Church is Our Classroom: Part IV Christ the King

May 3, 2009
11AM Mass
Christ the King
Presbyterian Church

This is a roughly chronological transcription of my thoughts during mass. Some are more fleshed out than others. Where not marked as otherwise, words in quotes are from the sermon. I’ve done my best to accurately transcribe the sermon. My hand was a drunk fish at that hour.

The minister talked about some denominations being “contrary to scripture.” When does something become contrary? I wondered where this line is drawn for Christ the King parishioners.

“To be governed by nostalgia and aesthetics (?) is to sow the seeds of destruction.” I just watched Coming to America last night because Emily had never seen it. Prince Akeem drops this little nugget

“But it is also tradition that times must and always do change, my friend.”

So I get the part about nostalgia. But aesthetics? I might have heard wrong. I do not understand.

Jeff talked about the truth of these ideas ringing so loudly when just a few words are changed, omitted, or flipped. I was struck by it this time. This sermon was overflowing with good ideas. In fact, all of them have been so far.

As non-believers, not willing to make the sacrifice, we were politely asked not to receive communion. This is how I had always imagined it would / should be; I was actually surprised at being welcomed to receive communion as outsiders at the last two churches.

He says” …the reasons I don’t steal are to keep the unity of the peace.” It’s so true. Just replace peace with tribe. Moral systems grow on the lattice of human evolution. That reminds me of these amazing words etched into the wall of the courthouse on the Boston harbor. Replace race with species and there it is.

“The law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. Its history is the history of the moral development of the race.”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1897

There was a group confession. For this confession, everyone in the church kneeled. The minister invited anyone for whom this would be uncomfortable to find an easier position. There was a slow wave of bodies awkwardly turning toward the back of the Church to kneel and place their elbows on the pews. When my elbows hit the cushion, I thought of an alternative to sin and to confessions. What if during confession, we shined a light on those times we could not let go of our ego? I don’t know if it fits or what would happen, but I wonder…

The congregation here is young. Mostly people in their 30s. Lots of couples. I saw coffee cups. I even saw gum. These pieces of informality are an outward sign of their relationship with Presbyterianism. They also fit with the tone of the sermon. As are pieces of formality I remember growing up as a Catholic, for Catholics.

Afterward, Jeff reminded me that the gospel was written with them in mind. The message was deliberately designed to operate at a specific level of abstraction. There was an edge to his words. I was surprised, even refreshed, by his candidness. He was disarming, but I didn’t get the feeling that he was trying too hard.

In quoting an older pastor of his, he said
“God didn’t make any boring people…
Then where did they all come from?”

During the peace offering, “Peace of Christ”s were exchanged. Time was given for informal conversations and introductions. It seemed almost as if the goal was to meet someone new. The formalness of the ritual quickly dissolved. This is amazing to watch. I met a woman with a newborn baby. Imagine if we took five minutes out of each day with the sole intent of meeting someone new. Ideas live exhilarating lives between two live creatures (with the help of mirror neurons, of course).

Looking at myself throughout this ongoing Church visitation, I realized that naive reactions to these new situations could be interpreted as blessings, yet another means of cultural mutation.

Music is never far off in my thoughts during Church. I was thinking this time about how the performer \ audience barrier is broken down. Or maybe it never even showed up in the first place. Is that where we went wrong with performative arts? That demarcation of performer and audience? Funny, the situation roughly parallels the demarcation between clergy and parish. The musicians \ clergy as translators. And that got me into thinking about E.O. Wilson’s discussion of dominance hierarchies. Looking at packs of wolves, primates, etc, how can we not have elaborated cultural layers atop those predispositions? It’s hard to see the casserole dish through the lasagna, though.

The minister talked about the frustrating distance between the reality of being Christian and the pretty pictures painted by the gospel and its adherents. How people his age were losing faith because of it. And because of the disunity of Christianity with all its bickering sects and drama.

What does hope look like under the friendly scalpel of reduction?
It is instrincsically tied to the future. (Come to think of it, Christianity spends a large percentage of its time in the future.)
It is a rehearsal of positive scenarios, each of which rewards the holder of these scenarios with pleasure, therein increasing his ability to actually manifest these scenarios in the physical world.
It is a cognitive divorce from the real present conditions.
It is you carrying yourself with a carrot dangling from a stick in front of you.

Religion isn’t necessarily the easy path atheists often make it out to be. The minister’s point is that if you lift the hood on Chistianity, Christians struggle, even grapple with their faith. They have “scandalized consciences”.

There are many magical things about religion, but a monumental one is: The fruits are seen as evidence of the seed. This is the motherlode of all feedback loops. It is Lewis Hyde’s gift cycle. This mysterious force created this beautiful thing through me. I must pass along these gifts, putting a little bit aside for the force itself. And I want to continue receiving these gifts so I’d better keep this mysterious force happy by doing all I can to make these gifts as beautiful as possible.

Some of the pastor’s jokes shook up some laughter. There is an amazing afterglow in a room of people laughing together. It was particularly noticeable on this morning after a joke that had 95% of the congregation laughing. It’s some nearly post-coital bliss. That means comedians are resonance-addicts. They can’t get enough of it.

He was surprisingly open about “peoples’ sins crashing together”, about friction among members of the congregation. Feelings are hurt. Offenses are taken. “We are a man of pride and insecurity.”

Talking about a particular church tradition, the minister said “…this goes back many centuries.” At what point in history are your allegiances / beliefs rooted? Denominations are roughly frozen moments in the evolution of Chistianity. Even rock changes shape with time,though. There is a generally nostalgic hugging of tradition at the expense of adaptation. This is a key point of failure. It’s boranj at best, but could be better.

He proclaimed that he would like to see more tears shed than boasts made among Christian denominations, that boasting says more about the personal and cultural dispositions of the congregation more than anything. I thought this was a humble realization, an invitation to embrace somberness.

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One Response to “Church is Our Classroom: Part IV Christ the King”

  1. jeff says:

    Great post!

    Amazing to me how little overlap there is with my post on the same exact experience - but there are some similarities that stick out.

    The importance of music (and the arts in general).
    The truth of these statements with a 2% shift in content.

    It’s interesting - if all anxieties come from leaving the moment, and considering the future [for example], then a clear first solution is to do something that makes those thoughts about the future more positive [hope / faith]. This places the unknown into a ‘known’ which allows the future anxiety to become a known ‘ok.’ Buddhists take it to another level by trying to eliminate the self in the future at all in the first place, which seems one more step further along the path to enlightenment…

    The carrot and the stick reference is a great one - one that very likely stretches into many of Dissanayake’s descriptions of the arts..

    I would like you to write more about the fruits and seed reference to Lewis Hyde’s gift economy.. it seems like you just scratched the surface of something important. [related to the carrot of course! all different feedback level loops]

    It’s interesting how they hold to traditions that are only hundreds of years old, when in several of the services so far we’ve even seen evolution within the church-going group itself [different behaviors by participants]..

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