And I am offended. My generation deserves better from our mentor and parent, the church. Because we know intuitively that the church has a backbone, and we wish she would show it. Her backbone is Scripture, and the nerve passing the Message to the rest of the body is the tradition, the liturgy.

This is where Christ’s unmasking of our sinfulness comes in, according to Barth. The only way to realize the all important “i” has taken over your universe is to come up against the un-movable, un-changable, and incomprehensible “Thou.”  Augustine described original sin- the sin inherent to all people- as spiritual scoliosis. Sin turns us inward and downward such that we could no longer look forward to behold our natural end: God. Instead we shuffle along pondering our own toes.

How to cure the spiritual Quasimodo? Ringing the bell: calling the people to worship. To deconstruct the lie of the “me” generation- a group of people  ipod, iphone, and imac obsessed demands introduction to the I AM. Teach a bent spine how to walk upright-  put it in a brace. To teach a curved spirit: brace it with praise. Teach mute lips the words of scripture. Lift limp arms and tone weary hearts. Bend stiff knees, and above all: lift sore eyes.

A down pillow will not straighten a curved spine. Neither, then, will worship that merely appeases the need to feel good. I’m not saying worship shouldn’t feel good some times, it does. But learning to become God’s disciple won’t always feel ‘good.’ It won’t fit an agenda. Worship isn’t a spa.

But it is a hospital. Jesus said he came for those who needed a physician. That would be us. Jesus shows us our scolisis of the spirit and then goes a step farther. He gives us His Spirit so we can literally straighten up. Thats why two thousand years of Christians have worshiped in His Spirit and truth. For two thousand years the church has been straightening the hunched and reviving the dead.

We are, in fact, the poor in spirit… at least most of us are. In the suffrages in the Book of Common Prayer (Rites I&II for Morning and Evening Prayer), there is a beautiful petition that strikes me each morning: “Let not the needy be forgotten, O Lord, nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” As I wrestled with what is lost by changing the liturgy in order to “attract” younger worshipers this petition kept popping into my head and heart. Christ is our hope, and we can only receive Christ through the tradition of the Church, the body of Christ. If that tradition is abandoned for the sake of the chic, we have no hope.

If the church seduces the “me” generation with a mere reproduction of ourselves we will feel comfortable, but we’ll be comfortably dead. If she draws us to our own image, we will drown in ourselves like Narcissus. But if she holds out hope for is, we may learn how to hope for ourselves. And for one whose hopes in Christ, all things are possible.

“…Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Restore in us a clean heart, and sustain a right spirit within us….” Amen.

“She’s got a don’t mess with me attitude
She’ll close a deal – she don’t reveal that she can feel
The loneliness the emptiness
Except when she comes in here.
She’s the product of the Me generation…
and she yells Hell yeah!” – Montgomery Gentry

The “me generation” in a nutshell: we all feel empty and cover it up by yelling “hell yeah” all the louder. We’re the young people the church is falling all over itself to attract. We’re the ones she’s trying so hard to imitate lately. And I have to say- I’m a little offended.

Why in the world would the Church want to look like generation me? Not in word, but by her deeds the Church grimly admits that the me generation is unredeemable. The church seems to be masking it’s inability to make us look like the Church by making the church look like us. But by changing herself to look like us the church abandons us to be: self-obsessed, self- consumed, and ultimately– damned to ourselves, by ourselves, and for ourselves.

That is the result when the church believes it must mirror culture, must be an exact replica of the world, in order to “save” generation me. It’s as if the church fears dying so much, that she convinced herself she’s the one who needs us. She’s forgets that we’re the ones who need HER. All of a sudden the bride of Christ has started trying to attract a younger suitor, and she’s changing her clothes. She’s yelling things like, “hell yeah.”

Sixty years in advance, Karl Barth tackles generation me. He tackles us as the pinnacle of sin: the self made man, the man of sin. Neither this generation, nor the generations before fooled Barth with our delusions of individuality, our delusions that ultimately one can (and should) “have it your way.” No, he writes. Ultimately a man or woman having it their individual way is no more than sin: the progeny of Adam. There is only one way to be: the way of God who is Christ. There is only The Way- apart from Christ there is no my way, because there is no way at all.

For two thousand years the church has traveled by the narrow Way. Yes, yes, once you are on this way it becomes a “broad and royal road,” as St. Teresa says. But it is the narrow way because apart from the way of Christ, whose Spirit we affirm guides the church, there is no way at all. Suddenly though, the church seems to be trying to detour by way of generation me instead of simply building an on ramp to the Way, whom she worships, adores, glorifies, and imitates.

Opening Sentences

November 9, 2009

Theologically, Barth and Anselm make a good point about getting the first things we say right, because on them all the rest hangs. Prologomena, the first things to be said,  make the argument before it is set forth. If the first things are said correctly, the path is laid out, and with the path laid out the destination is sure. Think of it like a GPS: it matters what coordinates you plug in at the beginning. But no matter how many turns and twists, flat tires, or fights with fellow passengers you might have along the way, you are sure of reaching a certain destination.

Recently I’ve changed the wording on my Goodson Chapel services so they begin with a ‘call to worship.’ From what I can tell that’s the appropriate title. But I really liked calling them the ‘opening sentences,’ and I might change their title again next semester.

It still makes sense to me: the processional hymn functions as a call in my mind. We don’t need to be recalled when the singing (particularly for the Methodists) has already called us. By our singing our bodies are oriented: standing, facing the cross, facing the worship leaders. We’ve already been called, we do not need a beginning to worship. We specifically need a beginning to our corporate speech to and with God. Hence, I always called them the ‘opening sentences.’ There’s a call and response phenomenon in them that fit the ‘call to worship phrase.’ But there is a subtler movement in them that lays forth how the speech of worship will proceed that morning.

The first things we do in worship matter, they chart our course. The opening sentences are to liturgy what prologomena is to theology. They are the “start address” for the google map of the worshiping body. It matters what we say first.

If it matters what we say first, all that is said along the way must also matter. You don’t plug in the address to google maps and leave the directions at home. (Well I occasionally do but that’s stupidity, coming into play not intentionality.) Worship matters: scripture attests that it’s structure and content shape and create the people of God (think the tabernacle, think Isaiah 6, think John’s Gospel). Israel isn’t biologically constituted, but liturgically constituted. Likewise, the Church is the temple not raise with hands, but constituted by raised hands: a house of prayer for all people.

Worship matters, it’s time to take it seriously.

Beginning Advent 2009

*Opening Sentences:
Let us worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Come, let us adore him.

*Please stand as you are able.