Sunday, July 1, 2012

The opening of a parochial mind...

Growing up in Nebraska we paid attention to what was happening beyond the setting of our town, county, state, and region.  Some might smugly suggest that it was because there was nothing happening in those more local venues and so interest and boredom required us to look elsewhere for information and news.  Funny, when I lived on Long Island, a veritable hub of culture and near the source of so much that is reported on the news, I found the people somewhat parochial in their worldview.  Most did not even know where Nebraska was and those who did wondered if we still were having a problem with Indians (make that Native Americans).  After a while, I admit to simply smiling away and letting the comments pass without response.

I know that I am often very parochial.  When speaking with a missionary who works in China, I asked naively how it felt to be, well, back in civilization.  He replied that he lived and worked in a city of more than a million, kept in contact through the internet, watched CNN for the news of the world, and shopped in rather large malls in which nearly everything available could be had (for a price).  Oooops.

While working on projects for mission support, one of the most often repeated comments about the videos and photos from Siberia or Africa or any one of a thousand other places not in the US, is the surprise to find Pastors in vestments, paraments on the altar, candlesticks, chalices, etc...  It was a shock to the folks here that the Lutheran Christians throughout the world actually looked and sounded a lot like we do on Sunday morning.  Imagine that.  Liturgy, hymnody, ritual -- they are all fully ecumenical and international.  In fact, when words do not communicate, ceremony speaks clearly in ways that the vocabulary cannot.  Amazing!

Some folks are surprised to find other Lutheran congregations that look, sound, and act a lot like Grace Lutheran Church on Sunday morning.  We are not unique -- shocking as that may sound.  What happens at Grace Lutheran Church can be found in Europe, England, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, all over Africa, throughout Asia, in all sorts of places in Central and South America, etc...  The liturgy is not American or even Lutheran.  It is the most ecumenical language of Christendom and it speaks equally well in all kinds of cultures and in all sorts of settings.

Part of the reason why Lutherans hold on to the liturgy is because we recognize not only its ancient history but its relevance and reference for all times and all places.  About the last thing we need is to create culturally indigenous worship forms -- here or elsewhere throughout the world.  We need what the Church and Christians have known since the earliest beginnings -- the liturgical form which is the setting of the Word and the Sacrament, complete with all that accompanies this in ceremonial and music that serves this Word.  I have a Roman Catholic friend who always tells me that because no one speaks Latin as a national language, it is the only truly ecumenical language -- where everyone meets the culture of the Church and the faith on equal terms.  I am not so sure.  But I am sure that commonality of form, ceremony, and song is a good thing that should not surprise and for which we should give hearty and happy thanks to God.

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