Saturday, September 23, 2006

Be longing to belong

After reading Dr. Michael Moynagh's book Changing World, Changing Church, it seems that consumerism has penetrated to the very heart of Western Culture and indeed is penetrating even the heart of the Western Church.

Day by day we are presented with the most minor of choices. Cup of coffee? The questions come in - regular or large? latte, mocha, cappuccino? shot of this? hint of that? c. Michael Moynagh suggests that this is how the Church will eventually become, and lists some very exotic forms of church. Imagine! a church for dancers, a church for chess players, a church for windsurfers... et c. each person insisting how their worship is carried out and in referring to others "praxes" with the phrase "well, they can do that if they want, but it's not my cup of tea."

For me, this is a horrible vision of the future. Church becomes less a way of life and more an indulgence of some fleeting whim or taste. We choose to be with one group of people, but not others. If there were a Church for Manchester United Supporters, it is doubtful that unless they were truly moved by the love of Christ that they would willingly go to the Church of Chelsea Supporters.

Look at the disciples! Wouldn't any sane leader choose people from the same background to further his cause so as to avoid fragmentation? Not Our Lord. As C. S. Lewis says, He was either mad, bad or Son of God, and part of His "madness" then was to choose St Matthew a tax collector (and hence Roman collaborator) and St Simon the Zealot! How these two must have hated each other at the beginning, or perhaps would have done had they met under different circumstances. It's clear that Christ wants everyone to be part of the same Church, but a Church that follows His teaching rather than the teaching of the whims of the human heart.

If two people with opposing desires are to be part of the same Church, then it's clear that at least one of them will not have their desires met. A Church of coffee drinkers will have the Angl0-Latte wing and the Roman-Mocha wing, so if the coffee being served that day is Cappuccino, then neither party is going to be satisfied. So what? Why have they come to church in the first place?

We can fill our lives by trying to get precisely what we want down to the number of granules of sugar we put in that blasted cup of coffee. But in filling our lives with this minutiae and concern for adiaphora, we push out God. In order to worship properly, we cannot be content with the life that we have now. We have to be longing for something, and that something should be God, not the perfect latte. Life can never satisfy our longing for God, and that's really what should give Christians that distinctive "saltiness" in the world: they don't care what they're drinking, they're just thankful it's coffee. It is the common yearning for God that brings St Matthew and St Simon together.

But what is worship in the first place? It is putting the object of worship first in our lives - giving "worth-ship". Surely if we are demonstrating that God is worth the most in our lives, then our love of a particular brand of coffee should be the last thing that we bring to mind. Worship is the submission of life to the object, and if the object of our worship becomes "God, but only in a certain manner" then that is pure and simple idolatry - the worship of a God of one's own imaginings.

In order to belong to the Church, we have to be longing for Christ. Indeed, if we are truly content with the life that we have, then we have lost Christ! The life of Christ is beyond the reach of this life. The Church should be a place of people, all wanting the same thing, the same Redeemer, the same God -crying out like the young ravens in the wilderness (Ps cxlvii.9) and being satisfied with His Body in sacramental form. But even the Blessed Sacrament should not be enough for us because our physical nature is fleeting and passes away from His Eternity, and so our experience of Communion fades and we hunger once more. It will not always be so -He has seen to that!

Any parish Church that follows the teaching of Christ is formed by people who are looking to fill up the void of human existence with Him for Whom that void was created. If we choose to fill that void with coffee, then what fools we are!


poetreader said...

A good and thoughtful post, to which I can't really add anything. Isn't that an amazing thing for this old guy to say?


Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Excellent post! It is a very challenging one for me, and one that I have asked in my own blogging career and life as a Christian. Where do you draw the line in these matters? When do you say, "It's okay if you want to do that but....", and when do you say, "I am sorry, it's a sin to do that".

Alexander Schmemann wrote against specialized liturgies for children, sports teams, etc., precisely because the Church of Christ is one Body. We cannot pick and choose what part we will be and in what location.

What about liturgical snobs like me then? What about my obsession with the beauty of the Incarnational religion? I suppose when the rubber hits the road, I would have to concede that these things are not important. They are important to me, but I am not going to impose these things on others. They should not be used to unchurch anyone.

If anything, what flavor of Churchmanship I prefer should be considered a concession by the Most High to my weaknesses and prejudices. They might be necessary concessions in my case, but I do not have a right to them.

I don't drink coffee. It makes me jittery. Do you have any juice?

Warwickensis said...

Thanks chaps,

which juice did you want, Pseudo-Iamblichus?

I've got orange, apple, cranberry, apple and cranberry, orange and cranberry, orange, apple and cranberry, pineapple, pineapple and cranberry... :)

Seriously though, I'm a liturgical snob too. I think we have to see part of it as an honest desire to seek God at Mass and put as much effort into our worship as we can whilst remaining in koinonia to the cloud of witnesses who have been (and still are)present at Mass. We strive for that. But often the one below us twists it in our heads and often we agonise over silly details such as the quality of the incense, or length of the altar cloth. This distracts us from true worship.

However, a good liturgy worships, unites and teaches the Truth: something which many modern liturgies fail to do, and to some extent our rejecting them although viewed as snobbery is in reality Truth seeking.

I reguarly sit in Masses where the liturgy is banal, the Kyrie, Gloria, and Agnus Dei are missing, the Creed is replaced with an "Affirmation of Faith" and the worship songs vacuous and platitudinous to say the least, some are even theologically reprehensible. But all these alterations are based on what one enjoys doing, on how it makes people feel. They lack the good solid theology and teaching about Christ within the liturgy that the people need. I believe that our "snobbery" is in that situation a misnomer and an engine for driving us to truly seek God in Mass.

If, however, I make a mistake and forget the collection plate or read the wrong reading, then that is entirely forgivable and indeed we shouldn't moan at that, nor perhaps should we moan when a good, theologically sound hymn has a new and "bouncier" tune, though I confess I am the first to moan in such a situation.

If we ask ourselves "does it really matter?" then I think we have some control of our snobbery. An "alleluia" played on guitars and drums but honestly meant is better than Mozartian, or Mozarabic "alleluia" with no meaning at all. If we listen with the ears of the soul, then we will know the difference.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

I put a post on this post on my blog. You are also on my links section now as well.