Friday, July 23, 2010

The Presbyterian Church USA's General Assembly Worship and everyone's opinion

More thoughts and information about the Presbyterian General Assembly Sunday Morning processional.. This is a shorter video from a different side of the room then the one I posted several days ago. There is another one with an eagle which I did not post.

Since I started the conversation I should probably add the additional information I have found. It seems that many have their own interpretation of the meaning of the procession of the 219 General Assembly’s Sunday worship.

And there are those who were elated by it such as the person who wrote a letter to the Editor of CHURCHandWORLD. Rev. Walter J Wilkins wrote, “It was the most powerful two hours of worship I have experienced. The opening hymn was "All Creatures of Our God and King" and what a way to sing it – with representatives of all God's creatures streaming into the place of worship.”

It seems that someone who posted on the Hudson Presbytery web site was also thrilled with the procession. And they had an interpretation although I don’t know if it is the correct one. They wrote:

“The service began with a Call to Worship and Processional that recalled the Native American history of this Land of 1,000 lakes. Dancers entered, representing the North, South, East, and West from which we come. A vibrant parade of characters then followed – giant puppets allowed the turtles and eagles, the deer and the butterflies to join in God’s praise, accompanied by huge depictions of Indian ancestors, welcoming us to their home.”

But then there is the program as well as the official interpretation of the liturgy of the service. However, they only speak slightly to the procession but it is interesting. I think I may have had the program but somehow lost it. It is on the web. 219th General Assembly (2010) Service of Opening Worship Excerpts. The first part of this states:

“Please rise in body or in spirit and turn slowly and carefully to the four directions, as indicated by the worship leaders.

We are called to worship this day in the tradition of my people, who, for generations, lived here, at the Big River where the prairie meets the woods. Please rise in body or spirit, and join us as we turn to the four directions of God’s creation.

Leader: Come, Holy Spirit, as we gather in your name. We turn to face East:
[We welcome the color of this direction – yellow for the morning star.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the eagle which soars ever upward in praise of God,
For your lessons calling us to balance of mind in discernment.
We pray for your spirit of illumination and far-sighted vision.]

…Help us to love you and one another with all our heart, mind, and soul, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to face South:
[We welcome the color of this direction – red, the hue of revelation.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the turtle, close to the earth, and intuitive,
For your lessons calling us to balance of body in renewal.
We pray for your spirit of innocence, trust, and love.]

…Help us to open our eyes to the sacredness of every living thing, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to face West:
[We welcome the color of this direction – black, still and quiet.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the bear, mighty and purposeful,
For your lessons calling us to balance of emotion in wisdom and honesty.
We pray for your spirit of introspection, for seeing within.]

…Give us your strength and the courage to endure, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to face North:
[We welcome the color of this direction – white of clarity and brightness.
We thank you for your creation and welcome,
For the buffalo, strong and nurturing.
For your lessons calling us to balance in harmony with brothers and sisters everywhere.
We pray for your spirit of wisdom and grace.]

…Give us the goodness of the ages, as we pray together:
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Leader: We turn to complete the circle and to look up:
[To God who cleanses the earth with snow, wind, and rain.
To Jesus Christ who fills us with the wideness of mercy and embraces us all, and to the Holy Spirit who inspires us.]

And then finally the interpretation of the liturgy:
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OPENING WORSHIP. These interpretations and the liturgy itself are, of course, by a committee. The opening interpretation is written by Elder Elona Street-stewart:

“The fresh awakening of that deeper memory begins with the voices of Elders Fern Cloud (Dakota) and Elona Street-Stewart ( Delaware Nanticoke) inviting the congregation to pray the church’s ancient cry “Come, Holy Spirit, Come!”

Although written long before the eco-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it now feels providential that the Committee chose to open worship with this cry – “Come, Holy Spirit, as we gather in your name” – expressed liturgically in the profound creational reverence of America’s First Peoples, by turning our bodies to face “the four directions” of Earth and to “complete the circle” by looking up “to God who cleanses the earth with snow, wind, and rain; to Jesus Christ who fills us with the wideness of mercy and embraces us all, and to the Holy Spirit who inspires us. ‘Come, Holy Spirit, Come!’”

But perhaps the most provocative thoughts on this came from Paul Rack who blogs at Raxweblog:

"This is the Call to Worship that was used at the PCUSA General Assembly's Communion service on Sunday, 7/4/10. It is a version of the Native American "Blessing of the Four Directions," which has traditionally been part of the Medicine Wheel ritual. The actual performance involved processions from each of the directions, with large figures of the respective animal-spirits. It was very moving, in spite of the fact that it was in a very unconducive assembly hall. The text was not available at the full service, but I was able to obtain a copy from the Committee on Local Arrangements. I don't know who the author is, but it was given to me by someone named Elona Street-Stewart."

Perhaps that is why I was bothered by the interaction of the animals and the dancers.

Another thing that bothers me terribly in this particular document is the prayer of thanksgiving which is panentheism.

“Holy One, who holds us in the hollow of your hand, who holds us in the curve of a mother’s arm; whose flesh is the flesh of hills and hummingbirds and angleworms; whose skin is the leathered skin of an old Ojibwe Chief, and the smooth skin of a newborn babe; whose color is the color of the zebra and the brown bear and the green grass snake; whose hair is the aurora borealis, rainbows, nebulae, waterfalls and a spider’s web; whose eyes sometimes shine like the evening stars, and then like fireflies, and then again like an open wound; whose touch is the touch of life and the touch of death, whose name is everyone’s for a fleeting moment on the shore of time: It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give you thanks and praise

Perhaps if the word “is” had been changed to “like,” the prayer could have been more biblical. But as it stands it is not speaking to or of the biblical God who although caring, concerned with, and incarnated into the flesh of humanity is nonetheless not creation.


John McNeese said...

So, Viola, it comes down to the meaning of the word "is." Getting the words just right. Words, human words. Beautiful service, celebrating all of creation.

Revelation 5:13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’ 

Psalm 148
7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps, 
8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
   stormy wind fulfilling his command! 
9 Mountains and all hills,
   fruit trees and all cedars! 
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
   creeping things and flying birds! 
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
   princes and all rulers of the earth! 
12 Young men and women alike,
   old and young together! 

Viola Larson said...

I was writing about that last prayer not the procession. To say God is the skin of a new born babe is to equate God with creation. That is what some who consider creation to be the body of God are doing. It isn't biblical.

Nice Psalm. Thak you for posting it.

will spotts said...

"accompanied by huge depictions of Indian ancestors"?

Anonymous said...

Once again, mainliners pillage the religion of non-Christians for material. In the process they spit on Christian orthodoxy, engage in drive-by aesthetic syncretism, and disrespect the pillaged by taking here and there from a tradition that is not their own, as if it is simply a bag of spiritual resources that can be mined at will. About par for the course.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Pastor Bob said...

The core question is what is acceptable andAnd yet Christians have borrowed from many non Christian traditions and philosophies. The use of Platonism in the early Church and Aristotle in later time is one example. So is the Christmas tree and the very date of Christmas. what takes us too far into the non Christian traditions so as to take change the Gospel to reflect those traditions rather than following the true Gospel.

John McNeese said...

Many Presbyterians of today come out of African, Latin, Asian, and Native cultures.   I would hope that we could incorporate some  of these traditions into our worship services and into the life of this church, without it being called  "drive-by aesthetic syncretism" or "a lbag of spiritual resources.". I would hope that Christian orthodoxy within this church does not require doing worship in the 16th century, European, and Protestant tradition which could also be described as "aesthetic syncretism."

John McNeese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

I intend to write about that later. I do believe that the traditions of other cultures can be beautifully used in Christian worship. But not other religious worldviews. I believe that other world views were used in some, but not all, of this worship.

Jodie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jess said...

Why bother with church? If churches use pagan music, dance, traditions and ceremonies, why would a pagan bother with church? Why should a christian bother with church sine the pagan music and dance outside of church seems of a much better quality than the stuff in the church. The rock'n roll music at my church is terrible compared to the rock'n roll music "outside". I thought christians had something unique: Jesus Christ. What happened? He's not unique enough? We have to borrow from pagans? Who do christians follow? We have to borrow pagan ideas including an American Indian ceremony of the four winds for a PCA ceremony in order to make Christ relevant? Yup, those pagans do such cool things, let's copy them, then maybe they'll come to Christ by our example!

Viola Larson said...

I think there might be some confusion. This is a PCUSA event. Thanks for your comment.

ZZMike said...

"Once again, mainliners pillage the religion of non-Christians for material."

I don't think that's it at all. They want to use Indian lore simply because they have no belief in their own traditions.

The lost souls at the GA have no foundation in Scripture.

Jess gets close to the heart of the matter: we have a great Message, but lousy messengers.

Consider also the "Confession":

"All: But we have built walls of hostility.
All: But we have tolerated injustice and poverty.
All: But we have harbored hatred and waged war.
All: But we have poisoned water, land, and air.
All: But we have insisted on hoarding more than our share."

These are right out of the Socialist/Marxist playbook. Who determines "our fair share"? They do, of course. Who determines what's "injustice and poverty"? They do, of course. And they're more than happy to take our money, our resources, and redistribute them in a way that They figure is "fair". Just so long as it doesn't include us.

On the other hand, that's immediately followed by the "assurance of pardon", so it's all OK, we can continue as before.