Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Honest Conversation: Animated Edition

In my last post, I talked about how, if we don't discuss liturgical innovations before implementing them, we run the risk of our pride rendering us incapable of having an honest discussion.  The more we feel the need to defend ourselves, the less real theology we discuss.

So, for your entertainment, here are two animated depictions--one for each side.  Enjoy.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Honest Conversation

Imagine you have a pretty daughter who comes home one day and tells you that a boy has asked her out on a date.  She wasn't sure if you'd grant your permission, so she has asked him to stop by the house for you to size him up.  So the bell rings.  You turn the knob.  And upon opening the door, you see that he looks like this:

Then, after this guy leaves to go read Flex Magazine at a 3rd grade level, your daughter asks, "so what do you think?  May I go out with him?"  And because she has not established a relationship with The Abomination, because her pride and identity and heart and future are not bound up in a union with MC Deltoids, then you can answer as honestly as possible.  You can say, "No, my darling.  That guy is the worst human being in the history of the world.  His name should be Broseph Stalin.  Even Jon Gosselin thinks that guy is a jack wagon."

So imagine that.  Then imagine that you ignore her initial request and, a few years later, your daughter brings the same guy home and says, "Hey dad.  Electrolysisized Vinnie Barbarino and I just got married and I'm carrying his child.  So what do you think of him?"

Well, all of a sudden, you can't answer so honestly, can you?  Even though he's still 180 proof moron with spray tanned abs that make the angels weep tears of sorrow, because your daughter is now one flesh with him and carrying his very offspring in her womb, you can't answer as truthfully as possible because you don't want to condemn her for what she's now become.

The point here is that the earlier we discuss things, the less we need to worry about defending ourselves and the more success we have in beginning an honest conversation with each other.  But the longer we wait, the more our own hearts and egos get in the way of true discourse.

So when it comes to issues of controversy in the church, particularly worship practices, I think this is where we run into so many problems.  Instead of addressing the issue when he's standing at the door for the first time, we wait until our daughter is his legally wedded, baby bump sporting guidette before we begin talking.  Instead of pastors and congregations waiting to implement new and novel practices until they've had a collective discussion about them, they dive right in, establishing themselves on the foundation of these very practices and then put themselves in the position where either they need to accept the word of condemnation for having embraced these things or their opponents need to accept that same word for having opposed them.

So, on the one hand, it becomes frustrating for people on my side of the aisle when we are essentially told, "hey, what do you think about importing "Lutheranized" Pentecostal forms of worship into the Divine Service and having ladies read the lessons and distribute the Lord's Supper and reducing the requirements of admission to the Sacrament to four very vague points of belief and preaching sermon series on the seven hidden principles of effective Christian living and, oh, by the way, I'm already doing all these things so remember that I'll take it personally if you oppose them."  And yet, I also understand how it's frustrating for those on the other side of the aisle when they're essentially told, "hey, you know that girl you've been hitched to for 30 years, the one who has raised up an entire generation of Lutheran pastors and laymen and cultivated for them everything they know about Christian piety?  Yeah, you totally shouldn't be married to her."

So there's your problem.  How can we ever objectively determine whether or not we can go on a date with the woman if half of us are already married to her? 

But in an effort to avoid falling into my typical bad habit of pointing out a problem without offering a solution, let me toss out a suggestion.  With the LCMS' renewed emphasis on discussing controverted issues in mind, permit me to theorize a way in which we might wade out of the muddy waters that seem to have immobilized us for the moment.  So here we go:

However we choose to sit down at talk about our disunity, in whatever way we address our conflicts and differences, we treat these "new" practices as though we're talking about going on a first date, as though none of us have already embraced them and married ourselves to them or rejected them and condemned all who support them.  If they can survive the purifying heat that is the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, then great!  Problem solved.  And if they can't, then let us allow the Word of Absolution to do what it does and treat the sin of our brother as if it never took place.

So, again, discuss the practice and not the practitioners.  Treat the controversies as though we're all meeting them for the first time.  No one is allowed to accuse anyone of heresy and no one is allowed to force an accusation of heresy.  No one is allowed to ask, "why does your congregation do this?"  And no one is allowed to say, "but that's what my congregation does."  Anyone who cannot abide by these rules (and it will be many) may not participate in the discussion.  Seriously, kick them out of the room.  Let them go to Cracker Barrel and order the Country Fried Breakfast or something.  Then discuss this stuff.  Get into it.  Pour over every page of the Scriptures and Confessions.  Learn everything about these controversies that there is to learn--where they came from, what they mean and how they ended up on our doorstep.  And, most importantly, learn whether or not the guy standing on your doorstep should have any business taking your daughter to Medieval Times, even if the two of them already have a framed marriage license and seven kids running around their house in Jersey.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

P.S. The last paragraph includes a picture of Don Ameche to remind us that there are very nice, respectable Italians in this world who would make wonderful husbands to our daughters.  Granted, Don Ameche is dead.  But, you know, whatever.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Of Idols, Musicals and Sunday Morning Liturgies

I feel a bit bad for dudes like Taylor Hicks or David Cook or pretty much any American Idol winner who isn't Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood.  After all, it has to feel pretty lousy for bagillions of Americans to know your name and drool over your talent and cry along with your human interest stories and cheer for you and vote for you and think you're the most awesomest thing in the world and then not remember who you are six months after the season is over and you release your first album.

But even though I feel bad for Idol winners when they have to face the harsh reality of no one caring about them before they can even get all the confetti out of their hair, it really shouldn't come as a surprise.  You see, people like it when singers sing songs that they know.  And they get bored when singers sing songs that they don't.  So, in an era of ever-diminishing attention spans, the "Me and My Jealously" guy (five bucks for the first person to tell me whose song that is) will always be the rule and the "Since You've Been Gone" girl will always be the exception.

I've also noticed the same principle at play when it comes to musicals.  Granted, I'm certainly not a theater expert by any means.  But it's probably safe to assume that whatever shows I've heard of in the midwest are the bigger successes on Broadway.  And if that rule is true, then two of the more popular musicals of recent years would be Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys, shows whose scores are composed (almost?) entirely of the already established hits of Abba and The Four Seasons respectively.  So when it comes to a night out at the theater, it seems people are working along the same lines as they are with American Idol, thinking, hey, let's go see that one show where I already know all of the songs so that my ears don't have to process something new and I don't get bored.

So if this is the way people with evaporating attention spans respond to secular music, it would seem strange to me that they'd operate in a completely different manner concerning church music.  You see, one of the arguments I've often heard in favor of contemporary/creative liturgies is that people like having something new every week.  They like being surprised with the structure and aura of an unpredictable worship service.  Not knowing what's coming next and not being familiar with it keep things fresh and puts them in a better place to worship.  And while I'm sure there is some anecdotal evidence for such a (mystical) position, I have a hard time buying the notion that the same people who don't want unfamiliarity on stage or screen or ipod are somehow clamoring for it on Sunday morning.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Own Goal: Episode 1

Hey, I invented a new blog series to cancel three episodes in again.  Aren't you excited?

This new series is called "Own Goal."  The purpose of the Own Goal series is to show examples of when advocates of creative/contemporary liturgies accidentally make really good arguments for faithful and exclusive use of the Historic Liturgy.  Just like in sports when a person accidentally scores a goal for the other team.  Hence "Own Goal."

So here we go.  "Own Goal: Episode 1"...

Recently I attended a pastors conference where we were discussing Lutheran worship.  During this discussion, the guy leading it made the argument that those who choose to use creative and/or contemporary liturgies are free to do so, but that they place a heavy burden upon their shoulders because writing a good liturgy is pretty hard to do.  In response to this, a pastor came to the microphone and commented on how true this statement was.  His words were basically as follows: It is a very heavy burden.  And it's not something that I can do on my own.  So we as a church body need to work on this together.  We really need to be raising up people who can learn how to do this.  Our seminaries really need to be teaching students how to do this.

Or, in other words, writing a liturgy that's as good as the liturgy that our church body has been using since forever and a half ago is too hard for your average parish pastor.  In fact, it's such a hard thing to accomplish that it's going to require input from generations of theologians along with massive institutional reform before it happens.

So, uh, you can either first convince the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church throughout the world to be of the same mindset concerning contemporary liturgies, then completely change the focus of seminary education from what it's been throughout its entire history, then raise up several consecutive generations of Lutheran pastors who have both the theological and musical acumen to master every genre of music as soon as said genres come into you can spend three hundred years doing that.  Or you can just open your hymnal to page 184 today.  You know, either one.

Own goal, dude.  Own goal.

P.S. I Hate You (Part 2)

Dear High Church, Thurible Swinging Guy,

It's come to my attention that you heard about my recent letter to that guy across town who annoys you.  I know it's somewhat common for you to find validation in his failures and embarrassments.  But just so that you don't get your brain turned upside down in all your excitement, let me set the record straight for you as well.  So here goes:

I don't like you either.

Now, you may not want to think that's true.  You may be certain that things will be different if I just watch you get your reverence on.  You may hope that the piety emanating from your vocal chords and pointy fingers will captivate me in a way that I've never been captivated before.  You may be confident that your butter-smooth pulpit prose will soothe the acid burn in my throat that first started when that guy across town started doing a sermon series based on Coldplay lyrics...which caused me to throw up in my mouth a little.

But don't think that the reason barf surged up my esophagus was because I hate bad sermons about Jesus.  It was because I hate sermons about Jesus, good, bad or otherwise.  It's not the level of reverence that I despise.  It's the thing being revered that I can't stand.  

So don't fool yourself.  Don't think that your ancient traditions and unflinching liturgical composure will somehow bring me to the faith.  I hate the Gospel.  I hate it if it's sung from a bed of power chords and distortion pedals and I hate it if it's chanted from gold covered lectionaries cradled in white gloved hands.  I hate Jesus.  I hate Him when His blood is poured into mini Dixie cups and I hate Him when His blood is drunk from ruby encrusted silver chalices.  I'm not interested in the story of salvation if it's poorly told by twirling girls in leotards and I'm not interested in it if it's beautifully told by men who wafted through tufts of frankincense smoke and ascended into hand carved acacia pulpits in order to tell it. 

And even if I think that your way of telling the story has more art and culture than does the story of the guy down the street, don't think this means that I've come to faith.  It just means that I have taste.  Just because I'd love to flash-mob-sing the Hallelujah chorus with you in a crowded mall on Saturday afternoon doesn't mean I have any interest in truly confessing the King of Kings with you on Sunday morning.  I don't.  Because I hate Him.  And as long as that is the case, I'll always hate you too.


The World