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
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.