Lent begins on Wednesday February 10th 2016; it lasts a bit over 6 weeks, or around 40 Days. So here are 40 ideas for keeping Lent. The Great Commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself” (with the implication that caring for God’s earth is rolled into the bargain) so I’ve thought up 40 ideas for keeping Lent that appeal to the creative and literary, to the development of community and relationships, to promote social action, and to encourage ecological responsibility, as well as individual spiritual concerns. You could:
choose just one of these (such as writing a thank you note) and do it every day.
choose one category and repeat it throughout Lent.
choose one from each category to do throughout Lent.
agree with a group of friends, or with your congregation, on one or more of these to practice together.
If you are very organised and energetic, I suppose you could even do them all. But I think it unlikely.
1. Start or join an online book club and read a Lent book with others.
2. Start or join a local book club to read a Lent book with others.
3. Watch “40” by Si Smith
4. Choose one great novel you have never read, and read it this Lent. Middlemarch, or To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. Is there a character you closely identify with?
5. Choose a great novel you have read before, and re-read it. Take your time. What do you see this time that you didn’t see before? A character you didn’t notice, a theme you missed the first time, a theme that touches you now because 5/10/20 years on you see the world differently?
6. Choose one new musician or artist and listen to their work regularly throughout Lent. Listen to the words. Listen to the tone, the melody, the structure, the texture of the music. Why does it move you?
7. Say sorry. Where is there a relationship that is cooled, ruptured, upset? Say sorry.
8. Write a random thank you note (or email, but handwritten is so lovely!). Who do you appreciate?
9. Make a list of your friends. One per day, send a brief email, make a phone call or post a brief note to say hello. Keep it short and do-able: the point is to keep in touch, not write a novel!
10. Keep a group journal. See here for Steve Taylor’s Advent Journal, and adapt it for Lent.
11. Invite friends for a Simple Sunday Soup lunch. The company is the point. Eat together. Simple, unfussy food; good, sustaining company.
12. Make a point of smiling and saying thank you to people – in shops, on buses, in pubs, on pavements, to delivery people, to teachers and roadsweepers and vicars, and…
13. Power down. See whether you can agree a no-phones at meals policy in your home, switch off all technology 30-60 minutes before bedtime, and make sure you have 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with the person(s) you love the most several times a week.
Spirituality and prayer
14. Don’t give up cake, or chocolate. Instead, give up inherited ideas about God that cripple your soul. See here for more.
15. Read all the way through one Gospel of your choice. About half a chapter a day, or less if you pick Mark.
16. Say a prayer of thanksgiving every day. Thank God for the things you usually take for granted: food, clothes, shelter, life itself.
17. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and learn to keep still and silent for five minutes every day. (You might need to start with one minute and work your way up gradually.) Listen to the inner voice.
18. Take your unwanted clothes and goods to the Goodwill/Oxfam/charity shop.
19. Volunteer some time at a local charity.
20. Make a donation to a charity.
21. Join the dots between prayer and action: choose something to pray for *and* give time or money to.
22. Find out which of your local schools needs volunteers to hear children read.
23. Revive a medieval habit: reduce your household bills by eating more simply, and give the money saved to the poor. (Combine with no. 11 to make it a community exercise.)
Ecological/environmental – form a new habit in Lent to care for the earth.
24. Change the light bulbs in your house to eco-bulbs, and turn off lights when you leave the room. (Note: that thing about flourescent bulbs using as much energy to turn on as they do to burn for 30 minutes? It’s an urban myth. Turn them off.)
25. Turn the heating down by one or two degrees
26. Hang up your laundry instead of using the dryer.
27. Unplug your appliances when you aren’t using them. Do the earth a favour, and save around $100 US/£60 GBP a year as well, which you could give to charity or church.
28. Learn how to reduce your energy consumption. (Bonus: your bills will go down so you can give a little more away!)
29. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle i) – reduce food wastage. Shop with a list; use up leftovers, only buy and cook what you can eat and really need.
30. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle ii) – spend a couple of hours one weekend thinking about your shopping habits. How can you buy less, avoid buying what you don’t really want or need, eliminate shopping for leisure, buy vintage, buy fairtrade. Fairtrade USA — Fairtrade UK
31. Use your bicycle, the bus, or share car journeys. Less fuel used = happier earth.
32. Find a source of locally grown food and support it, or grow something yourself.
Joy-inspiring spiritual practices.
33. Pause 4 or 5 times today to give thanks for what you usually take for granted. Food. Shelter. Life. Friends.
34. Take a leisurely walk, alone or with friends. Stop often to look for beauty.
35. De-clutter a cupboard or wardrobe. Give away what you don’t use or need.
36. Sing! Singing fills your system with oxygen and makes you feel better.
37. Look up! What do you miss on your daily journeys by looking down at your feet?
38. Clean the windows. Let the sunshine in!
39. Plant some bulbs in the garden or in a pot for the windowsill.
40. Say thank you to others, for simple things. Tell people when you appreciate their kindness or value their friendship. Don’t wait to give a eulogy: tell them now.
Last year on Twitter, someone wrote to me “there are no women on my theology bookshelf. Who should I read?”. I followed up with a blog list, and was pleased to discover that without even looking up from my screen I could easily think of well over a hundred female theologians, ecclesiastical historians, biblical scholars, sociologists of religion, and others who figure on the theological landscape. More names appeared when I actually looked at my own bookshelf.
Replies flooded in through the comments, adding many more names of women authors – both academic and devotional, theoretical and practical, in every area of the theological landscape. Now this has become something of a go-to resource – so, incomplete though it is, here it is again, still being updated from time to time with names added from the comments section.
When people ask about women theologians, the subtext is often “I need to read about ‘women’s issues‘ in theology so I need a female author”. But women’s voices in theology are not necessarily writing on “women’s issues” per se, they are simply writing theology. Certainly their experience of theology will be colored by the fact they are a woman. But there is something insidious about assuming that women are there to add ‘women’s issues’ to what is otherwise neutral theology. It implies that theology written by men (mostly white men, incidentally) is neutral theology, while women add on-the-side issues that are not central. But in fact, no one gives you neutral theology. Barth gives you male, Swiss, post-war, post-liberal theology – strongly inflected by his historical setting and personal circumstances. Rahner gives you the perspective of a 20th century, German, male, celibate, catholic priest, wrestling with language after Wittgenstein. Hauwerwas gives you white, American, Protestant theology; James Cone gives you black, American, Protestant theology – it’s all theology, but every one of them writes in a way nuanced by their particular setting. There is no such thing as neutral theology. There is theology done by people who may be male, female, or non-binary; by people who may be white, black or Latinx, people in North or South America, Antarctica, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, by people who may be disabled or not, Western or not, poor or rich. And theology by women is not done just for women, nor is it only about women; neither should it be treated as a secondary tier of theology. It’s theology for everyone, done by women.
As I set out on my PhD studies a few years ago, with my first degree behind me, I began to get calls from publishers asking me to write about women in theology, feminist theology, what is it like to be a woman and a theologian. I took these very flattering letters along to my supervisor, herself a seasoned writer and renowned theologian. “You have a choice,” she said. “You can write about women’s issues as they relate to theology, and that is a fine thing to do. Or you can just carry on doing theology in your area of interest. But you can’t do both.” “Why not?” I asked. I never forgot her reply: “I’ve seen so many women start out with such promise,” she said. “Then they are asked to write about being a woman, about being a feminist, and all that stuff. They spend so much time on that, their real area of interest is swamped, and then they don’t do so well on their first call. Then guess what happens? – men, behind closed doors, say to one another – ‘told you so! women can’t cut it in theology!’ So you choose: read Coleridge, or read feminist theory; do one well, but don’t do both of them badly. Whatever area of interest you choose, you are being a feminist anyway.”
There are so many women with interesting things to say, some writing about feminism in particular, but many more simply writing about areas of theology that used to be thought of as a male preserve – or, the earlier you go, writing theology against the culture that denied them access to what was assumed to be a male preserve. This list names some of them. It is very far from a complete list, as I am jotting these down off the top of my head – but the fact that I can come up with a list of more than a hundred without even looking at my bookshelf is evidence enough that there are plenty of places to go if you realize there are “no women on your bookshelf”. My categories are not perfect – and some of these writers could appear in two or three categories, but such is the impossibility of lists. I’ve read a lot of books, but I haven’t read everything in every field so there will, of course, be many omissions – if someone’s name isn’t here it is due to my ignorance or forgetfulness, not a reflection on their work! Please do add your recommendations in the comments – Note – this is about women on your bookshelf – this is not a list of wondrous women (of whom there are many), but published women.
Hildegaard of Bingen (12th Century, German)
Héloïse (Heloise, Héloyse, Helouisa, Eloise, among other spellings) – famed for letters between her and Peter Abelard 12th Century (see also a number of women who have written about them)
Mechthild (Mechtild/Matilda) of Magdeburg (c. 1207 – c. 1282/1294)
Clare of Assisi (13th century Italian)
Julian of Norwich (14th century English mystic) – also note the excellent Frances Beer who writes about her
Catherine of Siena (14th Century Italian)
Theresa of Avila (16th century Spanish) (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
19th and early 20th century Katharine Bushnell Phoebe Palmer (1807 – 1874, American) Catherine Mumford Booth (19th century English) Jessie Penn Lewis (1861–1927, Welsh) Simone Weil (1909 –1943, French) Charlotte von Kirschbaum (1899-1975, German) Evelyn Underhill (1875 –194, English) (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page) biblical studies Margaret Barker Jo Bailey-Wells Lynn Cohick (Philippians, Ephesians) Adela Yarbro Collins Ellen Davis Katharine Dell Michal Beth Dinkler Mary Douglas Wil Gafney Beverly Gaventa Deirdre Good – biblical studies Paula Gooder A. Katherine Grieb – Romans Judith Gundry Paul and Perseverance: Staying in and Falling Away, 1990 Jane Heath Morna Hooker Denise Dombkowski Hopkins – Hebrew Bible Catherine Kroeger – Biblical studies Dorothy Lee (Transfiguration, 2004) Judith Lieu Lucy Peppiatt Pheme Perkins Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza Carolyn J. Sharp Francesca Stavrakopoulou Elsa Tamaz Phylis Trible Gale A. Yee, Hebrew Bible (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
early christianity (AKA patristics)
Pamela Bright – on Tychonius, Augustine
Roberta Bondi (To Pray and to Love; To Love as God Loves, and other titles)
Carolyn (Cally) Hammond
Meira Kensky (biblical studies/early christianity – see “Trying Man, Trying God: The Divine Courtroom in Early Jewish and Christian Literature”)
Patricia Cox Miller
Christine Trevett — Late Antique religion (also 17th-century sectarianism)
Susan Wood (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
early christian art and culture
Susan Ashbrook Harvey (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
reformation Julie Canlis (writes on Calvin) Christine Helmer (16th-C religion, Reformation, Schleiermacher, Luther, philosophy of religion, constructive and systematic theology) Charlotte Methuen Jeannine Olson – Reformation history Susan Schreiner (Calvin Scholar) (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
philosophical/systematic/dogmatic/historical theology Marilyn McCord Adams Lorraine Cavanagh Sarah Coakley M. Shawn Copland (yours truly) Maggi Dawn Grace Jantzen Elizabeth Johnson Karen Kilby Renate Kobler Catherine Mowry LaCugna Sallie McFague (also in ethics) Janice McRandal (see Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Difference) Sara Maitland – (my favourite: A Big-Enough God: Artful Theology, 1994) Margaret Miles (history of theology) Nancey Murphy Catherine Pickstock Amy Plantinga Pauw Rosemary Radford Ruether Letty Russell Marika Rose Tracey Rowland Anna Rowlands – Catholic theology Sandra M. Schneiders Suzanne Selinger Kate Sonderegger Janet Soskice Kathryn Tanner Cathy Thomson https://www.sbc.edu.au/faculty-members/profiles/the-revd-dr-cathy-thomson/ Heather Thomson Susannah Ticciati (apophatic theology, Barth, Augustine) Angela Tilby Medi Ann Volpe Frances Ward Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendell Anna Williams (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
theological memoir (strong in theological content but doubly interesting for their literary form) Karen Armstrong Nadia Bolz-Weber Dorothy Day Anne Lamott Rachel Mann – Dazzling Darkness Chine Mbubaegbu Am I Beautiful Kathleen Norris Katherine Jefferts Schori Lauren Winner (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
theology, literature and the arts (including novels, poetry and literary critique of notable theological content) Gillian Boughton – Literature and Christianity Ruth Etchells (a pioneer in Literature and Theology) Kathy Galloway (would also figure in systematics) Mary Karr Sinners Welcome Sarah Miles – Take this Bread Flannery O’Connor Marilynne Robinson – Gilead, Home Dorothy L. Sayers – The Mind of the Maker, Creed and Chaos (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
Caroline Walker Bynum (medieval history and theology)
Rona Johnston Gordon
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Monks and Markets: Durham Cathedral Priory 1460-1520
Hannah Thomas – early modern English Catholicism
Christine Trevett — 17th-century sectarianism (also Late Antique religion)
Megan Williams (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
sociology of religion/religious studies
Sarah Jane Page
Linda Woodhead (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
asian christianity and theology
Melba Padilla Maggay
Violeta T. Bautista
Pui-Lan Kwok – postcolonial theology (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
liturgy, worship, musicology Kimberley Belcher Teresa Berger Marva Dawn (no relation!) Siobhan Garrigan Maeve Louise Heaney Monique Ingalls Janet Morley — All Desires Known Gail Ramshaw Tanya Riches Melanie Ross The Serious Business of Worship (ed., 2010) Nicola Slee (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
ethics/political theology Susannah Cornwall (theological ethics, sexuality) Keri Day Kelly Brown Douglas (Sexuality and the Black Church) Margaret Farley Carrie Pemberton Ford Jane Foulcher http://readingreligion.org/books/reclaiming-humility/ Amy Laura Hall (also writes on Kierkegaard) Melanie Harris Jennifer Herdt Ann Morisy Rachel Muers Esther Reed Anna Rowlands Emilie Townes Deanna Thompson (Lutheran, feminist religion) Ruth Valerio Traci. C. West (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
faith and media Heidi A. Campbell Pauline Hope Cheong Olive Fleming Drane Angela Gorrell — Always On (2019) Bex Lewis Pam Smith (@revpamsmith) Rachel Wagner (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
preaching/homiletics Barbara Brown-Taylor Kate Bruce – Igniting the Heart: Preaching and Imagination Anna Carter Florence Susan Durber Fleming Rutledge Nora Tubbs Tisdale (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
devotional writing and pastoral/applied/practical theology (including education, youth)(you’re right, this category needs dividing up! watch this space …) Dorothy Bass Christina Baxter Charisse Barron Zoe Bennett Elizabeth Caldwell Joan Chittister Katie Cross (Practical Theology) Becca Dean — Be, Live, Pray Rachel Held Evans Barbara Glasson, A spirituality of survival Elaine Graham (Practical Theology) Janet Henderson Vanessa Herrick Jane Keiller Anne Kitch Joyce Mercer (Practical Theology) Bonnie Miller-McLemore Mary Kate Morse Mary Clark Moschella (Practical Theology) Kathleen Norris Evelyn L. Parker Elaine Ramshaw, Ritual and Pastoral Care Janet K. Ruffing Margaret Silf Rosie Ward, Growing Women Leaders, nurturing women’s leadership in the Church Lucy Winkett Margaret Whipp Almeda M. Wright Karen Marie Yust (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
feminist/liberation/womanist/queer theology Marcella Althaus-Reid Ann Loades (see – Feminist Theology: A Reader) Mary Daly Ruth M. B. Gouldbourne Jacquelyn Grant: White women’s Christ, Black Women’s Jesus was the first? (or among the first?) womanist book, and a notable corrective to some aspects of feminist theology Daphne Hampson Elaine Kaye (with Janet Lees & Kirsty Thorpe – Daughters of Dissent) Janet Lees Serene Jones Eboni Marshall-Turman (Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation…) Mercy Amba Oduyoye Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (1995) Julie Faith Parker Judith Plaskow Rosemary Radford Ruether Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza Elaine Storkey (her What’s Right with Feminism is a classic intro) Kirsty Thorpe Linn Tonstad Renita Weems (also in biblical studies) (and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)
some books that attempt to highlight women in theology who were completely overlooked because it was a man’s man’s world: Teresa Berger Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical Tradition: Lifting a Veil on Liturgy’s Past (2011) Reuther, Rosemary R. and Rosemary S. Keller, Women & Religion in America: The Nineteenth Century Janet Soskice: Sisters of Sinai Marion Ann Taylor: Handbook of Women Bible Interpreters Marion Ann Taylor and Heather Weir – “Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on Women in Genesis”
One begins to wonder how anyone could have a theological bookshelf that has *no* female authors on it…
Read on below for more names – I add new names below until I have looked them up myself — trying to ensure that the list above is all women who are *published* in and around the broad field of Christian theology — there are plenty more women who are great speakers, preachers, teachers, ministers, and more, but that’s for another set of lists! Thanks to all commenters for adding to the list–please do read and add to the growing comments list below!
A Denise Ackermann (from South Africa) / Miriam Adeney / Loveday Alexander / Sarah Apetrei – ecclesiastical history and Reformation /
B Alice Bach / Jenny Baker / Lytta Basset “Holy Anger. Jacob, Job, Jesus” / Lynn Bechtel / Kimberly Belcher – Liturgical studies/sacraments / Alison Benders (systematics) / Adele Berlin, biblical studies / Jan Berry, British liturgist / Myra Blyth / Marcia Bunge / Athalya Brenner / Kathy Black – A Healing Homiletic / Helen Bond / Roberta Bondi / Riet Bons-Storm / Kate Bowler (history) / Rita Nakashimi Brock / Catherine Bushnell /
C / Lisa Sowle Cahill / Susannah Cornwall / Kate Coleman – Black Women and theology / Mary Coloe /
D / Dana Robert Daneel / Lilian Daniel / Mary Albert Darling “The God of Intimacy and Action” (co-author) / Joy Davidman, “Smoke on the Mountain – An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments in terms of today”, first published by Hodder in 1955 / Kenda Creasy Dean – youth ministry / Adrienne Dengerink-Chaplin for philosophical aesthetics / Lorraine Dixon / Rose Dowsett / Sally Douglas (AUS) / Verna Dozier/ Musa Dube from Botswana – on post colonialism / Kristin Du Mez, A New Gospel for Women /
E / Ruth Edwards / Elizabeth Elliott / Nancy Eiesland (The Disabled God) / Mary Evans – OT/biblical studies / Cheryl Exum
F/ Danna Nolan Fewell (“Gender, Power, and Promise, co-authored with David Gunn) / Sarah Foot – ecclesiastical history / Lisa Fulham (ethics) / Esther Fuchs / Mary McLintock Fullerton /
G / Freda Gardner, Christian education / Julie Gittoes (ecclesiology, eucharist) / Lisa Goddard and Clare Hendry “The gender agenda” / Cristina Lledo Gomez (AUS) / Mary Grey / A. Katherine Grieb. – Romans / Brita L. Gill-Austern /
H/ Joann Hackett, biblical studies / Georgia Harkness / Jane Harrison / Jennifer Harvey (ethics) / Jane Heath / Gina Hens-Piazza (biblical studies) / Carter Heyward / Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook / Bell Hooks / Mary Hunt (ethics)
I/ Ada María Isasi-Díaz, biblical studies / Lisa Isherwood “Companion to the Bible”/
J/ Mignon Jacobs (“Gender, Power, and Persuasion”) / Sara Japhet, biblical studies / Kelly Johnson / Karen Jobes (Biblical studies) / Serene Jones
L Hetty Lallemann – OT/biblical studies / Mary Jo Leddy “Radical Gratitude” / Lilly Lewin – youth ministry and worship / Hannah Lewis, Deaf Liberation Theology / Diana Lipton / Victoria Lorrimer (AUS) /
M/ Bonnie Miller McLemore / Kathleen McVey, church history / Catherine Madsen / Jacqueline Mariña, on Schleiermacher / Tanya Marlow / Hilary Marlow – OT / Frederica Matthews-Greene / Charlotte Methuen – Reformation / Carol Meyers biblical studies / Alison Milbank / Margaret Mitchell, biblical studies / Jeanne Stevenson Moessner / Alison Morgan – The Wild Gospel / Monique Moultie (ethics)
N/ Sarojini Nadar (from South Africa) / Susan Nelson. Beyond Servanthood / Beth Newman / Carol A. Newsom / Hulda Niebuhr / Wendy Sproston North / Irene Nowell – OT/Biblical studies / Ella Nutu / Ann Nyland “The Source” /
O/ Kathleen O’Connor / Gail O’Day / Mercy Amba Odoyoye (The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians) / Kate Ott /
P/ Kimberley Patton, Comparative and Historical Study of Religion, (ancient Greek religion and archaeology, research interests in archaic sanctuaries and in the iconography of sacrifice) / Rebecca Ann Parker / Stephanie Paulsell, practice of ministry / Helen Pearson / Kristina LaCelle-Peterson – church history/theology / Elizabeth Phillips — political theology / Christine Pohl pastoral theology / Priscilla Pope-Levison, theologian and historian (Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era) /
R/ Randi Rashkover (Jewish Philosophy in conversation with Christian Theology) / Ilona Rashkow / Esther Reed / Sandra Richter “The Epic of Eden” / Mayra Rivera, postcolonial theology /Gillian Rose /Helen Rosevere – missionary, devotional-formational writing / / Catherine Ross (Contextual Theology/missiology) / Joyce Rupp – contemplative writing / Letty Russell / Andrea Russell (Richard Hooker and Anglican identity)
S/ Catherine Doobs Sakenfeld, biblical studies / Maria Skotsoba (Orthodox) –Essential Writings / Angela Shier-Jones / Angela D. Sims (womanist and social ethicist) / Edith Stein / Suzanne Scholz / Dorothy Solle / Dorothee Sölle / Brita Stendahl – Women’s ministry / Tammi Schneider (“Mothers of Promise”) / Susie Stanley – church history/theology / Mary Streufert / Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, /
T Elsa Tamez, from Mexico – on scriptural interpretation / Marianne M Thompson /Fredrica Harris Thompsett / Kristin de Troyer /
U / Bridget Gilfillan Upton /
V / Aana Vigen (ethics) /
W/ Heather Walton / Helen Wareing / Marina Warner (cultural/historical studies) / Sharon Welch (Unitarian theologian) / Pamela Cooper White – pastoral care/psychotherapy / Johanna van Wijk-Bos (“Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice”) / Jane Williams / Ellen van Wolde / Mildred Wynkoop – theology / Flora Wuellner
I preached at St Michael St George, St Louis on Sunday. Several people have asked for the script. In fact, although I wrote a script I didn’t read it very closely, so the words below are only approximately, and not precisely what I said. All the same, for my new friends in St Louis, and anyone else who’s interested, here is the script:
‘You must be Born again!’
‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…’
These two phrases from John 3 are associated more than anything with conversion, probably because they are so over-used in a particular religious culture in which preachers urge their listeners to change their lives without delay, and by an effort of will, make a decision to follow Jesus. It’s pitched as Good News. But does it feel like good news? Delivered like a demand, under pressure, it may feel more like bad news.
Read the story closely, though, and you find that these two phrases are not about an overnight conversion at all, but about a secret conversation. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a prevalent popular saying that liturgy is “the work of the people” – based, it is claimed, on the meaning of the original Greek word. But the current popular application of the word is often used to reinforce the idea that worship should be planned and executed by the people, according to their own taste, without any regard to liturgical tradition, doctrinal concerns, or church order.
This may sound like one of those moments when the etymology of an ancient word brings about a radical re-think of how we enact our faith. But when it comes to this particular pop-phrase on liturgy, it’s application is not nearly radical enough, and its translation isn’t accurate enough. “Litourgeia” did certainly connect “work” and “the people”, but its meaning is lost if we use it merely to demand that the congregation gets to design their own worship.
What did litourgeia really mean? A litourgeia, in Greek usage, typically referred to a piece of work initiated by patronage for the purposes of the public good. So, for instance, if a wealthy person or group of people wanted to sponsor something for a town, they might initiate the building of a town hall – the work was initiated by some people who had the means to make it happen, and executed by others who had the skills and expertise to deliver the structure, but the result was something that existed for the benefit of all the people – and really, that meant all. It meant public – so that its benefits were available to everyone.
Anyone who knows my work knows that I am fully subscribed to including the community in the design and performance of liturgy. But that is with the caveat that such work takes place in the context of exploring the history, riches, expertise, theological wisdom and scriptural foundation of our faith. To say “liturgy is the work of the people” as an argument for doing away with tradition entirely, or for the unskilled to design worship, or more particularly to reinforce the idea that worship is something we do to satisfy our own tastes, or as a mandate to shift the balance of power inside the four walls of the Church, we have missed the point entirely. The really radical stuff begins when we understand that a liturgy – a work of worship – is supposed to be a work supported by proper expertise, and to have public benefits, not just personal satisfaction.
Back in 2011 I wrote in an article,
“… liturgy might legitimately be said to be work that is first for God, that also transforms our world and benefits people. But liturgy isn’t mine or yours. And it isn’t a mandate for “the people” to do whatever they like in church, regardless of tradition or order. In short, it’s not about me….
…the work of the people” is easily misused to imply that anyone and everyone has the right to have worship be the way they like it. And while I’m absolutely subscribed to inclusivity in worship, the second you cross that line to say “worship is about me”, worship disintegrates into an unholy mess. It’s not about me, or about you. It’s not the work of the people, it’s work in service of God that benefits the people. It’s FOR the people, but not OF them.”