Saturday, July 19, 2008

A simple problem that I cannot solve

One of the more difficult tasks facing inherent idealists such as myself is to what extent our faith groups must accommodate the cultures in which they reside.

There is a strange negative reciprocity within faith groups on how to do meaningful ministry in a culture that most regard as hostile towards basic Christian morals. On the one end you have the accommodationists, who can run the gammut from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Both of them share the same basic idea, however different they may appear. They both buy into the model that says worship styles and ethical understandings are highly inculturated, and must be so, both for the attraction of new membership, and also for easing the transition between internal and external identity. They both tap into the same need to engage the culture on its own terms, and accept whichever of a couple of options we find ourselves left with. In this respect, they're very much in line with the two-party American political system.

Then there are the outcasts. I suppose my little Orthodox crew has to be considered as one of these as much as anyone. We tend to view that our culture is itself the problem, and conversion into our ranks is simply assumed to be a culutral change (or at least the choice of a distinctive subculture), and it is also assumed that some of our cornerstone teachings are too transcendent to be compromised. Indeed we tend to feel that any tweaking of the way we do this is a step in the wrong direction, as it threatens the intricate complex of interlocking self-definitions that make us distinct. For example, Baptist feel free to scrap whole forms of worship when they are deemed "not relevant" to youth, whereas most Orthodox pop gaskets if you propose even modest liturgical shifts.

So I find myself in this quandry. What is the balance? Should the particulars of worship forms and wording of dogmatic formulae be considered "packaging" that must shift in time and place, or is it true that shifts automatically represent a subtle departure that indirectly affect a longstanding ethos that has been responsible for creating those particulars. Can a non-Eastern liturgy really say the same thing? Must the spoon give way to the wafer, the wine to grape juice, and the daily repetition of set prayers to more emotive impromptus? Can the relatively simplistic "praise and worship" music of today truly touch the depths of spirituality of hymns that have been reviewed for hundreds of years for their precision and cyclic "feel" within a coherent cycle of worship?

Obviously I have chosen what I prefer, but I cannot help but look at those I consider very deep Christians who seem to have gotten there by other means. I also cannot help but look at those around me and wonder if the treasures I have found in accepting an alien brand of my faith can be meaningfully imparted in Greco-Roman clothing? Can I really see farmers in small town Arkansas ever coming en masse to be at home with methods and allusions that are not the creations of their forefathers? Or must I meet them "where they are"? And if so, what must be compromised to journey there with them?

It's a simple quandry, but one that I am completely unable to solve.


Blogger Amber said...

Ray? Is that you? Fellow blogger? How exciting.

Jesus, I think, is pretty much a meet-you-where-you-are type of guy, thank goodness.

Hey, check out Seth's blog,

He talks about this a bit in his latest stuff.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

I wonder if the balance does not lie within the heart (or the motivation). What drives the shift to more modern modes of worship? Is it an attempt to rebel from the "old time religion" of our forefathers, the stale-bread, dusty book faith with no passion? Or is it an attempt to find God in the midst of the rock-and-roll? In other words, is it rebellious, or inspired.

Likewise, what causes some (yourself no doubt) to stick it to the modernists (or the emergent)? Is it the desire to stay separated from the materialistic garbage that fills the majority of our modern "worship centers", or is a sort of counter-cultural rebellion for the sake of being "vintage" (a word that has recently bugged me a good bit).

Either way, if steeped in rebellion, its "wonky" (a new word I picked up from Cormac last night).

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course, we need to remember how assimilated the early church (by early, i suppose i mean post-constantine, when it was actually seen as legitimate) was to its own culture. look around rome; it's no coincidence that a christian symbol has been plopped onto virtually every roman building extant. of course, this is a far cry from the assimilation of culture in "praise and worship" music. one could argue (with appropriate immaturity) that one is lame and the other is badass. can you guess which? =)

10:06 AM  

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