ATT_VerticalLogoAgain this week At the Threshold is engaged in “Easter thinking,” examining the mysteries of Christianity to be discovered in Easter worship. The particular vehicle for this is what The Society of St. Polycarp in New Orleans, La., did during the three services of Easter — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Easter Vigil and Eucharist. Last week we shared the outline of the Easter Vigil.

The first thing to notice about that service is the setting: Before lighting the new fire and marching in second-line fashion to the Den of Muses, worshipers gathered for the vigil in absolute darkness on a patch of ground along the railroad tracks, a place as close to possible to the spot where Homer Plessey was arrested as he boarded a train leaving the city, the event that signaled the establishment of the Jim Crow laws and an era that extended slavery’s prejudices, racism, and oppression. (Plessy v. Ferguson,1896, is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of  “separate but equal.”)

The reason for choosing that place was the solidarity worshipers felt with Mr. Plessey and the long struggle for civil rights that has been the central and driving issue for justice in the new world — especially in the United States. It spoke to the old story, bringing to the fore in terms that remain stark for southern American society, the arrest of Jesus, his execution, and his Holy vindication. What was revealed about Christianity by Easter worship in that place must be shouted out. Read More…

By Juan M.C. Oliver

Editor’s note: This article is a response related to a recent At the Threshold series of articles on the St. Polycarp Worship Society in New Orleans.

Juan Oliver

Juan Oliver

And you thought it had all been decided centuries ago? Worship is once again in the forefront of talk about the churches’ mission into the 21st century.

This is not exactly new, though. As early as 1971 the superior general of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, was calling them to the work of inculturation.  By this term he meant,

“…the incarnation of Christian life and of the Christian message in a particular local cultural context, in such a way that the experience not only finds expression through elements proper to the culture in question (this alone would be no more than a superficial adaptation), but becomes a principle that animates, directs, and unifies a culture, transforming and remaking it so as to bring about “a new creation.”[1]

I have written elsewhere [2], about how in order to survive the current membership crisis and thrive into the future, Christian churches will have to invest huge amounts of creativity in trying new ways of doing things. Worship is certainly no exception, and the inculturation of worship is leading the way.

Briefly put, we must re-incarnate our worship so that it engages the local culture, for if we want to “… unify a culture, transforming and remaking it so as to bring about a new creation,” as Fr. Arrupe said above, we must speak its language.

Liturgical “language,” however, consists of much more than words. In a ritual setting every action, every item, every person is significant and charged with meaning. They work together as part of a holistic experience of the sacred in which a life lived in God´s presence is rehearsed and transmitted, forming a community of faith. Read More…

Churches that follow a liturgical calendar have entered into the Easter season, which will last until The Feast of Pentecost. These churches follow the pattern that evolved into the seasons of Lent and Easter. Lent began as several weeks of preparation for baptisms at Easter. The season of Easter started as the following period in which the “mysteries” of what it means to be a Christian were more fully and directly explained to the newly baptized. This process of explanation through participation was called the mystagogia. The term is gradually returning to the Christian vocabulary because more and more people are not baptized until they are adults, and fewer and fewer adults have been raised with knowledge of the Christian faith in any real depth.

Most people in our society seem to think they understand the gospel, when in actuality, very few have more than a vague notion about God and religion in general, covered over with a sentimental veneer of teaching of, or about, that really really good man Jesus. Once something about the unique gospel captures such a person and Christian truth leads them to baptism into the community and union with Christ, we usually find that learning about the depth of the faith has only begun.

The church is therefore rediscovering the tools and models that worked so well in the earliest period, when most new Christians had been raised in the pagan religions of antiquity. (Some are even rediscovering use of “the catechumenate.”) We, like the early church, need to offer new Christians the opportunity to enter into a deeper and more mature understanding of the faith they have embraced.

At the Threshold will be using the weeks following to examine the Christian faith in light of what took place in a small worship society in New Orleans this Easter. First, we should introduce this society and what they are exploring. Read More…

It has been famously said that Western society today has a strong Christian memory. That is, in our secularized society most people come out of a Christian tradition and assume they understand the Gospel. This has produced a popular form of Christian belief in which most people believe they know what the Gospel has to say to even the deepest and most profound questions.

But on examination most of it turns out to be as accurate and as self-shaped as a memory. The church itself finds that it can more easily sell its story and its institution if it adapts to these popularized versions.

George Zimmerman (right) leaves the Seminole County Jail after posting a million-dollar bond on July 6, 2012. Photo by Roberto Gonzalez/Getty Images

Two recent examples hit me like a slap in the face, one very public and one sincerely offered to a community seeking an appropriately Christian way to grieve and heal.

God’s plan in the shooting of Trayvon Martin?

George Zimmerman declares that the Shooting of Trayvon Martin Was Part of “God’s Plan.” George 
George Zimmerman maintained that he acted in self-defense and that the events that led to Trayvon Martin’s death were part of “God’s plan.”

“I’m not a racist and I’m not a murderer,” Zimmerman said. He offered an apology to Martin’s parents, saying, “I pray for them daily” and that he’d like to talk to them about what happened. But, he said, he didn’t want to second-guess anything that happened that evening. “I feel that it was all God’s plan,” he said.  Read More…