Saturday, January 24, 2015

Week 4a - Lex orandi, Lex Credendi

Good book; I still love Church.
There is this thing floating around on Facebook that at first sight addresses ten songs we should stop singing in church. A few of the songs on the list I nod my head to, and a few of the songs I get miffed that the writer would list. As I have been reflecting on that this week and reading Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor I felt like I put together a couple of things together. In Taylor’s words:

“What I noticed at Grace-Calvary is the same thing I notice whenever people aim to solve their conflicts with one another by turning to the Bible: defending the dried ink marks on the page becomes more vital than defending the neighbor. As a general rule, I would say that human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.”

Don’t worry my friends, I get how you can pick this passage apart theologically saying that Taylor is drifting toward an unhealthy form of humanism that proof texts in order to justify itself. I get that as a ready defense to the first sentence, but the second sentence is more the sentiment of where we’re headed today. I think we have all been there and seen this at play; heck, many of us have been the ones treating people badly in order to “protect God.” But just stop and contemplate that for a moment. Protecting God. Protecting God? We’re out to protect the “immovable mover,” the “Maker and protector of the Earth,” the “Saviour of all mankind.” That’s who we’re protecting? (I use these phrases as there are so many views of God, not necessarily to reflect my thoughts on the Infinite Being I call God and see in the form of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.)

Now, let me say that I understand that through the waves of Modernity and Postmodernity there is inherently built into our life systems a defense of our faith, thus the entire branch of theology called Apologetics. We are defending that this system we have created is somehow the right one that needs to be adhered to.

Let me also say that I understand that there is great importance in proper belief. Proper belief forms our identity and our policies. It informs how we integrate faith into our very lives. And, the author was right to go after music as opposed to preaching, because like it or not our songs are likely more readily shaping theology than sermons in people's lives. The songs we sing change us more, because frankly put they stick with us long after a good sermon does. I know that seems like I have a low view of the preaching ministry, but that is not the case, in fact a GREAT sermon will probably more radically change someone in the short term than worship. But the average person is not really as engaged in Christian worship as we suspect and a little musical ditty is more likely to get stuck in your head than a sermon tag. In fact, think of the industry that has sprung up around Christian worship, Christian music and the like. Now compare those sales to say a sermon series in the same store. Speaks for itself.

How is this a thing? It is funny though!
There is a little Latin phrase that speaks to this – “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” Roughly, simply translated it means “The way of worship determines the way of belief." So, basically if our worship is off then our belief will become unhinged as well. This is where the author is coming from. He wants worship to be right so that our belief is right. And I could get on board with that except this: whenever we become so obsessed with theological correctness we have a tendency to over correct in loving the Lord with all of our mind to the exemption of loving the Lord with all of our soul, heart and strength.

And there is good reason for this. It is easy to defend right belief. It is easy to defend rational theological thinking. Rational thought is a much easier battleground for theology than experience, emotion or soul-shaping. Therefore it is much easier for us to dismiss Charismatics and Pentecostals, because they are easily swayed by their emotions. It is easier to dismiss Episcopalians and Presbyterians because they are trying to live between the lines of Scripture and adjust their lives to the thoughts behind the words, not the words themselves. It is easier to dismiss those who have soul-shaping experiences that were based on prayer and meditation rather than an application of a specific Scripture verse. In other words Christianity has moved approximately a foot up from the heart to the head. Henri Nouwen mentions this in his writing. He talks about the Scripture using a much broader definition of heart than we do. The heart is not just the center of emotions, it is the home of intuition, movement and the deepest places of our soul.

So, here is what has happened in a lot of ways – we have determined that the head is much more accurate and finely-tuned than the heart. We can rely on well thought out theologies that define and redefine proper belief, but too often we have done this to the exclusion of the great commandment – Love God, Love people, Love His creation. Think has become the new bastion of Christianity not love. We are a people who spend time arguing and fighting over the bylaws of how our congregation calls new ministers or spends our money and have forgotten to break bread with one another. We have forgotten that the songs that are being critiqued came from real experiences with a divine presence that left the writer in a place of vulnerability. These words that poured from them are a response to encountering the actual divine presence that the rest of are simply talking about. And, yes, this is a quiet rebuke, even to my own soul.

When we spend our lives so caught up in defending God, we forget that He is indeed our defender. When we get so caught up in correcting doctrine, because God needs us, we forget that that is just as humanistic as we accused Taylor of being earlier. Being the herald of correct theology that beats everyone else into correct thought is about as ego-centric as it comes. It means that we have now turned into those that believe that we truly and fully understand God. And that my friends is just not a place I can go. I cannot understand God. Those thoughts are too vast for me. I can however enjoy God and enjoy His people. I can learn to love the invisible mover that directs me, and find a way to trust in the dark caverns of doubt that I feel paralyze me even as I know I need to move forward.

The Nouwen book I referred to earlier.
I can also love those that God has put in my path. And I can love those that are extremely difficult to love. Because if I cannot love my brother who is seen, how can I say that I love a God that I cannot see. In other words I can actually work through how to live a life of grace, mercy, love and justice or I can spend my life correcting others, probably in an effort to maintain the shoddiness of my own faith. If I can just get someone to see things my way, then maybe this is actually real after all, right?

Now, I need to wrap this thing up, but let me say two things: first, these are the words of a 36-year old guy. There is nothing final about this. I will change over the course of my life. Second, we do need to correct certain things that we encounter. Some things are frankly so damaging to people that they need to be addressed. That is not what I am critiquing. What I critique is this knit-picky stuff that really is a matter of encountering something as huge as the divine presence and saying that these little things that I think are the right things to think. Okay…until next time.

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