Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

I have this spot in a coffee shop in St Paul. It's a Dunn Bros and they roast their own beans in a big red roaster that sits in a corner among the table that host their guests. I like the table right next to the roaster. I like it mostly because its the easiest place to plug in my computer, but also because its red and sometimes in the cold months it produces a little heat. It also gives me a view of the entire place, which is what my ADD requires for work to get done. A little movement and distraction keeps me from getting totally bored.

Its like having a favorite pew at church. I don't have a pew per se at St Matthew's Episcopal, where I attend when I'm in St Paul. But I do have a section. Just back of half-way on the right nearer the wall as you face the altar. There I kneel and stand and pray for others and read and pass peace and pretend to sing. There I respond to the liturgist's "The Peace of Christ be with you," with "And also with you."

And there's something like that at Dunn Bros as well. I'm in there enough (its my primary office when I'm at Luther Sem) that all the coffee shop employees know me. Most call me by name. Today, a young woman who only works on the weekends was there. She is a college student at the U and nearly always has a concert t-shirt on. One day we were both in there wearing a Bob Dylan concert t-shirt. This mutual recognition began a little liturgy between the two of us. Something for us to say to each other that connects us, honors our common humanity. I don't know her name, and I doubt she knows mine, but we are connected through this liturgy.

Today she could hardly wait to begin. "I have tickets to Tegan and Sara," she said enthusiastically. For this is what we do. We tell each other about concerts we have attended or are going to attend. She often is going to see bands that I have only barely heard of or don't know at all. She mostly makes me feel old, but also young because she assumes I will know her bands. I was thankful today that I knew Tegan and Sara. (And also with you). I had heard that Tegan and Sara live in Portland (the Hawthorne district, along with Death Cab for Cutie and other alt bands) and asked her if she knew whether or not this is true. "I think that's right," she said. "They're orignially from Canada."

"I saw U2 in September," I offered. "Wow," she said, "how awesome is that!" The Dunn Bros equivalent of "The word of the Lord." "Thanks be to God." She pours my medium coffee, dark roast, in a "for here" mug with no room, without asking. And sometimes, like today, she will go back into the back as I read and put Dylan's greatest hits in the cd player. "Your sins are forgiven."

I heard Miroslav Volf speak yesterday. It was great. He was brilliant, and funny, and self-effacing. And he wore jeans. My kind of theologian. And he talked about why he currently worships at an Epsicopal church, having grown up a Pentecostal. "Wine and God," he said. He reported that on his coming to America, while at Fuller Seminary, he went to evangelical churches that served communion in trays with juice in what he called "shot glasses" (I know this arrangement well). Now, Volf likes a shot glass as much as the next guy, (more than a lot of the next guys I hang out with), but not with grape juice. He asked where he might find real wine to be shared from a common chalice. "Oh, you'll have to go to the Episcopal church for that." So, he went.

That might get one to the Episcopal church, but not keep one there. What kept Volf there was the liturgy. He was lamenting the lack of the gospel found in the preaching in many churches, the Episcopal church being no exception. "But its there every Sunday, in the liturgy."

"The peace of Christ be with you."

"And also with you."

This was my last Sunday at St. Matthew's for awhile (unless I fail my comps and have to come back). I told the rector as I left, "I need a few more Sundays of this." She's a good preacher, but that's not what I'll miss. It's the way the liturgy makes me feel welcomed, the way it connects me to everyone else in the room, and everyone else in the world, and Christians through history. I love the prayer time for the church and the world. And the words of welcome around the table speak the gospel to me every week.

I feel welcome at most Churches of Christ because I've been doing it my whole life. I'm a third generation preacher in this tradition. I'm bona fide. And most of the time, people there know me before I walk through the door. How could I not. But this is a luxury that most do not have as they visit in "free" churches. I wonder how it is they might feel welcomed. (I have often felt excluded at places where I am not known, precisely because they rely on intimacy, not liturgy to connect them to each other).

No one knows me at St. Matt's. They have no idea what a Bible lectureship is, much less that I directed one. Nancy was far more famous at St Matt's than me. But I felt profoundly welcomed and a part of things, primarily because of the liturgy.

Being at both St Matt's and the coffee shop today reinforced how powerful symbolic action and ritual is in creating a sesne of belonging and community. Wednesday night I will celebrate with friends who have already completed their comps, and others who soon will. We have developed a repertoire over the last few years that marks our common life. We will go to our place, Town Hall, and will toast the promise of our common life. And the sharing will be so thick with the repeated pattens of our life, we will have to wipe it from our eyes. Liturgy.


happytheman said...

Thanks for this, it is a good day.

Anonymous said...

It gives me chills, the way we stumble up on things.

I had just about given up on finding community and a sense of connectedness within the church [of Christ]. Perhaps I'd been spoiled as a child. Maybe the church in which I was raised was a special case, not the norm. I had visited church after church, searching for that feeling of belonging that I distantly remembered. But each time I found myself a stranger, more tolerated than welcomed. However, last Friday I attended service at a Jewish synagogue [as was required for my Religions of the World class]. That distant memory of community, of welcome, of belonging was awakened. I was a complete stranger to the people, yet I was treated like their sister and daughter. I was a stranger to the prayers and to Jewish tradition, yet I felt at home. It was oddly familiar... The was emphasis on tradition, children, passing on teaching, and remember from where their faith came.

"They rely on intimacy, not liturgy, to connect them." When did that happen? I remember a time and place before it... How can the church get back to it?