Thursday, June 01, 2006


In a situation where I would have to come up with one word to describe my personality, I think I know what word I would use -- one phrase would be contradiction in terms. That word is: informal. Yes, if it were allowed I would come to work in my pajamas. It's not allowed, and that's probably for the best. My hair is a natural mess, so I've decided to stop trying to formalize it like everyone else, embrace the mess and get a messy looking haircut.

That's just how I am. The older I get the more I realize that my informal personality affects every aspect of my life, including religion. Despite my recent plunge into Lutheranism, I find myself as informal as ever. It is the formalities about organized religion that will always get to me. The liturgy is nice, and I learn a lot from it. I have even ceased challenging it when speaking with other Lutherans. I don't mind organ music so much anymore. In fact, I kind of like it, but not in a formal sense. I listen for the melody and try to sense the emotion of a hymn. Perhaps I do that to get away from the funeral-like feel intrinsic in organ music. I don't like dirges and hymns sound like them so often. As Eddie Izzard pointed out so aptly, "We're the only people who can make hallelujah sound like a funeral march" (he referred to Anglicans, but it kind of applies to Lutheran hymns as well). I don't like the formal tones of sadness and imposing solemnity, I guess. Then there's making the sign of the cross. I don't do that, and I probably never will. I don't have anything against it, it's just that to me it would be nothing more than a meaningless ceremony.

I don't like ceremony, pomp, circumstance, long robes, or any of that. Still, I can be awed when walking into a cathedral. I can be humbled when remembering what a great God I serve. I can be astounded when I think of what Jesus did for me and everyone else upon the cross. In church, I understand the reason that we confess our sins and humble ourselves before God when we prepare to receive Him.

So what is the difference between the formal processes that I have learned to tolerate and the formal way in which a person should approach God that I aspire toward? I think it's the difference between appearances and what's on the inside. Jesus said that God looks at the heart, while man looks at the outside. We see people for what they are, God sees people for who they are. I think that in my own fallen way I want to escape the limitations of formality, the outward graces and, yes, even appearances. I don't care if you're wearing the right white robe for the day or not. If you're a pastor and you're telling me about God I'm going to listen to the words and learn what I can from them. The outward signs, to me, are nothing more than that. It is the inside that I try to perceive and care about. Since I am only human, I have a difficult time doing this successfully, but I try. More so than just learning what is being said, I want to know that the person who speaks to me from the pulpit, or any person who proposes to speak to me about godly things, cares about me and the other people around them.

To care more for theological terms and doctrines than for people -- who they are, what their needs are, how you can help them -- is empty. Jesus said that if you love God but not other people then you are a liar. How is it possible to love the God you cannot see, and yet dislike people who are made in the image of that God, whom you can see? That is only head knowledge, and Jesus himself spoke against it. It is a disguise, nothing more.

Yes, I think I dislike the formal because it is a pretense. I prefer what is to what pretends to be. Or at least, I aspire to do that. I also fall hopelessly short of that mark, and must trust God to forgive me and help me to run the race.


Joy said...


Sorry to comment off-topic (feel free to delete this after you read it), but i'm really interested in the comment you posted on my blog. I'm not incredibly familiar with Lockian philosophy, and i was wondering if you could elaborate a little more about it and about your statement. Are you saying that our government can't work in a secular society, or that the way our government was founded couldn't work in a secular society and now that we have a secular society its inevitable that our government has changed?

Thanks for the conversation,


little-cicero said...

Maybe this will sum up your views Esther-

"Beauty is truth, Truth beauty." -Keats

The Starving Author said...


Once again, AMEN! While I stand firmly behind the liturgy, as it gives people new to the faith a structure to engage it, and that helps a lot, the way people approach worship, and all the formality they attach to everything in church, is almost always pretense. It's khakis, rolled up sleeves and the unpredictable, messy Holy Spirit for me!

Ephrem said...

I'm not sure it's necessary to choose between liturgical forms and the action of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that the same Holy Spirit who guides the liturgy blows in the human soul. Why do we have to divide, or choose?

Erle said...

when I saw the "Fraser" at the end of your xanga name, I guessed who it was.

Thank you for dropping a line; it's nice to hear from you. Thanks also for your hopes re my shoulder; the surgery seems to have gone fine and I'm recuperating nicely.

With regards to your post: the big thing I find that I've gotten from the liturgical form of the Lutheran service is a sense of reverence for the magnitude of what God has done for us. It's great to have Bible studies, or moments of personal reflection where we can dwell on how close Christ has brought us to God, and how His sacrifice washes over all of our numerous failures to make us whole again, but I think there is also a time and a place for fostering more of a sense of the majesty of God and how separate from it we are. If you've ever seen "Dogma" (which I will not recommend, but if you have...) it serves to ward off the sense of "Buddy Jesus." But maybe that's just me. Informality has its place too.

I'm shocked that you know of Eddie Izzard. But yes, he did hit the nail on the head when he talked about the way we sing 'hallelujah's. And his bit about using transvestites as special forces for the element of surprise was also hilarious.

Think that's all; lest I wax logorrheic, I desist.


Esther said...

I'm glad your shoulder's doing okay.

You've got a good point Erle. I think that learning to have a reverence does have its place. I would not want to discount that at all. It's a different thing for me, having come from a background where the whole buddy Jesus thing was normal. I do like the reverence aspect of Lutheranism a lot. I think, however, that it is good to understand exactly what all the formalities mean. I used to dislike the liturgy a lot. Now that I understand it, I do not see it as so formal. I used to dislike hymns too, but understanding them has helped. I think that it's the appearance of reverance, once again, that bothers me. If I see there is a substance to that reverance then I am more willing to accept it.

I have seen Dogma once, and never again. As for Eddie Izzard, yeah, I think he's funny. So much bad language though! I can only watch his routine every once in a great while because of the language.