Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Frog Liturgy: Future and Present in Liturgical Prayer?

Just back from some time in southeastern Alaska and observation of the Tlingit totems, I am musing on the frog as one of their prominent figures. Among other things, the frog lives its life on two levels, submerged in the water with its eyes scanning the horizon and its nose penetrating the life-giving air. Evelyn Underhill plays with the same connection somewhere in her writings on spirituality and prayer. Richard Valantasis, in Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age (Continuum, 2005), proposes that the Christian seeker “lives in two worlds simultaneously: the current real world of daily existence, and the even more real, emergent, eschatological, and divinized world toward which the [seeker] works.” (p. 109)

In other words, the church lives in God's future as its dialogue with the present. What an amazing vocation! God calls us into a dialogue of living fully in the world as it presently exists while keeping the mind and heart on an emergent “divinized” world that is yet to be fully instantiated.

What patterns of prayer in our daily lives and in weekly liturgy habituate us in this dialogue that beckons us to embody the future in the present? What wisdom can we take from the frog? In worship, what are we immersed in and in what realm do our hearts and minds breathe and perceive?

Perhaps that is too many rhetorical questions piled up and awaiting reply. So, one at a time with possible expansion in future blogs.

What patterns habituate us in “frog” liturgy? The liturgical tradition invites us (1) to daily prayer (based on the daily office—Google search “Daily Office”), whether as individuals or in communal expressions, and (2) to weekly gathering around font, word and table (the central things) on the Lord's Day. In this way the community hallows its present immersion in daily life and breathes the air of the coming reign of God, which it is called to witness to and instantiate in concrete and specific relationships. Habitual practice has a bad rap in our “spontaneous” culture, but without patterned cycles of prayer grounded in God’s future we have no horizon on which to fix our gaze in the turbulence of daily life. The pond of our existence is seldom calm. Witness: the daily headlines.

Perhaps spontaneity comes in having a fix on the horizon and trying to swim in the currents of daily existence. This moves us to what wisdom we can take from the frog. Liturgical prayer needs to be tensive; otherwise it looses its torque, its grip on the mind and heart. In liturgy, like the frog, we are “floating” between order and outburst, control and out of control, full and empty, centeredness and eccentricity.

In these tensions, John Wesley is one voice who invites us toward dynamic balance. According to Hal Knight in The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace (Scarecrow Press, 1992) Wesley sought a balance between what Knight calls “the presence means of grace” and “the identity means of grace.”

The presence means of grace are those that enable us to experience the presence and immediacy of God and guard us against “formalism.” In worship terms, I would list these as extemporaneous prayer, praise choruses, Taize songs, periods of silence, narrations of contemporary experience, etc.

The identity means of grace are those practices that help us attend to the “givens” concerning God (the self-revelations of God) and serve as a hedge against “enthusiasm”—mistaking our own perceptions as the will and truth of God. In liturgical terms these include the Scriptures (generally drawn from a lectionary); hymns, creeds and prayer texts from the historic and ecumenical traditions; worship planned in light of the liturgical calendar; and—interestingly—silence (listed above), by which we not only experience the immediacy of God, but also God’s interrogation of us and our feelings, thoughts and intentions.

No church that I know of or have experienced fully balances the presence and the identity means of grace in worship. Some, with frog-like intelligence and awareness, are trying. Many are immersed in the immediacy of daily existence and the present moment, without adequate attention to God's coming reign. Others are breathing heavily of the future, anticipated, “divinized” reality without adequate connections to the present cultural, ecological and geopolitical realities. My hope and trust is that, as the Irish (and Andrew Greeley) like to say, God draws straight with crooked lines.

Bottom line: frog-liturgy is to be our aim in worship.

Daniel Benedict

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Confession of an Ancient-Future Worshiper

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land,” asks the Psalmist. It was a question the exiles asked. It is my question too as I visit churches in my journeying around the United States. No, I am not a Mystery Worshiper for the Ship of Fools (http://ship-of-fools.com/Mystery/index.html.) You may think that is odd for a Christian to feel like worship in any church is a foreign land. So, I will be specific and charitable, as I mean no harm. Consider this a confessional rather than negatively critical.

Last Sunday I worshiped in a nearly 15,000 member megachurch at the invitation of a friend. The high-tech music, lights and sound was professional and effective. The preaching was strong, compassionate and visionary. On the scale of excellence I would give this congregation high marks for what they do according to their aims and purposes.

Here, however, is the confession: I was not at home here. It was more than the theology that I couldn’t embrace. I was a Christian from another spirituality. And I confess, I am (some would say, a liturgical snob) an ancient-future Christian. I see and sense worship as being the present experience of God found in the tension between the past and the future, between the communion of saints (past and present) and the coming reign of God. The liturgy—the patterned communal enactment of public symbols around font, lectern and table—the public work of the people rendered before God for the sake of the world—is my prayer’s homeland.

So, I was in exile in this setting of Christian worship, because the central things were, except for the lectern brought out only was time to preach. Even when the Bible was read it was from a PDA device—perhaps because the reader no longer reads from a print Bible or to “relate” to the digital age audience.

I wish I could have time to dialogue with the pastor and worship leaders and planners to talk about the central things and how they are gifts and givens for the worship of God whatever the musical style, assumptions about culture and gospel, and our theological understandings.

I would welcome the opportunity to reflect on temperament types: the dominant temperament type of the congregation, the pastor and staff members’ type, and how that shapes worship in their context. Here, is another aspect of why I felt exiled in this service. For more on this online see “Finding Your Prayer Type” (http://www.episcopal-dwtx.org/spiritlife/prayerpractice.htm). For print see Discover Your Spiritual Type by Corrine Ware. Simply put, the four types are of spirituality are “Head” “Heart” “Mystic” and “Visionary/Prophetic.” I would fall in the Head and Mystic quadrants—so that what appeals to the mind and mystic grabs me most. Worship that is predominantly “Heart” and oriented to experiencing God through feelings in the moment is too demanding for me. The church I attended Sunday was largely in quadrant two—the heart and emotions dimension, which I am told, fits the largest segment of Americans.

If leadership of this church asked me I might point out some of what I observed:

  • Social analogue: Their social analogue is the rock concert/motivational speaker. All Christian congregations choose some analogue as a model or paradigm for what their worship assembly is about. (See * below. I came across this helpful notion in Gordon Lathrop’s Holy People—Fortress Press.) I have attended churches whose social analogue was a medieval pageant and others whose analogue was a “genuine community” (no formality, nothing but “real.”
  • Cosmically hygenic: There was a kind of “never-never-land” feel to the service. There was no mention in prayers or preaching or songs of anything concrete and specific about our world. No mention of the suffering and war going on in the Middle-East or Iraq. Everything appeared to be generic—prayer, praise, etc. I am sure that this allowed each and all to bring their concerns to the moment. But what of priestly service of the assembly on behalf of the others, society and cosmos? I missed a sense of connection of worship with the world.
  • Music: This was a major part of the service. It was probably “the sacrament” in this service. However, for one like me, I had no clue about the melody, except as I heard it, and only two of the several songs had I sung before. As a newcomer, I felt marginalized by not having access to notation. I felt further marginalized by the volume of the lead singer and praise team. They filled the room, in ways consistent with the rock concert analogue. My question is what does this do to the “crowd’s” sense of being a priestly community? Are believers marginalized in practice?
  • Central things: This church, while center-to-right in the theological and political spectrum, is very much liturgically left. I would like to explore with them what they see as the “central things” and whether or not their worship could include the centrality of bath and table, along with story. I believe that many churches that have dumped substantive attention to our primary public symbols—font/pool, lectern and table—could continue in their style and be strengthened by recovery of the central things.

    Daniel Benedict

    * Social analogues and cultural models figure in our diversity in worship. Congregations elect their analogues in terms of:
    "a choosing, consuming audience”—often unreflective, uncritical adoption—seeker, believer, disenchanted (the rock concert, motivational speaker, or lecture hall)
    • or expressing locality in terms of “dreaming” by resisting modern paradigms (the medieval pageant, royal convocation, ancient mystery play (various archaic, imagination-bearing events)
    • or identify the assembly in terms of mainstream or marginality (the secret society, the tribal gathering, shamanistic meeting for healing or direction) As Lathrop points out all of these are survival forms of non-dominant communities.
    • or in terms of a local or national ethnic group with national costumes or flays serving in important symbolic roles
    • or the assembly may see itself as a genuine community —stripped of all pretense and marked by intimacy, familial speech (a collection of friends and lovers)

See Gordon Lathrop's Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology (Fortress Press) for more on these insights.
Can any of these carry the meaning of the Christian assembly? Ritual play is more than social analogues and cultural models.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

“Wild Spaces” in Western Culture and Churches

(In “Ethical Metaphors” I hinted that the metaphors of the liturgy are ethical in direction, but in order to have converting torque in the assembly’s life they need deepening attention to the “wild spaces.”)

I’ll admit I am a contender for the liturgy—the patterned enactment of praise and prayer to the triune God around central public symbols. I will also admit that I and many who find deep meaning and formation in praying the liturgy do not consistently pay attention to God’s heart of love for life in all its forms.

Wherever I worship I am continually struck but the meagerness of the assembly’s prayers—whether or not they are “liturgical” communities. (I will say that those who are liturgical generally engage in a form of encompassing and expansive intercessions. However,...) Liturgical worship or not, the circle usually seems small: family, relatives, friends we know, and maybe our troops or hurricane victims. Seldom are there voices raised for the people caught as victims of war, poverty, genocide, AIDS, addiction, and displacement. Even more infrequent is there a voice beseeching heaven for the earth abused by human over consumption.

Liturgy as cult practice must connect with our shadow side; that is, liturgy must attend to the prophetic voice. Cultus and prophets have always been in an essential tension. Without cult, the prophets have nothing to rail against. Without prophets, the liturgical cultus becomes a wasteland of self-absorption while pretending to be worshiping in the name of God. This interdependence and interaction is what I so often find missing in much of the worship in which I participate. Either the prophet is unleashed and the liturgy dismissed, or the warm familiarity of our liturgy or “our praise and worship” is piously savored and the prophets barred at the door. I feel it is safe to say that is more the rule than the exception.

The prophet’s are the heralds of the “wild spaces.” Wild spaces are where one does not fit the white, male, Western, heterosexual, youthful, educated, able-bodied, middle-class and successful definition of “human being.” (See embedded image above.)

As an retired, aging, increasingly less able-bodied male, I am discovering that I less and less fit this mold. The parts that no longer matches the hegemonic definition is my “wild space.” I just walked up the street from Pike Place Market to my lodging in Seattle. I saw lots of people whose humanity had little overlap with the hegemonic definition. Big wild spaces! (By the way, I came across this concept in Sallie McFague’s Life Abundant--Fortress Press.) Can those wild spaces enter our attention in liturgical prayer? Will our churches find ways to pray the wild spaces?

Watch out for them! They will destabilize your status quo. Wild-spaces open windows to see Western culture from different perspectives and inviting us to reconsider it.

What is so much of the struggle in the North American churches and culture about? It is about God’s inclusion of the bits and pieces of being “created in the image of God” that the hegemonic definition does not include! (“No, Virginia, I am not only referring to sexual orientation!”) This struggle is concerned with the prophetic breaking in upon the coziness with which we like to tame the liturgy. The liturgy itself is not tame; indeed, I am convinced that the God who breathes it into us and empowers its enactment is wilder and more dangerous that our captive imaginations will allow. Remember Annie Dillard's comments about how worshipers act like they are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic when they should be putting on helmets and launching the life boats.

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, the consensus document of the World Council of Churches, summarizes this well when it says: (http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/faith/bem4.html)

E26. As it is entirely the gift of God, the eucharist brings into the present age a new reality which transforms Christians into the image of Christ and therefore makes them his effective witnesses. The eucharist is precious food for missionaries, bread and wine for pilgrims on their apostolic Journey. The eucharistic community is nourished and strengthened for confessing by word and action the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life for the salvation of the world. As it becomes one people, sharing the meal of the one Lord, the eucharistic assembly must be concerned for gathering also those who are at present beyond its visible limits, because Christ invited to his feast all for whom he died. Insofar as Christians cannot unite in full fellowship around the same table to eat the same loaf and drink from the same cup, their missionary witness is weakened at both the individual and the corporate levels. [emphasis added]

The resistance to the salvation of God's world—this world, this whole world, this beloved world—requires that worshipers pay attention, not only to the central things, but to God’s open doors and to the wild spaces to which we tend to be blind and deaf.

How will worship around central things in your community enact God’s open doors this coming Sunday?

Daniel Benedict

Ethical Metaphors

In a previous post, “On Doing ‘Our’ Liturgical Thing,” a commentator responded “Your comments are most appropriate for those who were born within the confines of the circle. But what of those who were excluded by birth, by skin, by national edict?” She ("Desert Mother") raises the issue of oppression relative to liturgical texts and practices born of the hegemony of the privileged. Her comments brought a needed word to this conversation about liturgy around the central things (bath, story, and meal) and justly recalled attention to God’s open doors—the wide horizon of God’s gaze upon the thriving of all life.

I will leave to liturgical historians questions of whether or not what has become in our time the historic, ecumenical liturgy (sometimes referred to as the “ecumenical consensus”) was born of privilege and power, or in what sense it comes to us as a gift of the Spirit working among the least ones in the Greco-Roman world (inclusive of Egypt and North Africa). I just read Maxwell E. Johnson’s Liturgy in Early Christian Egypt (Joint Liturgical Studies 33). It opened my circumscribed knowledge to discover how influential that part of the pre-Constantianian church was in shaping the gift of the saints to our present liturgical practices.

Back to the main issue: Liturgical action and prayer is made up of metaphors and images that point beyond them. Indeed they participate in a reality greater than themselves, whether the God of justice and mercy or the god of nationalism and consumerism. Metaphors do matter, whether they are oral, textual, or embodied gestures. My less than explicit point in writing “On Doing ‘Our’ Liturgical Thing” was to caution all of us who write, plan, and lead liturgy and all of our congregations who enact liturgy is this: Beware lest in changing the liturgical texts and actions provided by our denominations, we subject “the liturgy” to our privileged, self-absorbed, self-preserving and self-protecting shadow side.

This is not to say that these texts and rubrics are perfected. They are not. They are pilgrim resources. They are large metaphors anticipatory of the reign of God that we cannot yet fully see. They are meant to shape those who pray them for the reign of God. They are communally constructed and communally prayed as the church, the community, awaits further illumination.
  • At the font: They initiate us into the coming reign of God (baptism and the rites of initiation) as a “holy people, a royal priesthood” for purposes of God.
  • At the lectern/pulpit: They provide context for proclamation of the Word incarnate that became text to be a place of encounter for us so that the Word may become flesh anew in our time and place (my thanks to my friend Robert Muholland for this move). This proclamation populates our imaginations with symbols, archetypes, and narratives that give us hermeneutical handles for interpreting and engaging daily life in its political and economic dimensions as we seek God’s coming justice and liberation.
  • At the table: They nourish our sense of communal embodiment of the risen Christ living as forgiven and reconciled people, rejoicing and grateful for all that God has done and is doing in creation, covenant and Christ.

These central things are powerful metaphors. And the texts and actions ritualized around them are powerful too. The question is in what direction does the power move? And, whose power is it?

The liturgical texts and their rubrics for initiation (baptism) and the Eucharist are rich with ethical metaphors (not moralistic ones) that are God’s call to the church to herald and heed God’s inclusive reign.

Here are a few of them from the ritual of my tradition (United Methodist).
From baptism:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression

in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races

(Following baptism and laying on of hands)
Through baptism
you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit
into God's new creation
and made to share in Christ's royal priesthood.

From Holy Communion in the Great Thanksgiving:
[from the invitation]
“Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
who earnestly repent of their sin
and seek to live in peace with one another
Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.”
[from the confession]
Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church. [sin understood communally]
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[From the Great Thanksgiving]
“He [Jesus] fed the hungry, healed the sick, and ate with sinners.”
“Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world…”
Our Father…”

These are just some of the metaphors with ethical torque that shape us for living in this world and not some other; for discipleship following the risen One in his “Galilee” (Mark 16::7), not convening in our spiritual “safe houses.”

In the next blog, I will explore how “wild spaces” open up and give teeth to the metaphors of our liturgical prayer.

Daniel Benedict

Desert Mother's Comment and My Reply

I am grateful for a comment made to "On Doing 'Our' Liturgical Thing" by Desert Mother. I responded to her comment.

In part I wrote to her:

Well said and you do my "strait corner" expand. Yours is powerful poetry. I am grateful for your bringing a "wild space" (see Sallie McFague,Abundant Life--Fortress Press) to this matter. I use "wild space" in the sense of where one does not fit the white, male, Western, heterosexual, youthful, educated, able-bodied, middle-class and successful definition of “human being”. Such wild-spaces (you represent one or more in your comment) open windows from which to see the matter from another perspective.

I urge you to read her comment and my reply as context for the next blogs.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Eviction from Our Snug Homes

In “Lecture II” (New and Collected Poems 1931-2001, pp. 493-494) Czeslaw Milosz writes of the banality of 20th century, pre-WWII culture and how it failed to challenge the rise of Nazism and the holocaust. In the poem he lists what Jesus “has” (note the tense) to face (a seemingly harmless list of human artifacts and activities inclusive of coffee, philosophizing, clocks and landscape paintings) and muses that nobody would have taken him seriously. The Jesus Milozs juxtaposes with the culture looks too much like a Jewish drifter—the kind the State catches and disposes of.

If the list of what Jesus has to face were in terms of 21st century churches, what would “Jesus have to face”? Hymns? Praise choruses? American flags next to Christian flags? Sermons without skeptics? Parking lots full of SUVs driven by we who over consume and live careless for the planet? Bible studies without discipleship and accountability? Baptisms without conversion and intent toward ministry? Holy Communion shared in stinginess?

Later in the same poem, Milosz writes a line many of us could take as our own confession: I wanted to equal others, behave just like them./ To shut my ears, not to hear the call of the prophets./ That’s why I understand her [a privileged woman described early in the poem]. A snug home, a garden,/ And from the depths of Hell, a fugue of Bach.

The great lack of much contemporary worship (I use the phrase generically) and spirituality is lack of depth, laziness in reflection, and self referential engagement with the surface of the dominant culture. What would be different in our gatherings for worship if we got beneath the surface where life and death meet? Where existence’s wonder, complexity and ambiguity rise up like a Bach fugue? Where we “see” the hooked nosed, the dirty and suffering? Those disposed of by the state and geopolitics? Where we see God’s threatened rivers, valley’s, oceans, and savannahs and find a will to care in our practice?

Where are the prayers, hymns and songs, preachers, and sacramental practices that stir us from our snug homes? From the false self propped up by consumerism’s myopia? If we more deeply lived the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and didn’t avoid the Jesus who meets us in them, would we hear the prophets? Find the will to give up our snug homes and live on the road to the coming reign of God? I wonder.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

On Doing Our Liturgical “Thing”

Many of us have been tempted to alter or paraphrase a prayer, litany, or liturgical text to “be more accessible” to the congregation. Perhaps we thought the ritual text was opaque to contemporary seekers. And, many of us have suffered (or been delighted by) such at the hands of others. What are we not aware of in these undertakings?

John Donne’s poem, “Upon the Translation of the Psalmes,” (a response to the translation of the Psalter by Philip Sydney and his sister, the Countesse of Pembroke) begins:

Eternall God, (for whom who ever dare
Seek new expression doe the Circle square,
And thrust into strait corners of poore wit
Thee who art cornerlesse and infinite)

Donne, in this little knot of convolution, as I call it, seems to be wrestling with the limits of creativity and human innovation. Might this at least be a caution to us “who dare” to make “new expressions” in the church’s prayer? Is everything our hearts, minds, and words conspire to articulate in song, praise and lament a revelation, a true reflection of the circumference of the Holy? Is Donne, the bard of English poetry, teasing, even himself?

Of course, it is a set up in order to magnify the achievements of Philip and his sister in their effort to translate the Psalms. But even here, he seems to muse on the fact that they did “perform that work again” that the “first author” by a “cloven tongue” was able to sing “the highest matter in the noblest forme.” The translators did the work by “heavens high holy Muse” that “whispered to David, [and] David to the Jewes.”

So what is Donne saying to us in the age of hypertext, instant liturgy, disposable songs and easy familiarity with the divine (“We just wanna” prayers)? Is he warning us that creativity, innovation, and even pastoral “adaptation” of liturgical texts and actions is risky business? I wonder how often in the creation of new liturgical texts or slight changes in the ritual I have thrust the Mystery into confining and silly “strait corners”? I think we are still discovering the challenges involved as we try to live into the so called “inclusive language project.” Of course, not to expand our God and human language is to be blind to how the past and present “doe the Circle square.”

At most, Donne’s caution suggests that we avoid audacity and presumption in making thoroughgoing revisions that only bring out our personal idiosyncrasies and bring attention to ourselves. Every liturgical reviser and committee might well remember the writing on Belshazzar’s wall, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL and PARSIN.” (Daniel 5) Maybe contextualizing a word or a phrase is in order, but to rewrite the whole Great Thanksgiving, for example, may unwittingly shove God and the congregation into a “strait corner” of our own making.

I am certainly not condemning all our efforts at giving contemporary expression to the praise and prayer of the church. Yet could we heed Donne and confess that we need both the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and ever deepening immersion in the inspired sources—the “circles” of Scripture, poetry, hymnody, and art that have created worlds of vision where God is uncornered?

Bottom line: Beware of “poor wit” in preparing liturgical texts.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The blog name—StrongCenterOpenDoor—seems to contradict the postmodern context that I want to address and explore in relationship to liturgy. In the opening blog I carelessly wrote: Postmodernity is increasingly decentered and deuniversalized. It would have been better to say that our world is increasingly decentered and deuniversalized. The two “d” words are synonyms for the postmodern world and experience.

Oddly, my intent for this blog is to affirm central things in Christian worship while also acknowledging the wide horizon and diverse dimensions of psychic, social and cosmic life.

While I accept that Christian worship is diverse and quite messy in each local expression, I am convinced that it is critical that worship find focus in its historic and ecumenical center: liturgy enacted around font, lectern and table. All the candles, crosses, songs, and worship centers in the world will be so much froth on our beer if seekers and seeking communities don’t engage with the God who meets us in bath, word and meal.

“Postmodernity doesn’t accept givens,” is the chant of the chorus. I wonder if postmoderns can welcome “gifts”? Is there room in a decentered world for peculiar tribal practices—gifts given by the Mystery known in water, complex and mysterious stories, and meals crowded with metaphors.

Maybe the deconstructed world dislikes gifts in the abstract. Perhaps, even Christians are dubious about anything that smacks of ancient origins. Perhaps the only way to find bath, story and meal as central to our existence is to be present to them as seekers and enter into what happens there in the fluidity of experience.

This week I was a lecturer for a gathering of seekers on the spiritual path. Eucharist was part of each day’s communal round, along with praying morning and night prayer. Each day we broke bread that we smelled baking. On the fourth day the community splashed the water in renewal of their baptismal covenant and laid hands on each other with prayer for continuing work of the Holy Spirit. Then we ate the Eucharistic bread as communion with the risen Christ, each other, and the saints and sinners of all the ages. It was tribal practice around central things.

Gift? You’d have to ask the participants. Or, ask someone who shares the bath and the meal in the context of the Word where you worship.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In our postmodern context, worship ways are wide open and increasingly diverse. At the same time there a desire for a "generous orthodoxy" that listens, questions, and explores ancient-future understandings and practices in the emerging churches around the world. Postmodernity is increasingly decentered and deuniversalized. Yet there is a yearning for center and attention to global realities.

On this blog I will be attempting to reflect on emerging worship from a perspective that holds in tension paying attention to a "strong center"--the central things that give substance and a centeredness to the worship of God (praise and prayer in bath, word, and meal) and paying attention to God's radically open door to the world. I am indebted to Gordon Lathrop for this tension between center and periphery (See his bookS--HOLY THINGS, HOLY PEOPLE, and HOLY GROUND.)

Liturgically, we are living in amazing times. Churches are experimenting, risking, trying new things, frustrated with conventional worship ways. The range of these ventures is truly diverse. Liturgical renewal continues to explore and offer the inheritance we have from the first centuries of Christian worship refracted through postmodern understandings. "Contemporary worship" continues to explore and employ cultural analogues (the mall, the concert, the motivational gathering) as "worship." The "emerging churches" (postmodernal reappropriation of worship) are engaging in a new ecclecticism in approaching worship. In the southern hemisphere (particularly Africa and Latin America) various expressions of Pentecostalism are shaping worship in specific cultural contexts. This is not an exhaustive list and it may not fairly represent those movements named. (How would you refine any or all of them? What would you add?)

In all of these there is a central yearning for God and the experience of God. Could there be greater dialogue between these yeasty movements? What appreciations and understandings could guide this dialogue? What does each bring to the table? I will try to be generous and frank in what I post. Strong views expressed will be for the sake of provoking thought and stretching horizons. Mine also need to be stetched. In and through all, may the grace of God lead the church to pay attention to God's strong center and God's open door.