Tuesday, May 25, 2010

High Culture vs Low Culture

Once I had someone say that Lutherans were a high brow people -- high culture -- in a low brow world -- low culture.  The person said that the culture of the local Baptist congregation or non-denominational church was more reflective of the neighborhood and community.  This fellow told me that the church next door to us had a Bubba culture and we had a Bach culture and that this was the reason we had trouble getting traction in a Southern city even though our congregation had been there 50 years.

I thought about this and will concede that there is something to what he says although I do not believe it has a great deal of impact on things.  We have had trouble getting traction in this community because this Lutheran congregation was begun as a refuge of Northerners who found themselves, for whatever reason, living in the South.  When they built their building on the busiest thoroughfare in town they did not put a door facing that busy street and thus they implied to the people passing by that this was a closed group.  And it was.  They spent most of their effort finding Lutherans and less effort trying to reach out to the folks around them.  I am not faulting them but even the folks who were there when it began admit that this was the focus -- unintended but still the mindset.

Second I think that while we have some "high brow" music and ceremonial  that is different from the native churches of this Southern town, we also have a host of other music that is not baroque or even classical.  For pete's sake, we sang "Holy Spirit the Dove Sent from Heaven" and "Greet the Rising Sun" on Pentecost and heard the account read in Arabic (among other languages).  We have people in cargo shorts and t-shirts and even a few in suits and ties.  We have a large concentration of young families and singles.  I would not say that a high percentage of our people listen to classical stations or even particularly like classical music.  What I think is different about us is that we are a confessional and liturgical church and this is what makes us different from 99% of all the congregations around us (especially the native ones).

I am weary of those who try to paint the distinction between Lutherans and others as a cultural one -- I believe it is primarily theological.  We stick out because we are Word and Sacrament people in a sea of folks who are into entertainment worship and immediate Spirit's blessing.  We stick out because we are confessional in a sea of people who believe the faith is only one person wide and deep (that belief is intensely personal and individual).  We stick out because we are a community gathered around the font, table, and pulpit in a sea of people gathered around video, the music style of the day, and a preacher/personality cult style church.

So I will admit that the pipe organ is not Bubba culture but it remains the most effective instrument to accompany and to lead congregational song.  Its sound can be lush and romantic or brash and jarring or inspirational and heralding... and it is every Sunday depending upon the hymn, service music, or liturgy being played.   What makes us stick out is a good thing -- theology written and confessed over time to bind us to our beliefs as a community of faith and many congregations.... music that speaks the Gospel and is not for music's sake.... preaching that flows from the means of grace and back to them through the lens of a church year... sacramental presence which draws us in to the table and the font where we meet Christ and all His gifts... no, not high brow or low brow but confessional, liturgical, evangelical, and catholic... that would make us, ah, Lutheran?!


Pr. Chris Hinkle said...

I remember an older pastor warning me once that you can't out-Baptist the Baptists.

Janis Williams said...

Pr. Hinkle,

From a former Baptist, you're right! Of course, why would you want to (out-Baptist the Baptists)?

Fr. Peters,

Unfortunately, the "Bubba" culture of the South seems to be the "Darryl" culture of the North, as well. Americans as a whole are awash in a low culture attitude. This is not the culture that came to our shores originally. It had nothing to do with ethnicity, and nothing to do with financial standing. Those who came to America's shores wanted a better, "higher" life. Somewhere along the way, money came to be substituted for culture.

Most of the non-denom. and Bubba churches go with the culture that makes the best show in the offering plate.

Sorry if that sounds jaded and negative, but I believe it's where most Americans are.

RobbieFish said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you for putting it out there. You are right in saying that our cultural uniqueness as Lutherans is a reflection on the more important, theological distinctions that set us apart. God bless.

Janet said...

I have sent the link to this post to several friends, some of whom are pastors, highlighting the paragraph about the theological distinction. It says what I have been thinking but was unable to articulate!