Friday, June 23, 2006

The Promise of Ministry II: Challenge and Insight

The FTE conference is proceeding wonderfully. It still seems like there is way too much to do and far to little time to do it in, but in some ways that too is the promise of ministry, our conference theme, so I suppose it is appropriate. Worship has been well received for the most part, although it was reported that at one seminar a Southern Baptist fellow indicated that the service of morning prayer was "cute" but meaningless because we did not have preaching. <<<Sigh>>>

My first seminar was on "Who's Controlling the Sanctuary," which probably should have been required for every returning fellow before we were set loose to plan worship. The seminar leader, Edward Foley, is a Capuchin priest from Chicago, and he pointed out that seminarians enter the systematics or biblical studies classrooms with some degree of humility, but when they get to the worship class they all believe themselves to be experts. He had us reflect on our own presuppositions about worship and then helped us think through a method of evaluating and adjusting those presuppositions. The central questions of the seminar focused around worship as an exercise of power, with power defined as the flow of dominance in a relationship, and defining ritual as a technology for negotiating power. This has been a central concern for the church, a matter of much ecclesiological reflection, during the mid to latter part of the 20th century as an understanding of the role of the laity, beyond that of observer, developed. These are very important questions for me as well as I go to visit the communities at Iona and Taize who have developed ecumenical liturgical resources which seek different flows of power than many confessional bodies. At the same time, Prof. Foley was able to point out that certain aspects of worship that seem to be more distributive of power can actually concentrate power in places we do not necessarily expect. Watching these dynamics in action will be a new aspect to the various visits I make over the course of the rest of the summer.

Following that seminar was a plenary session by Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest who has been involved in nonviolent peace building for over 25 years. This was the perfect lecture for me given the work I will be doing in Colombia in less than a month. John, as he asked us to call him, exhorted us to be disciples of the nonviolent Jesus. He says that the whole point of Christian spirituality is to try to get your life to fit in the life of Jesus, to make sense in the light of the gospel, to be present in the story whereas the spirituality of violence says that violence makes peace; we must throw out gospel and Jesus because they are too naieve and turn to Cicero, Just War Theory, the Crusades, and ultimately blessing killing and war. In no uncertain terms he denounced the spirituality of violence so prevalent in the church throughout history as heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, and sin. It was a poignant reminder to me when John mentioned the dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 because I will be preaching at Hughes UMC on the 61st anniversary of that bombing. It was also poignant when he said that as Christians we should have a vision of the heart that sees every human being as a sister or brother, a child of the God of peace, and so therefore all of us are already reconciled. It is this very reconciliation that is at the heart of the ecumenical movement and at the heart of the text (Ephesians 4: 1-16) that I will be preaching on in August. These are hard things to hear and even harder things to practice, but it was encouraging to know that there are people like John who are willing to do whatever it takes to live into the realm of God here on earth. May God give me strength to walk the way as well.

During the seminar this morning, taught by Dr. Katherine Turpin, we looked at faith formation in consumer culture and came up with "The Beatitudes of Consumerism:"

1 When Sam Walton saw the crowds, he went up to WalMart; and after he sat down, his sales associates came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the rich in stuff, for theirs is the large house in suburbia.
4 "Blessed are those who get what they want, for they will be comfortable.
5 "Blessed are those who take out extensive lines of credit, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who eat at McDonalds and drink at Starbucks, for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are those who acquire at others expense, for they will receive money.
8 "Blessed are the brand loyalists, for they will see rebates.
9 "Blessed are the salespersons, for they will be called bearers of good tidings.
10 "Blessed are those who buy on layaway, for they are the true worshippers.
11 "Blessed are you when people admire you and envy you and utter all kinds of jealousy against you legitimately on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in the Supercenter, for in the same way they envied the stars in the public eye who were before you."

Dr. Turpin pointed out that being aware of how much we consume and even how bad that is for us and for our world is not enough to actually make us convert from the religion of consumerism, whose high holiday is Christmas with the pilgrimage beginning the day after Thanksgiving and whose priests are sales clerks who receive our sacrifice (money) and then give us our redemption (whatever it was we bought and they even give us a receipt), because there is no motivation to do so; there is cultural capital and comfort built into the consumerist mindset. There must be an experience of justification that comes from beyond ourselves to ignite the conversion process and then we must participate in a community that nurtures the process along if we are to have any chance of successfully escaping the idolatry and blasphemy of worshipping at the cash register altar.

We have been building a lot of periods of silence in to the various worship services in hopes of preparing conference participants for three hours of silence tomorrow morning. Silence was integral throughout the service this morning and the service tomorrow morning is focused on slowly moving into the three hours. There are some people who have expressed some discomfort with the idea, but for the most part people are embracing it and at least are willing to try it. I am excited about that because silence is so integral to my own practice and it is something that I have been lacking over the past few days due to the fast paced liturgical development we have been engaged in. I pray that it is fruitful for everyone involved.

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