Engaging Worship and Culture
From last Sunday evening through Tuesday noon, I attended a worship conference sponsored by the ELCA's headquarters in Chicago. We met in beautiful bucolic beachside Santa Monica, but the weather all three days was rainy and chilly. Too bad for our visitors from out of town!
Presenters and other participants spent time exploring the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture; the ecumenical document describes worship that
...relates dynamically to culture in at least four ways. First, it is transcultural, the same substance for everyone everywhere, beyond culture. Second, it is contextual, varying according to the local situation (both nature and culture). Third, it is counter-cultural, challenging what is contrary to the Gospel in a given culture. Fourth, it is cross-cultural, making possible sharing between different local cultures.Worship is one of my passions—I've written almost nothing here and shared in person very little about my overwhelming disappointment first missing out on the worship specialist gig at the mission church in City of History that never happened because the judicatory recalled the pastor-missioner and the remaining people had zero interest in implementing his 5-year plan (church since has disbanded); then later not having the opportunity to walk alongside church in Previous City and dialogue them into developing more substantial, ecumenical, historically-sourced liturgy. Former choir director informed me she'd told the pastor "...he had someone right in the congregation who could help that church develop its worship to what it needed to be," but CD also said to me, "I don't know what the pastor will do about it." He did nothing. I'd intentionally been preparing to serve on the next hymnal committee; I'm not sure how much changing denominations interfered with my plan, but other life interruptions were strong factors. So yes, I'm still developing my knowledge of worship practices across centuries and across cultures and even ordered a leader guide for the Three Days /Triduum from the Augsburg Fortress representative. But more than anything, the worship symposium's emphasis on culture grabbed me as I continue to work through where God is calling me to serve, what God is calling me to do.
Mission and Culture
More than a dozen years ago when the old UCC online forums got me back to thinking theologically and talking theology, we discussed several outstanding books related mostly to foreign, non-USA-based mission. Worship at the Center made me remember points and passages from some of those missiology books, but two incidents especially started me re-thinking about where and who I might serve soon. One of our breakout groups was Preaching and Proclamation: A Reflective Exploration based on Nairobi, facilitated by Gettysburg College chaplain Joseph Donnella. A seminarian in the group mentioned she speaks, reads, and translates Chinese (didn't say which variety), so people have been thinking she might serve a Chinese-speaking church. That was after Joseph told us about his experiences serving in Saint Croix and how he worked hard toward becoming sufficiently comfortable and fluent in the spoken language and in the cultural milieu that an outsider wouldn't be able to distinguish him from an insider "native-born" to that place and that way of being.
In my own journey, bi-cultural or multi-cultural has meant the other culture would be African-American. Forever my neighbors, classmates, coworkers, colleagues, housemates, and friends have included Black Americans from a multitude of backgrounds. I was born deep in the American South; wherever you prepare it, whoever makes it, Southern food is Soul Food is Southern cuisine is Soul Food. I don't talk Ebonics any more, but might again if the setting encouraged it. The soundtrack of my life and world includes rhythm, symphonic band, blues, symphony orchestra, Huey Lewis, Nashville, Motown, and music I've yet to discover.
Worship and Every Day
We consider the historical setting, inclusivity, and eschatological promise of the Eucharist a model for our out in the world interactions after we leave the Sunday or feast day assembly. The Lord's Supper/ Holy Communion intrinsically contains all four emphases of the Nairobi Statement; our everyday lives as we relate to each other need to parallel the Nairobi statement's description of worship as...
• Transcultural—beyond any specific culture. Outside of worship, that would include basic human needs for food, water, shelter, community, sleep, and hope, that different locales sometimes allow for differently. Notice how worship addresses those needs in a microcosmic manner? I'm uncertain about "sleep", though liturgy does include pauses and breaks.
• Contextual—locally sourced in nature and culture. Depends on agricultural products, building materials, particular employment and education opps. Musical and artistic expressions are human universals, but like food and manner of dress, do those ever vary! Some music uses different scales and harmonies than any conventional Western music. There are local, indigenous musical instruments, too; visual artists enjoy exploiting natural materials found mostly where they live.
• Counter-Cultural—challenging gospel values. An easy one would be excessive consumerism, pretentious bling that often isn't even attractive, both challenged by reusing, recycling, repurposing, buying locally, growing your own, living and dressing modestly. Elite clubs that exclude certain types of people? Does anyone need a 120,000 square foot dwelling?
• Cross-Cultural—sharing between different local cultures. Is cultural (mis)-appropriation still a major concern? Maybe this community over here loves the music and the sartorial style of those newcomers to this area. Let's get together with a potluck and some singing! By definition Christianity is incarnational; Jesus of Nazareth lived on earth in a body like ours, and in a manner consonant with local geography and culture. In the course of his public ministry Jesus partied and identified with outcasts, foreigners, marginalized, and others not part of conventional polite society, people very different from his family of origin. I tend to be a foodie, but I fondly remember Tongan cuisine; I also remember how they appreciated my enthusiasm at their parties and picnics. Cultural appropriation? Isn't that what the missionary or teacher or pastor of an ethnic group not their own does? Sample the food. Wear a garment made of fabric woven locally and sewn by one of the folk you serve. Those are incarnational behaviors! In their famous song "In Christ Alone," The Newsboys sing, "In Christ alone, who took on flesh." That would be our skin and sinews and bones; it would be our cultural practices and propensities, our ordinary schedules. Because Jesus gave up some of his druthers in the same way we (hopefully) abandon some of our own preferences for the comfort, the good, and the better life of the other, The Newsboys remind us, "Here in the death of Christ I live." May our neighbors find new and restored life, as they live in our own daily "little deaths!"
Especially when you consider both phenotype and genotype, people are people! On this blog I've mentioned a high school girl in my City of History youth group whose genotype was African-American, but whose speech, style, and expectations – elements of her phenotype – were very middle-class Caucasian. There were other kids in that group with mostly European genetic heritage whose clothing, language, and overall self-presentation was characteristically (local) African-American. There were a few Caribbean Islanders —I don't know why I haven't seriously considered more formal involvement with a Spanish-speaking congregation. My first week ever in California many moons ago, the first ever thing I did was find a Spanish class. I did ok with the Latino/a component of the North Park Church; as long as I don't think too hard, I can communicate well enough en español. Then there were the Tongan United Methodists with their "gift of music and gift of food." Gift of hospitality, too, for sure. Interim pastor at the PCUSA in Previous City and I talked a few times about my experiences with the Tongans, his with the Koreans.
It looks as if I've found an affordable, long-term place and hope to move in a week or ten days. What will I be asking God, the people around me, and my own heart? I'll keep pondering aspects of God's always call to all of us to bloom where we are, to seek the welfare and well-being of this place under our feet. Not necessarily hankering after foreign lands and exotic places, but at times our fascination with those is a sign of God's future for us. What have I been asking God and the people around me? What does my heart yearn for? Do I dare say more?