Stories

Grace Lutheran Church is preparing another video about the parish and our sacramental life together. We are using the same producer who made our last video, and I am really excited about his ideas and approach with this one. In preparing for it, I am inviting some members to tell their story.

Today while I drove into church I heard a bit on NPR regarding Romney’s speeches and the coaching he has received to make himself seem more personable. The answer was to tell more anecdotes and stories in his speech.

It’s all about stories today. At Mass this evening, it is the commemoration of Abraham, and his story: The Man who listened. The story of Abraham who believed. The story of Jesus giving Himself as the Isaac, as the Lamb God provided. The story of God’s infinite in our finite, the story of our kneeling and receiving our Creator in a piece of bread.

It’s about the stories of “The Days of our Church” and the bumbling, toe-stubbing, gossipy group of people we are, and how God’s grace is evident even when we obscure it with our own schemes.

It’s about the story of a boy turning 80 this weekend, my Father-in-law, and my wife putting together a slide show of his life. The stories of the twenty places my family must be and go and do today before the twelve-hour trip East. The stories of infamously painful and long and torturous road trips in the past, with crying sick babies and vomiting tweens and tires blown out on the road.

These are the stories we tell. And I’m showing my complete and unadulterated Gen-X, Post-Modern mentality when I say that this is what life is about.

The stories we tell each other during hard times, the shared stories and conflict and witnessing the Grace of God which somehow pulls us through them, skinning us alive but making love and family a salutary salve–these are things which we have and cling to. Stories are the warp and woof of Scripture, of God’s revelation to us, and the way we truly burst through the hard veneer of sin and crapulence and touch the image of God buried deep within, to cleanse and make alive by the story of the One who Stood and Died and Rose untouched.

What about the Music?

Of all the arguments for and against the liturgy and “Contemporary Worship” and CCM the most touchy is the music itself: the instruments/instrumentation, the style, the chords, harmonies and melodies employed when singing in church. Liturgy dudes will win every time when it comes to depth of theology, biblical quotations and illusions and the sacramental nature of worship. They will. But on the subject of “why church organ and Bach pieces?” it’s harder. I mean, can’t you sing “My Song is Love Unknown” to a soft-rock keyboard and a swing beat? Why can’t you play it on guitar? Why do people like me pretty much insist on these classical-style music too? We must like that stuff, but nobody else does.

We could discuss the style and effects of the music: rock music titillates and stokes the passions. Then we would have to prove that and that having your baser passions all excited is more Dionysius-worship than Christian worship. But Paul Grime makes it easy for us in his essay, “What Would Bach Do Today?” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 76, Nos. 1-2, p. 12). First, he points out that what you hear in church is not “classical music” but “serious music.” But even more to the point he writes, “…the second fallacy that requires debunking concerns the argument that classical music only appeals to a small segment of the population. In truth, the appeal factor is closer to 100 percent; the problem is that most people are unaware of it.” Grime points us to the death scene in the sixth Harry Potter movie and the soundtrack that swells with strings and woodwinds which tug at the hearer’s heart. He continues, “This is not pop, soft rock, or easy-listening music; it is serious, well-crafted music. There is little chance that anyone watching the movie would leave the theater saying, “The movie was great; I just don’t like that style of music.”

So  how is that people leave church thinking that? Is it that badly performed so it is distracting? Possibly. Maybe its that we spend so much time trying to humanize Jesus by making Him a dude and entertain ourselves with Church-stuff that we do not see the seriousness of our worship and life together. When it’s all trivialized by the Pastor-as-emcee and sermons are full of jokes and homey stories, music fit for the death of Dumbledore wouldn’t mesh with our home-spun fun and games on a Sunday morning.

 

Liturgical Re-enactment Society?

Grace Lutheran Church’s tagline is “Ancient Faith, Today’s Tulsa.” That’s pretty good. I really like it. My predecessor did many wonderful things in bringing back, re-establishing and teaching about the historic liturgy and ceremonial. He taught the people to respect and love the Christian faith and liturgy which our forefathers embraced and confessed and sometimes were martyred for.

Now that we have a new pastor, some old questions are raised again. “Why do we use incense? Is it necessary to kneel like we do? Why does the Assisting Minister wear a dalmatic, and where does he stand? Why does he do that?” And I’m the one who asked a number of these questions as I sought to learn the local traditions, to respect what Pr. Beecroft taught, to make worshiping with and next to Pr. Tiews smooth.

The answer to some of these questions is biblical. God required the use of incense in the Old Testament, and the use of it in the New Covenant is not mandated, but used out of freedom and sacrifice of love and praise. It’s symbolic and praised in Scripture. But a lot of the answers to the questions of why are “Because that’s the way the Church has done things for a long, long time.” Why wear the dalmatic? Because it’s historic. Why receive adult catechumens at the Easter Vigil? Because it’s the ancient and historic practice.

And this opens a can of worms. Are we simply re-creating the past? Are we High Church Lutherans being civil war reenactors, just pretending and doing dress up and acting like Christians of days gone by? Are we the Society of Creative Anachronisms? That’s even a better analogy, since what we do is incredibly anachronistic. We can’t perfectly recapture the past, even if that was the goal, because we don’t know what the past was. We cannot time travel and get it exactly right. Even the Orthodox Church, with all their conservative liturgy cannot recapture the past completely. The liturgy has changed and evolved and developed over time.

“Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved.” Augsburg Confession, XXIV

This is what our Lutherans Fathers confessed and risked their lives for. This is what every pastor vows to teach, preach and practice—to uphold with his life. This is what every Lutheran congregation vows to uphold. It’s not optional. But…whose Mass do we then retain? Do we retain the Mass as Luther knew it? Do we attempt to go back further and retain the Mass from earlier days? Do we retain the Mass as Walther knew it and retained it? Do we retain “the Mass” as its published in our hymnal?

Every pastor and every congregation has to deal with this question one way or another. Many of them do it the easy way: do what the hymnal says and whatever peculiar way we saw growing up. Many others ignore this article of the Augsburg Confession and betray their vows by making stuff up and stealing from methods of revivalism and entertainment consumerist churches.

What we do here is interpret this Article of Confession as best as we can at the time, as circumstances and our confession allow, with our resources and knowledge. It’s a growing, living, practicing, praying life of comparing our actions and words with what we have received as Lutherans, as our Lutheran and Catholic Fathers have performed it, adapted to this time and place and circumstance and what we have. We are not reenacting, nor are we playing and pretending. We are holding to what we have received and been taught and always holding onto what is good and beneficial for us. It’s not playing. It’s not acting. It’s not trying to recreate a period for the sake of education or fun. It’s a confession of faith. It’s a commitment to our tradition, to our past and to the life of the Church.