant group Jesus was born in the poverty conditions of the underclass (Thurman 1976). This story reminds us that as followers of Jesus we must justly engage those among us considered the least of these.  There is no way to take seriously the story of Jesus and allow the rich to hijack the religion that sprung up as a response to Jesus. Followers of Jesus are called to do justice and love mercy.  The season we are now in provides us an occasion to remind our siblings that the cross of Jesus, a paradoxical religious symbol, inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  The story of Jesus informs witness. We must pay closer attention to the ways in which Jesus was Immanuel and how we as partners with this witness must move into our own ministries of faithfulness and hope (Townes 1995). This Epiphany season calls for a national Epiphany!

 

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

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

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1993. This Hebrew Lord: A Bishops Search for the Authentic Jesus. New York: HarperOne.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

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

 

 

 

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The Opportunity of Unity

embraceThis week we celebrate again the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  The theme for the 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power,” is taken from Exodus 15:6. The resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by the churches of the Caribbean by an ecumenical team of women and men under the leadership of His Grace Kenneth Richards, Catholic Archbishop of Kingston, the Antilles Episcopal Conference, together with Mr. Gerard Granado, General Secretary of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC).

It’s fascinating the way Providence works in the world. While the leader of our nation is referencing countries populated by Black and Brown bodies in the most derogatory ways, Christians in those nations are leading the charge for the unity of the Church.  Comments that dehumanize and alienate the other, reveal the urgent need for the Christian response. The sub-theme chosen for the week and the focus of our observance here at The School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University is “That They May All Be Free”.  This theme lifts a central tenant of all expressions of the Christian faith: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these…”. This theme challenges us at the foundations of our shared faith to remember the self-proclaimed purpose of Jesus who came, according to Luke 4, to preach to the poor and to set at liberty.

There is great opportunity in this week for the church because praying toward Christian unity forces us to ask ourselves some difficult questions.  We get to ask in this moment, what is the Universal good, and what action on my part would be in accord with it? And we get to ask, what character and conduct is in keeping with who we are as the people of God (Rasmussen 1989)? These questions are necessary for the Church to be amid forbidding circumstances a faithful community. If the Church is to be relevant in our time, we must remember the acute task of assisting the religious practitioner in the critical business of making sense of their experience.  Viable religion is one that has a sense of reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts. Religion is never incidental to the culture, and every theological formulation is viewed against the culture that produced it, if it is to be understood (Frazier 1974).  History will judge us by our response to the reality of our current sociopolitical atmosphere.

The task of the Church (particularly this week as we honor the Week of Prayer) is to provide a visible manifestation that the Gospel is a reality.  The Church as a community is called to bear collective witness against the sin that alienates the individual self from God and to go to the length of giving its life over to the struggle of dismantling sinful structures that calcify patterns of human alienation in the society in general (Warnock 2014). We cannot be the Church until all parts of humanity are at the table in shared fellowship of equality and equanimity. It is not enough to give a polite nod toward a theology of reconciliation. The real work of the Church is to embody community in a new and living way that takes into consideration the whole of creation. We must be mindful of our call to the full Body of Christ. My hope is that this week we will recommit to living out our prophetic witness in the world.

Peace Is Possible,

donalson signature.jpg

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1974. The Negro Church in America . New York: Schocken Books.

Rasmussen, Bruce Birch & Larry. 1989. Bible Ethics in the Christian Life. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.

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Religion Can Save The World

IMG_4065According to the calendar we have entered a new year, but that doesn’t always signal a new season. In the life of our spiritual communities it takes something more than a calendar change to engage the transformational hope that often accompanies a new year.  As we consider the potential that this new year brings, I have begun to consider the role of religion in society and the opportunity for spirituality to be transformational amid the toxicity of a consumer driven -market based economy.  I am convinced that spirituality humanizes us and is the antidote to the ways in which personhood is assaulted daily in a culture of thingification.

 

Regardless of faith tradition, at its heart, all spirituality is the articulation of a system of meaning making. Those meaning making systems are based in core human mythology. Our liturgical expressions are ritualization of deep mythology. Our spiritualities search through the ages for truth, meaning, and significance. The mythos that comes up around them allow us to understand our story, cope with our sense of the eternal, and rationalize the passage from birth through life, and then death.  While many cling to the idea of sacred text as literal, infallible, inerrant truth, there is a way that all sacred text points to the larger human condition from the center of the human condition that ought not be quickly dismissed. Our holy writ and sacred books open the world to the dimension of mystery and paint for us a picture of perfection. They are cosmological in that they show the shape of the universe.  We look to our scripture to serve the sociological function of supporting and validating social order, and ask them to be pedagogical and teach us how to live an authentically human life. In this way, all of our sacred texts belong to the world of myth (Campbell 1991).

 

This new year provides each religious community an opportunity to reimagine the power of the liturgy. To see liturgy as responsible to interpret the best of our deep mythologies toward a more just and humane global family. If humanity is in crisis responding to the devastating effects of multinational corporate greed, empire, patriarchy and every ism imaginable, then there is a powerful potential in volunteer gatherings of diverse people in local communities enacting shared vision that has public and communal meaning to combat the deleterious effects of individualism (Tocqueville 1956).  As we embark on a new twelve-month cycle, what if each local congregation, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc. would insist that each liturgical opportunity would be a visualsonic resistance to the imposition of nonbeing that has formed the story of our global experiences (Sharpe 2016)? Rather than being divided by the particulars of our systems, what if we dare to think about the universal implications of our particular mythology so that what is good and true at the heart of our sacred story is embodied in our coming together in life giving and affirming ways?

 

I am convinced that the opportunity of this year for spiritual communities is to show the world that the best of religion calls all people to develop their sense of reason enough to understand themselves and their relationship to all other people, while identifying their role in the universe. The highest spirituality is to develop the ability to love the Divine and the self and from that self-love to love all people (Fromm 1950). It doesn’t stop with reason.  The best of spirituality acknowledges the mystery of mysticism and makes room for the Divine to work in and through persons and all living things. If we can capture in our liturgies these simple truths then religion can save the world.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke Univeristy Press.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1956. Democracy in America . Edited by Richard D. Heffner. New York: New American Library.

 

 

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