Monday, March 8, 2010
What would happen if we morphed a cat into a turtle... yea... we can do it!
Perhaps Scripture says it more succinctly. All things may be possible but not all things are beneficial. But the principal is the same. What we can do, what we could do, is not the same as what we should do. Perhaps this is the issue I have with so much that goes on in church today. We are enamored with all the possibilities and we are a bit star struck by those who are ahead of us in technology, music, multi-media forms, preaching, teaching, youth ministry, children's ministries, etc. We have entered the brave new world of what might be and we have jettisoned most of the baggage of the past that conditioned us not to go there.
Lutherans left the ethnic and geographical ghettos of America after World War II and we began immediately finding things that others were doing and making them our own. We left behind the great Lutheran chorale to embrace the Gospel hymn so uniquely American. We sought in our identity and practice to become more, well, American, and at that time Americans were white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. And this white suburban identity became our own - not suddenly but gradually. The fruits of these seeds were harvested in the late 1960s and 1970s when Lutherans stopped growing and began decades of gradual decline.
Lutherans in search of renewal began looking in different places. Some looked to Rome and the Novus Ordo to find direction and meaning. Some looked to the early church as a golden era to be repristinated. Some looked to the golden era of Lutheran orthodoxy, again, to be repristinated. Some looked closer to home in the American landscape and saw a baby boomer inspired musical revolution that was making the music of worship sound like the radio (albeit only certain sounds coming from that radio). Some looked beyond the current to see what was the next wave of change and trend and sought to position themselves on the cusp of that wave. All of these things were happening at the same time.
Some Lutherans sought to bring order to this by continuing a pattern of merger and an ecumenical agenda designed to bridge all gaps (in appearance if not in truth). This we know as the ELCA whose identity is now fully rooted in the mainline American churches (mostly declining but speaking more loudly than ever). They have never met a cultural change not worth incorporating into their church body.
Some Lutherans sought to bring order to this by purifying the church so that only the truest of the true remained. This we know as Missouri's history of infighting that sometimes honestly addressed differences and other times imagined these differences because of different terminology. Missouri is not at peace with itself and probably cannot envision a time when it will be at peace with itself. Certain folks keep stirring the pot and identifying new issues that make or break the church body. Others are increasingly distant from the organizational part of this identity.
This is especially true of Sunday morning. Sunday morning was once a model of uniformity among Lutherans. Language was different and hymn tunes were different because of that cultural identity, but the form and substance was remarkably consistent -- even homogenized. The Common Service of 1888 was fully embedded in Lutheran identity by the time in 1965 when an invitation went out to form a common hymnal. Missouri had already been working on something (publishing part of it as the Worship Supplement in 1969). Transition to the changes were made easier by a series of trial balloons issued by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. They thought they were in charge... but by the time the LBW appeared, the advent of the photocopier had made the local parish pastor a liturgical expert and many were hard at work cutting and pasting from Lutheran and non-Lutheran sources until even LBW in 1978 was a source and not the norm for Lutheran worship identity.
The LCMS embraced a purified version in 1982 but even then it was too late to reign in the possibilities. We had a new liturgy complete with a host of options which could be decided locally but who was to say that these options were the only ones... and it was soon born out that churches were playing fast and loose with their hymnals. Finally it became mostly loose and the changes were faster and faster in coming. By the time LSB and ELW came on the scene in 2006, they were merely sources and not the normative books that would define Lutheran worship for a vast segment of Lutheran congregations and pastors.
Now the problem is this. The more options and variety possible, the more the burden rests on the ability, theological acumen, and liturgical sensibility of the "worship leader" to paste it all together into a cohesive whole. Those who can do it well are fewer than those who cannot. But never mind. The genie is out of the bottle.
So we are right where Rome is. On the other hand, the new liturgy, with all its Build-a-Bear options, is terribly easy to abuse. The old Mass reminds me of what they used to say about the Catholic Church and the U.S. Navy: "It's a machine built by geniuses so it can be operated safely by idiots." The old liturgy was crafted by saints, and can be said by schlubs without risk of sacrilege. The new rite was patched together by bureaucrats, and should only be safely celebrated by the saintly.
The problem is that this is not just about worship... it is about who you are, how you see yourself, and what are your priorities and purposes as a church. In the end the liturgical diversity that began to flow from official options and the local publishing options of personal computer and decent duplicating equipment have left us with a different identity even though we share the same church body, with different self-understandings even though we claim a common confession, and different purposes even though we claim a common mission.
At this point I have to end. I don't know what to do about it... or if anything can be done...