Thinking Out Loud

March 1, 2020

Growing Up Lent-less

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:17 am

I posted this as part of the comments at Internet Monk yesterday. If you wish, I encourage you to read all the comment threads there on the topic of Lent.

Growing up Evangelical, much of the liturgical calendar was foreign to me, if it even registered on my radar at all. Working in a Christian bookstore environment allowed me to connect with people of all denominations, and so I became aware of Advent, and today in our corner of the world, many Evangelical denominations light Advent candles and incorporate the themes of each week in the teaching time. I hope this is more than just appropriation.

Similarly, I am seeing Lent becoming increasingly visible. While some of the above comments have centered on its profile in the Roman Catholic church, I think we can look to the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition for a good model of how to process through these 40 days and also make a better distinction between Good Friday worship and Easter Sunday worship. It’s so easy in our North American and Western European mindset to rush through the observances in light of how we know the story ends. But as Jesus moves toward the cross knowing the bigger picture, his disciples have no such luxury; the story will only become clear to them with the benefit of hindsight.

This was best expressed for us in a Tenebrae service we attended. If you have the opportunity, don’t miss it. There is simply darkness at the end. And you feel it. That day, that holy Saturday between crucifixion and resurrection. Who could possibly know the mind of those disciples during those hours? And then later, you consider that 90% of your Evangelical friends have probably never been to a service quite like this.

To which I say, ‘Lent? Bring it on! Bring on the deeper meaning. Bring on the silence. Bring on the heightened identification of Christ’s death.’ We’ve done it the other way. We need this greater measure of awe, mystery and reverence right now.

February 4, 2020

Mass Appeal

guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

I am a Protestant. I grew up in Evangelical circles, went to a Pentecostal church in high school, worked at an interdenominational summer camp, and attended a Reformed university where I sang some Anglican evensongs; then I went to an Anglican church for a while after graduating. There are bits and bursts of Baptist mixed in there and I currently go to an Anabaptist home church during the week.

In each of these churches, I found things I liked and didn’t like. I prefer to focus on the things I like because it’s more enjoyable and more useful. This was my attitude when I took my first tentative steps into the Roman Catholic church choir that I have been singing with for two years.

This past Christmas my father asked me if there were any aspects of the Roman service which I would commend to fellow Protestants. I figured I’d give my answer in the more organized form of a blog post. I do also have my criticisms, and there are Catholic things outside the Mass that I also appreciate, and furthermore there are other traditions and denominations which may capitalize on these traits – But these are what I personally experienced first or best while sitting in a Catholic pew.

1. Textual History (Or “There were Christians between Paul and Luther?”)

The churches I grew up in derived most of their prayers and lyrics either from adapted Bible passages, or else they were entirely the writer’s own words. One time in the Pentecostal church we recited the Apostles’ Creed, but most of what we said or sang was new and original.

The Catholic services have introduced me to texts and lyrics which are an unappreciated treasure trove of inspirations. I never knew growing up that All Creatures Of Our God And King had a grandparent in Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, nor did I know that O Come O Come Emmanuel was adapted from the O Antiphons. Ave Verum, O Magnum Mysterium, and Pange Lingua (both of them) are all quite deserving of further attention and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence has become a favourite of mine.

Some texts may be doctrinally improper for a Protestant service but it’s at least worth appreciating that Jesus-loving people in our shared spiritual history have valued the Ave Maria or Adam Lay Ybounden. Lyrics and prayers that are complete innovations often feel egocentric, intellectually stale, and full of vague sentiment. Not always, of course. I rather like Oceans. But if we are striving to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths then this should be reflected in our art and good artists study the history of their craft. Richer lyrics will be more transformative and engaging than shallow ones.

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David Wesley is a great musician who deserves nothing but praise, but to illustrate my point here’s his Evolution of Worship Music which gives less than 60 seconds to 1500 years of church music. It’s not his fault, it’s just our worship climate. On a hopeful note, Be Thou My Vision is a great example of a rich old text enduring.

2. Dialogue (Or “Can I do something?”)

We all know that when the preacher says “In closing” or “My final point” we’re about 15 minutes away from the end of the sermon. And I can’t be the only one who has thought “Is this the 4th song in the set or the 5th? Haven’t we done this verse already? Can I sit down now?”

Ecce_Agnus_Dei

A missal I was reading once described the structure of the Mass as a sort of dialogue. What happens on the platform represents the work of God and what happens in the pews is the work of His people, and the two respond to one another. We sing praises to God and He, by the priest, gives us His blessing. We speak to Him by our prayers and songs and He speaks to us by the reading of His word. We give gifts to God in the offering and He gifts us with His own body and blood in the Eucharist.

And speaking of the offering, our choir director has started calling the offertory music “The Musical Offering.” I like that. It’s like the music itself is a gift to God and not just background music while you fish out your loose change.

Add to this structure the lay-roles of eucharistic ministers, altar servers, lectors, cantors, etc., and you get a service where A) You get to do something, and B) Your actions have a more defined purpose. Some people can sit passively through a 90+ minute service. I cannot. I like having a role to play.

3. Solemnity (Or “Can we all just calm down?”)

I have occasionally heard it implied or stated that the summit of Christian spirituality is being passionate and excited about Jesus. I love seeing charismatic churches thriving, but I personally am in more need of a God who can calm me down.

The structure and routine of a liturgical service lets a person put aside their personal feelings and circumstances to participate in something bigger than themselves. Many Protestant churches have the ideal of ‘laying everything at the feet of Jesus’ but ritual and routine make that ideal practicable. It’s a lot like acting in a play and reciting the lines of your character. It lets you experience and participate in something bigger than, and outside of, yourself. That often leaves me with my personal struggles seeming smaller afterwards.

Some Protestants worry that doing the same thing every week becomes mindless and robotic, and that is a possible danger. However, the other possibility is that the consistency of the service starts to reflect and represent God’s eternality and dependability, even as we encounter him in our many various changeable moods. And similarly, I think we find that one prayer or song can have many different nuances that emerge as we encounter them in different states.

church

In all three of these areas, my intent is not to throw shade at protestant services or to elevate the Mass as the ideal service. I do find it refreshing to go to a more familiar kind of service after being at the Catholic church for a stretch. Nevertheless, I’ve gained quite a bit from my experience in the Mass so far and I would love to share what I’ve learned.

I could say more but I’ll have to end it there because, as I write this, it’s time to go to choir practice.


Aaron is an English and Theatre graduate of Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. He is a tea connoisseur, actor, student of Norse poetry, and Uncle to his roommate’s three chihuahuas.

March 16, 2019

The Language of the Humble

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:48 am

Guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

Nelson Mandela is often quoted on the internet as having said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I don’t know if he actually said that but it’s a good quote. However, there may be exceptions.

At the beginning of the year I drafted a regimen by which I would read through the book of Psalms – 7 every week (one every day would inevitably fall apart and I’m a week behind as it is). But just reading through one translation is boring so I decided to make it more interesting. People often recommend reading two translations side by side to get the bigger picture of the translated text. If you can, you can expand on this by reading in two different languages. I got my hands on an Italian bible over Christmas, so off I went.

This exercise has lead to all sorts of fun discoveries, many of a sort that I anticipated, but others that were rather surprising.

When you hear the same words over and over again from birth, they can become stuck. You stop thinking about what they mean and they become just noise. In the best of cases, I find repeated texts always have something new to offer as I encounter them in different situations. Like a gem that rotates and refracts light in different ways, or a tree that always yields fruit. In the worst cases, the words get stuck and need a jump start.

When I read Psalm 10, I skimmed the words “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted,” without really paying attention. I think I see the words “O, Lord” and think, Okay, whatever follows is going to be abstract theology language that doesn’t reflect how real people talk or think or feel. Then I compared the Italian, which says ‘the desires of the humble (umili).’

I was comparing afflicted and humble and suddenly the words became faces. Whenever I go through the downtown there are people asking for change. I don’t carry cash and have nothing to offer, so I apologize and move on if I don’t cross to the other side of the street. I often ignore the humble and afflicted, and that’s just when they ask for spare change. Who knows what their desires are for their relationships, housing situations, etc. Apparently God does.

And heck, if he can hear their desires, surely he can hear mine!

I hear this kind of language every day and it doesn’t go to my heart. It gets stuck and it needs some percussive maintenance to get it moving again. I’m sure that God both hears us and speaks to us in our own language, but sometimes it’s worth switching that language up so that we know we’re paying attention.


Aaron Wilkinson blogs when inspiration strikes at Vox Surrantis: Voice of One Whispering

September 27, 2018

A Worship Liturgy on Sin and Forgiveness

For the past few months, Ruth has increased her role as a contributor to Christianity 201. For last Sunday, she provided not only text, but two images and two song suggestions. After taking the time to format everything, I decided to share it here as well.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

March 1, 2018

Cricket, Cricket

Many of us aren’t fans of the part of the church service where someone leads us into a pause for silent reflection. Part of us dies inside waiting for the sound waves to begin re-commencing. We become aware of our own breathing and then we swallow. Someone coughs. We hope we turned our phone off, as this would be the worst time for our particular ringtone.

I’m currently starting four mornings this week with The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence, a short book written by Henri Nouwen  in 1981. The book was written primarily to church leaders, but I love how he nails it on this subject in terms of what we all experience in such moments, which, as the rest as the rest of the book explains so well, is something much needed.

One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness. Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow. For them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up.

As soon as a minister says during a worship service, “Let us be silent for a few moments,” people tend to become restless and pre-occupied with only one thought: “When will this be over?” Imposed silence often creates hostility and resentment.

Many ministers who have experimented with silence in their services have soon found out that silence can be more demonic than divine and have quickly picked up the signals that were saying: “Please keep talking.” It is quite understandable that most forms of ministry avoid silence precisely so as to ward off the anxiety it provokes.

~Way of the Heart, pg. 52

I was intrigued by the line, “silence can be more demonic than divine.” I wonder what other well-intentioned forms and elements in our worship services are producing the opposite effect to what is intended because of the way we’re wired? 


There was another line in this section where Nouwen spoke of “driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words…” (p. 38) We crave constant input now more than ever.

There’s another excerpt from the Prologue to this book being posted tomorrow at our sister blog, C201.

A revised version of the book was published in 2003.

A few years ago I compiled a number of quotations from Henri Nouwen. They are collected at this link.

July 10, 2017

If I Pray It But Don’t Live It

Yesterday and today we’re featuring the better writer in the family, my loving wife Ruth Wilkinson. This is a liturgical type of reading she wrote for our church service last week.

If I pray “Our Father”
and then fail to come to you as a child, trusting and learning –
Forgive me.

If I pray “who art in Heaven”
and then spend all my energy on earthly things –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Holy is your name”
and then, carrying your name, live unholy –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done”
and then fail to listen for and obey your voice on Earth –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Give us our daily bread”
and then ignore the immediate and desperate needs of others –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
and then choose to go where I know I’ll be tempted –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the kingdom”
and then fight for my own rights and my own way –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the power”
and then live according to what my neighbours or friends or society might say or do –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Forgive me”
and then hold grudges and dig in my heels –
Lead me in your way.
Give me your strength, your grace and your love for those around me.

So that I can pray “Amen”.

“So be it.”

“Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”

Forever.

Amen.

March 26, 2016

A New Holy Week Experience

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Last night for the first time, we attended a Tenebrae service in an Anglican (Canadian equivalent of Episcopal) Church. We like adventure. Wikipedia defines it best:

Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”) is a Christian religious service celebrated in the Holy Week within Western Christianity, on the evening before or early morning of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Tenebrae is distinctive for its gradual extinguishing of candles while a series of readings and psalms are chanted or recited.

Very different from the Evangelical service I’d attended almost twelve hours earlier the same day. That one had 1,500 people over 3 services. This one had about 50 of us in a small church building that’s only 4 years away from being 200 years old. No welcome and announcements. No offering. No homily or sermon. No musical instruments. Just 100% scripture, either sung or spoken.

Probably the most striking feature was the use of texts not normally associated with Holy Week. Excerpts from Lamentations, and the use of Psalm 51 (and Psalm 150) seemed unusual given our place in the church calendar. I felt like the idea was to capture the emptiness, the bleakness that The Twelve, the women and the friends of Jesus would have felt at the cross, and that evening, and into Saturday.

What did they talk about? They were scattered somewhat, but they would have had homes to return to. We know some discussed a return to fishing. Did Matthew think about looking up his friends in the Tax Department?

What went through their minds?

That’s my subjective take on it. I can’t speak for what others were thinking. I would love to speak with those who wrote the liturgy.

At the end, the officiants, the choir and the congregation all leave in silence. Actually, we drove several blocks before anyone said anything. I’m a very social person and saw a few people we knew, and normally, on an occasion like this I would have struck up a conversation, but instead we left; us to our home, them to theirs.

My wife described it as “quiet, and thoughtful and centering.”

All in all, it was a service and a form we had never witnessed before where we came with no preconceived notions, no basis of comparison; and left with our thoughts full.


In contrast to the music we heard last night; our video today is a repeat of a song we’ve used here before. At The Foot of the Cross performed by Kathryn Scott.


Yesterday’s post at Christianity 201 started out as a simply copy-and-paste of an older article with a few quick revisions, but was expanded and after and hour of consideration became much more.

October 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Sunset - Mark BattersonThis is another photograph in a continuing series by people known to readers here; this sunset was taken Monday night by author and pastor Mark Batterson.

 

On Monday I raked leaves and collected links; you could call it my own little feast of ingathering.

Paul Wilkinson’s wisdom and Christian multi-level business opportunities — “just drop by our house tomorrow night, we have something wonderful we’d like to share with you” — can be gleaned the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and in the Twitterverse

From the archives:
The problem with out-of-office email notifications:


Lost in translation: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers – but the Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” …Read the whole 2008 BBC News story here.

July 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

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I was looking around for pictures of the 2014 Wild Goose Festival, and found this one from 2013.  Anyone know the backstory on this?

Now that the eye burn-in from weekend fireworks has faded, it’s time to see what people have been reading over the past few days:

Not sure of the origin of the picture below. It was captioned, “What Happened to the Dinosaurs” and the picture file was labeled “Shoo!”

What Happened to the Dinosaurs

July 2, 2014

Wednesday Link List

hypocrites

A Happy Independence Day to our U.S. readers and a one-day belated Happy Canada Day to readers in the land north of the 49th. On with the linkage…

When not playing one of the 820 Solitaire variants while listening to sermon podcasts, Paul Wilkinson blogs at at Thinking Out Loud, edits the devotional blog Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

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