At Tucson’s largest Episcopal church, St. Philip’s in the Hills, the creators of an alternative worship service called Come & See are bucking tradition by rewriting what have become prescribed ways of worship.
For the faithful, that means God isn’t referred to as “him,” and references to “the Lord” are rare.
“Lord” has become a loaded word conveying hierarchical power over things, “which in what we have recorded in our sacred texts [that would probably be the Bible for those of you who aren't members of the club--Ed.], is not who Jesus understood himself to be,” St. Philip’s associate rector Susan Anderson-Smith said.
God has “hierarchical power over things.” What a concept. And we know that Jesus didn’t understand Himself in those terms, because we moderns can read the mind of Jesus across the centuries without taking into account what those silly gospel writers and apostles thought.
“The way our service reads, the theology is that God is love, period,” St. Philip’s deacon Thomas Lindell added. “Our service has done everything it can to get rid of power imagery. We do not pray as though we expect the big guy in the sky to come and fix everything.”
I hope that means he’s willing to eschew all those icky expressions of God’s alleged power recorded in the Bible–for instance, the victory over sin and death in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ from the grave. Or the Exodus. Or the Creation of the universe. Or the sending of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it sounds as though e’s are ready to pretty much dump the whole God thing, considering he’s not looking for “the big guy in the sky” to have any role in his life or that of the world. Oh, and by the way, I wonder if he realizes that if “God is love, period,” that means he’ll also have to jettison all that obnoxious justice talk, what with its judgmental proclamation of right and wrong.
First Congregational United Church of Christ in Midtown even has a different name for The Lord’s Prayer. They call it “The Prayer of Our Creator.”
“We do still use the word ‘Lord’ on occasion, but we are suspicious of it,” First Congregational pastor Briget Nicholson said. “Inclusive language is important. Our United Church of Christ hymnal does have hymns that will say ‘Father’ and ‘God.’ but the next verse will always then say ‘Mother’ and ‘God.’ It’s gender-balanced.”
Actually, if they want to avoid calling it the “Lord’s Prayer,” they might call it the Servant’s or Disciple’s Prayer, since it was given to us for our use. As for inclusive language, I’ve always been puzzled by why that’s necessary for God. After all, unless you think that we are God, then there’s no need to include us. We use the language of Scripture because that’s what He’s revealed to us, not because we think that God actually has a man’s body. It really says all you need to know about this mindset that the word “Lord” is viewed with suspicion, never mind that it is used thousands of times in Scripture.
In the strictest Christian sense, “Lord” comes from the Greek word kyrios, which Greek culture in the first century understood in much different ways, Anderson-Smith said. Evidence suggests the word was used in talking about Jesus as the fullest embodied revelation of God, but it had a lot less to do with hierarchy than what the word means now, she said.
“Jesus was for an egalitarian community. He did not have room for titles or status. And it is recorded that many of the disciples called him Lord. But they had a different idea about worshipping him,” she said. “Jesus was a rabbi and teacher. It was a relationship of mentoring, looking up to him for that kind of companionship.”
I’m not even sure what that means, except that Anderson-Smith would be very happy as a Unitarian, except that she wouldn’t be able to dress as well for whatever it is Unitarians do on Sunday morning.
Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Midtown has kept references to “Lord” minimal for years. Rector Gordon McBride said he personally — in writing, preaching and spontaneous prayer — has not used the word in more than a decade. He associates the word with a God that is powerful, separate, and perhaps brooding over creation.
Yeah, so–what’s your point? Why is it that some Christians find it impossible to believe that God can be both immanent and transcendent, both powerful and self-emptying in Christ, both love and justice? Either/or thinking has a tendency to lead to heresy (which is essentially the taking of one part of God’s truth–say, “God is love,” and so over-emphasizing it that other aspects of truth are lost or denied), and that’s what is on display in this article.
References to “Lord” became prevalent in singable, rhymed versions of the Psalms translated into English during the 16th century by Myles Coverdale, McBride said. The changes became significant to the Episcopal Church and its larger Anglican Communion because those are the Psalms in the church’s Book of Common Prayer. Much of the liturgy is based on the Psalms, a collection of 150 self-contained poems and prayers in the Old Testament.
The most recent version of the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1979, is what’s used in American Episcopal churches. But the book was published just prior to a consciousness of patriarchy in linguistics, said McBride, a history professor before he became a cleric.
“There are lots of problems in that prayer book that are just so patriarchal it’s laughable — language loaded with ‘Lord’ and power references that owe their existence to the Coverdale 16th century translation, the time of the Tudors, Henry VIII,” McBride said.
Yeah, if it weren’t for Henry VIII and Miles Coverdale, the Book of Common Prayer would be all egalitarian and stuff, because there’s nothing in Scripture or the historic liturgies of the Church about God being Lord or any of those nasty “power references.” McBride was obviously not a professor of the history of liturgics being going into the priesthood.
And there’s no question “Lord” has patriarchal connotations, he noted.
“I’m sorry, but if there is a Lord, by implication there is a Lady,” he said.
Has to be. Says so right there in the Morte D’Arthur.
St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church has been minimizing its use of Lord for two decades, senior pastor David Wilkinson said.
“We usually change ‘Lord’ to ‘love’ or ’soul’ or ‘light,’ ” Wilkinson said. “It’s pretty much a hierarchical, patriarchal image we’re getting rid of.”
So he’d rather than God be de-personalized than refer to Him using metaphorical, masculine, biblical language. I guess the guy who died and rose again for us should be addressed as “our Soul Jesus Christ,” or something like that. Sounds like one of Frank Zappa’s children, but that’s just me.
Rewriting liturgy is not only about gender and power balance, noted Lindell, the St. Philip’s deacon.
“We don’t stress the blood and gore of the crucifixion and the so-called sacrifice of the Mass,” he said. “I think that calls attention to Jesus’ death but it doesn’t call attention to why we are Christians. It seems to me, being a Christian isn’t just about the birth and death of Jesus. It’s about living in the world with his life as an example.”
Also known as Unitarianism. Hope that’s working for you, deacon.
Similarly, McBride stressed that changing liturgy isn’t about political correctness [wink, wink--Ed.], but about conceptualizing God.
“If God is understood and viewed as within creation, acting inside of it, loving, compassionate, hopeful, creative — all of those produce a very different way of imagining the Christian life and living it out,” he said. “If you are always calling God ‘Lord,’ you are sticking him into that outside place. It seems to me, in order to avoid doing that, one of the first things you do is call God something different.”
And if you just change the words, everything changes: abortion becomes “pregnancy termination,” killing old people becomes “death with dignity,” torture becomes “forceful interrogation techniques,” a totalitarian dictatorship becomes a “democratic republic,” and the Lord Jesus Christ becomes an insightful but powerless sage.
“Men create the gods in their own image.”–Xenophanes