Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bad taste is not morally neutral

A colleague of mine here in Waiapu recently sent this out in his mailing. I think it is a really interesting. It captures some of my frustration with what is offered young people. Not so much bad taste, but shallow. Anyway give it a read, and let me know what you think.

Bad taste is not morally neutral

In a conversation about liturgy, Australian Cistercian monk Michael Casey made reference to the 1960s writing of Richard Egecenter, The Desecration of Christ, that "bad taste is not morally neutral". This was music to my ears, and I have now tracked down a copy of the book. Egecenter's assertion reminded me of early twentieth-century wood engraver Eric Gill's "bad taste is the worst heresy". Fr Michael's point was that if good liturgy forms the people of God, it follows that bad liturgy - including rubbish music - deforms.  And deforming the faith community cannot be considered morally neutral.

Some hard things have been said and written about churches and worship.  How difficult or recognizable is it for us to hear Marva Dawn's Reaching Out without Dumbing Down claim, that churches are too preoccupied with the trivial and the ugly to be trusted as guardians and bearers of life-giving symbols?

I've been introduced to the world of blogs. Paul Fromont's Prodigal Kiwi Blog is well worth visiting at http://prodigal.typepad.com/  He recently explored the relation between architecture and spirituality.

An area of interest for me (as a non-architect) is the place of physical space, scale, boundaries, symmetries, contrast, ambiguity, shape, gradients, texture, simplicity, connectedness... etc and our encountering of God. What kind of architecture create "thin spaces" - holy places, spaces that serve as doorways into the transcendent, spaces that draw us into the Trintarian union, spaces that silence and still us in the presence of God?

I have often thought that a diocese should have a building (buy a warehouse, perhaps) in which unwanted or otherwise redundant church furnishings could be stored or exhibited, and where those who were inclined could visit this museum to admire pews, prayer desks, pulpits, and decaying embroidery in glass cases.  Meanwhile, with the fear of irreversible removal diminished, a new freedom might be found to recreate buildings to house the church.

What about Tradition! Do I hear you say?  The clutter of accumulated convention and quaint custom have well and truly obscured the essence of tradition. If we were beginning again to create a space to house the church, the essentials of the tradition would be identified as a bath for the waters of Baptism, a reading stand for the proclamation of the Scriptures, and an altar table for the Eucharist. Beyond that, we may wish to give prominence to the font with the Easter candle, and a candle or two drawing attention to lectern and altar. And some seats for attending to the scriptures.  And of course, the implications for initiation and nurture, reflection and prayer, hospitality and service, are there in embryo.  There's more that could be said (and included), but I won't clutter the core by adding anything further for now ...

Let there always be quiet, dark churches
in which people can take refuge ...
Houses of God, filled with
His silent presence.
There, even when they do not know how to pray,
at least they can be still and breathe easily.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Monday, June 27, 2005

Musical Theology

One of the interesting things about the Methodists is that their theology is in their music. Not many would know what John Wesley thought, but Charles Wesley's theology is in his hymns, which are still sung every Sunday, and which still shape the ordinary Methodist's theology today. If you want to know what Methodist theology is, then sing Charles's hymns, and you will soon have it. And that theology had a depth to it that much music today just doesn't have. And it has shaped peoples faith far more than the preachers could ever hope to because people saung those words over and over again. It was and active type of learning, not passive which listening to a preacher is. And when people needed guidance or comforting, or a wise word, it was Charles's hymns they remembered, not the great sermons of John or any other great methodist preacher.
The same is true today. Only we don't take the care that John and Charles took to craft good theology in our music. Instead we are serving up shallow much mostly. And that saddens me, because we could be offering so much more.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


I have been reading John Drane’s the McDonaldization of the Church. While discussing the impact of drama in worship, he quotes Albert Mehrabian’s research on where the impact comes from in a message. 7% comes from the words, 38% from vocal symbols (tone of voice, pace, pause, pitch, tune etc…) and 55% from non verbal signals – body language. He likens this to the ancient Chinese proverb of “I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand.” I think this has some profoundly important things to say about the role music plays in developing peoples theology in much of what is offered in teaching and worship today. In the current sing and listen worship style done by Pentecostals, and offered to young people “because that is what they want”, the assumption is that the preached word is where they learn. I think this is way off the mark. Most people’s theology is being formed by the music sung, especially since it is usually the same songs sung week after week, event after event. Is the music we are singing up to this kind of task? The answer I think is no.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Raising the Drinking Age?

There is a big push for the drinking age to be raised. Various organisations tell us the majority of NZ’ers support this move. And I guess anyone who works for or with young people, especially if they are church based would be expected to agree with this too.

Surprisingly then, I do not support the raising of the minimum drinking age to 20.


Because I do not see how it will do anything to address the issues it purports to solve. It will simply punish 18 + 19 year olds, who have not been a problem, as far as I have read.

The issue seems to be an increase in alcohol use and misuse among the younger adolescent age group. And this is a concern. But instead of jumping on to simple answers, we do need to ask why young people are binge drinking? What is it about adult society and being adult that they are imitating? This is a hard question that most adults are simply not willing to ask, and so we go for the soft option. Matt Robson’s Bill does address this issue insofar as it offers changes to the advertising regulations. So I do agree with these. It addresses the glamorizing of alcohol drinking, and the portrayal of being adult with alcohol use (and misuse). This is part of the problem. But we need to be more real that the bill and its supporters are being at present.

Matt Robson’s Bill will not address how 11-17 year olds get access to alcohol. It will not change shop owners who have been willing to sell alcohol to clearly under age drinkers. It will not change the inaction to police the Act as it is at the moment. It will not address the quality of alcohol education that is currently offered. It is simply a quick fix that will not work. We need to get real and then may be the issue of adolescent alcohol use and misuse can be taken seriously. This route makes us adults feel better, while victimising older adolescents, again.

What do others think?

It has been a very busy month

It has been a month since I blogged, again!

Partly I have been too busy, and partly I have this notion in my head that I need to have fully developed arguments before I stick stuff up. I need to get into the rhythm of developing stuff as I go.

In that month I have been to the Praxis conference on Alternative Futures in Wellington, tagged with a PADYS meeting. These get better and better, and show how important relationships are. It was great doing some serious input stuff for the first day, which was added to by one of the Youth Staff who showed us some stuff he has been working on on how to reach the under 35’s. Stimulating, thought provoking stuff. I really enjoyed it. It also showed up how inadequate my current budget is for running these meetings!

I have just been to Nelson for four days. Partly meeting. Partly offering training. Steve Taylor was also there, doing a session on Film and Gospel, and DJ’ing culture and gospel. I had heard it all before, but it was great to hear it again. The second set of stuff was at a youth leaders training day, and I followed that up with a session on what Anglicanism offers our young people. I really enjoyed doing the reading and thinking about this, and it fitted really well with what Steve offered. He used a clip from Whale Rider, where Paikia asks her grandfather where they come from, and he uses the rope (which breaks) to answer. It fits really well with how I see youth ministry. We are threading new rope into the old and it seems frail rope. We are building on to what our ancestors have given us. To ignore the rope leaves us in a very vulnerable place.

So what does this old rope offer?

Liturgical worship, that is communal, and not just about me, that is rooted in the earliest worship traditions, that involves the whole person, that reads out scripture in large segments and allows the hearers to assess the worth of what the preacher offers, and in the sacraments offers a visible sign of Gods activity in our life.

The rope of tradition that includes the three cords of scripture, antiquity (the communal memory of our faith) and reason (the brain God gave us) When this is coupled with the via media, we are offered a way of working with young people that both takes their ongoing faith development seriously, and does not leave them stuck in Belonging faith, and gives them tools they can use over their whole life. It offers a God who is in the end mystery, yet welcoming and hospitable, and compassionate about us as individuals, about the society we live in, and world around us. WE are able to offer a BIG GOD and a big faith, It was great to see youth leaders, most of whom were NOT Anglican, being excited about what Anglicanism might offer.