Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ritualism or Realism?

Our church observed the Lord's Supper this evening, and I assisted our Pastor by passing the elements to the deacons who then passed them out to the congregants. (The reason I was assisting on this night is actually quite funny, but I will have to tell it later.)

As I was standing in front of the church, my primary concern was not dropping the gold-covered bread and juice trays. As Pastor recounted the details from I Corinthians 11, however, my mind drifted to the early 16th century--or what I have heard about it. I thought of a young priest named Martin Luther conducting his first Communion, and I pictured him endeavoring to steady his trembling hands as he administered what he believed to be the literal body and blood of Christ. I thought of the ritualism that is so common in many of the older denominations, or, at least, the ritualism that I have heard is so common. (Sadly, I've have had very little actual interaction with any church experience other than the independent Baptist variety.) As I left the service, I thought of the typical Baptist observance of the Lord's Supper, and I thought of some questions.

Why do we (as in independent Baptists) administer Communion the way we do? These services (no matter how often a church holds them) are about as close as most Baptists get to being "high-churchy" or liturgical. It's kind of funny if you think about it. In the churches I have attended throughout my life, the service follows this basic progression: 1) The pastor will read I Corinthians 11; 2) Everyone will take a few moments of spiritual self-examination; 3) The pastor will explain the symbolism of the bread and wine (I mean juice!); 4) Everyone will sit very quietly and meditatively as the elements are distributed; and 5) On the pastor's cue, everyone ingests the elements.

Now, I must say that I don't think there is anything wrong or unbiblical about the conducting the service this way. In fact, I can see good reasons for several of these items. I guess my question is--why does the overall tone of the service always seem to be so solemn and formal? Why does the Lord's Supper Service seem to pull even the most fiercely independent of Baptists into a Catholic-like ritualism?

I understand that Communion is designed to be held in remembrance of Christ's death on the cross, and maybe that is why we tend to grow so somber on these occasions. I also understand that I Corinthians makes it clear that the Lord's Supper is not to be taken lightly. However, do these facts require us to remain so rigid and meditative? To be transparent, I often struggle during the "distribution time" of the service. I am never quite sure what to do. I try to think about Jesus and His sacrifice, but my mind tends to drift. Is there anything that would preclude us from singing a song of praise and thanksgiving or even giving testimonies about our salvation as the trays travel through the rows? Shouldn't these services have more of a celebratory feel to them? I guess I just feel as though we could pursue more of an atmosphere of realism rather than ritualism in our observances of Communion.

Not sure what the answers to these questions are. I guess I will have to give it some more thought.

What about you? What do you think?

By the way--I didn't drop any of the trays, so the solemnity of the service went uninterrupted.

In the meantime,
still looking for the genuine...

Sunday, March 21, 2010


First, let me make it clear that this article has nothing to do with the TV series on NBC. If that is what you are looking for, you will be sorely disappointed.

Now that I've settled that issue, I will begin...

At a recent meeting of my Toastmaster's Public Speaking Club, I was called upon to participate in the Table Topics portion of the meeting. This involves the Topics Master posing a question to the club, and someone answering the question in a 2 minute impromptu speech. Sometimes the topic questions are a bit vague, but the question I received on this particular occasion was very specific and very good.

"If you could spend the evening with any movie character of your choice, which character would it be?"

I was thrilled to receive this question for two reasons: 1) I love watching and talking about movies, and 2) I knew immediately how to answer. Almost without hesitation I answered, "Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird." Coincidentally, Danielle and I had just watched the movie for the 2nd time a week and half prior. In my speech, I proceeded to tell the other club members that I would choose Mr. Finch because he is, to me, the archetype of a genuine hero. (The American Film Institute agrees with me on this point. Several years ago they selected Atticus as the Greatest Film Hero of the last 100 years.)

Why is this character such a hero? Well, if you haven't seen the movie or read the book most of the following discussion will be irrelevant. I suggest you either watch it or read it then come back to this post. Atticus is such a remarkable character because he is genuine (and I am not just saying that because it is the theme of my blog). He is a single-father raising two boisterous kids in the Depression-era South. He is a small town lawyer to whom is given the responsibility of defending a black man charged (falsely) with the rape of a white girl. He is soft-spoken and gentle, but principled and unwavering in standing for what he believes to be right. Within the world of the story, he is neither rich nor famous. In short, he is an ordinary guy living an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. He is...a hero.

We live in a world where many that are given the title of "hero" eventually prove themselves unworthy of such accolades (a la Tiger Woods), and even our fictional heroes are sometimes forced to dabble in darkness in order to overcome it (a la Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight). Atticus Finch stands in stark contrast to these. Is he perfect? No. Is he real? No. Does he create a more realistic example of what true heroism should look like? I think he does. The challenge I take from his story (fictional though it may be) is simple--I want to be an Atticus in the eyes of my kids. I want to take the circumstances of my life (as mundane as they may seem at times) and handle them with dignity and poise. I want to be reliable, approachable, followable, and honorable. I want to stand on my convictions without being disagreeable in the process.

So...who is your hero?

Before closing, I feel compelled to say one more thing. I mentioned Tiger Woods' name in this context only as an example of one who was viewed by many as a hero when the facts of his life prove differently. I am not trying to vilify the man. We all have dark corners in our hearts, but, in Tiger's defense, not all of us have our dirty secrets displayed for the world to see. Tiger has made mistakes, but I think he could once again stand worthy of hero status. This, of course, will depend on the genuineness of his "rehabilitation," and that is something that is very difficult to judge in someone with such a high profile.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why the Torture?

Okay, so it's been nearly three months since I established this new blog, and I have produced all of two entries. Here I sit, on an evening when I am feeling particularly motivated, and I am gonna give it another go. The question you may be asking--indeed, the question I am asking myself is this--Why? Why do I even try this blogging thing? I have never been very good at it. Obviously, my life progresses on a predominately normal trajectory without it. Why torture myself with yet one more thing to do?

Well, I actually do have some reasons for attempting to write entries on a regular basis. I am going to enumerate them here in the hope that they will spur me on to blogging greatness--or at least motivate me to update more than every three months! With that in mind, here are my reasons:

1. Nary a week goes by when I don't think to myself, "That thought you just had would make a good topic for a blog entry." I don't know why, but I tend to think of things in terms of how it would sound in a paper, book, or article. I want to take some of these thoughts and actually transform them into something. Whether or not the "something" will be of any value--I don't know, but, hey, if every other lame-brained yohoo out there can have a blog then so can this one!

2. I want to learn to articulate myself more clearly and concisely. I am a teacher, and I have no problem talking. I am engaged in some form of public speaking at least half-a-dozen times per week. I find, however, that much of what I say is 1) somewhat trite and banal, and 2) wordy and repetitive. In an era of IMing, texting, and emailing, we are not forced to articulate ourselves through writing the way generations in the past have been. I think this is, in many ways, not for the better. I want to take some of my thoughts (ideally, the best ones), and formulate them into several paragraphs that are clear, original, and thoughtful. I think it will be good for me.

3. I want to stick with something that I want to do. I have a lot of things on my list. You know, the mental list we all carry of things we like, things we want to do, things we feel should be a part of our life to make us a better person? That list? Well, for some unknown reason, blogging is on my list. I really want to do it! (Although I obviously haven't wanted to do it badly enough in the last three months to actually do it!) So, I am going to try again because...I want to. I want the satisfaction of knowing I have set out to do something and I have followed through.

So...there you go. I am gonna give it the "ole' one-two"! If it's any consolation (to you or me), I think I have figured out one of the reasons why I am so inconsistent with my posting. I have never really established a recurring time for blogging. I have always tried to do it "when I can." This approach does not work. Instead, I will attempt to post a new article every Sunday afternoon/evening. That is my designated blogging time. We'll see how I fare.

Until then...

Keep looking for the genuine!