Why the Supreme Court is Right about Same-Sex Marriage

Over the past couple of days I’ve read a lot of stuff about Friday’s Supreme Court decision on the Obergefell case. Some of what I’ve read has been thoughtful, but to be honest, much of it hasn’t.  I understand that there are people who have strong feelings on the issue, and will react one way or another without any actual understanding or opinions on the legal issues involved, and that’s okay.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  The Obergefell decision actual makes this point:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

However, I’ve also read some things that are positively wacko, claiming things like the Supreme Court didn’t have the right to make this decision, or that it will result in the end of the world as we know it.

The Supreme Court’s job – when they do it properly – is to rule on the constitutionality of an issue. They are not to make moral or emotional decisions based on their own whims or feelings, but to look at the specific issues that are sent to them, and apply the Constitution to those issues.

In this case, I believe the Supreme Court not only made the correct decision, but that they made the only reasonable decision.  They were looking at 2 issues: Whether a state could deny marriage rights to same-sex couples, and if same-sex marriages would be recognized in states where same-sex marriage was not legal.  The court looked at the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens.

It should be noted that the Supreme Court is not a religious institution, and looks at marriage from a legal persepctive, not a spiritual or religious one. And the Constitution doesn’t care how your religion defines marriage (or we would have to ask, “which religion?”). It is a legal definition, not a spiritual one.  And marriage, from a legal standpoint, means having certain rights relating to things like insurance coverage, taxation, citizenship, and estate issues.  Equal rights to marry essentially means that these various legal benefits are now available to everyone involved in a committed relationship.

The ruling is not going to result in more same-sex couples cohabitatng. It simply meand that they can’t be denied the same legal rights as other couples. And, under the 14th Amendment, that is correct. Basically, there is no Constitutional basis for denying same-sex couples these rights. The decision also means that the confusion created by marriages in one state not being recognized in another state will not be an issue.  Under the Constitution, and by simple common sense, it would seem that this is the only reasonable decision the Supreme Court could have made.  If we still believe in equality under the law. Some may not like it, but equal rights are equal rights.

Endnote: I am making no comments here about whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong or how the Bible is to be interpreted. I am only saying that according to the Constitution and the laws of the land, I believe the SC decision was the correct one, and it is a civil rights victory for the LGBT community.

Searching For Sunday

I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.  I know, this goes against my typical bias against reading anything too trendy. However, I really didn’t know much Ms. Evans, only that I’ve really appreciated a few snippets I’ve read over the past few months, so she stood out as someone – like Nadia Bolz-Weber – who might have something unique to contribute.

I liked it.

Evans is first and foremost a writer. She is not a theologian, or a professor, or a pastor. She writes about life, often her own life, from her perspective, and she doesn’t attempt to do anything else. She is also intelligent, insightful, and honest, which again, makes her a pretty decent writer.

Searching for Sunday is a collection of essays about life in and outside of the church, organized around seven oft-recognized sacraments. Some bits are historical, some are 3rd person narrative, and some share her own life story as it relates to church. While seeming a bit disjointed at times, as a collection of essays often does, I realized that what she is doing is painting a mural of the church from her perspective. You don’t see the point if you look at the individual brush strokes, although you can find a lot to appreciate in those strokes and the colors used. But once you stand back and take it in as a whole, you see what she has created.

In her individual strokes she deals with many hot-button topics, like women in the church, GLBT issues, legalism, etc., but she deals with them as a story-teller, not as an apologist. Again, this is her perspective. And again, she has a lot of insights, and I would guess that anyone who doesn’t just simply shut her out will find a lot to think about, whether you agree with her perspective or not.

If you can back away from the individual brush-strokes enough to see her full picture, I think many – especially those who have only known the contemporary evangelical church – will be faced with a portrait of the church they’ve not really considered prior. For the “dones” – those who have declared themselves done with the church – the book may present a way back in. Or not.  But in any event, I think Evans has painted a portrait of the church worth appreciating.

This I Know 2.0 – An Unapologetic Apologetic 

Over my nearly 60 years of life, I have had only a handful of revelations that have had a lasting impact on me. I can recall specific details about each experience and by and large they were fairly mundane, but the specific epiphanies would change how I saw things from that point on. I mention this only to provide a little background on one I had perhaps 5 years ago.

As with the others, this was not a Damascus Road experience; rather, it was more of an Emmaus Road revelation, like having a mist lifted so that you see more clearly where you are already walking. And, as much of my brilliant thoughts do, it came while I was thinking about something entirely unrelated.

My revelation was simply this: I still believed in the same God I believed in as a child.  

That’s it. 

It may seem underwhelming to you, but 5 years or so later, I am still aware of this reality. It is now foundational to who I am. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that I have simply maintained my death-grip on my childhood beliefs, because that’s not true. My theology has changed over the years – several times, in fact. I have been around the block, so to speak, more laps than most. While I, out of youth and ignorance, was impacted by various pop theologies and trends over the years, I have maintained my simple belief in God, and that Jesus loves me, this I know. I have rejected more doctrines and beliefs throughout my life than many people have ever encountered. Many were illogical in some form or other, some were stupid, and a few were just bat-shit crazy (that’s a common theological term). 

In spite of traveling in and out of various evangelical, charismatic, sometimes wacky, ancient liturgical, emergent, and often boring intellectual Christian churches and groups, in spite of moving from moderate to conservative to something else, and in spite of being led through a morass of theological trends, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child. 

I’ve had many, many people try to talk me out of it. I’ve been dispensationalized, fundamentalated, legalized, charismatized, jeopardized, and tribulated. I’ve gutted my library of trash theology more than once. And in the end, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child. 

Now, smart atheists will tell me this proves that religion is a product of our environment, that if I grew up believing in Some Other God, that’s who I’d believe in today. Granted, exposure is an obvious factor in belief. Paul says this himself in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” However, I know many, many people who believe differently today than they did as children. Tons. So, I’d have to say that while I truly appreciate the fact that I was raised a Christian, I’d have to say that what I believe today is not because of what I believed as a child (I believed in Santa Claus then, too).  

Now, I have heard and read many testimonies of people who have rejected the beliefs they were raised with, and as a result they have concluded that they don’t believe in God. Some of them even have blogs where they love to talk about what they no longer believe. This unbelief in God is an understandable leap of logic, I guess, but generally I find that it’s lazy as well as illogical. I hear these stories and think, So what? I reject those things, too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. You don’t reject all pizza because you don’t like anchovies.  

So back to the profundity of my revelation, specifically related to current belief and unbelief trends. When people are leaving the church and faith in droves, is it perhaps because they were never taught the truth about God in the first place? When the illogic and absurdity and hype and the control-freakism of religious traditions come crashing down, is there anything left to believe in?  

For me, there was. I rejected dispensationalism and God was the same. I rejected legalism and God was the same. I rejected penal substitutionary atonement and God was the same. I rejected literalism and God was the same. I rejected wacko-ism and God was the same. And in fact, not only was God the same, but it was specifically because God was the same that I rejected these errant beliefs.   

If I had to pick a theme song, I think it would be Sting’s If I Ever Lose My Faith. My faith is not in science or progress, or in a church, or theology, or, as odd as it sounds, even in the Bible. My faith is not in a political system or the definition of marriage. I don’t care if evolution is true or if there’s life on other planets. My faith is in God and the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus loves me, this I know. The same God, and same Gospel, I was taught as a child.   

How FoxNews is ruining conservatism

I probably shouldn’t single out FoxNews here, but they are the most well-known bastion of the uber-conservatist media.  And yes, I think the collective conservative “Fauxnews” media is destroying conservatism, resulting in incredible snafus like we are seeing in Indiana, and the fact that Hilary Clinton (who has a less than 50% approval rating) has a substantial lead in current polls over any Republican presidential hopeful.

Here’s the problem: Fauxnews is not presenting a “fair and balanced” view of anything.  They do provide one very good service, and that is to highlight stories that are typically ignored by other media outlets. However, it is a mistake to take any of these stories at face value, because what is being presented is a nice, conservative fairy tale meant to either motivate well-meaning conservatives, or to pacify them.

The conservative Fauxnews media is simply preaching to the choir, without really educating on the issues. I see a number of posts on Facebook where a conservative site has an outrageous headline about something Obama or Clinton have supposedly said, only to find that when you read the actual quote, they didn’t really say that at all.  The fauxnews retelling is more than spin; it’s misleading, and occasionally bordering on fraudulent.  But well-meaning conservatives trust many of these fauxnews sources, and don’t bother to fact-check.

Conservatives (as well as liberals), develop a kind of group-think.  It’s a form of tribalism, a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about, and which I’ll talk about in the future. There is a very strong need for many people to share the same opinions as the tribe, and will willingly adopt them without any real critical thinking (even if they think critical thinking is happening). The tribal presuppositions are such that everything becomes colored and conclusions are almost predetermined.

The danger is that conservatives will become more and more ignorant, and are in danger of becoming completely marginalized, even if they are the majority.  It’s so easy to embarrass a conservative right now that it’s – well – embarrassing.

The best way for conservatives to hold their own politically is not to create a conservative virtual reality to exist in, but to take the red pill (Matrix reference) and see what reality looks like.  Take a look at the issues the conservative media is reporting, then go to the sources, and find out what is really going on.  Analyze, and develop your own opinions. I almost never read or watch conservative news; at most, I read the bottom of the screen when I’m on the elliptical at the gym (Fox is always on).  Instead, I look at WaPo, CNN, etc., and then Google stories I’m interested in for varying opinions.

Will Rogers identified this problem years ago when he said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”  Fauxnews isn’t helping the problem, it unfortunately is the problem, and it is ruining conservatism.

 

Book Review: The Promise of Despair

The Promise of Despair may not be the best title.  It probably won’t attract the same crowd that bought any of those “stories my kid made up about heaven” books, and some will assume it’s another “you’re not suffering enough for the Kingdom” teaching.

Then, there’s the “emergent village” logo on the back, which is another red flag for many people (including me).

I probably wouldn’t have given the book a second look if it weren’t for the fact that it was so highly recommended.

A Life-Changer

Contrary to any preconceptions I could have formed, The Promise of Despair has the potential to be the most life-changing book I’ve read in a long, long time.  I say potentially because I’ve only just finished it—a year or 2 down the road, and I can better assess what impact it is having. But, there are strong indications that it has that kind of potential, at least for me.  And, it’s a great book to read during Lent, as a primary focus is Luther’s theology of the Cross.

Death

One of the reasons this book is a potential life-changer for me is that this is a book about death.  Not about dealing with death, or grief, necessarily, but about death itself.  I have had a life-long fear of death, and have developed a pretty decent hatred of it.  I’ve seen it too many times as family and friends have been taken through disease, accidents, suicides, and simply oldness, and I live with death on a day to day basis.  So, it’s a subject close to my heart.

Root begins by discussing Nietzche’s assessment that modernism has essentially declared that God is dead, and the despair that results from our faith in progress and hope for the wrong future. It’s a brilliant assessment of modern culture, postmodern modern culture (postmodernism is just a branch of modernism),  and what has resulted to the church as it has attempted to cover over the reality of death and despair instead of dealing with it.  This is not your typical cultural critique; this is an analysis of a society’s failure to deal with death and it’s impact on Christian theology and practice.

Luther

The second reason for me is that I finally think I grasp Luther’s theology of the cross. I was raised in a Lutheran church that was not really all that Lutheran. I went through Confirmation classes and all, but I don’t think I ever saw a Book of Concord until I bought one a couple of years ago, and I had never heard the phrase “Law and Gospel” that I can recall.  But, I watched “Here I Stand” several times.

So, over the last few years I have tried to get a grasp on the basics of Lutheran theology that other Lutherans all seem to know, and this book clarified a number of things. Now I am more sure than ever that the Lutheran understanding of man and God is far superior (i.e. Biblical, or perhaps “correct”) to the Calvinism that permeates most evangelical theology.  In other words, the book is not a Lutheran book, but it uses some of Luther’s language to express Biblical truth about what death really is, and that—as the author puts it—”we do not suck,” but that we are all victims, as it were, of sin and death, which were defeated at the Cross.  Only by coming to grips with “the monster” do we get to see the true victory of the resurrection; if we don’t embrace death, we don’t get to embrace life.

As I read through this I thought of a fitting quote that I heard years ago that was attributed to Camus (though I have not been able to track it down): “Life begins when you come face to face with death and realize that anything is possible.”  I have understood this, but didn’t realize that this in fact was a kind of restatement of Luther’s doctrine of the Cross. Kind of.  Resurrection life is only possible through Christ taking on death head-on.

 The Problem with the book

The big problem I had with the last portion of the book was that the author seemed to lose his way a bit, trying to create practical applications.  He starts using questions his son asks as chapter themes, which is kind of cute, but didn’t really help make his point, causing him to stretch a bit too much to keep the analogy going.  This was especially true with the last chapter, “The Christian faith is a secret that must be kept.”  Here, he completely lost me. I never figured out why it was supposed to be a secret.  I don’t think he really knew how to end the book.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that the essence of the book is life-changing. As he explains in the book, all of Western culture has issues with death that keep us from really grasping the essence of the Cross and the power of the Gospel.

Conclusion

Buy the book, read the book. It’s that simple. Skip the intro if you want, and skim where you need to.  It’s short but powerful.

 

 

 

Rediscovering the Banjo, Clawhammer Style

So, this is my 2nd post ever about banjos, even though they have been my primary hobby for the last 3 years. That’s restraint. If you like the banjo and want to learn a little history (very little), you might find this interesting.

Rediscovering the banjo for the first time

Even though I had owned a cheapo banjo about 30 years earlier, I knew so little about banjos when I started researching them about 3 years ago, I was shocked to find that the most popular style of banjo did not have the large resonator that the bluegrass guys played. And, I was also shocked to find that there was a common style of playing called clawhammer or frailing, that didn’t involve the use of picks. I was even more surprised to find that one of my all-time favorite banjo songs was in clawhammer style…

 

This, by the way, was the song that first got the banjo on Top-40 radio.

A little banjo history

Clawhammer style, where you strike the main strings with the back of the fingernail and pluck the 5th string with your thumb in a syncopated beat, has been around for hundreds of years. The 3-finger bluegrass style was more or less invented and popularized by Earl Scruggs. It was flashy and noisy (and new and exciting), so it caught on. The clawhammer style of playing actually dates back hundreds of years to Africa where 3- or 4-stringed instruments—always with a short drone string on top—were played in much the same fashion. This style of instrument and playing was brought over by African slaves, which explains the syncopation of the clawhammer playing style.

Sometime around 1830, the 5-stringed banjo was developed by a minstrel performer named Joel Walker Sweeney. By the civil war, 5-string banjos were getting to be popular; in fact, Stephen Foster’s famous song Oh, Susanna with it’s line “with a banjo on my knee” was published in 1848. An interesting historical sidenote is that in the early days of slavery, both African and Irish slaves were often housed together, where African rhythms were added to Irish folk tunes, giving us Appalachian or “old-time” fiddle and banjo music.

Banjo Mythbuster

buckbee copyMany people assume that when Sweeny added the 5th string to create the modern banjo, this means he added the short 5th string. However, that is not the case. As stated above, the banjo and its predecessors always had one short string. The 4-string Tenor banjo that became popular in the 20’s was a later invention—first appearing around 1910—that was developed to be strummed with a pick. The resonator was also developed to add volume so the banjo could be heard on early orchestral recordings, as guitars were, as this was pre-amplification, not loud enough.

By contrast (and for example), my oldest 5-string banjo is a Buckbee, dating back to around 1880-1890. (It is nearly identical to the banjo played by Taj Mahal in the movie Songcatcher.) The Buckbee Banjo Co. began manufacturing banjos during the Civil War and went out of business in 1896 or ’97.

One more tune…

Here’s another example of clawhammer playing: another old Stephen Foster song, Angeline The Baker, played on a banjo built by Doc Huff of Dallas, Oregon, who makes some of the most beautiful and unique banjos I’ve ever seen:

Okay, 2 more tunes. This is from the Honey Dewdrops, one of my favorite folk duos. Laura Wortman is a great example of a modern folk clawhammer banjoist.

Not All Banjo Music Is Created Equal

3banjosMy first banjo post

As my friends are all too aware, I’ve become something of a banjo addict since buying my first banjo not quite 3 years ago.  I play (old-time or clawhammer style), restore and collect banjos, and listen to a whole lot of banjo music of different genres. (Yes, there are distinct genres of banjo music.) So far, I have avoided posting anything about banjos on this blog, but have finally decided that it’s probably time to include the occasional post related to banjos and banjo music.

Surprise! I don’t like all kinds of banjo music

The more I listen to banjo music, the more opinionated I have become about the different banjo styles. While I have always thought I loved bluegrass music, I come to discover that I really don’t care for a lot of it, mainly due to the banjo playing. I recall something I once heard about the key to jazz music being knowing what notes not to play. With much of bluegrass, there is no such concept. To be honest, a lot of bluegrass banjo playing is just noise—too many notes unceremoniously crammed into too small of a space. When played with discretion, the banjo can add rhythm and drive, and even melody and counter-melody. The problem is, discretion seems to be in short supply with many bluegrass players.

Another complaint I have with bluegrass banjo is that many times the focus is on speed and dexterity. While I appreciate the abilities of folks like Béla Fleck or Jonny Mizzone (who’s like 10 years old), to me, I might as well be listening to a machine. There are a lot of fast, perfect notes, but it seems too clinical much of the time.

I do like some bluegrass banjo playing

I do really like some bluegrass players.  My favorite has to be Ron Block, who plays most often with Alison Krauss & Union Station. Block is a great player, and has a very good sense of melody and balance.  I appreciate his playing whether he’s playing on a pop song or a traditional bluegrass number. I liked Earl Scruggs, who invented the style. I’ve also liked a number of other players, like Doug Dillard, John Hartford, and of course John McEuen (of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame).  I’m also a big Steve Martin fan.

The infamous “G lick”

I’ve discovered one of the things that drives me nuts about a lot of bluegrass players, and that is the overuse of the infamous “G lick.”  It is probably the most recognizable lick in bluegrass banjo, as you’ll discover if you Google it. I’ve heard many bluegrass tunes where the G lick is used in nearly every phrase. It’s enough to drive you crazy, once you recognize it.  It’s one of the first things banjo players learn, and it seems like often it’s the only thing they’ve learned.  It belongs in “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” but not in much else.

I was curious, so the other day I listened to 3 or 4 Alison Krause & Union Station albums. I didn’t hear the standard G Lick once. Ron seems to avoid it like the plague. There are times he does something similar, but he always varies it so there’s no obnoxious repetition. Here’s a recent example of what 3-finger playing should sound like (again, my opinion):

Here’s one more favorite recording of mine, which goes back many, many years:


Notice how the banjo approaches the song almost classically, with an awareness of each note being played (as well as each note not being played).  This kind of playing is what first attracted me to the banjo, not that racket that appears on 90% of the bluegrass I hear.

Good banjo, bad banjo

So, there’s good banjo, and then there’s bad banjo.  I like good banjo.

10 Things About My Opinions

I have a plethora of opinions

I think opinions are good. Without them, we’d be like the 2 guys in the old Army commercial:

“What do you want to do?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

“I dunno… what do you want to do?”

Seriously, don’t you hate people with no opinions?  But at the same time, when you have opinions, you kind of like others to just accept yours. That kind of dynamic works for the short term, but in the end, no one grows. To grow, our opinions must be challenged and tested, and at least some of the time, they should change, because let’s face it, no one is right all of the time. In fact, most of us are not right most of the time—at least 100% right. We all have room to grow, and that’s what opinions are all about.

But, not everyone views opinions in the same way, and those who are not use to others having strong opinions can be offended by them. (And, it seems like it’s become America’s national pastime to be offended.)  Having an opinion has the necessary effect of suggesting (or stating outright) that someone else is wrong.

Considering that I tend to be fairly vocal about my opinion (although in a politish sort of way), I thought I would outline a few things about how I feel about opinions—and mine in particular—so I could refer people back here from time to time rather than explaining myself over and over.  So, here goes.

10 things to know about my opinions

  1. I have no shortage of opinions, and I don’t apologize for that.  I have opinions on all kinds of things, including politics, religion, philosophy, music, social issues, and banjos. If I don’t have an opinion about something, my presumed opinion is that it is not important.
  2. I expect you to have—or at least start to develop—opinions of your own.  If you don’t want to have opinions, feel free to borrow mine, but keep in mind that there are no express or implied warranties connected with my opinions.
  3. My opinions are usually resulting from a fair amount of thought, reading, analysis but at times are completely off the cuff. I won’t usually tell you which is which.  Caveat emptor.
  4. If I have an opinion, it’s because I think it’s right, and I will continue to think so until proven wrong.  Then, logically, I will consider my new opinion to be right, and my old one will be wrong.
  5. If my opinion differs from yours, my presumption is that you are wrong. Otherwise, you see, I would have your opinion…
  6. I believe I am wrong—at least partially—about everything I believe.  And I believe the same about you, perhaps even more so…
  7. I do change my opinions, sometimes quite drastically.  I have changed my opinion—often many times—about major theological issues, politics, etc.  I have even come to embrace the “Oxford comma.” However, my favorite color has always been blue.
  8. I do consider the opinions of others, even when I am arguing against them.  Opinions must be tested, and the best way to test them is through confrontation and challenge, in a friendly sort of way.
  9. Being proven wrong—i.e. changing opinions—is not failure, it’s growth.  And I will do my best to help you to grow.
  10. In the rare instance that I have no carefully crafted opinion on a topic, I reserve the right to make up an opinion on the spot and argue vehemently that you are wrong. Because that’s just who I am.

 

More about worship

Go here for part 1.

If the main purpose of Lutheran worship is to receive God’s gifts, then it follows that Lutheran worship is Christ-centered. Just take a look at the liturgical orders of service in either of our two hymnals. Everything said and done is filled with His Word. Why? Because our focus is on Christ and His work, that’s why. The focus of Lutheran worship is on Christ, not man. Therefore, Lutheran worship is always Christocentric-Christ-centered-and never anthropocentric-man-centered.  ~A.L. Barry, as quoted by Matt Richard in part 2 of his series on Lutheran worship

The heart of worship

In my opinion, the greatest statement on worship (as well as on faith) is Peter’s statement as recorded in John 6:68:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69, ESV)

“Where would we go? Only you have the words of life.”

Our word “worship” means to give something or someone great value or worth. Peter’s statement is really the ultimate worship statement, as he is not just saying that Jesus’ words are better than the Rabbis down the road. Peter goes so far as to say, “only you.” There are simply no other options. There’s life here, and anywhere else is death. This attitude, I think, is the true heart of worship.

Note that Peter doesn’t say anything about himself.  He doesn’t talk about what he has to offer, and he doesn’t say anything about how being with Jesus makes him feel. In fact, given Jesus’ recent teaching topics, Peter may have even been somewhat perturbed with Jesus due to the loss of followers. This is, rather, a clear-cut statement that Peter acknowledged that only Jesus had what Peter needs to survive. As someone once put it, Peter’s statement was one of “enlightened self-interest.”

Christ-centered worship

Mr. Barry goes on to say

… Lutheran worship takes our eyes and sets them firmly on the cross of Jesus Christ, for there the Lord of the Universe suffered and died for the sins of the world. Lutheran worship points us to the Resurrected Lord who lives and reigns to all eternity, and promises us everlasting life. Christ-centered Lutheran worship lifts our hearts and minds to the things of God and helps us to understand our place in Christ’s kingdom better as His redeemed people. Yes, Lutheran worship must always be Christ-centered.

When we say Lutheran worship is Christ-centered, this is not to say that those who gather for worship are mere blocks of stone. Our worship focuses on Christ, who is present for us and with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is truly among us. We are not contemplating a far-off Christ, or meditating on abstract ideas. Lutheran worship is not like going to a self-help group or a therapy session. It is God who gathers us for worship around the gifts He gives to us through Word and Sacrament. We are worshipping the One who is very near, as close as the preaching of the Word. We are worshipping the One who is actually present under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He promised, “I will be with you always.” In our worship service He fulfills that wonderful promise. He is living and active among us, right here, right now, where He has promised to be-in His Word and Sacraments. Therefore, it is important to say that while our focus is on Christ, His focus is always on us! Thanks be to God that this is true!

Now, I don’t mean to say that only Lutherans worship correctly, or that all Lutherans necessarily worship correctly.  I think the principles here transcend Lutheranism, although Lutheran incarnational theology is very intertwined with Lutheran thoughts on worship, and contemporary evangelicalism tends to downplay concepts such as Christ’s real presence.

One of these things is not like the other

My point, rather than to necessarily champion Lutheran worship, is to point out the differences between this philosophy of worship and other worship philosophies which are to varying degrees influenced by Calvinism and Arminianism, both of which can have a very man- and works-centered focus.

I am also not emphasizing one style over another (although I have thoughts there, too). It is entirely possibly to be involved in a very emotionally-oriented style of worship and still be aware that the whole point is to receive from Christ.

This, by the way, is what the Lutherans mean by “Christ-centered,” which is also a term used by everyone else; no one would say that their worship is not “Christ-centered.” The difference is whether or not we are looking solely to Christ as our source for righteousness and holiness as we worship.

 

 

 

About Worship

What is worship?

As my 11 faithful readers know, I was raised Lutheran. When I was in high school, I remember having friends from more, shall we say, emotional denominations and groups, and remember hearing teachings about “worship” and “praise,” things that we didn’t have to teach about in the Lutheran church. (Seriously. Keep reading…) I remember being quite confused, trying to figure out when I was praising as opposed to worshiping, etc.

Now, years later, most of us have gotten familiar with the 20-30 minutes of singing mostly vague, repetitious, elevator-rock music that has become known as “worship” where, in a manner of speaking, we try to reimburse God for what He’s given to us. Many churches also point out that collecting the offering also falls under worship, for the same reason.

At the very least, contemporary worship is a subjective exercise, where we are kind of on the honor system as to whether we actually “entered in” to worship, or just enjoyed the music.  Many people leave feeling some amount of guilt for either not feeling anything, or not being able to conjure up the same kind of emotional energy that the people around us seem to have, not realizing that many of them share the same feelings.  It’s true.  Chances are, you are one of those guilty worshipers.

Today in the church we attended, we were exhorted to focus on “entering in” to worship and giving to God.  I tended to critique the music, being a musician. I can’t help it. But, I don’t feel guilty, because I no longer believe that worship is about my emotions, or my ability to commit and focus and ignore the really terrible-sounding acoustic guitar and very awkward rhythm used on “Why I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in an attempt to make it sound more contemporary.

Worship, Lutheran-style

As providence would have it, this morning I read a great reminder about worship on the blog of a Lutheran pastor I’m Facebook friends with, entitled “”  The title aptly spells out the difference between the above-described contemporary concept of worship and Lutheran worship.  We are not talking about differences of style, such as singing choruses over hymns and liturgy, or the use of guitars and drums as opposed to organs and choirs.  I happen to think liturgy is quite important and useful, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The difference between the 2 philosophies of worship are striking; in fact, they are direct opposites. In contemporary worship, as with much of contemporary evangelical theology, the key is what we do for God, or do to become more spiritual, or holy, or whatever. On the other hand, Lutheran worship simply where we make ourselves available to receive from God, through the truth in the liturgy, the hymns, the Scriptures (which are read for their own sake, not as preaching texts), the sermon, and Communion. It’s not about our giving—in fact, the thought is quite ludicrous—worship is about receiving.

If we’re emotional, it’s because we are the recipients of grace, forgiveness, healing, love, and acceptance. There’s nothing for us to feel guilty about, because our performance is of no consequence. We are free to enjoy the music (the Episcopal church I like to attend has an amazing music program), even if we forget to listen to the words.  We are reminded that we are God’s—not because we “have decided to follow Jesus”—but because He chose us.

Our part, as worshipers, is to be there to receive. As the author of the article states, “The purpose of worship, therefore, is to be gathered by God around His gifts.”  He goes on to quote from the Lutheran Worship book:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges  the gifts, received with eager thankfulness and praise.  Saying back to Him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure…  The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Lutheran Worship, p. 6).

Whether or not we worship “Lutheran-style,” I believe that worship has nothing to do with our emotions (they simply are what they are) or our efforts (which are of no benefit) or how “holy” we are. Worship is not our “job” or “where we give back to God.” Worship is simply to be gathered around God and to receive his gifts.

I am looking forward to parts 2-7 of the article on the Lutheran understanding of worship, and will possibly post more here on the series.