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liturgy

Pattern-based Worship: The loop vs. the line.

One of the major features of the modern era, from which we are currently emerging, is linearity.  This is propped up by the “myth of progress” wherein all history moves towards the future through Greek conceptions of time – telos (purpose) and chronos (linear time) – expressed though our systemising of natural time via clocks. In this idea, accuracy and efficiency have become of utmost importance, because of our capitalist belief that “time is money”.

And these manifestations of modernity are not limited to the dominant economic model either, communism (especially the Soviet type) had an implicit faith in the ability of this “progress” to transform society, based in scientific materialism, atheistic humanism and Hegelian philosophical optimism. Continue reading “Pattern-based Worship: The loop vs. the line.”

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The Sout Project on YouTube

I have uploaded a Sout Project introductory video to YouTube:

A Crisis of Particularity

Love all creation. The whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, and every ray of light. [Dostoevsky]

Particularity is not an often used word. But it is one which has recently come into my awareness, and with a little reflection, has begun offering green shoots of hope in a world overrun by the global, the universal, and the general. The disconnection we experience as a result has at root, I believe, everything to do with a loss of intimate relationship with the particular.

Continue reading “A Crisis of Particularity”

Make Something Day.

For many years now Friday (US) and Saturday (International) after thanksgiving (that’s November 29th in South Africa) has been Buy Nothing Day, in recognition that we consume and waste too much. Originally suggested in 1992, the idea has been promoted by AdBusters, an activist media organisation.

But now it has been suggested that withholding purchases is not going far enough. A positive idea is to actively create something, and to rethink BND as Make Something Day. This includes: Organise It, Make It, Give It or Share It.
It sounds to me like a challenge of liturgy. Don’t forget, liturgy means “the work of the people”.

How will you be spending MSD?

 

An Economy of Grace

I have been reflecting on Afrika Burn 2008, with 2 articles, a general synopsis called “AB08 scorecard” and a cheeky cultural crit called “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place“. But now I want to get to the heart of the experience, from the point of view of the theme camp that our community set up, Sanctuary. Continue reading “An Economy of Grace”

the conundrum of hope

hope requires expectation,
expectation risks failure,
failure undermines hope

Moving towards worship: Homo Festivus; Man the Celebrant

“I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community” [Augustine]
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6:5]
“Theres joy, joy, joy in repetition” [Prince, Graffiti Bridge]

This post forms part of the synchroblog “Moving towards worship”, and is part 1 in my series “Myths for our time.”

Rio CarnivalFor some time I have been asking about the shape of things to come. I have wondered about models of community as well as of worship. And in the last month, myself and other venturers have been engaged in various activities, firstly the Afrika Burns festival in the Tankwa Karoo, South Africa, and secondly two NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action) movement sessions.

So, in the wake of some exciting, practical experimentation, (and to a lesser extent as the “season” of Christmas looms), I would like to offer a reflection on Festivity.

Celebration, are you quite mad?

Having been immersed in creativity, freedom of expression, dance and music, almost might we say, baptised anew into Celebration, I am compelled to consider the role of this in my and our life. Naturally, I also reflect up the nature of life and of G-d. So I have some questions:

  • Is celebration an aberation from serious life, something to do once, twice a year, at prescribed times like Christmas, on a holiday, or on a birthday?
  • With tragedy and despair all around us, and suffering an ever present reality, is it appropriate to celebrate at all?
  • In Anglocatholic culture, it is said that the Eucharist (Body and blood of Christ) is “celebrated”. I have always liked the sound of that, but sorry Father, I’m afraid your church services just don’t feel very celebratory.
  • Kids get so excited about things, ice cream, horses, swimming, TV, but from adolescence onwards we loose this – is this the proper way to grow up?
  • Is celebration equal to hedonism – for those who simply want to escape reality, or blot it out through indulgence, escape, sex, drugs, and partying?
  • Even if I do intellectually believe in celebrating, why don’t my attempts to do so seem very authentic or powerful?
  • What is the essential nature of the afterlife: solomn, pious and peaceful? Mao Tse Tung-era massed movement? The euphoria of a purple haze? Having all our messy earthy theologies nicely put into order, with a Mr-Bean-style smugness? Having all our needs finally met in the ultimate consumer experience?

I offer these questions from the POV of one who was raised in a Modern, Western, Eurocentric culture in South Africa, and one who has been on a lifelong journey to seek out the truth, a 15 year soujourn through the conventional church, a 10 year period on the via negativa, and in the last year, a freedom to ask and live whatever the hell question I wanted to of anyone, the cosmos, and G-d him-herself.

More importantly perhaps is the fact that I am not a natural party animal, nor am I that hedonistic. I have inherited my mothers Apollonic spirit, preferring the mountaintop, simplicity and asceticism to the ways of my father: he was an arch-Dionysian given to self-gratification, joviality and revelry. But it is his spirit that now calls me down into the valley, towards the sounds of mirth, partying and sheer enjoyment. 

So I am happy to say that I have some ideas, I have some vision about all this. But I wanted to frame these questions to give a context for where I am coming from now.

A Festive G-d

I’ll get to the point: We serve a Festive G-d, and as made in G-ds image, we are “Homo festivus”. It is part of our nature to celebrate, indeed we are called, coaxed and wooed to do so. I am indebted to John Morehead for introducing me to the term Homo Festivus, as well as many of these notions, and he and others have long been involved in this debate.

Now I am not going to say “Thou shalt celebrate”, because that undermines the free hearted giving that is part and parcel of loving response. Only a loving, thankful response can be sustained, and provide the fuel for authentic festivity.

In reality, we don’t always feel like celebrating. We may NEVER feel like it. We may be so caught in despair that we cannot see any reason for joy. I have felt despair. I have lived in loss for many years. I will live in loss in the future, and will feel despair again. But while, by grace, I glimpse the glory of this freedom, I want to live it, share it, write it, and move it, for THIS is a my foretaste of eternity … being one with the Creator, one with each other, one with creation.

Dancing and VJing at Camp Vuvuzela at Afrika Burns was a new experience for me. There was no sense in which “I, performer”, or even “I, reveller”, was present. “I” performed, sure, putting visuals to the DJ’s psytrance/electro offerings; but I never saw that DJ, nothing was announced, and everything just happened … this was the Anarchy of Love. It was for me a confirmation of Advaita – radical non-duality – or put another way, its was the joy of the ego being lost in Oneness. There was no me-you, or us-them. Those that lose their soul shall find it, reports the Gospel.

I’ve been brought up with a view that “Oneness” is an exclusive concept, defined by the orthodoxy of Christendom. This is based on the dualistic view of a future separation of the saved and the unsaved. So, Oneness is OK if it’s Orthodox Christian Oneness, otherwise it’s a pantheistic eastern notion incompatible with the bible, Christ, and salvation.

In case you misunderstand my embrace of Festive Culture, it is not without its dangers. To be consumed by the offerings of the ego – hedonistic self gratification, sexual conquest, shame at ourselves, or debilitating introspection – means that we are imprisoned slaves and, not true members of the Festive Race. I still can’t quite get my head around how this man said this, given his role in the propogation of many of the destructive dualisms that haunt us to this day, but … to further quote Augustine,

“Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego.”

Are we having a good time, yet?

Homo Sapiens, “Knowing” Man, has an inkling that he should rejoice, but is confounded by ego, sin, and systems of injustice that oppress this instinct. How he expresses this instinct to celebrate has in many cases, been substantially reduced.

  • Instead of Holiness of all Being, we have intermittent “Holidays” where what we “celebrate” bears little or no relationship to our lives. What exactly is “Family Day”, or “Heritage Day”?
  • Instead of deep, authentic humour we have jokes – little pills of laughter.
  • Instead of sumptuous, inventive expression through our garments, we have the tyranny of fashion and occasional Fancy Dress opportunities.

Our institutions have let us down. I’m not asking for a Cultural Revolution, I am saying wherever meaning has been lost, we need to refind and reinvent it. For example, primally, we know that the drum calls us to enter in. But layer upon layer of manners, sophistications, domestications, civilisations and barriers have rendered our sense of the Festive quite inane.

  • If a holiday is redundant, then dump it. If an important day is not noted, note it – who celebrates Beltane besides a few neopagans? And yet our connection to the seasons is far more important than artifical notions of nationality.
  • Stop filling up deep sadness with alcohol-fuelled jokes. I like good jokes, but often the “life and soul of the party” is actually a penguin-suited cadaver out of contact with real irony or deep authentic joy.
  • Instead of religeously branding ourselves with Nike, Gucci, or Calvin Klein, assemble your own outfit, one which IS you and comes FROM you. Authenticity is so much more powerful than cloned coolness.

The Isness

There is nothing that inspires me to dance, move and create, like the idea that G-d is present, present in all of creation. This panentheist vision – All is IN G-d, and G-d is IN all – is what drives me to give my body, energetically and wholeheartedly, to the moment, the community, to the Ground of Being. No E’s, no acid, no grass, no mushrooms, no drunken stupor, just a deep appreciation for being alive. No ulterior motive, no one to conquer, to impress, to rebel against, to convert, a simple isness, is a pround act of worship.

  • I am inspired by the the Sweedish movie “As it is in heaven”, reviewed here, in which a dour, fearful Reformed community is transformed by dance and celebration.
  • I am inspired by the River in Tolkein’s Third Earth called the “Celebrant”.
  • I am inspired by Brasilian, African and other cultures who host wild, spectacular carnivals, a celebration of carne (that’s flesh, brothers and sisters), the aroma of which MUST be more pleasing to G-d than all the incense floating up from 10,000 aescetic alters.
  • I am inspired by the trend to expressed, overt rhythm in music over the last decades. Long live Elvis, and his holy, gyrating hips. It’s largely a matter of taste, but I do love trance and other musics which until recently sounded boring to me. I have discovered a profound truth in rhythm, simplicity and repetition.

And in my brief introduction to NIA, I am inspired to combine robust bodily expression, an exploration of the healing arts, moving in community, freedom to express any kind of gesture my imagination might produce, and a profound sense of Festive worship as G-d intented it to be.

Other participants

Ecclesia as Sacred Tribe.

Ecclesia – (lat. from Greek ekklesia [εκκλησία]): a “gathering” of citizens, in an ancient Greek city-state; a “gathering of the called out ones”, gathering of those summoned”.  [britannica.com]

Tribe – A socially, ethnically, and politically cohesive group of people. [wiktionary]

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. [1 Peter 2:9]

Written with a view towards “Afrika Burns” with the theme “tribe” (November 2007), the South African version of Burning Man.

I have no real training in social theory, anthropology or ecclesiology, but I’m not going to let that get in the way: I’d like to take a non-expert, common sense, imaginative foray into the idea that G-ds people, the ecclesia (more commonly but more problematically known as “the church”), might be imagined as a Sacred Tribe.

Firstly, I like to explore my own myths (as at least somewhat representative of my culture), to unpack the key terms. What do I mean, and not mean, by “ecclesia”, and by “tribe”?

Ecclesia is not

  • a building or place where Christians meet.
  • any organisation based on certain doctrines.
  • the moral authority.
  • a time of the week.

Rather, the ecclesia is the community of believers who seek to follow Jesus, the mystical “Body of Christ”. It includes people of all cultures, ages, subcultural affiliations, denominations, and doctrinal persuasions. It has a time dimension, and exists through history, as well as into the future. As to who is actually included, only G-d ultimately knows.

What about “Tribe”, or “Tribal”? Here are some of the thoughts that come to mind:

  • non-Western – e.g. “The social structure of African Tribes”.
  • non-Urban or Pagan – “The Tribal customs of the countryside”.
  • primitive – “In earlier, tribal days”.
  • an ironic anachronism: (re-using an ancient term to describe contemporary subcultures), as in “The Modern Tribes of Britain”.
  • having a similar ethos : “We have like this rapport, y’know, we’re the same tribe”.

So why would one bring the concept “ecclesia” together with the term “tribe”?

As we see in the above definition, the ecclesia are “called out”, and there is a sense in which they need to forge an identity different to the default identity of their culture. Generalising, the “Western” culture which I for one find myself in, is essentially individualist, materialist consumerism.

Inside this culture, people identify with brands or economic classes before other things – ethnicity, culture or nationality. Globalisation is about the homogenisation of world culture around consumer values and technology. Whereas the Catholic Church may have been the overarching authority for a millennium and a half, and nationality thereafter, it is now the superbrands who call the shots. I wear Nike, I use a Mac, I drink Coke.

In my western, 21st century context, this global consumer culture is what is rejected by Jesus when he says, “My kingdom is not of this world”. [John 18:36]. This culture stands diametrically opposed to the “Kingdom of God”. To my ears there are more than a few echoes of the Roman Empire, the dominant political power of his milieu, in the current consumerist age.

One of the key features of Empire is its veneration of the City as the seat of authority. Empire is essentially urban rather than rural. As such, many fundamental values of life – connectedness to the soil, closeness with nature, and simplicity, are superseded by market economies, abstraction from nature, artifice, and increasing sophistication.

As an aside, I am not dispensing entirely with the hope that “City” might represent more than this negative picture, note its uses in Augustine (“The City of God against the Pagans”) and the book of Revelation (The New Jerusalem). Additionally most of the apostolic writings are letters to churches in urban centres, and there is no direct suggestion that living in an urban setting was of itself unethical.

Also, it is important to realise that the “pagan”, so often demonised by christian theology, means both “rustic” as well as (in the Roman context, according to Steve Hayes) “civilian, not in the imperial army”. I have been discussing the prophetic nature of the pagan in recent posts.

But I feel that it is now appropriate to re-examine our assumptions about the urban, especially insofar as we are living in an advanced state of spiritual dis-ease. The unchecked trend towards urbanisation has a cost, and we need to count this.

To the extent that it represents the Kingdom of G-d, the ecclesia will find itself at odds with the Empire of Materialist Consumerism. The called out ones are “called out” precisely to live a life different to this, where the values of G-d are both respected and enacted: community rather than individualism, spiritual rather than materialist progress, serventhood rather than mastery, obedience rather than autonomy, creating rather than consuming, nature rather than artifice.

As far as I understand, before Cities and City-States, community took place in a different way: The Way of the Tribe. I need to acknowledge that any elevation of Tribe (even using a capital “T”) is open to the romantic. But since this is not social science, but rather an exercise in re-envisioning, I am not going to be afraid of skirting ideal and dream. Obviously if we go too far we end up with something no-one can practice, and I am interested in changing the way I live rather than simply playing with ideas.

Clearly, the tribal is not without problems. Warfare between Iraqi tribal groups has derailed the nation; intertribal fighting almost derailed the South African transformation process. And as David Ronfeldt points out : “Continuing to view Al Qaeda mainly as a cutting–edge, post–modern phenomenon of the information age misses a crucial point: Al Qaeda is using the information age to revitalize and project ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale.”

Obviously we need to radically rework any concept of the tribal with a view to values such as peace, compassion and inclusion. Despite notions of hospitality and care of the stranger in many bona fide tribal cultures, most models of tribe seem to have had strong delineators defining who was in and who was out. If we have a view of the world informed by G-d’s Kingdom, then we cannot define belonging based on hard borders and bounded sets.

I have increasingly found that looking backwards is a good way to move forward. We are not trying to romanticise the past, or become something archaic or premodern, but rather to understand and distil principles we see having merit and reapplying them in our context.

The Way of the Tribe seems to me to represent a viable alternative to the domination of the urban, as well as offering a worthy expression of the ecclesia and the Kingdom of G-d.

So we can not accept the idea of the tribe uncritically. But neither can we reject it without proper understanding; we need to recognise that modernity has not in fact superseded tribalism, but rather sublimated it. Many aspects of the tribal have simply been repressed; as such they are still present but unacknowledged. This repression results in, for example:

  • gang mentality – banding together to survive, especially in a ghettoised situation.
  • an unearthed spirituality – spirit-matter dualism, whereby the shamanic or nature based aspects of religion are demonised. We are left with spirituality unconnected with creation.
  • unnatural and impotent social alignments – birds of a feather still flock together, but over things like economic status/aspiration, branding, racial identity, nationalism leading to xenophobia, sporting allegiances, hobbies, and a variety of other factors which do not have the power to build true community.

I would like to present a few ways in which I find a tribal paradigm helpful, especially as a metaphor for the ecclesia:

  • Common Good: In a tribal ethic, the common good comes before the individual good. Acts 4:34 records that “there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”. And 2 Cor 8:15, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
  • Honour Motivation: As opposed to the profit motivation of the City, Tribes according to David Ronfeldt “… behave more like balance–of–honor than balance–of–power systems.” If we remind ourselves of the purpose of the ecclesia, which according to N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, are to “be Gods agents in the putting the world to rights”. The means of this are the placing of the creator on the throne, in worship. An honour motivation, in honouring G-d the creator as the central presence within the tribe, appears to be a credible alternative to the profit motivation of this current age.
  • Connected to the earth: “Treat the earth well, it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children”, says an American Native proverb. The tribe lives close to the earth, lives off the soil, is deeply aware of season, climate and its place in things. Rather than the land belonging to us, we belong to the land. One of the most devastating effects of western colonial expansion was the annihilation of native and tribal peoples in their deeply misguided belief that they could “own” what ever land or resources they wanted to. In so doing, the real custodians of the creation were systematically wiped out, their millennia-old wisdom disappearing in the process. Not only are the effects of this western attitude are now being felt, but the genocide and ecocide of the last 2 centuries has been a corporate sin of immense proportions.
  • Bound in Ritual: The rituals and icons commonplace in tribal culture are, like the tribal itself, sublimated in western urbanism. This sublimation creates lifeless habits from healthy ritual, and idols from icons. The empty informalism and lack of imagination of our way of life robs us of a sense of the sacred, the creative and the communal. Many westerners are starting to acknowledge that the rites of passage practiced in earlier times – coming of age, birth, death – have gone missing at great cost.

The 21st Century Tribe

What might this new Tribe look like in practice?

  • New or creatively reappropriated Rituals and Liturgy appropriate to our situation.
  • More dance and rhythm : “I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community.” [St Augustine]
  • Eldership over Celebrity. We need to acknowledge the wisdom of the wise and root out our need for gossip and celebrity as sources of affirmation.
  • An ethic of gifting and servanthood over acquiring and self-preservation.
  • An economic of sharing over profiteering.
  • An economic of barter, wherein we exchange things and skills based on what we do, make or already own, rather than buy into the cult of the new, the cool or the industrially manufactured.
  • The decommodifying of our exchanges. Friendship and kinship over sales and “client” interaction.
  • An active ecology: care of the earth, and efforts to live more in tune with it, political action with existing efforts. More time spent in the open, walking, camping, gardening.
  • A new agriculture: Growing our own, or supporting organic farmers, and going directly to the source rather than via the repackaging supply chain of the market process.
  • A vibrant spirituality which acknowledges the untamed, rediscovering the shamanic arts. Aligning to nature based approaches such as the Wheel of the Year, over more artificial or “scientific” calendars; rediscovering the totemic.
  • A living mythology which feeds the imagination, in which narratives are told and retold, directly and intimately rather than via the products of industrial mythmakers like Disney.
  • Technology in its right place. Always question the increasing ubiquity of computers, entertainment devices and impersonal systems instead of passively accepting it. Says Adbusters Kalle Lasn: “When the TV malfunctions, don’t fix it; decide to suffer through the withdrawal. Fight your way out of the consumerist cage.”
  • Creativity in all things, to combat our industrial alienation from the processes of production. Buying less, making more.
  • Holding our place in the created order, and holding the Creator as the “Honour Centrepiece” of all that the Ecclesial Tribe does.

praise of the dance

carol_cropped.jpgI praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community.

I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul.

Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling.

Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego.

Dancing demands a freed person, one who vibrates with the equipoise of all his powers.

I praise the dance.

O man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you.
 
Saint Augustine (A.D. 354 … 430) 

(from  the website of Heiner Fischle)

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