Death, in Music and in Church

Lutheran Forum via the wise Pastor Andy

“It is a strange world where heavy metal bands are brave and truthful and churches are escapist and irrelevant. It hasn’t always been so. The liturgical and hymnic inheritance the church has bequeathed to us is full of forthright, strong expressions of what it means to live in the midst of death…

Dying people are hungry to live. This is the beauty and the secret of the church’s worship. While death is its ultimate subject, the church’s worship teaches victory over death quietly, subliminally, week after week after week so that a culture of eternity is inculcated in the hearts and minds and, yes, the bodies of those who attend. We are prepared incessantly to die while we live. And though we are dying, everyday in the church, we live in the presence of the eternal God.”

I have often maintained this line of thinking as a way to excuse my very dark musical and liturgical tastes: that we should be in the business not of hiding away death from our congregations and our own thoughts, but rather wrestling and grappling with the hurts and realities of loss, of time, and of death… our own finitude. That’s the only way the Christian message makes a whole bunch of sense to me, as a way to slowly make sense of the losses that we experience in the passage of time and each other. Our message cannot mean anything if we try to make faith about cheery ignorance of our real world experiences… Faith comes from a hope that stands in full recognition of pain, and in expectation of a place or state of being that may lay beyond it.

Getting to Know FPC from a park bench.

FPCImage I sat outside Pilgrim Hall (the office and education building where I’ll work in the future) and took this picture of the church right before I went in to preach for the first time. It’s always been an important message in my preaching and my ministry to talk about how we – by which I mean mainline institutional churches – need to remember that we are communities of faith, not just the residents of a particular building. In other words, the four walls are not the description of a church. Nonetheless, as I sat outside that morning I thought about a lot of things in the building that do describe the church I want to work for.

I like the style: Congregational Gothic, I’ve taken to calling it. The marriage of the old wood meeting houses of the congregationalists, while echoing back to the larger Christian tradition of gothic cathedrals. I like that some time in the not too recent history there was a conscious choice to use stained glass to replace the windows, for the sake of light and art and “transported-ness” that it can add to a space. I like that there are so many doors into the church, and that they come from every direction… like the whole world is welcome, no matter where they’re coming from.

Are there challenges in this building? Of course, just like everywhere. It wasn’t until the end of my sermon that I realized there was a crowd in the transept (the seating which occupies the “horizontal” line of the cross floor-plan). I had never even thought to look over at them; I’ve never preached in a space with a transept! I know many churches and pastors that have struggled even worse with issues like this, and I know plenty of places where the building has started to shape the church, and not the other way around. I also know that in many of these situations the conversations about how we worship and how we use our buildings has become a conversation like politics at Thanksgiving… easier, and much quieter to avoid altogether.

This morning, the thing that gave me hope and excitement was the clear evidence all over the building of how this congregation has a history of blending, combining, changing, and making choices to be more truly church throughout all their years. The building is important, but only so much as how it has reflected and served the community within it.

Also, that morning?… I felt like I was home, and where I needed to be.

Rainer Maria – Make You Mine (Live)

The band that I miss the most on any given day. The video is authentic to the experience of seeing them: cramped quarters, bad sound, lots of teenagers (and Geoff) screaming along.
Something that I often ponder as listen to the sounds of a crowd almost overwhelming the band: in what ways is this “worship-like” if not worship? Now, it lacks intentionality of doctrine, or purpose, or what have you according to my “Christian Professional” categories, and I think it’s important to say that while Caithlin is wonderful, they’re not worshipping her… but to the lived experience of emotion, community, and connection of those kids in the crowd? It seems like they’re singing their guts out in the joy of song and singing, and not just because it sounds pretty. We do a lot of calling people “unchurched” in my business. We may have to start realizing that plenty of people do some form of “worship” quite often. The role of clergy folks is to learn to translate between our words and songs and rituals and those of the people around us. As a liturgy nerd, its important to occasionally put aside my own judgments about what liturgy is and isn’t, so I can look at what makes various communal actions compelling and engaging.

What Sacrament?

So I’m writing about Trinitarian worship right now. Here’s my model as I understand it, based certainly on the Trinity, as well as a concept of God being in action which I’m told I’ll read tomorrow in Karl Barth: The congregation beseeches the Holy Spirit to come into the midst of their worship action (a reflection of Christ’s actions… think baptism, eucharist, preaching, etc.) and transform that Christ-action into TRUE Christ-action. In other words, the Spirit transforms the congregation into the body of Christ proper, and in so doing makes them the adopted child of the Creator. “Brothers and Sisters in Christ.”

So, my question: isn’t all of Christ’s activity part of the activity of the second person of the Trinity? If it is, then what we view as sacrament, or at least liturgy needs to be expanded to include that range of activity. Whenever the Spirit comes amidst any reflective action that was of Christ, worship would seem to be complete in the Trinitarian sense. I’m going to argue for this in my ever expanding fight for the humanity of Christ. It should be noted that I don’t want to pull down the divinity of Christ, but rather pull up the humanity. How much more rewarding would coffee hour be if we were often reminded that sitting across from anyone at ANY table – not just the eucharistic table – was a liturgical act of worship, a calling up of the Trinitarian God? OK, maybe I can’t justify coffee hour to myself yet… but I’m working on it.