Kyrie (There Are No Words)

Lyrics by DeAndre Johnson.
Music by Clayton Faulkner.
© 2016

Lead sheet: Kyrie_(There_Are_No_Words)

There are no words that can contain
The depth of sorrow, grief and pain
That mothers, sons, and all exclaim:
Kyrie eleison!

“It is enough!”, the prophets cry
Yet still black men are doomed to die
By those who wish to vilify:
Kyrie eleison!

It is enough! The guns must cease
From warring madness by police
Who are sworn to protect, keep peace:
Kyrie eleison!

It is enough! We cannot wait!
No more excuse for bias, hate!
Your savagery we cannot take:
Christe eleison!

No! No more death! It is enough!
No more dead sons! It is enough!
No! No more tears for lives cut short:
Christe eleison!

Oo my soul, it aches and yearns
For a day when passions burn
For others with deep love, concern:
Kyrie eleison!

I’ve had enough of these charades,
Of clichés and hasty crusades
Whose triteness cuts like blades:
Kyrie eleison!

There are no words that can contain
The depth of wounds our souls sustain
Each time a grieving heart exclaims:
Kyrie eleison!

Virtual Eucharist During Covid-19: Hot Takes and What-Have-Yous

I can think of few better ways to start this post than with the immortal words of The Dude:

This is a complex issue and there is no way that I will be able to capture every facet of this topic in a holistic way. It’s too broad, and there are too many different views. I do want to compile some of the things I’ve read about it, and share my opinion.

I want to start by acknowledging my location in this post. I’m writing this from my perspective within the ELCA. Eucharistic piety is diverse in the church universal, and even in the ELCA in particular. I am writing from my understanding and expression of Lutheran sacramental Christianity. I also am locating myself as a white, suburban-dwelling resident of the U.S. I think that influences my thinking compared to others in other locations.

I also want to echo something Richard Rohr said in a recent devotion: “our knowledge of God is indirect at best, and none of our knowledge is fully face-to-face. God is always and forever Mystery.” We can grasp at what God is doing for us in the Eucharist, but our understanding of it is indirect at best. We can say it is a means of grace, and leave it at that.

There are many reasons for and reasons against having the Eucharist in a virtual environment (the Serrano brothers cover a lot of this):

  • Pros: people need communion now more than ever; this is an emergency; God’s presence is everywhere; the Spirit can work through any medium including digital; people are dying, this may be the last time they are able to commune; and many more reasons.
  • Cons: online gatherings are not real gatherings; we don’t have control over what people do with it; what kind of precedent does this set for the future; if you can commune yourself at home online, why would people come back to church; and many more reasons.

I think some of the quickness to jump completely into virtual Eucharist is based on fear of the future. We have articles telling us that nothing is ever going back to normal. That every organization is effectively a start up now. If this were true, then we have to re-evaluate everything that we do, including the sacraments. But is it true? Does everything have to be adapted?

Regarding the Lutheran Confessions, it is hard not to scratch your head while observing the Eucharist being celebrated in an empty room, with no one to administer the body and blood to. Isn’t this, the offering of private masses, exactly what Luther railed against as an abuse of the church (Augsburg Confession, 24)? How have we so quickly thrown out 500 years of Lutheran theology?

On the other hand: “For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel…” (Augsburg Confession, 5.2). Maybe virtual Eucharist pleases God? Maybe God can effect faith through it, whenever and wherever God pleases?

But then again: “The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly” (Augsburg Confession, 7.1). Is online worship an assembly? Aren’t we missing the tangible, physical people? That is the very heart of Eucharist: an incarnational reality of Jesus being really present. Jesus didn’t become virtually present at his birth. He was real, enfleshed. If we are not present and embodied to one another, can Jesus be present and embodied?

Deanna Thompson would suggest the answer is yes. She states that we have to look no further than the cross to find God in unexpected places. “At a time when physical contact is so limited, communing together virtually with our faith communities can affirm the reality that our bodies are engaged in worship even when we’re participating from our living room, that we’re still connected to the other bodies gathered virtually for worship even when we can only see photos of them online, and that Christ comes to us in the gifts of bread and wine even when our pastors’ Words of Institution are mediated by a screen.”

While the focus is primarily on the Words of Institution, let’s not forget the epiclesis. It is a common misunderstanding that the epiclesis is a prayer of invocation for the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine during Eucharist. But the Spirit is being invoked on more than just the elements. Of the 10 options for Prayers of Thanksgiving at the Table given in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 9 of them ask for the Spirit to be poured out upon the people, not just the bread and wine. The words spoken at Eucharist make not only the bread and wine special, but the people special.

Maybe the format matters as well. Prof. Kyle Schiefelbein-Guerrero points out the differences between livestreaming and web conferencing: “The livestreaming approach is unidirectional, which is how one currently watches television and YouTube. The broadcaster creates the material, and those who watch consume the material. Participation at best is passive and could be analogous to a pre-Reformation understanding of the mass. The main role of the worshiper is to watch at the important moments, while simultaneously engaging in their own devotional practices. The web conferencing approach is bidirectional and multidirectional. It allows for both proclamation and response through the same online tool, which is not the case with livestreaming. The ‘congregation’ is part of the interactivity just as the worship leaders. This better simulates the dialogical nature of Lutheran worship.”

Tim Wengert has pointed out that although we are accustomed to receiving the Eucharist every week, “there is no magic number of times to celebrate.” He also reminds us that, “the Eucharist is not so necessary that salvation depends on it.”

There’s also a justice component to all this. The church in Corinth was critiqued for not being present to one another, not waiting for one another. Is virtual Eucharist a same kind of not waiting on one another? In our synod, Bishop Mike Rinehart said: “If you choose online consecration over the internet, you may exclude those who don’t own computers or who aren’t online for financial or other reasons. If you offer for some, you should offer for all.”

Prof. Benjamin Stewart also tweeted this:

From Thomas Schattauer at Wartburg: “From my perspective, the kind of virtual celebration of the eucharist that some are commending—virtual consecration and private reception—and various other forms of eucharistic celebration at a distance are not to be encouraged. These practices, which take place apart from an assembly gathered in place, tend to reinforce clericalized understandings of the sacrament as a kind of magic (with the Words of institution as magic words) and the individualism of much contemporary life. My own deep conviction is that the eucharist is fundamentally an action of God within a locally gathered assembly of persons present to one another….”

Craig Nessan said, “it is not only bread and wine in accord with the Words of Institution that belong to the Lord’s Supper but also an ‘assembly.’ At best a virtual Eucharist remains an approximation of that meal in Jesus’ name which occurs in a place where the assembly is gathered.” He also reminds us of our ecumenical partnerships: “What are the implications of the practice of virtual Eucharist for full communion within a denomination and for full communion within the universal body of Christ?”

It all seems to reveal that we’ve just discovered another way to divide ourselves at the table. Yet another unholy discovery over something that Jesus did to unite and remind the disciples. Are we still missing the point?

Bishop Jim Gonia may have said it best: “During a time of pandemic, there are a variety of faithful responses a faith community can choose with respect to the practice of Holy Communion. Each of these pathways presents both challenges and opportunities. None is perfect. Some are more commendable than others.” We don’t need to divide ourselves over this if there is more than one way to be faithful. Context matters. Pastors and lay leadership need to decide together what is best for their context.

Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson reminds us the Eucharist has always been a virtual gathering as the communion of saints. “Like the altar, this virtual table we are now setting is a different kind of table where everyone gathered is invited to bring parts of themselves as well as the rich history handed to us from saints who have come before us. When we bring all our pieces together, holy ground is created. Community is present. God is present.”

In the end, I would agree with the ELCA’s request to fast from virtual Eucharist, and to shift to an extended “teaching moment about the Lutheran understanding of the Word of God, and that we make use of the Service of the Word and Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and Responsive Prayer. Let us spend time in scripture study, pray for each other, and contact others regularly by phone, email or social media.”

At the same time, I believe as Luther did that parents are the pastors of their home. To that end, I think another solution would be to tell families that if they feel led to celebrate Eucharist at home, to do it around the dinner table before/after a meal. Share the homebound communion liturgy with them and let the parents pastor their home.

And I also wonder about Luther’s words in the Small Catechism on The Sacrament of the Altar: “How can bodily eating and drinking do such a great thing? Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but rather the words that are recorded: ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’ These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, ‘forgiveness of sin.'”

Perhaps hearing “for you,” eating, and drinking are enough?

Digital Worship Podcast

I’m happy to share “Digital Worship,” a podcast that I worked on for Wartburg Theological Seminary. These are important conversations about how we approach worship in these digital-bound days.

(Sorry I wasn’t able to embed the player directly in the post. Clicking the image will take you to the podcast, which is also available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.)

“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)”

“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)” written by Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth. © 2018 Cardiphonia Music.

Performed by Clayton Faulkner and Annika Becker (oboe) for Lessons and Carols for Advent 2019 at Faith Lutheran Church, Bellaire, TX.

Download the original chord chart here.

Download my arrangement chord chart here.

Download the oboe/C instrument part I wrote here.

While we were planning for the Lessons and Carols service this year, there was a question as to what should be the carol sung between the last two readings (Luke 2:1-7 and John 1:1-14). It was very providential that I came across this song last week when trying to decide what that last carol should be. It turned out to be quite fitting not only for that spot of the service, but also for the larger season of Advent, and the situation of our world today. One attendee said, “the words were so very appropriate for us to hear with so many babies and young children being held in confinement centers at our borders.”

The connections this song subtly makes are jarring. Jesus was a refugee. His parents were terrified. They were running for their lives. The same is true for immigrants and refugees today. I’m aware of the story of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old from Guatemala who crossed the border in Texas in May and died in U.S detention on May 20 from lack of adequate medical care. Carlos crossed the border because his brother has special needs, and he came to earn money to support his brother back in Guatemala. He is the seventh child that has been reported as dying while in detention near the southern border.

“Keep us from Herods and all of their lies,” is the lyric that sets this song apart. It has the bite of Canticle of the Turning’s “Let the king beware for your justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne” (Rory Cooney). One of the ways that empires maintain control is through an alternative narrative. Lies feed people the fear that allows for oppression to take place. We should take note when kings and emperors tell us to not treat everyone as a neighbor. They are the lies of empire, not God’s kin-dom.

Some backstory from one of the composers, Liz Vice: “Earlier this year I was invited to a conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI to have a conversation about Christmas carols and how most don’t give an accurate depiction of the scene of God coming to earth in the flesh. A group of us gather into a room and reprised “Away in A Manger”. Side note: Since I wasn’t there, you know, at the actual scene of the Christ’s birth, I can only use my imagination with the scripture I’ve read. Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph’s dream to flee/run/ escape to Egypt Matthew 2:13-14 “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Live video of Liz Vice singing:

Official audio version:

Lyrics:

Away from the manger they ran for their lives
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran

No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide
No place for his parents no country or tribe
And they ran and they ran and they ran

Stay near me LORD Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies
I love the LORD Jesus, the Refugee King
And we sing and we sing and we sing
Alleluia

An Apology for the Art in #ELCAcwa Worship

Many following the #ELCAcwa this year have seen the image being discussed and heard the apology offered by Bishop-Elect Strickland. Many have asked how such an offensive thing could happen. As the person who selected the images for worship, I want to offer my apology as well. I apologize to you my colleagues, the Churchwide Assembly and Churchwide leaders and most of all to my African American brothers and sisters who were wounded by this. I know that many were troubled, shocked, hurt, and disgusted by the use of the image. Something I worked on was hurtful, and for this I am deeply sorry.

I do not intend to offer a defense of why the image was used, only an explanation that might help shed light. I was searching for images to align with the gospel text of the service:

“for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

This image of someone being visited in the hospital was selected to lift up the African American experience, support their inclusion in representation, and exemplify ministry to the sick. My own cultural situation and lack of knowledge on this genre of art caused me to not see what was evident to others. The representation of African Americans in minstrel art has a painful history. I was unaware, and we did not have enough diversity in our group that vetted and approved the images. I know these issues are being addressed and they will be handled more carefully in the future.

I am fully aware of the place that racism has in my own life. As a white male born and raised in rural south Texas, it is endemic to me in a deep way. At the same time I am deeply invested in anti-racist ways of being. I find Luther’s sinner/saint idea very fitting here. I have the sin of racism embedded in me while I learn to fight and dismantle it.

I want to echo the words my friend Kathy Patrick shared on Facebook: “(this apology) is a clarion call to recognize that we white people in the church have a LOT of work to do to increase our cultural competence, including by diversifying our leadership, so that we can see as we should see. This was not one person’s mistake, it is OUR mistake. We all make similar mistakes every day that injure our siblings of color and the terrible thing is, we do it thoughtlessly because we do not know what we should know.”

I personally intend to do some things differently as I learn and grow from this:

  • I will do some reading to learn more about the history of minstrel art and plays. If you have resources or websites you recommend, please share them with me.
  • I will make sure that any worship planning team that I am part of has a diverse representation of leadership.
  • When I am considering using a piece of art or music for worship, I will ask for feedback from African American colleagues.
  • I will encourage people of color to lead us in selecting images for churchwide events.
  • I will engage in our synod’s anti-racism training.
  • I will explore and lift up the work of African American artists. If you have a favorite, I would appreciate if you shared them with me.

Good Friday Sermon (2019)

Here is the video of the sermon from Good Friday at Faith Lutheran in Bellaire, TX. I pulled ideas from several sources including Rob Bell (myth of redemptive violence) and Richard Rohr (Jesus came to change our minds about God). Sorry for the technical difficulties, we were trying out a new camera.

The Real Worship War Is Not About Style

I experienced some backlash this week after sharing a Patheos article on Facebook. The article, “How Offering Different Worship Styles Contributes to Church Decline” by Jonathan Aigner has made the rounds recently.

One commenter referred to the article as “toxic waste,” said I was wasting my time, and claimed I was starting a “worship war.” I found it hard to understand why there was such fiery backlash. Most of the objections were because they felt the author was invalidating any style of worship other than his personal preference. They seemed to think that the author was advocating for one, and only one way of worship.

To be upfront, the author is coming from a Baptist, evangelical framework which could be a reason for some of the backlash. And the author did take some potshots at contemporary worship: “Sentimental worship is just as toxic as contemporary worship.” Perhaps it was because I was just skimming the article, but when I read I tend to skip over the less helpful parts and focus on the things I think are said well. For example, one of the highlights for me was this excerpt:

“When we tell our people that we’re here to connect them with God through their own preferences, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.

When we suggest that corporate worship is about fitting everyone just right, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.

When our strategies for church growth hinge on making the worship life of the church fun, entertaining, and easy, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.

When we design worship services to flow seamlessly like a theatrical production, we are telling our people that worship is about their story.”

I have long questioned whether offering multiple styles of worship within one congregation is all that helpful. Is it a quick fix, a patch job, any easy way out of the slow, painstaking work of building a community that actually appreciates one another and puts their needs second to their neighbor?

Can we really claim to be surprised when church members act immature or self-centered after we have programmatically catered to their whims and preferences?

There are good reasons to offer multiple styles of worship. I think you could say that a church in a metropolitan, or ethnically diverse suburban area is being contextually faithful by offering multiple styles. But do we lose something by not learning each other’s songs? Are we missing a depth and richness of our song when it is stylistically monochromatic?

The real worship war is not about musical style or preference. The real worship war is about narrative. Who gets to be the main character in our worship? Whose story is the reason we assemble in worship?

How do we make worship contextual?

If you were to visit a church in North America today, chances are you would be faced with a choice: contemporary or traditional. Occasionally there might be a third option of “blended.” There might also be additional styles of worship offered (emerging, recovery, Taizé, liturgical, etc.). Faced with these choices, those assembled are practically begged to answer the questions, “What is my preference?” “What do I like?” and “What works for me?”

These choices for worship have come to be expected in many churches. Is there anything wrong with them? Perhaps they are a cultural phenomenon in a society bent on individualization (a symptom of the Burger King ethos where you can “have it your way”). Perhaps they are the church’s most missional effort to reach as many people possible with the gospel of Jesus. However, a church that encourages self-preferential behavior seems to run against the path of discipleship that teaches, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). What style would worship take if those assembled regarded others as better than themselves?

Reframing the style question

When a new church is birthed or when an existing church launches a new opportunity to assemble for worship, do they ask, “Are we going to be traditional, contemporary, or blended?” Do they look at what the largest church in town does and duplicate it? Is there another way to discern what style of worship a church should employ? Maybe a church has decided that offering multiple styles of worship has become divisive and done more harm than good. Perhaps their question is, “How do we move past traditional and contemporary?”

“Traditional,” “contemporary,” and “emerging” are merely labels. There are instances when our labels are not necessarily helpful or accurate. (see also, “How is worship traditional? How is worship contemporary?”) Regardless of their benefit or precision, these styles for worship have developed and the labels have become affixed to the church’s conscience. In order to move past these labels, a better question may be needed: “How do we figure out what our local worship should sound like?”

 

Nairobi statement

How do we makeworship contextual-

“Jesus whom we worship was born into a specific culture of the world. In the mystery of his incarnation are the model and the mandate for the contextualization of Christian worship. God can be and is encountered in the local cultures of our world. A given culture’s values and patterns, insofar as they are consonant with the values of the Gospel, can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship. Contextualization is a necessary task for the Church’s mission in the world, so that the Gospel can be ever more deeply rooted in diverse local cultures.” (Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, 3.1)

The Nairobi Statement reasons that worship, as it dynamically relates to the given culture in which it is enacted, is contextual. Worship cannot be disconnected from the time and place in which it is enacted. Many of the factors pertaining to how worship is offered are determined by its particular context. “We call on all churches to give serious attention to exploring the local or contextual elements of liturgy, language, posture and gesture, hymnody and other music and musical instruments, and art and architecture for Christian worship.” (Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, 6.1) Faithful worship does not ignore the people or culture in which it is located.

 

Suggestions for making worship contextual

To return to our reframing question: “What should our local expression of worship sound like?” Contextual worship makes use of the music, language, and artistic forms of the local culture the church is planted in. This means that Lutheran worship in downtown New Orleans will potentially be radically different than Lutheran worship in rural Montana. Regardless of how radically different they appear in form and content, they both remain faithful enactments of Lutheran worship. The willingness to connect to the surrounding culture and become contextual make their worship faithfully Lutheran, not their predilection for Baroque-era European music. Contextual worship requires rooting into the neighborhood. There are no shortcuts to contextual worship; real, relational, outwardly focused ministry is the only way to discern context. Contextual worship does not imply a disregard for global music or the historical practices of the church.

 

The sounds of a worshiping assembly should be reflective of the culture that it is planted in. The musical gifts present that are present within a local church should be used to make worship contextual. The Holy Spirit, equipping her for ministry, gives these gifts to the local church. Many churches have a preconceived idea that worship should sound a certain way, requiring particular instruments for worship to sound that way. Instead of hiring a drummer or hiring an organist because of the perception of what worship should sound like, worship should sound like what you are.

The sounds of contextual worship, produced by the people that God has gifted to a church, should be current and modern, as well as reach back into the history of our faith.

P.S. For further analysis of how to enact faithful, Lutheran worship that is also transcultural, counter-cultural, and cross-cultural, see Can We Talk? Engaging Worship and Culture.