Tuesday, September 29, 2015
From objective to subjective. . .
Liturgy since Vatican II (for most all liturgical churches) has emphasized a sense of community, encouraged an outward warmth, attempted to foster a deliberate character of welcome, with a high value given to inclusivity and accessibility. At the same time, there has been an emphasis upon being clearly understood and the language of the liturgy has become less technical and more pedestrian. The end result is that the folks in the pew are highly encouraged to greet those around them, to give expression to the horizontal relationships of the assembled body, and to get to know the stranger. The exchange of peace has become a central part of the liturgy and some places encourage people to hold hands during the times of prayer and have the people join in to what was in the past the priest's part in praying (both the collect of the day and the prayers of the church). The music of the liturgy has become more deliberately emotive (both in text and melody) and hymnody has become more lyrical and less governed by rigid demands of meter and rhyme. The tunes have deliberately been set in a lower range to encourage this congregational song. Indeed, the subject matter of the hymns and liturgical texts has tacitly if not overtly emphasized the themes of welcome, intimacy with God, personal relationship among the people of God, reconciliation and unity among the people, love and joy. No would argue that all of this is bad. But there have been consequences.
Some would call this a feminization of the church and worship. I think there is truth to this but it is also much more than this. There is an agenda at work (whether deliberate or accidental). The strong virtues of duty, responsibility, calling, honor, awe, reverence, respect, obedience, transcendence, sacrifice, glory, victory, spiritual warfare, and the fight struggle against evil have not been so emphasized. In some places hymns that spoke of the fight of faith and the spiritual battle of good and evil in such militant terms have been rejected from the song books of the churches. In other cases they have merely been forgotten. With all of this has come a corresponding departure of some men from the Sunday gathering and from the Church in general. Are they connected? Are they related by cause and effect?
At the same time, preaching has focused more on relational aspects of faith and less on doctrinal. This is surely a parallel to the modern distaste for doctrinal things in general as being rigid, divisive, and judgmental but it is also more. When preaching turned more relationship and personal (the inidividual's life and spirituality), it is clear that the more reflective and introspective tone of some preaching and the focus on love and acceptance in other preaching has also been simultaneous with the departure of men from the liturgy and from the life of the Church. Are they connected? Are they related by cause and effect?
What I am trying to say is that as we have emphasized more and more the subjective over the objective in liturgy, hymnody, and preaching, men have found life in the Church less compelling, women have complained about men who remain boys and have not grown up to should their responsibilities and lead, and the sheer numbers of men have declined. I am not necessarily willing to make one the cause of the other but I would suggest that the Church has delayed the pendulum too long on the side of feelings and it is high time that we balance this out with strong preaching and teaching and liturgy that emphasizes the themes of transcendence and the more formal character of traditional liturgical order.
No one is saying that the stereotypes of males and females should dominate but in general we have lacked a balance and this balance has taken its toll upon men and women in the life of the Church. Strangely, where this is not the case in the local congregation it is generally because liturgical service predominates, solid Law Gospel preaching is heard from the pulpit, the people of God are bidden to repentance and encouraged in their duty and in the obedience of the faith, and the reality of the struggle we face is reflected in the call to fight the good fight with all your might. Also strange are those churches who seek to reach out to the single male but who then attempt to remake that guy into a male copy of feminine spirituality with formal preaching and teaching that emphasizes the subjective over all and in worship in which liturgical song is replaced with an almost erotic love ballad to Jesus. Clearly we have our work cut out for us. . .