Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Who contextualized whom?

People have a natural love for pageantry, gallant gestures, parades, singing, and, if you will let an oxymoron stand, generally making fools of themselves in dignified ways. In our overly Protestant culture all of these natural urges are strictly forbidden in the realm of religion and end up in sports (Fr. Beane's analysis about football a while back was spot on). Throughout Christian history is has not been thus. Instead, the Church has tried to harness this natural love in ways conducive to the Faith. Sometimes things get out of control and have to be pared back. The misuse of the Sacrament in the processions of the late middle ages, for example, were rightly repressed in the Lutheran Reformation. And one should not turn the Divine Service into a passion play. But there ought to be passion plays. Church should not be a fun parade, but some fun parades ought to be churchly. Church should not be transformed into a concert of popular music, but there ought to be popular music about Church.

In this vein, Father Petersen recently mentioned that country music is more poetic and imaginative than rock or pop music. Country music also has much more religion in it. That is because country music - especially the forms of it that have not been pushed closer and closer to corporatist pop music - is a variation or outgrowth of the folk music of the Scots-Irish culture of the American South. As a real folk music, it has the religion of the people embedded in it. Remember how shocked pop stations were at the success of [that hideous song] "I can only imagine"? As much as I don't like that particular song, it is precisely the radio on which it should be played, not the chancel. People want a real culture - and every real culture the world has ever known has a good does of religion in it. People want religion on the radio. But in our culture, everything is pieced out: religion here, but not there; religion on this station, but not that. When a secular pop station in Dallas accidentally played that song, they tapped into a market which they had forgotten even existed.

This is one of the hidden problems of bringing the culture into the church - or "contextualization" of the Church as some say: it ironically impedes the bringing of the Church into the culture. Church music should be Church music - but, filled with the dignified, heartfelt, reverent music of the Church, the people's heart will overflow, the thoughts and pieties learned in the idiom of the Church will influence the popular music of a Christian people. But if the popular music influenced by the Church is ghettoized in the Church on Sunday morning (by driving out the Church's own music), what need is there to have it anywhere else? Country music is a shard of the Protestant South's folk music and, as the the music of a Volk, it runs the gamut of that folk's experience: songs of adultery, unrequited love, coal mine disasters, and imaginings of what spending eternity with Jesus will be like. The farther you get from country - Elvis-->Buddy Holly-->Beatles-->Rolling Stones - the less religion you get.

Pr. H. R.12 Comments