Monday, February 02, 2009

Jesus in Worship?

Last week, I had an interesting experience at PSR's Earl Lectures.  

As probably most of you know, I attended PSR, an extremely progressive UCC seminary in Berkeley, CA.  It is also interdenominational (not non-denominational), which means we have students from all sorts of religious backgrounds.  UCC, obviously, and also DOC, UMC, and MCC.  But also Swedenborgians, UUAs, and a smattering of students from other denominations.  When I was there, the range was pretty broad - from Episcopalian to Church of Religious Science to someone who was really about the Urantia Book/Movement to a Buddhist to .... well, you get the idea.

Naturally, worship was fraught with all sorts of peril.  Inclusive language for God was pretty much the expected norm, which meant that people could say "Goddess" but "Father" raised some gasps.  "Lord," pretty much out of the question.  Jesus could maybe be used, but too much orthodoxy (bodily resurrection, Jesus as divine Son of God, etc.) was definitely looked at somewhat askance.  There was a lot of intellectualizing our faith, showing off how smart and theologically astute we were, as opposed to too much confessional/devotional language.  We were earnest and this is definitely where we were at the time, but in retrospect there were some different things I might have liked a bit more.

Having grown up in a progressive UCC tradition, the inclusive language for God was not really a problem for me.  But, I confess I sometimes found it kind of annoying that "inclusive language" too often meant "really generic language" or occasionally "deliberately provocative language."  *sigh*

Examining the language  we use for God is always something I favor, as well as a robustly intellectual faith.  But one thing we didn't do too much in seminary was acknowledge that some people have legitimately examined their language, and they still find "Father" language to be what moves them.  That is not a sign of an intellectually vacant faith.  

Yet I was still really, really shocked by the closing worship at Earl Lectures.  I think "surreal and confusing" was the wording I used in a text to a friend I was supposed to meet for worship, but got late to because ... worship went longer than I expected.  There was praise music - with relatively progressive theology.  There was Jesus language.  Someone said "Lord."  Repeatedly.  Did I mention the praise music?  

I confess that it was very weird for me.  On the one hand, I was really happy to hear Jesus mentioned at my seminary.  On the other hand, praise music kind of annoys me, even if it has a good theology.  Back to the first hand, the worship team at PSR (worship professor Andrea Bieler, director of worship Andrea Davidson and music director Aeri Lee) are freaking awesome!  And the students who are also involved in worship planning are also pretty outstanding, including that Pentecostal student.  Wow!  

On the other hand, did I mention how WEIRD it was?  Jesus, Pentecostal-y stuff, praise music, professors authentically revealing their faith in appropriate ways, and, um, Jesus.  Who knew?  

I'm still processing it.  I'm so used to my worship experiences at PSR to be more intellectual than devotional, with little Jesus-as-Savior, that I did not know what to make of what I experienced at the closing of Earl Lectures.   It was everything I could have hoped for...and yet I was also really uncomfortable.  I tried to pretend it was on behalf of others who might be uncomfortable (you know, solidarity and all)....but the truth is that I was a little weirded out by the whole thing.

And it's not as if I never use Jesus as Lord language - I rather believe that progressive Christianity ought to reclaim that language.  Or that I'm opposed to praise music....okay, I kind of am, but that's really more a personal preference as opposed to some sort of theological stance.  And this praise music had really good theology!  Or that I'm not appropriately self-revelatory in my preaching and praying.  I think and hope that I am.

So, I don't know exactly what it was, but the whole thing was so bizarre.


Lucky Fresh said...

That's really funny, because I don't remember ever being aware that we didn't use the word "Lord." I don't remember if I did or not, but I don't remember feeling like I shouldn't. "Father" yes, but I wasn't going to use that anyway. And I remember PSR being a place where people were pretty insistent on including prayers of confession in worship.

Were we at the same school? In many ways, probably not. So much of it was what you brung with you. And we were two years apart. I never had Andrea for class.

Anyway, just thought I'd share my perspective. (Can we make up a cool, short slang word for "perspective"? It's way too long to type!)

And I'd love to know about the good theology praise music. What was it?

LiturgyGeek said...

Lucky Fresh, I wonder if my sharpest memories "against" Lord language didn't take place in the classroom...but I still remember it being rather shocking. And I only know that because a good friend found it personally annoying. It is weird how quickly the culture of a school can change (even as some persistent challenge stick around....)

I wish I had written down the names of the praise songs - because they were really quite good. But, of course, I was standing along with evryone else...