Friday, February 18, 2011

Liturgy part 2 – Why bother?

So we looked yesterday at why following a liturgy is like playing a good game of golf.  But what is a liturgy?

Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a particular order or form of public service laid down by a Church”

Annie Dillard says “I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.”

Pope Paul VI said “Liturgy is like a strong tree whose beauty is derived from the continuous renewal of its leaves, but whose strength comes from the old trunk, with solid roots in the ground.”

I read once that having a liturgy does five things for us.

1. It saves us from disorderliness

Otherwise our services might be chaos all the time, with some people trying to sing while others are trying to pray.  Each part has its place, and we know that we are united in our prayers or worship at that moment with the entire body.


2. It saves us from dependence on a minister

This one is strange, because you would think that having a liturgy would mean you are bound to follow someone.  However having a set liturgy means we do not need to rely on the training and abilities of an official to lead us in worship.  We have the means to do it ourselves, and a resource for even the most clueless or nervous leader to take us through the worship and service.


3. It saves us from our own feelings

Let us be honest.  If it has been a bad day, our mind might not really be on what we are saying.  If we are not feeling the joy, we might not express it.  Liturgy makes sure we focus on everything, not just what we feel like.

4. It saves us from loss of perspective

In times of war and trouble, we might forget to give thanks.
In times of plenty, we might forget to pray for the needs of others.
In times of great thanksgiving, we might forget to seek forgiveness.
Liturgy keeps us focused on the whole Christian experience.

5. It preserves all that is good

As we discussed yesterday, we take the best from every age.  Each new age learns new ways to honour God, but we should not abandon what has worked before.
Then we can truly say we are part of the universal church, and worship with “all the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.”


What I like about the liturgy is that it is flexible and alive, while still following a basic structure.  Sometimes a little structure and order is good, but we need to leave room for the Spirit to move among us, and through us. 

Do you like liturgy? 
Why?  Or Why not?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Liturgy part 1 - Golf

golf ball Golf!  You either love it or hate it, sometimes both in one day.  It is either the worst game in the world, or the best thing ever…. depending if you are having a good swing day.

So what is the purpose of Golf?  To hit the ball with a club, and have it land as close as possible to the flag, preferably right into the hole.  That is all.  Simple.

golf When you started playing golf, did you just read a book, and pick up the club with your one hand and start swinging?  Maybe, but I doubt it helped much.  You might be the one-in-a-million golf prodigy who can just grip-it-and-rip-it with no thought for the basics.

Most people started by choosing a grip.  They based it on the grip that others suggested to them.  The learned from the golfers who had gone before, in terms of what worked and what didn’t. 

golf-grips Some swings felt more comfortable than others, but gradually they determine what is the best grip to achieve the goal.  Getting as close as possible to the flag.


I do have a point here, I promise.

Over time, you gradually develop your own style, and grip.  Your stance changes, all the time in an effort to get the ball closer to the flag.  It is unlikely that you will completely abandon years of wisdom, and try find your own stance.  More likely you will keep the best of it, but make it work for you.

Always keeping your eye on the goal… getting closer to the flag.

Kind of like church traditions and liturgy.

We all have the same goal here, to get closer to God.  Simple.

But unless we are the one-in-a-million spiritual prodigy, we probably won’t be able to do it all at once in our own knowledge.  Instead we follow what other people have done for generations to get closer to him.  We choose to follow the traditions, and words, that other people have found help them to get closer to God.

Of course, over time, we will see what helps us to get closer to Him, and what stands in our way.  We will find a “stance” that is more comfortable to who we are.  We will decide if we like to chip, or drive.  We will figure out what grip is most efficient for us, all with a view to reaching the ultimate goal.

Getting closer to God.

Greater minds than ours have tried for hundreds of years to draw closer to Him, isn’t it arrogance for us to think we can figure it all out on our own?  Isn’t it stupid to try and move away from their wisdom, just because “I don’t need tradition to meet God”?

Don’t forget, the goal is not to be the coolest kid on the golf course.  The goal is to get closer to the flag.

So what about you? 
Do you like liturgy and tradition, or do you just do what feels right?

Tomorrow we will look at this question in a little more depth. 
(And with less sporting terminology)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Church Part 2 – Tree of life

Yesterday we said that the Church was more like a tree than a building, and I think this is a good analogy.


A tree with strong branches from the trunk.  Branches like Ministry (what we do), Creed (what we believe), Scriptures (where we find it), and Sacraments (how we react to it)

Then each big branch grows smaller branches.  Out of Ministry comes the various offices we create in the church: Priests; lay-ministers; pastors; lay-workers.   Out of Creed grows our theology and studies of God.  Out of Scripture grows our bible studies, and devotionals books etc.  Out of Sacrament grows all our services, and ceremonies, our forms of prayer and our liturgies.   

Each smaller branch grows smaller branches, and twigs.  This is the body and life of the tree.

Then on these smaller branches and twigs grow the leaves.  The leaves are the beauty of the Church.  The music, the art, the candles.  The way we present our services.  What people see when they look at our services and our buildings. 

And the fruit that grows is the life of the saints, and humble servants.


So what happens if we start stripping the leaves off?

The tree loses its beauty, but not it’s purpose.  It still grows, and lives, and adapts. 

Even if we start tearing off the twigs and small branches, it is still the same tree. We damage it, but it will grow new branches and twigs, and the purpose of the main branches will still be achieved.

The same way, we can’t get too caught up in the music, and services, and books of prayer etc.  These are what make the Church work, but they are not the Church.  If we took them away, the Church would adapt, and find new ways to express the Scriptures, new ways to minister, new ways to follow our Creed and Sacraments.

But if we start pulling away the main branches, we cripple the tree, and it loses life.

Sometimes we get too caught up in the trappings of our churches, that we lose sight of the Church that Jesus gave to us.  That he commanded us to grow and spread.

Sometimes we can’t see the tree for the branches.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Church part 1 - Growth

I have a lot of issues with the church.  A lot.  I do not deny that.

However, I still believe that it is God’s chosen instrument for bringing salvation and freedom to those in need.  Not that I believe that there is no salvation outside the Church (God is pretty good at surprises after all) but rather that I believe it was the best idea He had, and He gave it to us to run with.  So who am I to have issue with it?

blueprint Jesus could have left us with a fixed picture of his Church.  Like a blue-print for a house.  Then we could have built it exactly to his specifications and design, using lasting material.

building_church_1_The problem with that idea, is that there is not a lot of room for change in a house.  It has solid foundations, but it also has solid walls and roofs.  It doesn’t change easily to adapt to changing times and geography.  

So Jesus left us something better.

He planted a seed.

He planted a seed with the teaching he left with his disciples.

Then he gave them the great commission to start growing it. 
Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Then the seed started to flourish, and it was fertilised on the Day of Pentecost by the Holy Spirit. 

treeGardenA0000 And as it is watered every day with Living Waters, and exposed to SONlight, that seed has grown into a mighty tree.

The Church of God.

<More to follow tomorrow>


Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine’s Day

valentines_dayMen don’t get Valentine’s Day.  Really we don’t.

We say we do…

...but who are we kidding?

We do it anyway though.  Even though we think it is a money-making racket, and we don’t like being told what to do.  Why?

Because Valentine’s day isn’t important to us… but the cause it celebrates is.  The person we choose to spend it with, is.

A lot like choosing to celebrate Christmas or Easter, even though the world makes it about presents and sweets.  Because the reason behind it is still important to us.  And just because we celebrate Jesus every day, doesn’t mean we can’t make an extra effort to remind ourselves what He did for us on those special days.

So I hope you are celebrating V-Day today, even if only a little bit.

Because sometimes we need to celebrate what is important to us, regardless of who’s idea it is.

P.S.  Dori and I are doing well, and will be spending our first Valentine’s Day together tonight.  Otherwise this post might have been 129.7% more cynical than it was.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Faith & Writing #9 – Big Write/Little Write

I love to write by hand.  I enjoy it because it feels good.  I enjoy it because it feels like I am writing, not just working.  I enjoy it because I can do it any time or place.

That last one is a biggie.  I write in an A5 notepad with a hardcover and ring spine, so I can flip it open and pen a few words whenever the notion takes me.  I write in queues, I write in traffic jams, I write in boring meetings, or just wherever I may be. 

This is what I call the “small write.”

It is a lot like prayer.  I don’t wait for a special time and place to pray.  Wherever I am, when the notion takes me, I shoot off a quick word to God.  I tell him how I am feeling, and ask him for help with something.  Or just say “Hi, it’s me.”

But I also like to write at set times.  Like for at least 30 minutes in the morning before I start the day.  It helps me to get the nights thoughts out of my head, and onto paper.  So I commit to an hour of writing in the morning.

This is what I call the “big write”.

I do the big write every day, regardless of whether I feel like it, or whether I have anything interesting to say.  I just write.  Because I need to make a habit of writing if I want to call myself a writer. 

The big write reminds me why I want to be a writer, and the small write reminds me that I am a writer.  I can’t live without both of them.

In the same way, I start each day with set prayer.  I pray at set times, like lunch, or at night, as well.  Even if I don’t feel like praying, or don’t feel like I have anything to say.  I pray, to remind myself that I am a Christian.

The set prayers help me to want to pray throughout the day, because it starts the day right, and keeps me focused on who I am.

“Small prayer” makes my life a Life of Prayer. 
“Big prayer” makes me want a life of prayer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Faith and Writing #8 – Be a pen

MotherTheresa I read an interview with Mother Theresa once, where she said “It is his work. I am like a little pencil in his hand. That is all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used.”

I like that.  It remind me not to get too full of myself, and to remember that while God has a use for me, he is still the one who does the hard work.  I just need to remember to go where he leads me.

The quote refers to us as pencils, but I think pens are also a good analogy.  Some writers, like Athol Fugard use a pen only once.  Each time he starts a new play, he starts it with a fresh pen.  Once the play is finished, he “retires” the pen, and it is framed in a place of honour.

I think it would be easy to get into this mentality.  “My work here is done, let me rest and enjoy the praise of a job well done.”  Expect that that’s not what pens are for.  They aren’t trophies, or decorations.  They only serve their purpose when they are writing.

penstuff And that that’s not the sort of pen God uses.  He likes fountain pens.   Once a pen has been used for a while, it starts to run dry.  If you kept trying to use it, you would damage the paper, and the pen.  So if that happens you need to stop using the pen.  Except God doesn’t want to stop using us.  He doesn’t want to damage us, or the paper.  So he offers free refills.  Like an old fashioned pen with the ink-reservoir, we are always able to be easily re-filled. 

So what sort of pen are you?  The sort that fights the hand that holds it?  The sort that takes pride in it’s writing?  Or the sort that says “Use me up, and refill me.  I am here to spread the words you give me, because that is my purpose as a pen.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011