Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Questioning Liturgy

I was raised in what I would term a fundamental Evangelical church. We had communion and baptisms, along with comfortable traditions (and a very long list of understood "don'ts") and an occasional responsive reading, but no prescribed rituals from church history or written prayers.  I attended public school, but chose a Christian college and even minored in Biblical Studies.

Fast forward twenty + years and 2000 miles: the body where we currently worship isn't devoted to rituals, but there is a nod to them.  Each Sunday, we are "released" by the pastor with a blessing (just a minor twist on closing prayer, right?) We generally take communion once a month, and it is open to anyone who is a Christian.  I see many people crossing themselves after partaking of the Lord's supper (hunched over, hurriedly making the sign that was clearly ingrained in them another time, another place).

And today is Ash Wednesday.  Our church ministry center (rented space in a small strip mall that serves as our office and has a few rooms to be used for Bible study, youth group, etc since we do not have our own building - we meet in a middle school cafeteria on Sunday mornings) is open for Ash Wednesday - come make your way through the prayer stations and get your ash mark.

I don't get it.

I've researched a bit online about Lent, and it seems that it started as a forty day fast (or modified fast, with an emphasis on prayer) leading up to the Most Holy Day, Easter. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but I don't see it based on Scripture.  Growing up, I had friends who observed Lent, and it was generally a time of "I'm giving something up to make my parents happy."  I see chatter about it on Facebook now, as friends informally poll one another to see what they're doing to make themselves more holy.

That sounds so very cynical - and well, I guess that's where my heart is right now.

I'm currently reading 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (I'm even doing this as part of a small group study - see what a good Christian girl I am!). I'm also reading the Bible through chronologically. There's some chiseling going on in my heart, and it's uncomfortable.   While reading 7, Day 7 of the Food chapter felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, as I was somehow reading something my subconscious wrote:

I am fluent in Christianspeak and can navigate the (wacky) world of Christian subculture blindfolded.  I can still sing a few Petra songs by heart... I have heard more sermons, talks, messages, and lectures on Christianity than can possibly be impactful... Because of this history, I've developed something of an immunity to sermons... This detachment is clearly not good.  If I cannot be moved by God's delivered Word, I've set myself up as untrainable.  That is some seriously dangerous territory... That critical perspective has to go, too.  Cynicism wreaked some havoc on my gentleness, my humility.

Whoa. She then talks about how many of her "toxic paradigms" were broken apart several years ago, and while many were rebuilt, some were "left in a rubble, never reconstructed or reimagined. The debris proved fertile soil for cynicism."  Yep, I am *so* there. 

So what is the point to all my rambling?  I want to show Christ to my world, but I mess up. Constantly. People have been doing the same for thousands of years - some have left amazing legacies and their writings have become nearly as revered as the Bible, others have caused pain with their devotion to their twisted understanding of Christianity.

Where do I fall on that spectrum?  I feel no calling to write or teach, but I am called to be Christ to my my little family.  All too often, though, my husband and children get the scraps, as I've "ministered" in more visible ways (friends, church). As much as I want to be Christ, I'm often the weary, angry person instead who is ranting about the mess in our world, or even my perceptions about what is wrong in our church body.  It's ugly, and that's not the legacy I wish to leave.

According to, liturgy is "a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances."  Reading it that way, we each have our own personal liturgy.  Mine is changing.  By God's grace, my "customary repertoire" will be seasoned more with grace, and less with selfishness.  More studying God's love letter to His People, and less reading about what others think it says.  More humility (gulp) and less judgment. This is going to be difficult.

Perhaps I need some ashes after all.

1 comment:

Shay said...

My parents call that 'inoculated against Christianity'. I think they usually mean kids who grow up in church and then leave, but you get the idea. I can totally understand what you're saying. It's good to question why we do what we do when it comes to church. With the ashes thing, our church doesn't do it but I can see how scripture could lead you to it. There's a verse in Jeremiah about mourning your sin with sackcloth and ashes. I think whatever we do, if we do it as routine with no heart, then it's meaningless. I pray the Lord's prayer at AA meetings. I'm sure a lot of people recite that closing prayer without meaning, but for me I pray it with my whole heart. Good post, Trish, lots to think about.