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What is Liturgy — Part 2: Liturgy Narrowly Defined   4 comments

Liturgy is not the Same as Order of Service

When most people think of liturgy, what they’re really thinking about is the order in which things are done in a worship service. The short-hand term for this is “order of service.”  This was the subject of the previous blog in this series on liturgy.

All orders of service are useful. They have a logic that’s important to know. I’ll discuss this logic in later blogs. But, for now, and for the discussion in these blogs on liturgy, I am using the term “liturgy” to name something different from an order of service.

Liturgy is communal

One person cannot do a liturgy for the same reason that one hand cannot clap. It takes two hands to clap, and it takes two or more people before one can “do” a liturgy. In other words, liturgy is communal.

But, there’s more than mere numbers involved here. It is possible to have a great number of people assembled in one place without a liturgy “happening” or “being done” by them.  Two more things are required besides numbers.

First, all the participants in a liturgy must be doing the same thing. Second, all the participants in a liturgy must be doing that same thing together. It’s important to distinguish between these two things when trying to understand liturgy. Let’s conduct a thought experiment from the realm of dancing.

Liturgy and Dancing are Alike

Can a single person dance? Of course.

Can two or more people dance? Again, the answer is obviously “yes.” But, to say “yes” overlooks something significant about dancing when it’s a group of people doing it. So, let’s imagine several different kinds of dancing that can take place when a group of people are dancing.

Individuals dancing individually: This is the sort of activity you’ll observe at parties, school dances, holiday gatherings where a dance band is featured, and so forth. The dance floor may hold dozens of people at the same time. Every person on the floor will be dancing. But, the only thing shared by these people is time, venue, and activity.

This is quite a lot of things shared, of course. But, consider: the activity of each person is no different (or not significantly different) than what it would be if he were alone in his bedroom, dancing to the music pouring out of the iPod stuffed into his ears. And (back to the dance floor), though the dance floor at the party is composed of couples (mostly), each member of the couple is still dancing to his or her own notions of the moves, rhythms, and embellishments that are deemed by that dancer alone to be appropriate, desireable, and expressive. The “partner” is actually nothing more than an audience of one. “Let’s watch each other dance while each of us is doing his own dance” pretty well describes what goes on out there on the dance floor.

Individuals dancing in pairs: with this kind of activity we  move a thousand leagues toward something that is truly comparable to liturgy. And, what we consider now is something like you see on a ballroom dance floor, where everyone is dancing in pairs (as before) but now they are doing specific dances: foxtrot, walz, polka, quick-step, tango, samba, rhumba, or pasa doble.

Think, for a moment, about how these ballroom dances differ from the “everyone doing his own thing” sort of dancing described previoiusly. When individuals are dancing ballroom dances together in pairs, they dance to prescribed and predetermind steps, using specified rhythms, movements of the feet, often movements of the arms, and specified postures toward the partner.

And, here is a fascinating paradox: while ballroom dances – compared with individual free-style dancing – has far less “freedom,” it is usually a lot more fun to do and certainly a lot more fun to watch.

It is NOT true that the pre-specified features of a ballroom dance detract from the beauty of the dance. Moreover, when a couple are dancing a walz, we no longer have two dancers dancing at the same time. No, we have a couple dancing together. And those two individuals, dancing as a couple, create a “dancing entity” that is more than the mere addition of the parts. A couple may be two people, but a couple dancing is more than two people dancing. The individual dancers are still “there.” They are still distinguishable, but the individual dancer is no longer dancing – or perceived as dancing – as an pure individual. He and she are parts of a whole greater than the mere sum of them.

Perhaps it is ice-dancing that affords the greatest range of possibilities for a couple to unite as a pair in dance. To see what I mean, revisit Torvill and Dean’s unsurpassed ice-dance to Ravel’s Bolero at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

So, what’s the next stage in this thought experiment? We’ve considered individuals dancing as individuals, individuals dancing together in pairs; what’s next?

Individuals all doing a single dance together: here we no longer have couples considered only as couples. Certainly, this kind of dancing is not the “every one doing his own thing” sort of dancing. No, in this sort of dancing, more than one, more than two are dancing the same dance.

Sometimes these sorts of dances are very simple, and the best example is any of the so-called “line dances.” These dances are composed of lines of dancers or pairs of lines, which the Wikipedia describes as “dancers facing each other, or a line formed into a circle, or the line follows around the dance floor. The dancers may hold hands with their neighbors, or use an arm-on-shoulder hold, or hold their neighbor’s belts.”

These sorts of dances are quite old, originating in folk dancing at community festivals and celebrations. English Country Dance is an old version that is still done today. More commonly known are square dancing, or contra dancing. Cowboy-style line dancing includes things like the cotton-eyed joe, boot-scootin’ boogie, and tumbleweed. Here’s a You-tube video of a large group of people doing one form of line dance that combines both Irish and Cowboy elements:

Here’s an example of four couples doing a folk dance called  the Brandy Frotte.

And, here is one more You-tube video showing amateur dancers having fun with what is called contra dancing:

The most elaborate form of group dancing is the ballet. What’s important for us to consider here is this: a ballet (e.g. Swan Lake) is a very complex “liturgy” that organizes and directs many dancers and also a full orchestra at the same time.

Liturgy and an Orchestral Performance Are Alike

May an individual play music? Of course. May more than one play at the same time? Doh.

But, as we saw in dancing, so also in instrumental performance of music. A string quartet is NOT simply four musicians playing music at the same time. A band is NOT simply 30 or 50 or 150 musicians playing the same number of individual musical performances at the same time.

No, a band or an orchestra is a thing. It’s a thing comprised of many individuals, but the individuals are not nearly so important or prominent as what they create when unified.  That u nity is is larger than the individual selves added together.  And, what this thing (which we call a band or an orchestra) does is to play a piece of music called a march or a symphony. Even if a concert hall performance features one intrument in a highly “visible” role – say, for example, a Rachmaninov piano concerto – the pianist’s virtuosity is embedded in a matrix composed of himself and the rest of the orchestra. If we were to hear only the piano part of a Rachmaninov piano concerto, it would sound unbelievably weird. We would not be hearing the concerto at all, of course. The concerto is something we hear ONLY when the piano and the many-membered orchestra are all playing together as prescribed in the musical score.

What, then, is a liturgy?

The “plans” or “rules” or “steps” are what constitute a corporate dance. The technical name for all these things is the choreography. The orchestral or band score are what constitute a performance by a group of musicians. A choral score is the sum of all the vocal parts – words and notes – that welds a group of individual singers into a choir or choral ensemble.

And, so, what is a liturgy? It is all the prescribed actions and words that weld a group of individual worshipers into a single worshiping body, which as a body offers worship to God.

When is liturgy “happening?”

With the above notion of liturgy, it is now easy to identify when and how liturgy is happening in a worship service.

Worship where singing is the only liturgy: In the church of my cradle faith, only one thing was liturgical: the congregational singing.

How so? Well, when hymn singing is happening in a worship service everyone is singing the same song. Everyone is singing the same words, to the same tune, at the same time. The stanzas and music lines in the hymnbook are what weld all the hymn singers into a body which as a body sings the hymn. No one who hears the song pays any attention to any individual singer; what any listener hears is the group. In fact, if you CAN hear a single singer in the crowd of singers, it’s likely distracting. A singer in a congregation who “pokes out” of the crowd is like a single member of a marching band who hops up and down while everyone else keeps in step.

Worship where everything is liturgy: On the other end of the liturgical spectrum are Christians whose entire worship service is a liturgy. It has an order – that is, there are a sequence of parts, and the sequence has its own “logic” and meaning. But more than just an order, a worship service that is entirely liturgical has “parts” which every person present “plays” at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way.

The worship service that is completely liturgical is like an orchestral score, or the choreography of a complex ballet. A worship liturgy is likely less complicated, because the “actors” or “performers” in the liturgy are fewer. Sometimes they are no more numerous than “The Officiant” and “The Congregation.” There may be other minor “actors” or “performers” such as an acolyte, or someone who collects alms, or musicians (an organist, or pianist, or choir members).

Still, a completely liturgical service has a place for everybody present, and everybody has a part to play as he participates in the liturgy.

To sum up: a liturgy is a script of actions and words, assigned to individuals assembled for worship, so that they are unified by their actions and words into a body which offers worship God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is a lot packed into this definition of liturgy, and it will be unpacked in stages in later blogs. Stay tuned.

Posted October 14, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Liturgy, Prayerbook Worship and Life, Proper piety

Strangers in a Strange Land   Leave a comment

Today, a friend emailed me one of those frequently-forwarded notes detailing news I might have overlooked.  In this case, I had: the death of Anne Roche Muggeridge, wife of her far-better known husband Malcom Muggeridge.  Mrs. Muggeridge was author of The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church [HarperSanFrancisco 1990], which details the turmoil within post-Vatican II Catholicism, particularly in Canada.  The note on her death included a quote from the introduction to her book.

Several statements in that quote got me to thinking.  So, let me begin with those statements, for it turns out that Mrs. Muggeridge (a Roman Catholic) said some things that are pertinent to understanding modern evangelicalism.

First these things:

Catholicism is not just a religion: it is a country of the heart and of the mind. No matter how resolutely they turn their backs on it, people born within it never quite shed their accents.

and shortly thereafter she wrote this:
 
“I belong to the race of people,” wrote the great Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac, “who, born in Catholicism, realize in earliest manhood that they will never escape from it, never leave it. They were within it, they are within it, and they will be within it for ever and ever.”

Now, why did this get me to thinking about evangelicalism?  Well here’s why …
 
My wife’s paternal ancestors were Apostolic Christians who settled in Illinois in the middle of the 19th Century, immigrants — religious refugees, actually — from Switzerland.  Their ecclesiastical patriarch was a man named Samuel Heinrich Froelich, whose pacifist religion brought him and his followers into conflict with the civil authorities.  Hence, their immigration during the 19th Century from Switzerland to various parts of the world including Japan(!), as well as North America, Mexico, and Paraguay.  Barbara’s great-great-grandfather and his brother settled around Roanoke, Illinois, purchasing thousands of acres of swamp land for a pittance, draining it (they had learned their agricultural hydrology in Switzerland), leaving themselves owners of exceedingly rich farmland.  They bequeathed to their sons large prosperous farms and businesses in town.
 
What’s this got to do with Mrs. Muggeridge?  Well, hang with me a bit longer …
 
Some years ago, my wife Barbara was speaking in a church up in that area, and her host (a cardiac specialist) had been born and reared in the Apostolic Christian Church (same group as Barbara’s father’s family).  He married a lovely AC lass, and during their marriage they migrated outside the Apostolic Christian fold for less sectarian climes.  When my wife and her hostess met, they wondered if they might be related (ACs mostly marry only other ACs, and so everyone eventually gets related to everyone else). 
 
As the two women were comparing notes, the subject turned to “leaving the AC fold,” and the hostess remarked to Barbara “It’s like leaving the Roman Catholic Church for most of us.”
 
Intrigued, Barbara drew her out on what she meant.  It turns out that what she meant is pretty well captured by that French Catholic novelist Mrs. Muggeridge quoted in the introudction to her book.  And, even though a few born into the Apostolic Christian fold  eventually depart from it, it remains true that (to borrow Mrs. Muggeridge’s phrases) the AC Church is not just a religion: it is a country of the heart and of the mind. No matter how resolutely they turn their backs on it, people born within it never quite shed their accents.
 
Barbara’s father departed the AC church when he moved to Texas as a young man, seeking his agricultural fortune.  But, he never quite “shed the accent” he acquired in his AC cradle.  Indeed, he retained a pretty pronounced accent, even though educated at Wheaton in the 1930s.
 
Now, the point:  whatever else Mrs. Muggeridge is talking about in her book (I haven’t read it), I expect she’s discussing the comprehensive and coherent Roman Catholic culture that began to be trashed after Vatican II.  I know that many conservative contemporary Catholics whom I read complain about this more or less constantly when the subject comes up.  And, those discussions always remind me of that hostess and her observation of her and her husband’s migration from the AC church into evangelical Protestantism (which, in those days, was equivalent to or kissin’ cousin to fundamentalism). 

As near as I can tell from the outside, the Romans and the ACs were alike insofar as each religious community effected a comprehensive, coherent, soup to nuts, cradle to grave culture, a world-view that included everything.  No upper-story, lower-story notions of truth and reality for them.  And, the respective and comprehensive world-views each possessed was different from what one found out in the world, even the far more “Christian” world of 19th century America.
 
This sort of feature common to the Romans and the ACs can also be detected in the long-forgotten enclaves of simple Anglicans, to judge by what I read of Anglican history, though Anglican culture of the genuinely orthodox kind seems to have been concentrated in the sub-suburban and rural parts of England.  You can hear the same observation made about conservative Lutherans whose German roots are still sprouting shoots in many LCMS parishes to this day.  And, you can add to this group any number of ethnic enclaves of Eastern Orthodoxy which flourish mostly unobserved in religiously polyglott America. 

Compared with these ecclesiastical communities all of which sustain a comprehensive and coherent world-view that is maintained in opposition to “the world,” the garden-variety evangelicalism one sees today is as stable as jello.  Maybe even less so, for jello remains … well, jello … while evangelicalism is continually reinventing itself into ever-novel iterations of worldliness, bereft of guideposts, paths, even lacking greater sorts of landmarks such as sudden valleys or distant mountains.   
 
The whole enterprise of modern evangelical religion is less like the City of God and far more like a rock concert and the fluid culture surrounding it, or the Jay Lenno show and the generation of TV fans who channel surf from one late-night one-man show to another.  In those rare times I stumble across pop-culture religion — religion that is “consumable” as any pop-culture is supposed to be — it’s as if I had wandered into the aisle at JoAnn’s or Hobby Lobby where you can find (as I did yesterday) displays of crosses in a bewildering variety of styles ahd shapes, all made of poly-resin, and as affordable as anything else that is made in China.
 
Perspective adds its own twist to these sorts of thoughts.  Mrs. Muggeridge appears to be lamenting the movements of the Catholicism she knew as liberal Catholic bishops strove (and still strive) to turn Roman religion into liberal Episcopalianism. On the other hand, Christians within the matrix of K-Mart  Protestanism who sense that the Church at worship ought to somehow look, sound, and feel different than the world, will view post-Vatican Catholicism as a treasure-trove of classical Christianity. 
 
When I’ve read the testimonies of evangelicals who have poped, many acknowledge up front that doctrine was NOT prompting their move into the Roman Church.  After all, evangelicalism these days doesn’t put much store in doctrine, right?.  No, it was this cultural dimension to things that persuaded them that the “evangelical” churches they inhabited were not really a Christian home, but rather something far, far off the reservation of anything that looked like, acted like, or sounded like the Church they encountered in the Bible or in the past 2,000 years of Western Christianity. 
 
And, so, these evangelicals — finding themselves homeless in their evangelical churches — went looking for something within professing Christendom, something that said “home” to them, rather than “the world.”  At a minimum, they sought a church that bore at least some resemblance to what they read about the church in the history books.

For those who had this fuzzy sense that they were off the reservation and who stumbled across the Christian Classics Ethereal Library online and got to reading the Fathers of the second, third, and fourth centuries — well! They sometimes turned into fervent evangelists for Catholicism or Orthodoxy.  And, just as often, they became fire-breathing opponents of Protestantism, equating the latter with the only expression of it they’d ever known (e.g. modern evangelicalism).

One aspect of a Christian’s life in this world is captured in the life of a pilgrim, a nomad, one who is passing through but not attaching to the environs he inhabits.  But, are Christians to feel themselves to be pilgrims within Christendom itself?  I confess to feeling like a stranger in a strange land when I walk through the doors of most of the kinds of churches that I ought to feel some kinship with.  Mrs. Muggeridge felt that way about Catholicism in Canada at the end of the 20th Century.  What she may not have realized is that others, Protestants, evangelicals (or, those who used to identify themselves with that term) — all these too lament the way “home” now feels more and more like a circus.

Posted October 12, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Anglican, Evangelicalism, Improper piety, Proper piety

Faith or Faithfulness?   Leave a comment

The Gospel lesson for this past Sunday contains one of two passages where our Lord says something about faith as big as a mustard seed.  Is he speaking about the faith we should have?  Or is He, rather, addressing the faith that we do not have?  Jesus’ near-identical statement about mustard seeds and faith in Matthew 17 sheds light on Luke’s account in the 17th chapter of his gospel.

In the Matthew 17 passage, Jesus is clearly frustrated and irritated with His disciples’ lack of faith.  His words about a mustard seed are a barbed indictment that His disciples don’t even have that much faith, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve not moved any mountains by simply telling them to move.  It’s a standard Rabbinic way of making a point through extravagant, over-the-top exaggeration.

So, also, in Luke 17.  I don’t think this passage would ever have been so misinterpreted as it has been, if the lectionaries didn’t commence this gospel lesson with verse 5, instead of including verses 1-4.  The only way to make sense out of the passage is to read Jesus’ words here as essentially the same as they are in Matthew 17 — a retort to the Disciples’ unbelief, which happens to be expressed in Luke 17:5 as an ironic request for Him to increase their faith.

See the sermon audio for details.  For here, though, Jesus goes on to show his disciples that their lack of faith is linked to their lack of faithfulness.  The implication is easy to see:  increase your faith by increasing your faithfulness.

Posted October 4, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Homily Q & A, Proper piety

What is Liturgy — Part 1:Order of Service   1 comment

First Lessons in Liturgy From Baptists

My first lessons in liturgy came from the Baptists in the middle of the 20th Century.  But, before I explain how that happened, I need to make a few disclaimers, so no one misunderstands my attitude toward Baptists in this essay.

1. I came to saving faith in a Baptist context. It was the Baptists who taught me the simplest version of the gospel, who taught me who Jesus is, why he came into the world as a true human male, what he was doing on the cross, and how his sacrifice there atoned for my sins. They taught me how his work on the cross redeems me from all my sins, and that his resurrection is a pledge of the resurrection which awaits me at his return to the earth. They baptized me in water (by immersion, of course) in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In all of this, the Baptists were (and, for the most part, continue to be) good catholics, though most of them would cringe at hearing this said about them!  And while we’re on the topic of catholics, you must never overlook the capitalization or lack thereof when I use this word. I know what I’m writing, and I know how to write it. You should take care to note what you’re reading.

2. I kept my Baptist treasures, for they are (as far as they go) the treasures of catholic Christianity. When I departed Baptist ecclesiastical culture for other climes, I was not running away from something evil or perverse; and – this is very important to keep in mind as you read what follows – I took most anything of spiritual value with me when I departed. I needed and sought something that was not found among my Baptist ancestors; but, that says nothing about the good things found among them then (and now as well).

Are Baptists Liturgical?

So, how do I come to point to my Baptist beginnings as containing the earliest roots of sacramental spirituality and liturgical worship which now characterize my Christian faith? Aren’t the Baptists known for eschewing these things? For repudiating these things? Aren’t Baptists as liturgical as Communists are capitalist?

Well, yes and no.  It all depends on how you use that term “liturgy.”  And, liturgy is a term that is sort of fuzzy in its meaning.  In this blog, I am going to use the word liturgy in a sense more precise than what you will likely find in the dictionary.  So, first of all, let’s start with how the dictionary uses the term liturgy and begin to tweak that.

What is Liturgy?

The problem in understanding these things comes from a fuzziness in what we mean by liturgy. Dictionary.com gives the following definitions of the word:

  1. A prescribed form or set of forms for public religious worship.
  2.  The sacrament of the Eucharist.

The second definition is pregnant with unmentioned details which could be elaborated – the kinds of things you’d see, hear, touch, smell, and taste if you participated in a routine Anglican, or Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Eucharistic celebration. And, none of this, certainly not in the forms you’d find in those communions, would ever appear in a standard Baptist worship service.

The first definition, however, “works” just as well for a high pontifical mass as it does for the closing service at a revival at First Baptist Church in Needles, California (where I saw a number of such services as a boy). In this sense, Baptists  have a liturgy.

Liturgy and Order of Service

All liturgies, from pontifical high masses to Baptist Sunday morning services, will have “a shape” – an overall order. Inside this order, there may be small variations depending on the season of the year, or some special event (e.g. a baptism, or a special civic holiday (such as Mother’s Day, when a rose might be handed out to every mother present). But, the “bones” of the service remain the same from Sunday to Sunday, throughout the year.

All bets are off, of course, if we’re speaking of so-called “contemporary worship.” Many of these will follow an order of service every bit as rigid as a high pontifical Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve! But, in other worship serivices – especially those heavily influenced by the American style of Pentecostalism – you will not have a clue as to what’s going to happen next. In these there will be no order at all. What happens next is totally unknown until it happens.

For the purposes of this discussion, therefore, we are going to distinguish between two things: order of service, on one hand, and liturgy on the other hand. These two are often considered to be synonymns of one another. But, it helps us to understand liturgy better if we distinguish order of service from liturgy, which we’ll define more narrowly in another blog.

To sum up for now: A worship service either (1) has a “shape,” by which we mean a general, over-all order of elements that is distinctive for Christian community that uses it, or (2) has no shape at all, by which we mean that every worship service in that Christian community is totally indeterminate as to what happens inside it on any given occasion.

When a Christian worship service has a shape, we call this an “order of service.” And here’s the key thing to remember at this point: a worship service that has an order may or may not contain liturgy, that is liturgy in the narrower sense we are going to mean when discussing liturgy later on down the road.

An Old Baptist Order of Worship

Here’s the order of service at First Baptist Church of Needles, California in the late 1950s, drawn from my boyhood memories:

  • Opening music, played on the piano, as people gathered in the pews
  • Song leader summons everyone to attention, while the pianist segues into a hymn, which the song leader bids us sing while we are standing, thus allowing late-comers to get into the pews.
  • Welcome to visitors, bidding them to fill out cards found in the pews.
  • The Sunday School Report (how many in SS, how many visitations the previous Wednesday evening, and sundry other attendance statistics for the week)
  • Another Hymn
  • Announcements, followed by Prayer before the Offering
  • Special Music (a vocal solo or duet) while offering is collected
  • Scripture Reading and Prayer (done by Chairman of Deacons, or Pastor)
  • Another Hymn
  • Pastor’s Sermon (always evangelistic in purpose, concluding with …)
  • The Invitation (an appeal from the Pastor to respond to the sermon, while everyone stands, singing an invitation hymn, cycling through the lyrics as often as the Pastor deems needful)
  • Another Hymn
  • Announcement of the Response to the Invitation (new members, those rededicating their lives, those professing faith in Christ for the first time)
  • Pastoral Prayer of Benediction
  • Final Hymn

Now, this order of service was invariable all throughout my boyhood in that town. Moreover, when I moved to Texas, I found that Baptist churches I attended almost always followed this very same order of service. The only Baptist Church I can remember that departed from this order was First Baptist Church of Amarillo, Texas, and in those days it was (I was later to learn) “going liberal,” by greatly shortening the invitation or, sometimes, eliminating it entirely.

For an example of an order of service from the early period of English Prayer Book Worship, see the following Order of Service for the Holy Eucharist.

If you want to see a really startling order of service, check out The Ordeal of Boiling Water from the 12th or 13th Century.

In modern terms, an order of service is a sort of program found in a church worship bulletin that someone would hand you when you show up at a church on a Sunday morning worship service. The list of things done in the order in which they are done is the Order of Service for that Sunday.

An order of service is not the same thing as a liturgy, at least not in this blog. By “liturgy” we are referring to something else. Check out additional blogs in this series to learn what we mean when we use the term liturgy.

How to Raise Boys Who Read   1 comment

My fellow presbyter Ryan Martin alerts me to this column in the Wall Street Journal, lamenting the decline in reading among boys and suggesting solutions for it.  In passing, Thomas Spence deplores and dismisses the “Sweetfarts philosopy” of teaching boys to read by “meeting boys where they are” through an appeal to their “love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.”  He rightly observes:

One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.

Spence pens some important and useful words about why boys today aren’t reading very much or very well.  And, then, he answers the question posed in his column’s headline:

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

All this got me to thinking about the fact that I was a voracious reader by the time I got to kindergarten.  I recall that my brothers (no girls in my nuclear family) were readers too.  This was long before the internet and electronic media.  And, while our home was not exactly filled with shelves of good books (we did have some), our tiny town (population 3,500) had a respectable library, regularly restocked by the circulating collection from the San Bernadino County Library.  So, yes, we had plenty of good books available, and we boys regularly haunted the library shelves for additional copies of books that boys aged 7 to 12 and older would inhale like Sweettarts (no Sweetfarts were available, as our parents, teachers, and librariens weren’t particularly interested in rearing morons and barbarians).

So, was that why I and other boys pillaged the library like Ghengis Kahn pillaged feudal China?  I can’t speak for other boys, but I can speak for myself and my brothers.  It was our parents’ reading to us that got us started reading. 

Especially it was my father reading to us.  I can remember specifically that he read to us Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  He also read the Sunday comics to us out of the Los Angeles Examiner.  And, the Sundays he wasn’t reading them to us, my brother and I were sprawled on the floor, the Sunday comics from that paper spread out before us, while someone on the radio read the comics out loud.  How’s that for radio programming?  A different sort of world, huh? I’m grateful I have a photograph of that scene.

Boys want to be men, and the first and most formative man they ever encounter is their father.  If Dad reads, it’s manly to read and boys will read.  If Dad reads out loud, it’s manly to read out loud, and boys will want to read out loud like Daddy does. 

If you want testimonials and scientific reports on the effects of reading to children, then Google “reading to children” and click on a few of the tousands of links that pop up. Better yet, Google this entire prhase:  “fathers reading to their children” and digest what you find.  Nothing against mothers reading to their children, even to their sons.  But, I suspect that for a boy there is nothing that will shape his inclination to read more than the experience of his father routinely reading to him — from well before the little boy can read anything, all the way into his late boyhood.  Try Googling “fathers reading to their sons.”

Spence’s recipe for getting boys to read is satisfactory as far as it goes. But, it seems to assume that if the distractions (internet, video games, other electronic entertainments) are missing and reading material is present in the form of shelves of good books, then boys will read.

I don’t think so. Boys need more “inducement” than a bound copy of Treasure Island on a shelf. Like everything else that is good, boys who read need to be taught that it is good. And, a good way for that teaching is through the modeling of a father who reads to them.

Posted September 25, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Manhood, Parenting, Proper piety

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Blessed Beer   3 comments

Holy Beer and PretzelOur friends at Touchstone Journal’s blog Mere Comments are reporting that a scholar at Xavier University in Louisiana will soon publish his conclusions that Hebrews drank beer. 

“Ancient Israelites, with the possible exception of a few teetotaling Nazirites and their moms, proudly drank beer – and lots of it,” said Michael Homan, in his article for the September/October issue Biblical Archaeology Review, Religion News Service reports.

“While English translations of the Bible do not mention beer, the original Hebrew does,” he said.

 Just why, then, do Engish versions avoid translating the Hebrew word shekhar as beer?

Additionally, the Israelites’ taste for beer has been ignored because academic scholars over the past 100 years have inferred that beer drinking is “uncouth” behaviour, he said.

“This has led many Bible scholars actively to distance biblical heroes from a beer-drinking world, much like some Christians prefer to believe that Jesus drank unfermented grape juice despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” Homan said.

As one whose Christian formation took place among those who had this precious notion about our Lord’s beverage at the Last Supper, I can well understand (though not sympathize) with a similar delicateness when translating the Hebrew word shekhar.

However, I have since learned that at least one modern translation has dropped the nelliness about fermented beverages and now renders a joyful commandment in the Law of Moses with robust accuracy:

When you and your family arrive, spend the money on food for a big celebration. Buy cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, and if there are any other kinds of food that you want, buy those too. Dt 14:26, Contemporary English Verson

 The photo of Benedict is, of course, in affectionate jest.  He is a German, after all. 

And, it’s not sacriligeous.  It’s many orders of magnitude less sacriligious than twisting the Bible, the very words of God, in order to justify using Welch’s grape juice when our Lord and His Apostles specified wine, the fruit of the vine made glorious by death and resurrection.

Posted September 23, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Proper piety

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