by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Traditionally, the church has sung and chanted the Psalms since at least the 4th century BCE and of course David and the Jews sung the Psalms. “Psalms” means Songs. But the Psalms and the singing of the Psalms disappeared with the Reformation, because Luther did away with the monasteries. He didn’t want to endorse the Roman Catholic priestly class. He introduced the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” instead. Unfortunately the priesthood of all became the “least-hood of us all” – whatever the least of us did with our spiritual life became the order of the day. [BTW, I know some Protestants sing the Psalms. I am really picking on Evangelicals here.]
The Benedictine monks have continued to sing all 150 Psalms every month – or less. The Psalms express the full breadth of the human condition… we rejoice at the coming of the sun, we celebrate the harvest of plenty, we love, we hate, we wish our enemies dead! We sing and rejoice at the goodness of g-d. We cry out and yell towards g-d, “Where are you?” Our friends and family are sick or gone and we turn to g-d. We are alone. All this is just a smattering of the human condition expressed in the Psalms.
But here’s the most missed point by most Protestant Evangelicals: the Psalms are not meant to be private individual prayers. They were written to be sung in community. The monks got it right – even if they got stuck in Gregorian Chant – which I now think is pretty useful. Actually the strange old sounding tunes of the monks are extremely important because they keep the Psalms “singable” as prayers. The simple tunes keep the pray-ers humble – no one stands out. The monks need each other to pray. What a concept: Christians needing Christians to pray. Simon Chan says “one becomes a practicing Christian by practicing prayer.” (Spiritual Theology, 127)
When the Protestant Reformation centered the Christian faith on justification by faith alone (how we are saved by grace), it led to some mistakes that might be just as big of a error as “salvation by works.”
Today’s Evangelicals are so focused on the letters of Paul. The monks are focused on the Psalms. Evangelicals replaced Spirituality with Apologetics. Apologetics seeks to purge wrong belief rather than Catholic spirituality’s purging of sin as moral pollutant. The Reformation speaks of a broken relationship between g-d and humans. I wholly embrace this Reformation’s Relational Reconciliation model of atonement (though it should be said the Reformation emphasized the Substitutionary Atonement model more so – Christ took our place on the cross as atoning sacrifice).
The Laity replaced the Priests. The Commoner replaced the Monk. The Letters of Paul replaced the Prayers of the Heart, the Psalms. And Apologetics replaced Spirituality.
Want an interesting discussion? Try and discuss just what is the Evangelical doctrine of Spirituality? After you get past “have a private quiet time” and “listen and sing along with some good worship tunes” it gets thin real quick. No sacramental theology (or practice hardly!), no Virtues (what is prudence, or temperance?), no habitus or askesis (spiritual disciplines), no rhythm to the sunrise to sunset and the nighttime, no theology of work – all we are is just HEADS full of knowledge!
Where are the Pray-ers? The Psalms await us. Spirituality continues to rest on our willing obedience to surrender to Jesus. And folks, studying apologetics with our head ensures we stay in control – of everything! In control of those who disagree with us, in control of the argument, the media, those other churches, the cults – and in control of our minds. Again, we continue to break the first commandment: “Thou shall have no other gods before me.”
May we return to the Psalms and allow g-d to come unbidden – and we raise our voices and worship g-d.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Come little flower and walk with me
Through winter’s garden of frosted tree.
Heaven’s breath as settled snow; love’s tune,
“Come King Christ, earth’s redeeming Bridegroom!”
Tread lightly, love, over our bride’s gown.
Green pine, brown branch adorned in white stole
Lays gently ‘gainst cheeks of earth’s deep fold.
Jewels of juncos and jays inlaid
Flash sun, turn gaze toward heaven’s maid.
How shall He reply to such beauty?
With trumpet’s blast and angel’s voices!
Bring forth heaven’s love, “You, His choice is!”
Now little flower, now! Sing sweet bliss;
Closed eyes ready for the Lover’s kiss.
Ah, but little flower’s fast asleep
January 5, 2010
Wednesday January 6th is The Epiphany. The earliest event associated with the Epiphany is Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin, the Prophet John. John asked the Jewish nation to purify themselves by walking through the Jordan River as Joshua and the nation had done over a thousand years earlier. “Reclaim the land” was John’s agenda. “Be the true people of g-d.” “Repent of your sins and be baptized,” in other words ‘listen to the former prophets (Isaiah, Amos, Joel, etc), do what they say, stop disobeying Torah, stop accommodating the Romans (idolatry, e.g. coinage, contracts, kosher, etc) and embrace your true heritage. [Bible: Gospel of Mark chapter one]
As Jesus walked out of the Jordan on to the promised land a voice from heaven is heard, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (v.11) The story of Jesus begins with his designation as the true Son of the Father, the true obedient Hebrew son.
So begins the ministry of Jesus, announcing a new era, a new kingdom, the salvation of all peoples. From this beginning the new people of g-d are born and charged: “go make disciples,” go make other true sons and daughters of the Most High’s Son. The church is commissioned. The church begins. What is interesting here is the New Testament says the first church was defined by a common meal. Food eaten together in the name of Jesus is serious theology. [Bible: Acts 2:42-47; and see Luke 24:30-31]
This Wednesday our church comes together for a potluck. Here’s how we must celebrate. First, we shall not create a large-scale program, driven by staff and some special serving class (ministry team) to set up, think through all the details, figure out if we have enough food. Instead when you show up you will set up the tables and chairs. You will take charge of serving others. It is a spontaneous “potluck” – reach your hand in the pot and see what luck you draw out! Someone special may think through plates and cups and flatware and napkins, but otherwise it is YOU – the church. This is NOT a consumer event, where you come and “the church” (those other people) are supposed to make you comfortable and happy. That is NOT the church. The church is everyone pulling on a oar in the galley ship – not a few hard working pullers (galley slaves) and then a bunch of tourists top side walking around waiting for their next meal.
This Epiphany Feast (potluck) is a grand experiment for us. There is no program. There is no “success/failure” metric. It is a massive disruption of normal suburban living. Typically we’d all stay home and have our own meal, do our own thing. But we will come together in the name of Jesus and simply be together, enjoying small talk and just living together. I must say, I think that idea is very strange and weird to most of us. We don’t really know how to be together as a church without a program and plan. Let us leave the formulaic structures to Walmart checkout aisles, the airport security lines, library card catalogs and the like. And let us be together for no reason other than just BEING.
The spiritual part of this Epiphany Feast is to watch ourselves (struggle with awkwardness) and understand that our society is flawed because we don’t know how to just be together without a tight plan and purpose. The spiritual work here is to SHOW UP, participate.
Here are the “you don’t get it” reasons why someone will not come: a) I don’t know anybody there b) it sounds boring c) this takes too much work d) I don’t have anything to bring e) how long will it last? f) what if there isn’t enough food?
Answers: a) uh, and you expect to get to know others by NOT coming? Are you waiting for some formal meet-and-greet thing? b) here’s a word you should know: “eutrapelia” (moderation in entertainment) do we really need to be entertained all the time? c) work? It is called serving others – of course it takes work; the labor of love. d) bring two liters of soda. e) until you leave f) Ah! someone forgot to participate – this is the price we all pay for everyone not participating (read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 especially verse 26).
Choose who you want to be: in the fellowship of those who change the world, or an isolated private suburban consumer – very comfortable and unchallenged.