Saturday, January 15, 2011

Forget "Contemporary" and "Traditional": Other Directions

In teaching courses in liturgy last semester, I found myself having to give names to assumptions and observations I make about liturgy that move outside the usual categories, categories often used in derisive ways by those of various parties in worship warfare. While avoiding cultural tourism, I am cognizant that hybridity is ever at work. The idioms that move one generation may not move another simply because the overlap of popular and church music in everyday experience is different over time. Here are some thoughts:

Recycling - We have riches in orders of service for a reason. Each of these orders in their time, place, and culture intended an encounter with the Living God in a way consonant with the distinctive Christian tradition through a particularity of shape and content. To recycle is to familiarize oneself with these riches and to incorporate these riches into liturgical preparation, for example, the Minor Propers, such as the Introit.

Fusion - Whether or not recycling is well-received often enough depends on how it is placed in linguistic and musical idioms that will speak to people in a particular locale and cultural formation. In Twenty-first Century America this can be quite wide and understanding your own parish context is vital. Though I am white, of largely Isles origin, and partial to Gregorian chant, I also move to Latin and African beats that are both vital to American music formation in our various types of music. To take the Introit appointed in Gregorian chant, adapt it to a Latin, Gospel, etc. is not necessarily at variance or inauthentic to my own musical or idiom formation on the whole or to that of many in our cultural. It is wise to teach how it is inculturation need not mean dumping what is inherited. Fusion is a way to do this.

Directionality - How is it that the overall flow or direction of the service carries how we meet God and God meets us?[1] For Lutherans, this is generally an Incarnational, Christocentric, God comes to us, movement. For Anglicans, this is generally a Pneumatic or Trinitarian, God takes us into God's own life, movement. Neither is wrong, and neither is necessarily only to be found in either tradition, but they are distinctive "feels".

Formational Resonances - We are not tabulae rasae. We are already shaped before we shape. We come to preparing and doing worship already formed in certain ways. For example, assumption that there is an ordo is to already be formed without consciously recognizing this as such.

[1] "meets us" is language I received from two students, Holly Johnson and Michael Larson.

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