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Ritual is Everywhere

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Inspired by an article titled “The Market as God” which I read years ago, and a self-reflective anthropology piece called “Body ritual among the Nacirema” which I was introduced to first at King’s in Edmonton, and prompted by an illustration in J K A Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” (which I have not read yet), I will try to create an outsider’s (think alien visitor) description of the main religious behaviours we generally show.

(warning: the articles linked to above are not necessarily easy reading, but if you can get past that the ideas they present are fascinating)

So here is my attempt at something that points out the same things as the above: http://wp.me/P3etrg-at

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Transition Team Tab update

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Over the past few weeks I have added a tab that leads to a page where all Transition Team materials will be made public after the Team reviews them. This includes our meeting agendas, meeting notes, and my (Pastor Pete’s) presentation notes. The presentation notes are not reviewed before being made public. The meeting notes will, by collective decision, be placed in members mailslots once approved. This is all part of our attempt to communicate well to everyone what we are talking about and doing.

It may be helpful to understand that I do not read or present my own notes word for word, but present them to the team “off the cuff.” Our secretary writes down the essence of what I am heard to say, and what Team members share in response. In due time we will bring all our discussion together into a more formal report, but all are welcome to ‘read over our shoulder’ and even ask team members questions about things. In fact, them being asked questions will both help them learn (by trying to explain) and also will help them know what is important or striking to you or what makes you curious. Remember that most of these phrases that are in the meeting notes are spoken in a context, and it is just impractical to share the full context of any discussion.

Here is a link to the first two pages of notes I presented at our first meeting: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ey17p3j2abq7fz2/Summary%20of%20convergence%20of%20factors%20pages%201%20and%202.pdf

After next Wednesday’s meeting, I will post the next 3 pages.

The handshake ritual

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Our lives have all kinds of rituals that we practice without ever thinking twice about them. Although mainly a male ritual, the handshake is a good example. Before you read on, think about what a handshake means for you now, if it means anything. For most people it is a “greeting ritual” that is an expected move. At some times it means  more than that. For instance, here in Nobleford the council still practices a handshake that shows solidarity and unity despite differences. It used to be that an Elder shook the pastor’s hand before and after the service, and I vividly remember the time when I was a teen when an Elder refused to shake the pastor’s hand after the service! Turns out the pastors had asked some ladies to sing in the service and had not properly informed the Elders. The ladies happened to be of African decent… but I don’t know if that had bearing. It was a time when solo’s were unheard of as well, so there may have been multiple issues. But the lack of a handshake was a “loud” skipping of a ritual.

Some areas, such has Europe, have the “kissing greeting.”  If you’ve visited family in Holland, you might have run into someone extending their cheeks to you expecting the ritual peck on each side, creating a awkward moment because you don’t know the ritual, and such close contact is odd to us North Americans. Again, its just a a ritual.

“A handshake is a short ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s like hands, in most cases accompanied by a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands.” – Wikipedia

The history and origin of handshakes is what I find interesting and also once I learned it, I began to see that as ritual gesture it’s time is well past the need for it’s original use. Wikipedia says “handshaking was practiced in ancient Greece as far back as the 5th century BC… The handshake is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon.” I have read other sources that stated the same thing, that it was a military ritual, done using what was expected to be the weapon hand, to show no weapon was in one’s hand and thus no harm was intended. Over time the meaning has expanded. But what I want to emphasize is that the meaning is important, not the ritual. The meaning can be conveyed by an adapted or totally new ritual. So too with many of our church rituals, as I’ve been pointing out. The important thing is the meaning, and that people ‘get’ it and are flexible in the expression of the ritual, even refreshing them creatively from time to time to refresh their meaning.

In many areas, for various reasons, handshakes are no longer a practice. The church I served in Iowa and you here are still big on handshakes, but many councils and churches no longer have it as a ritual. They have found other ritual ways of expressing the same meaning. See, it’s not the the handshake itself that is important, but the message it sends. And that message can be delivered with a different ritual. A wave, meaningful eye-contact, words, a tap on the side of the shoulder, a “high five” or a fist or elbow bump are just a few alternatives.

Try to start watching your own life, and start noticing all those rituals we practice. It can be surprising. Try notice too which ones you are strongly “attached to”and which you find annoying.

 

Rituals and Traditions as “containers” for meaning

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This week the point is: Rituals and Traditions are containers of meaning. They are not the meaning itself. They are merely actions which are done to remind us of an event that had — or will have — meaning. We dishonor rituals and traditions if we consistently follow them without knowing the meaning. The only time we should be ok with people following traditions blindly is when those people are not ready yet to understand the meaning. We can tolerate that for the immature for a time, but we should expect them to mature enough to see the meaning. What is great is that when that works, there is an endless depth of layers of meaning to discover. Layers which remain burried for those who just think the ritual is important, not the meaning.

I read an article about worship changes this morning that fit what I was thinking of writing to build on the last few posts on ritual and tradition. The author of the article came to the conclusion that congregations had taken on parts of the Praise and Worship practice or form of worship without understanding the principles and theology behind them. This creates a disconnect.  Here’s a quote:

“During the 1990’s many mainline congregations began to import the songs, sounds, and some of the sights (like hand raising and clapping) of the praise and worship style. In many cases, what got lost was the robust pneumatology behind this approach to worship. In other words, many mainline churches brought the form, but didn’t bring the theology of praise and worship into their congregations.”

You can read the article by following this link:  http://seedbed.com/feed/misplacing-charisma-contemporary-worship-lost-way/

So bits and pieces of a tradition were adopted as “the thing to do” without learning there were some deep spiritual and theological reasons people did Praise and Worship the way they did. Reasons for actions and the meaning of them is important. The meaning of any ritual or tradition we practice must be regularly reviewed and re-clarified so that the meaning ‘shines through’ the ritual. If we do not do that, we create and follow ’empty tradition’ and we are traditionalistic.

Let me tell you a story that is merely a different version of the “cutting the end off the roast” story. It is based on factual events, and on several different experiences being brought together into one account.

In a small country church, on Lord’s Supper Sunday, the elements were prepared and would be set out on the communion table by the Deacons. The silver trays would be cleaned and filled and set on the table, and then special linen cloths would be unfolded to cover it all. When it came time for communion to be distributed, during the song before, an Elder would come forward and take a bit of time to carefully remove the linen coverings and carefully fold them up. A young girl – who had been at the church with her Deacon father and had watched the preparations – watched all this ritualized action and on the way home from church asked why that was done: “Daddy, why does everything get covered and uncovered so carefully?” Her father only knew that is how he had always seen it done as long as he could remember, and he thought it was part of keeping it important and special. So that is what he said, mumbling something about it being like wrapping and unwrapping a present. She was satisfied with his answer, but he was not. At the next church anniversary, when one of the older pastors came to visit, he asked him about where the practice came from. The pastor said “when the church was built, with the horse stable next door and so many farms nearby, we had a lot of flies around, so we covered things up.”

And so the deacon found out that what had become a ritual had a simple original practical purpose, and it had now become part of the ritual. But the original need no longer existed. He proposed changing things at the next few meetings, but met great reluctance and resistance. The covering and uncovering ritual had taken on a meaning of its own, and it became clear that people were attached to that covering and uncovering. But in reality, they had no principled theological purpose relevant to the biblical meaning of Lords Supper.

I hope you will see, when we get to doing a Passover Lord’s Supper as we come to Easter, that the tradition of the Passover had many activities built into it that had meaning, and that the children even had ritualized questions they were to ask that reminded them of the meaning of what they were doing, of the story behind the ritual. The whole thing is a re-enacting of events in the history of Israel. And each time it was done, the meaning and memory of God saving Israel was re-enacted and reviewed.

We need to be careful that our traditions are containers for meaning. We need to ensure that they are not followed “out of custom or superstition” as one of our forms used to warn against. And every now and then we need to review whether a tradition as we have practiced it is still valuable, or if there are better ways to achieve  and communicate the same ancient meaning.