Worship in the Words of the Tradition II

The tradition has many words. As we noted here yesterday, and in Caldwell Chapel on Thursday, February 12, some of those words are beloved of many, sanctified by long use in the church, and at the same time words that make Christian worship damaging.

This is about language. Language that is, perhaps, easy to use. Language that, perhaps, most of us barely even notice, barely even think about. Language that, if we do think about it — if it is, for instance, brought to our attention by someone’s complaint or lament — we might barely be able to take seriously. (“Oh, that? But that’s just . . .” or “Seriously, it’s no big deal!”) Language that comes to our minds and mouths quickly, almost without having to think about it, because we have used this language so long, and have thought the thoughts that travel with this language so long.

Words (and thoughts) like:

Kyrie eleison

    (“Oh, come on! It’s just THE KYRIE, for Jesus Christ’s — or Pete’s — sake. You can’t seriously have a problem with that. Try not to think of it as “Lord,” as if it had all kinds of hierarchical, kyriarchical, patriarchal baggage, just think of it as “God”. Don’t make a big deal out of this.)

. . . All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
in His presence daily live.

    (It’s just a song. Lots of people love this song. It’s about surrender — what, you don’t want to surrender everything to Jesus? Nobody means self-esteem, desire for freedom, the dignity owing to a human being that someone in an abusive relationship might be trying to convince you to deny you even have a right to. Surrender bad things, selfish things . . . bad selfish things . . . OK, it says “Him”, but it doesn’t mean your husband or your father, it means Jesus, just try not think of Jesus in the same way as that husbandfatherpastor . . . Jesus is different, Jesus is better than that . . . you can do it! Don’t make a big deal out of this!)

. . . our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

    (Yes, “Lord” is male language, master of slaves, leader of armies, “husband” — in olden days — but look, here it’s just a formula, it doesn’t mean that, no one means anything by it, it’s just language, you have to call Jesus something, come on, don’t make a big deal out of this!)

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise . . .

    (Down, girl! Whoever put this liturgy together probably couldn’t find a copy of the current Presbyterian Hymnal, where this allegedly ‘generic’ use of ‘man’ to designate ‘humanity’, obscuring or perhaps even denying the presence of women in that humanity, has been changed to the inclusive “vain, empty praise”. Why can’t you just cut him — or her! — some slack? What ever happened to forgiveness? Grace? This is such a little thing — don’t make a big deal out of it . . .)

. . . my sister death . . .
how not hear her wise advice?

    (See, there’s some feminine language in here, too. Yes, “death,” but in context this is positive, see, wise . . . plus, it’s from a traditional prayer. By St. Francis. Saint Francis. You don’t seriously have a problem with Saint Francis, do you? It’s not really linking women with death, deadliness, bringing death into the world . . . Eve . . . cut it out, don’t make a big deal out of this.)

“Turn to the Lord your God again.” . . .
Turn to us, Lord God, . . .

    (Almost done now. You know the drill. Swallow, suck it up, say “amen,” just, you know, what were you thinking, you know, you did basically ask for it, coming to church, and on Ash Wednesday, of all days, what were you expecting . . . you can’t really make a big deal out of this, you know that, right? Because you are SO missing the big picture, the main point, and all the GOOD PARTS of the service, why don’t you pay attention to that, why do you have to be so negative, why do you have to get so angry, what is wrong with you?)

So how many “no big deals” does it take to make a big deal?

Using inclusive language for humanity is an official policy of Caldwell Chapel worship for a reason.

We have the conversations we’ve had with people about avoiding “Lord Lord” language for a reason, too. Some of those we’ve even had here. (Here’s one. Here’s another.)

Yes, this is about language. This is about language because, protestations to the contrary, language means something. And if it really doesn’t mean anything, then why use it in the first place?

During this Lent, maybe we could all actually surrender the practice of calling Jesus Lord, as if the very best, the greatest, the most honorific and the only thing we can think of to call Jesus is Master of slaves, Owner of property, Leader of feudal armies, Husband, Sir, Big Man.

Jesus. The Word and Wisdom and Lamb of God, the Bread of Heaven, the Living Water, the Christ, Savior, Redeemer, Teacher, Mediator, Alpha and Omega, Lily of the Valley, Rose of Sharon, Morning Star, Author and Finisher of our faith, . . .

Even though all of that, too, is only, you know, language.

[The Order of Service for Caldwell Chapel Worship, Wednesday, February 25, 2009]

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