Tag Archives: Catholic

Non-Essential Liberty

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

The local gathering of Jesus’ followers to which Wendy and I belong has been growing steadily in the years since I began regularly joining for worship and serving in the community. What has been interesting is that the growth is largely coming from other local and regional churches and gatherings who have been slowly fading and even shutting down. The result is that among our community of believers we have a growing, yet increasingly diverse, population who bring with them a host of different traditions, beliefs, customs, and worship practices.

What I’ve observed among the leadership and staff of our community is that the attitude has not been a black and white “This is our way and we don’t do it your way” type of attitude. Rather, I’ve observed an open attitude asking “What can we learn from the richness of all these other traditions?” The result has been a fascinating and unique experience. A traditionally “mainline” church operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit typically found in gatherings labeled “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal.” A contemporary-style worship service that incorporates pieces of ancient liturgy and generally follows the ancient church calendar. A gathering that most casual observers would label “modern evangelical” and yet during the week many in our community pray the ancient, Divine Hours. During Lent you’ll find members of our community journeying through the Stations of the Cross. The whole thing has been less “either, or” and more “both, and.”

As I read today’s chapter this morning it struck me that Paul wrote to a fledgling gathering of believers in Corinth who were experiencing their own melting pot of diverse backgrounds and belief systems. The Christian faith came out of a typically rigid, black-and-white religious system of Judaism. Yet in Corinth there would have been believers who had come from pagan backgrounds and  knew nothing of Judaic traditions or beliefs. There would have been intellectual Greeks who were mostly steeped in philosophy and had little practical understanding of any religion. The result was a clash among the local gathering of Corinthian believers. Good Jews were horrified at the notion that the meat on their table may have been once sacrificed in a pagan temple. The former pagans and those who weren’t raised in the Jewish tradition couldn’t quite understand why, on Earth, it was that big of a deal.

Paul’s wisdom was the adoption of a “both, and” spirit rooted in Jesus’ law of love. Those who rolled their eyes at fellow believers from Jewish tradition (who couldn’t handle the idea of meat sacrificed to idols) were to respect their brothers and sisters who were. If the Abrahams are coming over for dinner do the hospitable thing and keep it kosher. Those of Jewish tradition were to respect that not everyone was raised in their life-long, black-and-white religious traditions. It’s not the same for them. Take off the Jr. Holy Spirit badge. Let it go. Take one for the team. Love one another in the diversity of our consciences and convictions.

I believe St. Augustine nicely summed up what Paul was getting at a few centuries later: “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity (i.e. love).” Whether or not you care that your rib-eye had been butchered in the Temple of Apollo is a matter of individual conscience. It’s a non-essential. Love and respect those believers in your midst who come from different backgrounds and may not believe the same way you do.

This morning I’m grateful for the diverse group of believers with whom Wendy and I regularly worship. From the “frozen chosen” believers from mainline backgrounds to the former Roman Catholics and all the different forms of baggage they carry to the Charismatics who spiritually bring in da noise and da funk. I admittedly don’t always understand, nor fully appreciate where they’re all coming from. We just shrug our shoulders, keep an open mind and spirit, and love, love, love, love, love. When it comes to stuff like this I always want to live, learn, love, and operate in “non-essential liberty.”

Worship Like You’re Drunk at 9 a.m.

“These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
Acts 2:15 (NIV)

I grew up in a very traditional church paradigm for a midwest American Protestant. I, and my family, were expected to dress in our “Sunday best.” Every part of the church routine was carefully planned and orchestrated. The service had a certain pageantry to it. You kept quiet. You sat up straight in the unpadded wooden pew. You stood when you were told to stand. You sang the verses you were told to sing when you were told to sing them. You sat quietly and listened. It was all very proper.

In the nearly forty years I’ve been a follower of Jesus I have worshipped in a veritable plethora of environments across cultures and denominations. Catholic and Protestant, mainline and charismatic, traditional and non-traditional, I’ve had a lot of different experiences. I’ve worshipped in a poor mountain village on Mindanao in the Philippines where chickens scurried around the dirt floor and a dog wandered in to flop to sleep under the rickety table that served as an altar where I was preaching. I’ve worshiped in silence with Quakers and in the raucous call and response of an African-American congregation. I’ve worshipped at St. Patrick’s in Dublin, the National Synagogue in Jerusalem, and with a handful of Arab believers in Nazareth.

I’ve always held an expansive view of worship. There are always things I can learn from different cultures and traditions. I have, however, made a few observations along the way.

I believe that between the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Protestants by-and-large disembodied worship. The Reformation did away with physical gestures like genuflection and kneeling. The Enlightenment convinced us that our brains were the center of the worship experience, embellished by a couple of instances of standing, singing, and maybe a recitation.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t think the worship paradigm in which I was raised was wrong, but perhaps I’d describe it as purposefully limited. In my perpetual journey through God’s Message I find that the call to praise and worship is always physically active with repeated encouragements to shout, lift hands, dance, sing, clap, play instruments, lift banners and the like. I have yet to come across an exhortation in the Bible asking me to praise God with my hands in my pockets, to praise God with mumbling, or to rejoice in passive sitting.

I’ve also observed, both in scriptural descriptions and in my own experiences, that when Holy Spirit pours out on a group of people at worship things can get a little weird. In today’s chapter, casual observers thought Peter and the boys were drunk at 9:00 in the morning. When King David was worshipping in the Spirit his wife became pissed off at how publicly “undignified” he was acting.

This morning I’m enjoying dusting off some old memories of diverse worship experiences in which I’ve participated. I’m also reminded by the events of Pentecost in today’s chapter that I can’t think of one description of Holy Spirit outpouring that is described as a quiet affair of public propriety. When the religious leaders chastised Jesus’ followers for their raucous outpouring of praise, Jesus replied, “If they were silenced then the rocks would cry out.”

The further I get in my journey, the less I care about what anyone else thinks. I’ll take an outpouring of Holy Spirit anytime. I’ll worship like I’m drunk at 9:00 in the morning.

 

“There are No Wrong Notes.”

Jazz musician Miles Davis.
Jazz musician Miles Davis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
 Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!
Psalm 98:4-6 (NLT)

I’ve experienced a lot of different styles of worship throughout my journey. I grew up as kid growing up in a liturgical Methodist church. I dressed up in choir robes and entered the sanctuary in a long processional with the pastor and the adult choir. I sang choral music accompanied by a pipe organ or piano. The evangelical church I went to after that had slick, professional, popular sounding music. My Quaker friends were a quiet group, allowing plenty of silence to “center” ourselves. Whenever I get to attend a Catholic mass I’m totally blown away by the metaphorical depth and meaning of the ritual. The Presbyterians I worshiped with reminded me of my childhood experiences in a good way. I’ve attended worship services with my Pentecostal friends that, in comparison, felt like a three ring circus.

When reading the psalms you can never completely divorce yourself from the fact that this is a volume of lyrics meant for ancient worship. Along the journey I’m constantly running into people caught up in what is “right” or “wrong” about the way this group or that group expresses themselves in worship. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’m reminded this morning of a quote by the great jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis: “There are no wrong notes.”

My many and varied experiences have taught me that there’s benefit to the smorgasbord of worship styles you’ll encounter across the panacea of churches and groups. You may prefer this or that from the options laid out for you, but taking a bite from something you’ve never had before just might surprise you in a good way.

As I read the above lyric this morning I thought of all of my experiences in churches where “worship” was synonymous with words like: quiet, silent, and respectful. Dude, if you’re following the prescription for worship laid out in Psalm 98 it is NOT going to be quiet and peaceful. Shouting, trumpets and a ram’s horn?

Seriously. It’s gonna get loud. I’m just saying.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 11

from Shayan via Flickr

And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17 (NLT)

We can scarce understand what momentous paradigm shift Peter and the early believers experienced in the events chronicled in the past few chapters. It was deep, profound social unrest. The walls the Jews had built up between themselves and the non-Jews (Gentiles) through the centuries were tall and thick and seemingly impenetrable. As Jews, the 12 apostles of Jesus were comfortable keeping Jesus’ work and teaching within the clearly defined boundaries of the Jewish law and culture. As had happened so many times in the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, God had other plans; Plans that would obliterate their own personal agendas.

Peter walking into Cornelius’ house and ministering to him and his family is not unlike a southern Ku Klux Klan member in 1930s America walking into an African American’s home for a meal. It’s like an Irish Catholic walking into a Protestant’s home in Northern Ireland and embracing them. It was radical and it was sure to reverberate through the young Christian community with conflict, dissent, and boisterous protest. And, it was clearly the work of God.

As the arguments rose in crescendo, Peter asked the crucial question: “Who was I to stand in God’s way?”

Throughout my life journey I’ve witnessed God doing the inexplicable, and I have stood in the center of the resulting maelstrom of vehement disbelief, anger, and dissent. I have run into individuals and groups who want to dictate what God will do, when He will do it, and how He will go about doing it. They want God to fit nicely inside the box of their own design and cultural or denominational comfort zone. I have watched people stretch and twist God’s own Word to defend and justify their prejudiced views. Like Peter, I have even been guilty of it myself.

Increasingly I find myself desperately desiring that God’s will, not mine, be done. The only boundaries I desire to place on God are those that God Himself has ordained and set in place. I want God to have free reign in my heart, my life, my home, and my community. God forbid that I should ever stand in the way of what He is doing, but grant that I may free fall into it.