Season after Pentecost, 2023
I like the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, and I really enjoyed being at her table for lunch earlier this year, but I think I disagree with this one specific quote that I'm pulling from an article on the Atlantic site today.
Young people are “either passively consuming a mediocre rock concert”—as in the amphitheater environs of most American megachurches—“or passively consuming a formal liturgy, instead of being a community of creators.”
Green, Emma. "Why every church needs a drag queen" The Atlantic 3 September 2015.
Yeah, I get it. The "mediocre rock concert" does it's thing at you, and you consume it.
But I really don't think formal liturgy is consumed in quite the same way.
In fact, if you break it down, the literal consumption (the Eucharist) is actually the point of most liturgical traditions.
Anyhow, speaking from a musical standpoint, this tradition draws you in, and demands you participate. The hymns are led by the quintessential accompaniment for involvement: the organ. Drums and microphones might declare the beat, but the organ provides a warm, sturdy framework on which to stand and sing. There's no other single instrument that does this, and it doesn't require a "mediocre" vocalist on a microphone to assist it either.
The choir is vested, because they're not the point. There are no spotlights, no fog machines. The choir's specificity fades away in support of the liturgy.
And I think that, at its best, church music that is truly in touch with its surroundings – inspired by the readings, proportional to the liturgy, practiced and performed with care – is not "consumed" any more than the lectionary readings are. The readings are heard, actively. Our best church music is not consumed like a rock concert, it is both sung and listened to, attentively, actively by those who are able to adopt a prayerful posture toward its performance.
For Bolz-Weber, the humble rock-star pastor of the ELCA Lutherans, a rich theological posture is found in liturgical confession. “Let us confess that God is God and we are not.”
I want to connect these two ideas -- consumption and confession -- lest anyone think that even more traditional-minded parishes cannot access the same authenticity which Bolz-Weber claims to have found.
Because the "consumer" model operates from the posture of a god. "I am supreme, you must make your offerings for my entertainment/pleasure/edification/sustenance…whatever"
But the "community of creators" model operates with a posture of openness to God the Creator – and this open posture is found in Confession.
“God is God and we are not.”
I don't think the bleeding-edge ecclesiastical progressives who have abandoned traditional liturgical mechanisms, such as the House for All Sinners and Saints (where Bolz-Weber is Founding Pastor), have exclusive access to a "community of creators" kind of experience.
In a place where liturgical rotas are eschewed, yes creativity reigns. But creativity does not necessarily equal authenticity; it might just equate to highly-necessary serendipity.
But so may creativity be found in places where the liturgy is undertaken with great care, the roles are ministries, and the congregation can admit that "God is God". In these places, I would argue, one is hard pressed to call the liturgy "consumed".
Confession, which is neither the exclusive domain of the Lutherans nor the liturgically-experimental, allows for a community of creators.
Choirs are communities of creators.
Congregations that support good church music are too.
May it always be so. Amen.
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