Theology, Watches, Competing Liturgies, and why James K.A. Smith is a baller and a scholar.

Remember this post? In it I wanted to discuss the undeniable fact that apple stores look like and effectively function as religious shrines for the faithful consumer. Well 3 years and 3 iPhone models later, I guess its time to blog it up.


 

Theology of Space. Every place tells a story.

How do our public spaces tell stories about humans and what we desire? How do our churches tell us what is important in life, and where to direct our attention and focus during a worship service?

These and other questions make us realize that no space is a neutral space, and that every space both explicitly religious (a church) or not (an apple store) are pointing our hearts towards things to love (and in the same breath, worship).

Don’t believe me? Take a look at these pictures from the latest apple press conference (aka the iFeast day) and see for yourself…

apple1 Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.15.09 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.08.14 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.15.13 PM

And you thought it was a cult before… these iconic, monumental, yet strangely familiar spaces (there’s one on Boylston St. and one in the Natick mall) invite in the faithful apple junkie to gaze upon the newest objects of worship, bathed in light and set apart from the darkness or chaos from which you enter. In the center, the emblem and icon of the fruit – no Eden reference intended but I’ll bite 🙂 – reminds us who is behind all of this, and who will receive our offering when we purchase the things for $649 for the 16GB-model–without–a-2-year-contract-thank-you-very-much-t-mobile…

Competing Liturgies. Who (or what) do we love?

But the connection to religious doesn’t stop with their stores temples.

I’ve been reading James K.A. Smith’s fascinating analysis of competing liturgies in his book “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation,” which makes 3 basic claims:

  1. Human beings are oriented and defined by desire (what we love).
  2. Human beings are influenced and shaped by practice (by what we do)
  3. Some practices or rituals communicate a specific vision of “the good life” (Smith categorizes these as “liturgies”), and compete for first place in our lives.

In short, the church is not the only liturgy in our life, and it is not even the loudest or most effective.

Smith then exegetes competing liturgies in our 21st century western culture. Consider his first analysis.

The layout of this temple has architectural echoes that hark back to medieval cathedrals – mammoth religious spaces that can absorb all kinds of  different religious activities all at one time. And so one might say that this religious building has a winding labyrthinth for contemplation, alongside of which are innumerable chapels devoted to various saints. As we wander the labyrinth in contemplation, preparing to enter one of the chapels, we’ll be struck by the rich iconography that lines the walls and interior spaces. Unlike the flattened depictions of saints one might find in stained-glass windows, here is an array of three-dimensional icons adorned in garb that – as with all iconography – inspires us to be imitators of these exemplars. These statues and icons embody for us concrete images of “the good life”. (Smith, 21)

If you haven’t guessed it by now, Smith is describing, albeit from a unique tongue-in-cheek perspective, any suburban mall. His evocative depiction of a “full worship experience” at the mall, complete with all the “smells and bells” needs to be read in full to be truly appreciated, as his depiction of the mall as a cathedral pilgrimage site makes unfamiliar the familiar, and makes us truly stop and think about just what kind of liturgy we’re competing against. As Smith states, The mall understands humans as desiring creatures.

I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures who’s being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they “get it”: they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures–creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret. (Smith, 76)

The mall (or marketplace) is of particular interest considering Apple’s press coverage today. I think Apple’s brilliant marketing, design, and a knack for grabbing our hearts fits in perfectly with Smith’s analysis.  They even have their own saint…

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from the homepage at abcnews.com

These pictures tell a story. Combine that with insane apple fanaticism, monumental media attention, and a half a billion “followers” (apparently there are 500,000,000 iTunes subscribers), and you have a religion. A religion that tells us what is good, what we need, and what we’ll buy as soon as we are able to.

 

 Where do we go from here?

In part 2, “Desiring the Kingdom”  James K.A. Smith offers a counter for the church to paint the picture of “the good life” through our Christian practices of worship based around the teachings of Jesus. We cannot simply shun consumerism – we need to offer a replacement. The result of the fall was not that we stopped loving, but that we began loving the wrong things. It’s up to the church – the hands and feet of Jesus – to re-orient our desires to what they were intended for and the only thing that will bring ultimate fulfillment. Lord help us. More on that after I read part 2, and even more on that after I read his second book: “Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works“. Unfortunately I have to save up for my iWatch so it will be a while until I can afford paper books again.

 

Family Polyphony Vacation [new recordings!]

St. Francis de Sales Church, Phoenicia, NY
Nestled in the Catskills – Phoenicia, NY

I’ve been doing a lot of singing lately. When two conductors marry each other, family vacation means driving to a festival and putting on a concert. A few weeks ago I got to sing with a stellar ensemble of 11 voices at the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in upstate NY. The festival is mostly centered around opera so we are definitely the black sheep choral group, though after 4 years now, we’ve gained a bit of a following from festival attendees who look forward to hearing us every year.

This year’s festival theme was Spanish music, so Rachel and Matt put together a program of music from the Spanish Renaissance, centered around Morales’ Missa de Beata Virgine. The mass is a superb piece of music, particularly the final Angus Dei. Our program was aptly titled “Heaven’s Paradise on Earth: Music of the Spanish Renaissance“. Indeed, heavenly music!

Check out our recordings here:

Five great songs I’m looking forward to singing this year

Approaching my 4th year in ministry at TCC it’s nice to look back and realize that I’ve established a good diet of songs for the singing church. We sing well here at TCC, and I think the biggest reason is simply familiarity. We have ~50 songs we sing on a regular basis, and every week they are sung they take deeper roots in our hearts as these 50 songs become “our songs”.

That being said, I’m always on the lookout for excellent sturdily constructed songs for congregational singing, or just excellent songs that tell the Gospel story in fresh and exciting ways. Here are a handful I’m excited about:

1. I know it’s a few years old at this point, but Chris Tomlin’s “This is our God” will be a great addition to our regular repertoire this year. The simple melody of the verses, and the repetitive chorus bolsters the voice of the yearning congregation to sing of our expectant hope. Perfect for Advent!

A refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm. This is our God.
And He will wipe away your tears and return your wasted years. This is our God

This is the one we have waited for
This is the one we have waited for
This is the one we have waited for
Jesus, Lord and Savior, This is our God.

Since apparently we’re starting with an Advent theme, Come to Us O Lord by Young Oceans is another great heart-beat song that is simple but powerful.

O living Word; please come dwell in us, Lord wipe away, these tears
O Ancient Son; so long foretold, we’re desperate souls, draw near

And we will stand, securely in the strength of the Lord
Every heart will surely come and adore The Great I AM.

Something about the fifth in the melody above the IV chord at the top of the chorus really lifts you up. Some might mock it’s rather monotone melody, but I think it really pulses with energy on top of the simple chord progression. It fits the text too.

3. No list would be complete without a little Hillsong (p.s. they have a concert at BU tomorrow!). Their version of Psalm 65, “You Crown the Year” from the Glorious Ruins album is packed with verses from the psalm. I’m blown away by how they can take the ancient language of the psalms and make it sound like it was written just yesterday. It’s clear that the songwriters are saturated in the word, and it seeps out into their songwriting seemingly effortlessly. Don’t believe me? Check out the psalm as you listen to the song:

[Psalm 65] [You Crown the Year (Hillsong)]

There’s an epic building bridge to boot, if that’s what your into…


 

On to the non-congregational songs – songs that I like but would never make a congregation try to sing along with them. Unfortunately there are many of these!

4. Songwriter from Indianapolis Nathan Partain is writing some great lyrics and good music to boot. I particularly liked “For His Own Sake” – it has a definite Simon and Garfunkel feel to it so insta-connection to my childhood. Thanks mom!
[For His Own Sake – Nathan Partian]

5. Audrey Assad is one of my favorite Christian songwriters out there today. Most of her songs are perfect for congregational songs (we’ve done “I Shall Not Want” and “Restless” here at TCC), but her recent Christmas song “Winter Snow” with Chris Tomlin has a wonderful jazzy Norah Jones feel to it. [Winter Snow – Youtube]

9 Observations on Singing New Songs

Singing a new song? It’s more than meets the eye! Good words from cardiphonia

Cardiphonia

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I’ve had a couple of people mention to me Jamie Brown’s recent set of blog posts reflecting on his time at the National Worship Leaders Conference (DC). IN particular they were questioning his thoughts on introducing new songs in church.  This is a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot in the various churches I’ve worked for so I thought I’d share my gathered wisdom.

1. A New Song is his Name…but don’t wear it out.

When the Psalms (in particular) speak of ‘singing a new song’ they are specifically foreshadowing the incarnation event.  The early chapters of the gospel of Luke show us in spectacular form that Christ is the cause, inspiration, and embodiment of the ‘new song.’  Our ‘new songs’ are simply reflections of that One eternal never-ending, never sick of ‘new song.’  i. Try and make your new songs more of a reflection of the new songs of Luke…

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Ben Keyes’ “The Last Laugh,” and why you should buy this awesome album

A few months ago I had the pleasure of creating the album artwork for Ben Keyes’ (rhymes with “skies”) first solo album. Ben is one of the members of  Ordinary Time, a folk acoustic trio from Vancouver, Canada, and is a member of TCC Wayland, where I work. The cover (in my completely unbiased opinion) reflects the bluegrass/gospel roots of Ben’s music. Check it out!

Continue reading Ben Keyes’ “The Last Laugh,” and why you should buy this awesome album

Blogging with the anglicans, part II – Lent 27 (John 9)

For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind (John 9:39)

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? This is one of those fundamental questions we all have, and indeed why some skeptics have yet to place faith in Jesus. A simple, powerful doubt about God and the nature of the universe: “If God is good, why does suffering exist?”

Continue reading Blogging with the anglicans, part II – Lent 27 (John 9)

Amos on worship and Repentance

Juan de Borgona, The Prophet Amos, Museo Catedralico, Cuenca, 1535

Hey Blog Readers,

This fall I started a discipleship cohort at Church of the Cross, Boston. The group is designed to help us to engage with key issues in our world through the study of both Biblical and non-Biblical texts. The 14 of us will meet monthly to discuss and debate issues such as Politics, authority of scripture, absolutism (is there only one true religion?), Sexuality and Gender, and more. Fun!

This month we are reading Amos, a book that this worship leader has very mixed feelings about.

 

 

 

Continue reading Amos on worship and Repentance