Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sermon - Pentecost 2011

In this sermon for Pentecost I explained a new way of approaching the "problem" of church. Rather than looking at it as though it were a recipe with some missing ingredient, I looked at it like a piece of Origami. Church-as-folding problem means that we can assume that we will still have all the same elements, but we seek to arrange them in a new way. Folding is getting a lot of attention in the world of science because it is a fundamental piece of conceptual architecture necessary for understanding String Theory in physics and protein formation (DNA) in biology. In turns out that that "folding" is something that happens a lot in our universe, and working with that knowledge has born fruit in the "hard" science.

So what does our theology (particularly our understanding of liturgy and ecclesiology--that is, worship and church itself) benefit from this framework? Well, for one thing, it helps move us past the confetti of post-modernism: the bits and scraps and fragments that we, in church land, keep trying to arrange into some kind of mosaic that makes narrative sense our a fragmented world. The old prayerbooks and bibles have been shredded, and we put the pieces together to create a meaningful experience by taking a little from this book and little from this other one. The problem is that in liturgy, to take one example, the effort to create a mosaic sometimes devolves into "Fraken-Liturgy"--a grotesquely imbalanced creature whose un-natural origin is evident to all. In an Origami approach, it is understood that the entire tradition is still present, only it's been folded around into a new arrangement.

For example, imagine an origami leaflet. The congregation receives, when they arrive at the church site, a single piece of paper that has been folded into some kind of a shape. As they unfold it, the liturgy itself is revealed. But perhaps this is not a linear liturgy like we are used to. Maybe instead of flowing, temporally, from gathering to word to table, people flow physically from one area to another. This kind of stational liturgy is in our church DNA, actually, and certainly evident in larger churches where you might find little chapels and prayer areas and votive stations and displays set up. This is worship as environment rather than worship as event. The secular analogue would be architecture rather than drama. People have plenty of experience encountering spaces and inhabiting them, even spaces with a strongly pedagogical intention (think of class rooms, museums, and art galleries).

So once this origami leaflet is completely unfolded and laid flat it functions as a map of both the conceptual and physical space. Suddenly the unity of the liturgy becomes available in a new way. Rather than merely repeating a cyclic story attempting to create drama by suspending our own knowledge of how it ends, the participants are never asked to surrender that knowledge at all. The power comes not from the sequential build-up of tension and then climax as in drama, but in the depth that comes from going down, down, down deeper into knowing a space on its own terms.

Epistemologically speaking, we might expect more change out of people with this approach. There is much more discovery in it, much more participation as the group cooperatively makes worship together. It moves us in the exact opposite direction of movie-theatre style worship with its hierarchies of knowledge and provider-consumer dialectic.

Another appeal of this approach is that it lends itself to adapting another important conceptual framework: fractals. Fractals are a phenomenon where the smaller parts of something resemble or repeat the pattern of the whole. For example, if you look at branch of lightening, you will see a similarity between a very small branch and the entire structure. Snow flakes are also a common example. When we start talking about the Holy Trinity, we quickly get into fractals as we grab examples from nature to show that the fingerprints of Trinitarian thinking are everywhere.

Another thought has to do with the way that mutation works. As we disassemble and reassemble the Gospel, we are actually encoding it and decoding in such a way as to produce variations and mutations. Most of these will be dismissed as noise in the process, but a few of these mutations might be good enough to spur evolution.

So this is something I'm puzzling through right now. Not abstract at all, since I can easily how these concepts find application in parish life. If I want to create a transformational experience of church community, than I need new tools to configure the elements that I've got. I can't assume that some magic element is going to be added into the mix!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Sermon - VCP 2011 Jenny Andison

This is Jenny Andison, the Canon Missioner for the Diocese of Toronto, preaching at the Vital Church Planting Conference (East) a few weeks ago. I shot this video, it was edited by Susan & Andy Kalbfleisch.