Saturday, August 25, 2012

Victors forget, Vanquish remember.

I recently caught an episode of Paul Merton in Europe where he visited around in Ireland.  One stop was in Duncannon where the locals conduct a reenactment of a battle between the British and Nazi forces.  As I listened to Merton's narration, I realized he had just perhaps unintentionally presented a great truth about war:  Victors forget, the Vanquished remember.  As he filmed the reenactment, he remarked that the British uniform caused greater controversy than the Nazi uniform; in fact, he stated he felt safer riding around with Nazis actors than those in British uniforms.

How telling!  The military reenactment held at Duncannon Fort in Wexford County is in southern Ireland.  Outside of immigrants from the Emerald Isle and a few history buffs, few Americans are aware of the view that a cultural genocide against the Irish was waged by the British.  Not withstanding a recent resurgence, Gaelic unfortunately has seemed to go the way of Latin as a spoken language since the English-only requirement imposed on the Irish school system.  This is all the stuff of history books and yet, as Paul Merton discovered, the resentment towards the British remains in segments of the Irish population in the 21st Century.

Over the years, various "Yankee" friends have often remarked with scorn how we Southerners view the Civil War.  "Get over it, already!" is the frequent refrain.  I'm not talking about the political right or wrong of the war - that's for another discussion.  I am talking about the significant cultural impact which occurred in the South from the War of Northern Aggression and the resentment towards northerners that remains (especially when your IQ is accounted to be 30 points lower as soon as your accent is heard!).

This idea of losing sides remembering long after victors have forgotten is something we as Americans need to always remember as our armed forces are scattered around the world - especially in the Middle East arena.

We are aligned with victors.  We are fighting their vanquished.

We have forgotten.  They have not.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Liturgy in Life

Not having grown up with it, I was always wary of liturgical churches.  Men in robes, responsive readings and written prayers just seemed too “planned” to be spiritual.  The Lord has a wonderful sense of humor – I married a man who would become the pastor of a liturgical church and soon I would develop a love of liturgy.

In actuality, all churches, in fact, have a liturgy of sorts, a schedule or order for their worship services.  As my husband/pastor has taught his congregation, Scripture gives us a glimpse of a heavenly worship service in the book of Revelation and it is an orderly, liturgical celebration.  All the participants know their parts and respond without prompting.   C. S. Lewis describes this well: “Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore.  And it enables us to do these things– if you like, it ‘works’ best– when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it.  As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.  A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or print, or spelling.  The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God… But every novelty prevents this.  It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 4-5).

Whether in sacred or secular endeavors, as human beings, we crave liturgy.  We desire ceremony.  We want feasts.  My hubby made this point as we watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics.  There were the athletes dressed in their finery, pageantry abounding around them with banners flying and stirring music serving as a soundtrack.  The official opening announcement and the Olympic oath were dictated by prescribed phrases.  The gold, silver and bronze medals were distributed at an orchestrated awards ceremony with a prescribed liturgy of events.

We see this ceremony, or liturgy, at all important stages in our lives.  Graduation has a ceremony.  The students wear robes, the speeches are carefully written, and the music has grandeur to it with one traditional tune even called Pomp & Circumstances. Weddings are an obvious example of liturgy in our lives with its gorgeous gowns, stately tuxes, and beautifully crafted flowers and decorations.  The ceremony has prescribed elements in it with prayers and pronouncements.   A ceremonial aspect is present again at the end of our lives when our friends and family say goodbye during our funeral liturgy, as it were.

Not surprisingly, liturgy is found in our lives as citizens as well.  Every four years, we watch as our new president is sworn in at an inauguration which has been arranged carefully with the intent of spectacle.  Speeches are carefully written, prayers are prepared, and order rules the process.  From our government to our courtrooms, we find prescribed order and oaths everywhere. 

If we accept and prefer this kind of planning with our political transitions and personal transitions of graduations, marriages, and more, then why should we not desire this when coming before the King of Kings, the Ruler of the Earth?  To my friends, I speak off the cuff.  When speaking formally before an audience, I consider my words carefully.  On my knees, I pray extemporaneously, but in our weekly command performance before the Lord, worship, I am happy to have well-thought out and considered prayers and responsive readings to recite before Him.  The prayers are no less spiritual or meaningful by being written than the written lyrics we sing.  The words to Amazing Grace are still as meaningful today as they were when John Newton’s poem was first published in 1779.

A worshipping liturgy is not limited to the words of a worship service.  It spills out into the colors of the linens covering the communion table, the colors on the pulpit and worn by the pastor, and, as with our church, the covers of our bulletins.  This association of colors with seasons is already present in our lives - red and green at Christmas, black and orange at Halloween, an autumnal palette for Thanksgiving, pastels for spring, and, of course, red, white and blue in July.

At my church, Christ Covenant Presbyterian, we observe a liturgical calendar, which means our “seasons” include the seasons of Advent, Pentecost, Lent and Ordinary Times.   The first half of the year the emphasis is on the life of Christ.  The second half of the year the emphasis changes to the teachings of Christ.  We celebrate St. Patrick, a Christian hero, just as we as Americans celebrate national heroes such as George Washington.  We celebrate special days significant in the life of the Church such as All Saints’ Day, a remembrance of those loved ones who have preceded us in heaven, just as we as a nation celebrate Memorial Day as a remembrance of the deceased. 

There is a richness to liturgical worship, an appreciation “of Him with whom we have to do,” as the King James Version puts it.  Having eschewed royalty, our egalitarian culture has lost the sense of deference and giving honor to those who rule and this includes, I fear, He who rules from heaven.   While worship renews us and strengthens us, it isn’t primarily for us.  It is, first and foremost, our command performance before the King.  It renews us and strengthens us to serve Him.  Liturgy serves to reorient our thinking to that of our being “…His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”