11 September 2008

I Think I'll Call Him "Mischief"

My new pet peeve. I think I'll call him "Mischief." That fits, and "Tinkering" is already taken.

I'm probably forgetting some significant exceptions. I'm fallible. But as I think back on the past two years since the Lutheran Service Book was published, and as I think about the various conferences, conventions and other convocations I've attended, whether large or small, I can only recall one such occasion when we actually followed the order(s) of service "as is." The Higher Things conference was that one notable exception; there we did things by the book (LSB), even though we needed to publish our own conference booklet of "daily services" for the week, incorporating the hymns and Psalmody, etc. While doing things by the book ought to be the norm, in my opinion, it stands out as an exception because the usual approach, in so far as I have experienced, is to cut and paste from hither and yon, add and subtract, rearrange, and all manner of such "Mischief."

The Blackbirds have recently engaged in some rigorous discussion of when, where and how, and to what extent, it may be appropriate for a congregation to do something other than what the official service books and hymnals specify. More or less ceremonial should not be divisive of church fellowship, nor differences in musical setting and performance of the same order and rite. There is also a need for pastoral care and discretion in the service of the flock, and even architectural considersations have a necessary bearing on what is done and how it is done. Yet, notwithstanding those allowances, we hold certain things in common within our synodical fellowship, and the best of those things are a heritage more venerable and significant than the Missouri Synod.

Especially on those occasions when we are gathered together from different congregations, each with its own local flavor, Christian love, modesty and decorum suggest that we ought to do those things that we have all agreed upon together, rather than anyone running roughshod over our common property. Even then, differences in ceremony and musical accompaniment do not seem so problematic or offensive to me, if done with care and discretion. But why must the basic order and the fundamental rites of the service be monkeyed with? What is the point or purpose to such mischief? Is human pride so hard to restrain that everyone has to insist on doing whatever seems right in his own eyes?

If we are praying Vespers, can we not simply pray Vespers, instead of cutting and pasting bits and pieces from other orders of service? If we are celebrating the Divine Service, can we not simply follow the order of service as it is published in our official service books, rather than slicing and dicing, chopping and grating? On one occasion that sticks in my mind (and my craw), after the preacher had even made explicit reference to the Sanctus in his sermon, we were then led into the Holy Communion without using the eucharistic rites: no preface or proper preface, no pre-Sanctus or Sanctus! So much for the angels and archangels. That sort of embarrassing nonsense wouldn't happen if mischief were not allowed to run around in the sanctuary without even a collar or a leash. I'm not big on having pets in the house, anyway.

I don't blame the electronic edition of the LSB, though I am tempted. That software has made it much easier, and apparently en vogue, to mix and match and run amok with the services. I was worried this would happen when it was first being introduced and advertised, because its flexibility was pushed as a major selling feature, and, as I recall, the President of the Synod hailed the benefit of being able to cut and paste from one place or another into homemade orders of service. Thanks, y'all, for making it so easy to undo a decade's worth of careful and conscientious work on the Lutheran Service Book.

The worst aspect of this "Mischief" is not even its disrespect and disregard for what we have received from our fathers in the faith and agreed upon together as a fellowship of the Church. Worse is that it hinders the prayer and confession, the piety and devotion of the faithful, especially those who are not as literate or as quick on their feet with new things constantly being flung into their faces. The littlest children and the oldest members of the Church are done the greatest disservice, because they are effectively prevented from participating in the liturgy. Pulling the rug out from under them, or never allowing them to grow into any consistency of practice, intrudes upon their hearing and receiving of the Gospel.

Doing things by the book is not a matter of legalism, but of love and evangelical care for the body of Christ. When everyone is allowed to know what to expect and what will happen, they are free to focus on the Word that is proclaimed, to confess and pray, to praise and give thanks, and to receive the blessed Sacrament in the peace that surpasses all human contrivance.

Frankly, I'd just as soon take "Mischief" to the animal shelter, and let someone else deal with him. I'm tired of having him mess up the carpet.


Susan said...

Whoa, buster! I am not "the old" nor "the young." But the tinkering Mischief does me plenty of harm.

We hear about how bad it is to memorize the liturgy and just "pray it off without thinking." I dunno; maybe I did that for a while. But for those who have learned it well enough to actually --truly-- be able to pray it "without thinking" then (ahhhh, then!) the THINKING and the PRAYING and the MEDITATION can begin with a beauty that was never before known.

Sorry, Rick, maybe I'm going off on a tangent. It's just that I've heard it said SO often that tinkering Mischief especially hurts the very young and the very old. And that is very true. But dang... it hurts me too.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

It's alright, Susan, you're not off target. Mischief with the orders of service makes it harder for all of us, and hurts all of us, irrespective of age or ability.

My point with the young and the old is that, for those who are not yet able to read, or no longer able to see so well, monkeying with the orders of service makes it impossible for them to participate. The rest of us at least can read, even if we are then so preoccupied with reading and keeping up that we can hardly think and pray and meditate (as you rightly point out). Of course, we may be given things to read that we'd just as soon not be able to read; in which case the young and the old have the advantage.