We went to church on Sunday for the first time in a very very long time; to an Anglican church with a socially-relevant and historically-grounded sermon and worship that as a mix of Coldplay and the Common Book of Prayers. I have never been a big fan of liturgy – I find that the words can easily be rattled off without sincerity or thought, and that when I do stop to think about what I am mumbling with the rest of the congregation, I am often unable to actually proclaim the words with the heart-felt conviction that I feel like a communal profession deserves.
But, while I still stayed silent for parts of the recitation of the Creed on Sunday, I had a realization: there may be space for people like me (that’d be people who call themselves Christian, but don’t profess many of the tenets that other Christians deem “fundamental”) in the liturgical practices of a Church like the Anglican Church. You see, when a more evangelical church says the Apostle’s Creed, or includes it in their sources of doctrine, I generally assume that they are interpreting it literally – that this is the starting point for their theological framework. And, in this context, standing up and saying it along with the group when I don’t believe everything it says “we believe” feels false and uncomfortable.
But in a church that is based on liturgy, it feels like the intention of the community in saying those words changes: the Creed becomes a placemarker in the tradition that the church comes from. Saying it is as much about situating the congregation in a historical and global community, rather than as a literal affirmation of everything it says. And I feel like there might be some room for me to be there, honestly; that I can read it as metaphor and history and poetry, and it’s ok if I don’t read it as fact. I don’t think I’ll ever escape from the feeling of impersonality that comes from a heavily liturgical service; and maybe I am reading into this completely wrong, and the Anglicans read the Creed because they each individually are professing the belief it espouses, but I think that in some ways, a more “traditional” service structure may actually open up more freedom to participate honestly while staying true to what I believe.
Monday, October 17, 2011
I recently finished reading A Strange Stirring by Stephanie Coontz, a book which is essentially a “biography” of The Feminine Mystique, the seminal book on housewife dissatisfaction that came out in the 1960s. It was a fascinating read, but what really captured me the most is how so much of what is considered the “traditional” North American family, and what many people (a large number of whom share the same faith tradition as me …) are fighting to preserve, is really quite a recent phenomenon. In fact, Coontz suggests that it’s normal for societies to go through waves of conservatism after times of upheaval – in other words, what’s exceptional about the post-war suburban nuclear family dream is that it lasted for so long. I was struck by the same theme when we read Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God last winter – this time with regard to theology and Biblical interpretation. Armstrong also highlighted how what is often termed “traditional” is actually relatively recent tradition, and we can quite easily look through history to the time before that tradition took root. Which has got me thinking about the importance of knowing our history: it’s so easy to assume that the bounds of one’s own experience encompass the world as it is, because we all live in our own point of view, but stepping out of your own (historical or cultural) place can quickly reveal that there’s a whole world of points of view out there, and you only live in one of them.