Posts by Stacey Gleddiesmith

Having spent over 20 years of my life leading worship and studying theology of worship (most recently during my MDiv at Regent College in Vancouver, BC), I am now on faculty at Columbia Bible College, where I am the Director of the Worship Arts Program. This program is unique in it's four-pronged approach to worship arts. Students begin with a solid grasp of the biblical theology of worship, are equipped with music and pastoral practice skills, and are also encouraged to explore other art forms. I love my job!

How Can We Keep from Singing

My inbox is filling up with questions from worship leaders and pastors who are newly struggling to understand what worship is—now that we can’t sing. For so long, we have identified the pattern of worship with a chunk of singing. And singing has become such a ubiquitous part of worship, that we no longer even think about the purpose it might serve.

In the face of our new reality—churches looking to re-open, but needing to address a new way of meeting together, a way that does not include singing—I want to begin with a few practicalities and ideas, and then simply invite you to share your questions in the comments. I do have some additional blog posts I would like to write—but would appreciate hearing from you re: which would be most useful:

  • I hope to offer a post re: the structure of worship (and how it can be fulfilled without music… in fact, working with the underlying structure without including congregational singing might enrich your use of music once we can return to sung-worship).
  • I hope to offer a post on the purpose of singing in worship and how we can fulfill that purpose in different ways.
  • I hope to offer a post on how to write participatory liturgy and prayer for use in your congregation.

But for now—perhaps you just need a few practical tips/thoughts and some ideas to get you thinking creatively. Because at this point, we are all exhausted from constant decision making, and creativity may not be easily accessible. So here goes…

Some initial thoughts:

  • Keep your services shorter. Partially, this is because a shorter time span leaves less time for the virus to spread. But also, when we don’t have singing—our temptation will be to fill that space with more talking at people. Try to resist that tendency. At first, the easiest way to do this will be to keep services shorter. As you begin to find your way, you can be more creative and find other ways for the congregation to participate rather than just receive (which is part of what congregational singing does for us).
  • Resist the temptation to simply do everything in the same way you always have. Without singing this will only work for a short time. Yes, keeping some level of familiarity is grounding for your congregation—patterns matter to us. But the reality is that we have already thrown normal out the window… and keeping the same exact pattern in your services actually robs the congregation of their primary participatory role (because congregational singing has always provided us that participatory response). The way in which things are not the same—is that the congregation doesn’t have that natural way into a service—so actually we need to push our creativity to make things more different in a way that helps our congregation to be worship participants rather than observers or consumers.
  • Explore resources: on this blog, go to the left column and click on the file folder, as you scroll down, you will see categories including a category called “liturgies” and one called “prayers.” You are welcome to use these resources in your own community (citations are nice!)—no need to ask specifically for my permission. Also, books like “The Worship Sourcebook” “The Common Book of Prayer” “The Celtic Book of Prayer” can be rich resources for you regardless of whether you are within a denomination that would typically use those types of books. Just choose which prayers/readings you use carefully—according to your tradition. Feel free to add additional resources you have found helpful in the comments below.
  • Your congregation needs your “professional polish” less than they ever have before. So expend less stress on producing a professional product (not that we want to be totally sloppy—it’s all about balance, people!). In fact, a few mistakes may make it feel more real… and real contact, real connection, un-mediated experience of each other is what many in your congregation are longing for right now. Don’t do a million takes of something to make sure it’s perfect. Get it close, and let a few mistakes stay in the mix so that they also know it’s real.
  • Expend most of your creative energy on thinking about ways to have your congregation participate in the service rather than simply observe. This is what we are missing in most of our streamed and recorded services right now—and there are ways to drive participation even there. I’ll include just a few ideas below to get your creative brains moving.

Some Initial Participatory Ideas to Play With:

  • Don’t just use the written prayers of others—allow space for others to fill them with their own prayers. I call this “populating a prayer” with words of your own, or with the words of your local church community. Most prayers—psalms included—can be broken into sections quite easily. All you need to do is find the transition points where the poet/pray-er is shifting from one type of thought to another. Between those two thoughts—add some space: perhaps a time of silence; perhaps a prompt to have people speak aloud sentence prayers; perhaps a prompt to have people share just a single word that expresses their response to the portion of the prayer just read. There are many ways to do this. An example of this type of prayer can be found here.
  • Consider adding moments for discussion. I know this isn’t something we have often done in our churches, but now more than ever we need to hear from each other. We need opportunities to share struggles and vulnerabilities and triumphs—so maybe give those moments to the congregation. Yes, we need to be distanced—but I can talk to 2-3 people across 6 feet of space. Or use break-out rooms in zoom (or on other platforms) for this.
  • Hum! Humming is less problematic for virus spreading than singing. I don’t mean just have people hum along to the band, and then continue to do everything the way you’ve always done it. Consider the strengths of humming and use them accordingly. This will work best with a well-known and beloved song. Especially if harmonies are also known. It will work best a cappella. Imagine coming out of a time of discussion, starting with one person humming “Amazing Grace”—others joining in until the sound, muted, still swells to fill the space.
  • Consider what other voices/gifts in your congregation might need to be pulled forward at this point in time.
    • I’m thinking of the poets among us. Words written by and for a particular community can be particularly powerful. We need metaphor and imagery and choice words to ignite our imaginations and keep pulling us forward toward the vision of the good life we are given in Scripture. Who are your poets? Call them out!
    • I’m thinking of the actors and dramatists among us. We need not just words written, but words powerfully spoken. Story-tellers who don’t just speak words, but make them live. Who are your story-tellers? Call them out!
    • I’m thinking of the painters and sculptors and artists among us. We need not just word but image to help us understand the biblical text, to help us understand our current moment. Image-makers help us see more clearly, and we need that desperately in our fogged and smogged world. Who are your artists? Call them out!
  • Have a poem, written by a member of the congregation, read out with care-ful expression—then take time to discuss the poem in small groups. To unpack lines, and word choices. To pull out personal connections that someone else might not see.
  • Instead of a simple Scripture reading, have a member of your congregation tell Scripture—it doesn’t need to be a big production, just some time taken to understand character, and think through tone so the text can be delivered straight out of the mouth of Paul. Or as a bystander at the foot of the golden calf. This will feel personal, so take time to pray in small groups in response to the story told. Talk through where you each saw yourself in that story.
  • Have a painter paint the text for the week—and place that text on the screen, or a scanned photo in people’s hands. Tell them what to look for. Let them pour over it as the text is read out. Let the image be a conduit for prayer.
  • Or have a potter bring their wheel and place it on the stage. Have them work, quietly, as you unpack one of the many biblical texts about the Potter, and the clay. Take time as a community to pray into what it means to be clay, unfired.

These are just a few ideas to get you started–and please feel free to share your own ideas below. Especially if you can tell a story of how it worked (or didn’t work–an even better way for us to learn together!) in practice.

Congregational singing is a wonderful gift—and there is a reason that we are not only instructed but commanded to sing in Scripture. But there are so many other ways and means of worship that we have forgotten. While I will miss singing with my sisters and brothers in Christ… I confess that I’m also a bit excited. What will we discover when the music we have made into an idol is stripped from us? What will we learn about ourselves? About God as the crutch is removed?

But it will not be easy. So please do feel free to place questions (or further ideas) in the comments. Or let me know which of the blog post ideas above would actually be helpful for you. Let’s share the load.

Liturgy for Uncertain Times

Prayer by Thomas Merton

Corporate Liturgy by Stacey Gleddiesmith


Some advice for implementation: This corporate liturgy was written for our Columbia Bible College faculty retreat this week. I have posted previously about memorizing prayer as a way of finding words when words are difficult to find. Memorization allows us to start with someone else’s words and then to populate that prayer with our own. This liturgy is designed to do that as a community. This prayer by Thomas Merton moves beautifully from a place of disorientation to a sense of re-orientation (think Brugemman’s unpacking of the Psalms of Lament). I have found these words profoundly comforting and helpful in our current moment. I hope they provide you and your community with a way into prayer in the midst of uncertainty.

I would recommend beginning with a slow and thoughtful reading of the original prayer (the first block of text below), followed by a slow movement through the communal liturgy I have written based on Merton’s prayer. In the midst of the communal liturgy there is time for silence–and I would recommend inviting people to speak into that silence their own prayers (either individual prayers, or, if you, too are using this in an organizational or congregational setting–focus your prayers on your shared life/task). I have included a prompt you could place on a screen or you could instead have reader two use the simple invitational language also included.

Most importantly, don’t rush the silence. If you’re worried about pacing, I would recommend a slow count to 10 or even 15 after the last person speaks. If someone else speaks as you count, begin the count over again. Some sections will prompt more out loud response than others. I would give each section of response at least a minute of time, even if no one speaks. If your community is comfortable with silence, give each time of silence up to 2 minutes. If people continue to speak into that moment–don’t cut them off even there.

I would also recommend that you conclude the liturgy by singing together. A communal praise song like The Doxology would work well (we did this over zoom despite the delay and messiness and the fact that it sounded awful). The silliness of singing aloud in your own house and the delay causing everyone to sound like they are singing at a different time can bring added lightness and joy to the conclusion of this liturgy. And it’s still powerful to lift our voices together in song in praise of our Triune God–even if it sounds terrible.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

                                                                                                         –Thomas Merton

Reader 1: Our Lord God,
We have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: in what ways are we experiencing uncertainty at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the ways in which you (or we as a community) are experiencing uncertainty at this moment.

Reader 2 (once enough space has been given): We lift our uncertainty to you

Reader 1: We do not see the road ahead of us
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do we really know ourselves,
and the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: in what ways are we struggling to trust ourselves at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the ways in which you as (or we as a community) are struggling to trust ourselves.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our selves to you.

Reader 1: the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.
But we believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: in what ways do we desire to please God at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the ways in which you (or we as a community) desire to please God.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our desires to you.

Reader 1: We hope we have the desire to please you in all that we are doing.
And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road,
though we may know nothing about it.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: What decisions and decision makers do we need to place in God’s hands at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the decisions and decision makers you (or we as a community) need to place in God’s hands.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our decisions to you.

Reader 1: You will lead us by the right road
Even if we can’t see it.
Therefore we will trust you always
Though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: In what ways do we trust in God at this moment? How do we KNOW we can trust Him?
  • Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the things you (or we as a community) are trusting to God at this moment. We also invite you to speak out the reasons for that trust.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We place our trust in you.

Reader 1: Therefore, we will trust you always.
Though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone. 

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: What thanks and praise can we lift to God in this moment?
  • Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the things you (or we as a community) are thankful to God for–lift your praises to him.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our thanks and praise to you.

Reader 1: We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone. 

Amen.

Words to “The Doxology”:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

Holy Saturday: Pushing into Liminal Spaces

Last year at this time I was preparing to speak to the 2019 graduating class of Columbia Bible College. Speaking to them at an “in-between” moment, the crux of a teeter-totter: on one side the predictability of grade 5, then grade 6, then grade 7… all the way up to completion of College; on the other side, overwhelming possibility.

Graduation is a liminal space.

“Liminal” is an art and literature term that describes the space between two realities—it comes from limin, which means: threshold. When you stand on a threshold (in a doorway), you have exited one room, but have not yet entered another. It’s an in-between moment. I told the class of 2019 that it was oddly appropriate that they were graduating on Holy Saturday.

It’s also, however, strangely appropriate to return to this thought on Holy Saturday 2020. I’ve been describing the feeling of this pandemic as follows: “It’s like we were all on a trampoline together, and someone threw something large and extremely heavy right in the middle, and everything—us, all our plans, all our stuff, everything—flew up in the air… and we froze there.” It feels like an in-between moment. Planning is difficult in constantly shifting circumstances, finances are imperiled, we are either far too stretched or far too bored, events are put on hold. Our 2020 graduates will graduate, but without the usual weight of ceremony and communal celebration. It’s a liminal moment.

So I’m coming back to the story of Holy Saturday—because it feels like a moment I need to push into right now. It feels like we might need to sit in the dark, to hold a vigil, to allow for grief, to acknowledge the “in-between.”

Yesterday, we mourned Jesus’ death and walked through his pain. Tomorrow, we will celebrate (in whatever way we can manage) the joy and bursting light of his resurrection. But today—today is a liminal space.

 On Holy Saturday, Jesus is entombed. When we think of Easter weekend, we usually talk about the room before and the room after: about the first day, and then… on the third day… but we rarely talk about the day in the middle: Christ’s death accomplished, his resurrection yet to come.

Other years, on this in-between day, I have found myself wondering what that particular Sabbath was like for the followers of Jesus. Luke 23:50-56 tells it this way:

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

“But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

Why have I never noticed that sentence before? What a radical form of obedience: to rest when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Imagine you are Mary, or one of the other women who had come with Jesus from Galilee… or perhaps you are Peter or one of the other disciples, or Joseph of Arimathea:

You have been waiting for the kingdom of God.

You have pinned your hopes for your self and your nation on one man.

You have watched him heal the blind make crippled legs strong again.

You have heard him teach, and have marveled at his wisdom, maybe trembled at the challenge of his teaching.

You have dreamed that a Messiah would rise to throw off Roman oppression—to give back to the Jewish people full rule of the land from which they had been exiled by their own sin.

And you FOUND him! You FOLLOWED him!

And now……

A tomb.

What must that long Sabbath rest of felt like?

You can’t work to take your mind off it.

You can’t even do for Jesus’ body the things that should be done.

Pause and imagine what it must have felt like.

Untitled, Claire Astra Mackenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

I imagine Jesus’ followers felt as entombed as him on that long Sabbath day.

Today, another Columbia Bible College graduating class stands on a threshold between two rooms. And we all stand on a sort of threshold together: life before this virus feels very far away; and life after it is unclear, unsettled. Everything is up in the air. We wonder when it will land—and how we will cope when it does.

Like the tomb, like that long Sabbath rest, it’s a liminal space. And it won’t be the only in-between space in our lives.

There will be waiting rooms: literal and figurative. There will be changing of seasons: literal and figurative. There will be days, weeks, months of uncertainty with decisions to be made, transitions from one place to another, from one job to another; there will be relationships lost and gained.

You will face them. As you face this moment now.

But you will not face them—or this current moment—in the same way that Mary did, or Peter, or Joseph of Arimathea. Because you know something they did not.

Holy Saturday is the threshold between the terror and pain and trauma of Good Friday, and the explosive, unexpected joy of Easter Sunday—just a step across, from one to the other. Just one day.

Poet John Donne used just one small comma to express Holy Saturday: “Death, thou shalt die.”

When you move from one city to another, you do so knowing that the Living God has gone ahead of you.

When you stand between relationships lost and gained, you do so with the promise of Jesus that he will never leave you, never forsake you.

And in those moments—like now—when there seems to be nothing you can do but wait… you do so knowing that you serve a God who waits with you. A God who knows what it means to be entombed. A God who has been to the in-between spaces.

Untitled, by Claire Astra Mckenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

Just last week, one of my favourite artists (who I also have the privilege to name as a friend—and who gave me permission to include some of her work here), Claire Astra Mackenzie, posted some new work on her facebook page: Claire Astra Studios. Working in India Ink and Gold Leaf—she described her new work as “Unfocused. Frenetic. Still believing there is beauty. Taking a moment to breathe.” Allowing the darkness of India Ink to bleed on the page, she picked out some of the liminal spaces with gold—it’s the work you’ve been looking at as you’ve read this blog post. I find it incredibly hopeful! To me, these seem like Holy Saturday paintings: the darkness is still there. There’s stillness, there’s messiness, there’s a sense of waiting, even grief—but the light is there. Glimmering in the liminal space.

My childhood piano teacher, Mrs. Johnson, always told me to pay attention to the space between the notes. The rests—the liminal space between the notes—are really what create the music and give it shape. The silence is just as important as the sound.

In the light of the resurrection, we can begin to see our liminal spaces—even this moment now—as a location for transformation.

Because God is not in the habit of wasting things.

He did not waste Jonah’s time in the whale—but used it to convince Jonah to preach to a bloodthirsty people and turn them toward repentance. He changed the Ninevites, but he also changed Jonah… even if it took awhile.

God did not waste the Israelite wanderings in the desert, but used their wandering to cause them to follow him more closely.

God did not waste Peter’s denial, but used it to make the foundation of his church stronger.

God did not waste Job’s trials, or Gideon’s doubt, or Elijah’s breakdown, or Barnabas and Paul’s argument over John Mark.

He has not wasted my liminal spaces; and there have been many. He used those in-between, difficult times to sharpen skills, to narrow desires, to increase empathy, to build something stronger in me.

He will not waste this liminal space right now. Or any of the liminal spaces you encounter over the course of your life.

            He will not waste your waiting.

            He will not waste your isolation.

            He will not waste your grieving.

            He will not waste your doubt.

            He will not waste you.

Untitled, Claire Astra Mckenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

So right now—on this Holy Saturday—in this liminal space… get ready to sing. Sing from the tomb. Sing from the in-between. Sing the gold-leaf from between the branches. Sing suspended in mid-air as you wait to find out where everything will land… Sing like you mean it:

“Ain’t no grave that can hold this body down.”

Prayer in Times of Crisis

Last week, my College (Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, BC) asked me to film a video for our students on the theme of paying attention to what God is doing in our current moment–including some kind of practice that students could use to foster spiritual health.

Honesty break: I have been wrestling with this myself. In this time when all seems uncertain, and yet many of us can’t put our finger on actual sources of pain… I’m finding it difficult to pray.

So I have been returning to a practice I began three years ago when I walked part of the Camino trail with family: memorization. Sometimes–in times of crisis, we need the words of others to help us pray our own prayers. The process of memorization, going over and over the words of someone else’s prayer, helps me to begin to populate that set prayer with my own words, and worries, and desires.

Walking the Camino

The prayer that I’ve been returning to in the last couple of weeks is by Thomas Merton–each morning on the Camino I began my day with the words “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” Poignant words for days that were given over to simply following a trail set in front of me. But these words are resonating in me in a different way today.

Below is a link to the short video I filmed, and the prayer I have been clinging to. Maybe you, too, are struggling to pray these days. Consider starting with the prayer by Thomas Merton I have included below. Or maybe a psalm (121 and 72 come to mind). Find an ancient prayer from one of the desert fathers, or a prayer from the liturgical tradition, or a sung prayer from a favourite artist, or a Taize song…. Chew on it. Wrestle with it. Turn it over and over in your mind as you commit it to memory. Populate it with your own worries, and joys, and uncertainty–may it bring you peace.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

~Thomas Merton

A Prayer for Containment

When  we are tempted to be fearful, teach us peace.

When we are temped to hoard, teach us generosity.

When we want to look only to the wellbeing of our own family, teach us to expand our care.

When we become overwhelmed and disengaged, teach us to feel the pain of others.

When we are financially unstable, teach us to find ways to live smaller.

When we are disappointed, teach us joy in sacrifice.

When we are tempted to despair, teach us to remember that you are still God, and that you are still good.

When we think we know it all, teach us to listen harder.

When we struggle to decide what to do in small ways, teach us to pray for those in positions of authority.

When we are tempted to despise the actions of others, teach us to see behind foolishness and negative behaviour to the hurt beneath.

When we respond to rising tension in haste and without consideration, teach us patience.

When we are tempted to blame others, teach us to have grace for decisions made in a time of fluctuating information and changing conditions.

When we are isolated, teach us to find ways to connect–with you and with others.

When we feel bored, teach us to expand our creativity.

When we feel alone, teach us to ask for help.

When we feel strong, teach us to care for those who are not.

When we are tempted to despondency, teach us to see all the varied goodness that surrounds us.

When we are tempted to be careless, teach us to see each action we take as resonating in the lives of others.

When we feel we can do nothing, teach us how very wrong we are.

Above all this, teach us to love.

Now more than ever.

Amen.

How are you finding ways to reach out to your community despite “social distancing”? How are others reaching out to you? In what ways are you finding beauty, life, and creativity in a time of increasing anxiety? Feel free to leave a comment to encourage others!

Cut and Paste Faith

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

 

I’ve got a new article out today in “Christ & Cascadia”, reflecting on how the modern art of collage is illustrative of the way we tend to piece together our faith. Follow this link to read more:

How to Cut and Paste Your Faith 

Here’s to Erasing a False Dichotomy!

Photo by Wil C. Fry, accessed through Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Wil C. Fry, accessed through Flickr Creative Commons.

Today the Robert Webber Institute for Christian Worship drew my attention to an article by Jonathan Aigner called “How to Make Worship Kid Friendly” published by patheos.com. As I am always interested in learning how to better facilitate multi-generational worship, I clicked through to read said article. My enthusiasm, however, quickly turned to frustration. Enough frustration to make me sigh audibly in a way that caused questions from those with whom  I was sharing a living room.

What Aigner has done here, (and I would encourage you to read the article by accessing the link above) is to provide some great ways in which parents and congregations can engage kids in “traditional” “liturgical” worship services. Unfortunately, rather than simply provide this very positive help, he has chosen to do so while also asserting not-quite subtly that “contemporary” worship “engages” kids at the cost of spiritual depth and personal growth. The underlying assumption is that “contemporary” worship uses modern entertainment as a “hook” to get young people in, but then doesn’t provide any transformative teaching or historical richness.

Interestingly… mid-way through his post, Aigner asserts:

The self-imposed contemporary/traditional worship dichotomy has had far-reaching negative effects on traditional worship. Instead of being a place for multi-generational participation, it’s been labeled as “old people worship and turned into a self-indulgent, “get all your blue-haired friends together” all-request golden oldies hour.

Yes. Absolutely. That has been the cost… on one side. Aigner seems to feel the debate has left “traditional” worship out in the cold (sorry, couldn’t resist.), while simultaneously spouting the opposite, equally damaging, generality: that all “contemporary” worship is empty and simply a lure to keep young people in the church.

I have worshiped, with depth, and with cultural relatively (for lack of a better phrase), in both “traditional” and “contemporary” congregations. My perception is that a tendency to blame or praise a style of worship for a common failing or beauty of worship generally portrays not the truth of whether or not worship is scriptural, or alive, or transformative, but rather the personal preferences of the one speaking.

I chose to respond to the article in a comment,* but have expanded into a blog post in order to seek your wisdom in the matter. There are also many good points and creative ideas in Aigner’s article–which is possibly why I’m so annoyed. Am I over-reacting? I throw it to you, readers. Please read the original article before commenting here. My comment below the article is included here:

I agree with the premise of this article, that kids don’t need “contemporary” in order to connect in worship. I, myself, grew up in a liturgical church—and, even as a kid, loved going to church. Sometimes it felt long… sometimes I was distracted or bored (my childhood church also kept kids in during the sermon!), but the difficulties yielded results in perseverance and attentiveness and richness that I’m still reaping today. You have also identified some key ways in which parents (and other community members) can help kids to engage in worship within a more traditional structure. I am disappointed, however, that you felt the need in this article to set traditional/contemporary once again at logger-heads, painting all churches within those very generalized categories with the same brush. The fact is, contemporary worship is only empty when we make it empty. Not every church that would describe itself as contemporary has “sold-out” to popular entertainment values. And traditional worship is only full when we bring our full selves to it. Not every traditional church is alive to the life in their liturgy. Yes, I would absolutely affirm that kids can be engaged in traditional worship—that they don’t need hype and volume in order to be involved—but can’t we also affirm that kids can be engaged with depth, and without dumbing-down, and without catering to increasingly shortening attention spans in both traditional and contemporary congregations? Why make it a dichotomy?

*Update: My comment was apparently unfit to be post under the article, which I find additionally disappointing.

Bottling Summer

DownloadBanner[1]At this year’s Columbia Bible College (CBC) Christmas chapel, I adapted a creative non-fiction piece I wrote awhile back to serve as a structural liturgy leading up to communion. CBC decided to offer this reflection as a gift to their constituents, and made it into a beautiful e-book. You can download it for free here (Bottling Summer) or simply click on the banner above.

Merry Christmas! May it be a season of storing up plenty. And if it feels more like a season of want this time around–may this be an encouragement to pull a few jars off the shelf and feast on the provision from richer seasons past.

Stacey

When Mother’s Day Hurts

I love my mum. I have that going for me. To add blessing to blessing, I love my mum-in-law as well. They are both strong, caring, fun women who seek adventure, who pursue Christ wholeheartedly, and who never fail to be practical and emotional supports in difficulty and avid cheerleaders in times of triumph.

I also have many other mums in my life that I love and admire more than I can manage to put into words. Some dear friends who have mothered me at key moments in my life. Some dear friends who I watch in amazement as they pour goodness and strength into their creative, confident, and kind children.

And yet… Mother’s Day can still sting.

infertilityI think I have always wanted to be a mother. But, for me, the traditional route to motherhood was simply not available. 5 years of trying culminated in 2 surgeries… neither of which resulted in the ability for me to bear a child. And, without going into a myriad of details, after examining the complex and varied options to adopt–we realized God wasn’t calling us in that direction. So here I am. A mother without children on this day–a day on which facebook and twitter and commercials and TV and every possible form of technology and entertainment turns toward mothering. Even NHL players are interviewed before their playoff games about what they have learned from their mothers. It’s inescapable.

Hear me when I say… absolutely we should celebrate parents. It is a hard and sometimes thankless job that makes a huge difference in our world. We need good parents. We need to be their cheerleaders when there is reason to celebrate (even if it’s “just” a dry diaper, or a hard-won C+, or a slightly cleaner room), and their comforters when things don’t go so well, and their encouragers when there is too little sleep–or too much sass–or just, simply, too much. Parents are worth celebrating and supporting. Absolutely.

But there is real hurt here too. Women, like me, who will never fulfill a felt calling to mothering (at least not in the traditional way). Women who grieve not only childlessness on this day, but singleness as well. People who have complex or fraught relationships with their own mothers. Women who have lost children. Anyone who has lost their mother. There are many types of grief that this particular day presses on.

What I find most sad is that those of us who are struggling/grieving/hurting on this day will feel like staying home from church today. Will feel unsafe with their pain in the very community that should provide comfort and encouragement. Many of us will give in to the temptation to “turtle”–to curl up in a blanket at home and try to forget what day it is. Because sometimes the church gets it wrong. Sometimes the church makes an idol out of mothers and fathers. Sometimes the church comes dangerously close to defining humanity (and human worth) in terms of the nuclear family. Sometimes the church mistakenly weaves cultural days and seasons into the sacred rhythms of faith in a way that is unhealthy.

See we are called together, each week, to worship the Living God. That worship can include thanks for parents. It can include joy in and support of parents in our congregation. But when we begin to place all focus there, I think we have a theological problem that warps our worship away from God and toward people. When we worship, we make a profound statement about what matters–what is worth our attention, our time, our commitment, our whole selves. Parents do hard work, do good work–but they are not worthy of worship (nor are children, for that matter, wonderful as they are). While we should celebrate and support parents, our focus should remain on the Triune God. There should be no such thing as a “Mother’s Day service“.

I went to church this morning. I admit that I was a bit apprehensive. But, thankfully, blessedly, my church got it right.  I received a delightfully squished carnation from a small child who didn’t really want to let it go. I prayed, along with our church leadership, for mothers in our congregation. I shed a few tears in the midst, as I think I always will. But the focus of the service was the Triune God. I sang my heart out to Jesus–along with my fellow mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and uncles and aunts and sisters and brothers. Our whole delightfully mixed-up and diverse family heard the word of God and responded together. Because our family is so much bigger than we realize. So much deeper and broader. So much more messed-up and beautiful. And today I was reminded that–in that family–I have countless opportunities to be a mother, and a sister, and an aunt, and a daughter. And it was good. Happy Mother’s Day.

Lament: Proclaiming the Reign of Christ in Every Circumstance

Recently, Columbia Bible College published their Spring 2015 of “Columbia Contact,” their bi-annual magazine. The focus of the issue is faith in the midst of suffering and pain. On page 7 is an article I wrote entitled “Lament: Proclaiming the Reign of Christ in Every Circumstance” in which I discuss why we need lament in our gathered worship, and how biblical lament can be implemented in a way that reflects reality while also revealing real hope and joy.Lament article

A few excerpts:

If we don’t lament in our congregations…

“we promote the idea that our gathered worship is reserved for the happy and well-fed. That those who struggle with sin or grief or poverty should just stay home. We declare them unwelcome in our midst. (This makes an interesting contrast to Jesus’ declaration that all who do not welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked are, in fact, outside of his kingdom–Matt. 25:41-43.) By failing to lament in our gathered worship, we propagate a circumstantial faith–faith that is dependent on things going well–rather than faith that is dependent on the character and actions of God.”

Continuing…

“Thankfully, implementation of biblical lament is easier than it might seem. Sometimes, lament will be a simple expression of trust in the midst of an honest expression of circumstance…. Lament might be as simple as praying “I don’t know” in a circumstance that doesn’t make sense when considered alongside the goodness of God and his promises of love and mercy. Because I don’t have to have the answers, not to eh big ‘whys.’ What answer can I give my friend who recently lost a child? What answer can I give to those living with constant fear? There is, sometimes, very little to be said. What is needed, instead, is the ability to climb down into that dark corner and whisper with them, ‘I don’t know why. But I do know that God is good. I know that he loves you. And I will sit with you here in the dark until we start to see that light.'”

To read the full article, which explores the implications of lament for our world, as well as further ideas for implementation in our gathered worship–and to read other great articles in this publication–follow this link.