Monday, August 1, 2016

Case in Point

 “How does this church’s worship shape her people’s ethical wisdom?”

I hd not yet read Samuel Wells, Improvisation, when on July 10 I posted a Facebook question following a series of national outrages. In the preceding days police officers in Baton Rouge, LA, had shot and killed a black man on the street. Three days later, on July 8, five police officers were shot by a sniper during a legal Dallas, TX, protest. (As we now know, the month would only get worse, and those of us of a certain age began to feel like it was 1968 again.) Preparing to head out to church, I stopped long enough to ask others:

To my church-going FB friends: If you're willing, would you answer the following questions? ( if you wish to remain anonymous feel free to answer privately through FB Messenger)
* Especially this Sunday - did your church read or sing a Psalm?
* This Sunday - were the shooting events of this week mentioned? In what context?
* Were the shooting events of this week prayed for publicly? Was that typical of your church's practice, or unusual?
* Were people, peoples, communities related to this week's shooting events prayed for by name?
Just curious, as I myself head out to church this morning.

The responses were interesting, even if predictable. To summarize:
·         Churches in which the Psalms are regularly read or sung incorporated a psalm(s) in the service that morning. In some cases, the Psalm of the Day fit very aptly into the need of the day. In others, a Psalm was selected for the occasion.
·         Some churches that do not regularly read, sing, or pray from the Psalms, thought it important to incorporate an appropriate psalm that morning.
·         Others, in which the Psalms do not play a regular part of worship, did not go to the Psalms on July 10.
·         There did not seem to be a direct correlation between the presence of a Psalm in the service, and the more personal use of victims’ names in congregational prayer.
·         In some services, only the names of the police officers were spoken, in fewer the names of the other victims of the week.

If you go Here you may be able to scroll down to my July 10, 2016 post to read the responses.

I was just interested in what experiences my friends were having that morning in church. Since then, having read Improvisation, and thinking about how worship shapes the church’s ethics, I simply wish to cite this as a case in point. I am not going to take time to critique or praise any particular church or response.

Apropos Samuel Wells’ argument (I hope I making the correct application of this point in his book), every church had a chance on July 10 to help her people shape a Christian response to this summer’s simmering tensions. Our choices of whom to pray for, whose names to mention in prayer, and how to pray for our nation, speaks to all who listen and are learning to pray. More than learning to pray, we are learning how to respond. Our hearts are being shaped.

I was relieved to hear the associate pastor at my church pray beautifully, meaningfully, and personally along these lines. He prayed for the victims’ families, and spoke the name Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge) as well as all five Dallas policemen. He prayed for justice. If I have one critique of this prayer, it is that the pastor prayed for the church’s role in national healing, but not for this church’s role in national or local matters.

Since this church does not regularly sing, read, or pray the Psalms, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My hypothesis is that a regular recitation of the Psalms—which appears to have been normal in the New Testament, and has been practiced in Christian worship in every generation since—will naturally tune our hearts to pray for, and thus identify with the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and outcast; to pray and thus stand against unjust power and powers; and to see God’s hand and understand God’s heart in the affairs of nations. Hearing the voice of God in the Psalms keeps these matters from seeming political in church. Singing and Praying and Reciting the Psalms together ought to provide bridges for civil discourse about political differences. The Psalms ought to remind us that our hope and hopes are not in the kingdoms of this world, but in the Kingdom of God.

In short, the Psalms ought to not only teach us to pray and praise God, but to live God’s life in the world.