This guest blog post is by Brent Stubbs, and he blogs at Almostnotcatholic.com. He is a writer, father of four (almost 5 + 1 in heaven), likes his coffee black, considers himself a lay philosopher, and is a generally interested person (yes–he meant “interested”). You can watch his conversion story as told by him in his interview on EWTN’s The Journey Home here. Enough said. This post is in response to “Time for Catholic Praise and Worship”.
I’m Catholic, but I wasn’t always Catholic. For more than 20 years, I was a member of various Protestant churches. I was raised in the Assemblies of God, moved to a non-denominational church, then treaded the Southern Baptist waters, launched off to Oral Roberts University, became a licensed minister in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, was the lead guitarist for Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, OK, and eventually made my way back to the Assemblies of God. Then, in a turn of events after the birth of my first child, I decided “enough was enough”. Having served for over 3+ years as a Bible teacher in Protestant high schools, I decided to embark upon a spiritual journey to figure out in what “church” my children should be raised. Had Jesus founded a “Church”?
During that journey, we wandered into an emergent church but ended back in the non-denominational church we had gone to when we were first married (out of convenience). 3 years later (via The University of Dallas graduate philosophy department) on the Feast of Christ the King, we entered into full communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Yup, I’m a full-blown, card-carrying papist. In trying to write a “response” to Devin’s post, I figure I might as well write it in the way I write on my own blog. Thus, this post is not so much a generic argument as it is an exposé of how I went from a world that made “praise and worship” the terminus of the Christian life to a Catholic who would shudder at thinking of taking up his guitar to do “praise and worship” as a faithful son of the Catholic Church.
Question #1: Does
Think about it. This was an extremely important question for me. The cradle Catholic may look at Protestant “praise and worship”–and of course I mean the low-church variety Devin seemed to be referencing–and think “this is like way NEAT-O”. However, for someone like myself, I was wondering how in the heck this behavior developed to begin with. The “who am I” and “why am I” questions have a way of moving the question past appearances. For one, it seemed so foreign to Scripture and so much like…well…popular culture. Not to mention that I got the same “experience” hearing Edwin McCain walking the aisles of WalMart as I did on a Wednesday night at “Elevate”.
So keep the images in your mind for a moment (a kind of gestalt argument). At about the moment when these images were making my brain spit out pine bark, I read some very interesting stuff from some Orthodox theologians. What did they say? The skinny version is that “worship” is not about our tastes, but just the opposite. Worship is about conforming our tastes to God. Enter liturgy. I had already considered how the Divine Liturgy is a kind of Protoevangelium. If liturgy comes first (before the New Testament), spans multiple continents in the first century without email or a fax machine, and exists as the historical means by which Christians should approach and experience God, then it serves notice on “my tastes”. If liturgy is the way God asks me to worship Him, who am I to argue? Plus it sure makes the addition problem look a lot more coherent.
Question #2: What about all the people who get left out?
This question has two parts. The first part has to do with taste, the second has to do with grace. For starters, when someone suggests “praise and worship”, they are generally suggesting some kind of music they really enjoy. However, I have experience playing music in predominately all-African American congregations. I love “Black-Gospel” music. Do you? You may not. Did you know a lot of people don’t like your favorite kind of music? (Sniff. Sniff.) You get the drift. Once you go down the road of taste, there is no going back. Do we need an “emo” praise and worship service after the “white-pop-rock” version? Some R&B to follow? I’m afraid that justify-all word “relevance” is lurking in the shadows. In the modern world, we have somehow taken the word “relevance” and genetically mutated it, and the resulting gremlin is missing one important gene: truth. Now, the definition looks like this:
rel·e·vance [rel-uh-vuhns] (noun): the state of sounding good and exerting inordinate justificatory power. The appearance of a relationship to a matter when in fact none exists. The end of western civilization.
We see this problem even in the Catholic Church. When Catholics lament that the 70’s hymns being sung are banal or passé, we forget that when they were introduced in the 70’s they were en vogue. It is, I am afraid, the hamster-wheel of “relevance”. So, I agree then that we can really learn from our separated brothers and sisters–but this time not in the affirmative. In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) described the problem with the music under discussion and Christian worship:
”On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. “Rock”, on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments.”
When I read this for the first time, I was scandalized. I had played and or been a part of thousands of hours of “praise and worship”. However, if I were brutally honest with myself and those experiences, I could easily describe the end goal as the “breaking out” of the constraints of “self” and “mind” to some kind of “spiritual worship”. Close eyes. Raise hands. It’s go time.
Enter grace–sort of.
I noticed something, and it was disturbing. Very disturbing. You or I may get something out of a “praise and worship” service but what about those who do not? What I mean is that in these experientially oriented services, there are the “silent sufferers” who are afraid they are either spiritually inept or out-right atheists. Why? Because they feel nothing.
Too bad. We like our music.
The Eucharist and the Liturgy is the solution. Why? For starters, it is what Our Lord gave us! At one point in my journey, I was overcome with joy by this truth. Watching a grandmother with a third grade education, a distinguished professor, and field welder, all receive the SAME gift of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist was overwhelming. This truly is a Church of grace! No one got the benefit of some kind of spiritual inside track, goose bump meter, or the like. You did not get “more Jesus” if you got “more chill-bumps” nor were you left out if you just showed up. “The Body of Christ” is the source and summit of our life as Catholics–and must always be the centre of our worship. Nothing can distract from this. An argument from “that’s good too” won’t work here. Too much is at stake (not to mention this kind of mentality).
Lastly, it is in the liturgy that we stay connected to the “story” of salvation. In 1993 (a minute or two ago), Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson lamented Protestantism’s “loss of story” (particularly American Protestantism). No doubt, low-church “praise and worship” is a part of that problem. Such “worship” disconnects the worshiper from the community, pushing the worshiper farther into themselves–a kind of spiritual self-help. The novelty of the music and the tribal nature of the beat creates a fissure in time, a break in the window of history, that allows the “worshiper” to escape the gritty details of reality and in its stead elevate the modern ultimate good of “feeling” in the altar-less sanctuary. No matter the lyrics, the music itself and the order of such “worship” is inherently anti-historical, non-linear, and inculcates an approach to worship that is damaging to the spiritual life.
I know this sounds tough. There are a thousand points I have not covered and two hundred objections I can hear wringing in my ears. Nonetheless, I hope that you would interact with what I have written, not what I have not addressed. For the sake of time, I will only interact with comments that address something that I wrote. I would like to thank Devin for this opportunity and I hope that it is helpful in relationship to your own journey of faith. This is le petite réponse. A more thorough going post is forthcoming, as I understand it, from one of the guys at Called to Communion.
May we all grow more deeply in love with the gift of Our Lord found exclusively in The Holy Liturgy.
Update: All of these observations were made by me at least 3-4 years before I was Catholic. These are not the musings of a papist (although I am one), but rather my thought process of critically examining my old tradition as a member of that tradition.