Blessedly unfamiliar

1-Messiah Promo Image 1The Sunday church service the morning after the ATG Messiah (and the effort to do it justice in my review) is like a meditation on what does and does not work in a ritual.

As I ponder Christianity I keep coming back to one central idea, that I never see anyone state.  It’s important in understanding why people desert the church & to perhaps understand what brings some of us –me for instance—back.

(I wonder, too, if it’s relevant to people also deserting opera, but that’s a parenthetical thought, for now).

Religion is hard.  Is that a crazy idea?  I don’t think so.  In other centuries –when churches were full and believers were the norm rather than the exception—I don’t believe (excuse the choice of words) anyone noticed how difficult it is to do Christianity well –or any other religion, I reckon.  It’s not a thing, but rather it’s a process, involving human interactions.  I suppose we might call Christianity a discipline, both the practice of the faithful and the ministry as well.

The main thing though is to recognize that while disciplines are sometimes practiced well, sometimes…? Not so well!  Is it a radical thing to say that Christianity has been let down by shoddy practice, arrogant clergy & entitled elders not putting the stewardship of the religion high enough in their list of priorities?  If they were neglecting that care in the service of others –for instance, forgetting to properly recruit members in their lavish care for the sick, or the poor? I’d feel better.

But of course that’s not what’s happened, has  it…

As I watched the service this morning my experience –a joyful one to be sure—was thoroughly informed by the ATG Messiah experience from last night.  I was struck by how something that’s overly familiar –whether it be a Christmas carol, or a passage in Messiah—benefits from being made unfamiliar, breaking out of the strait-jacket of ritual. I was going to talk about semiotics and signification, but i am already risking losing the 2 people who might be reading this, so i will stifle the impulse to be pompous & academic.  I will try to be simple & intelligible.

In a church –as in the opera house–the newness, the departure from familiarity & ritual is inherently unsafe and risky.  While it’s not so uncommon to speak of performances as risky, we don’t usually associate risk with church: and maybe that’s the problem.  But I connect this to one of the central conversations in opera, concerning Regietheater (aka “director’s theatre”).  While opera is often understood as moribund –if not dead– for its respectful treatment of a large body of old works, a more radical approach would be to seek to make a familiar piece of text seem unfamiliar.

I am reminded suddenly of a regular blog written by Rev. John Elford, a Methodist Minister friend of mine called Keeping Jesus Weird.  How better to understand the Gospels –or Handel’s Messiah—than to seek  to make the repeated and the familiar seem new and even problematic? to seek out the edgy and the strange instead of sweeping it under a rug.

That’s what I especially welcomed in the AtG show last night, and i realize, that’s also what I seek out in church each day.  If our texts or performances don’t feel fresh and new, they’re old and stale.

It’s true with theatre and opera.  It’s true with bread and wine.  Why shouldn’t it also be true of ritual?  If that weren’t difficult enough –finding the right creative  path– one needs to balance also with the competing preferences of the congregation / audience (between  those seeking the preservation of what is, with those seeking  something new).  I like  some familiarity.  Am i average, normal?  I wonder.

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4 Responses to Blessedly unfamiliar

  1. Mary says:

    Always enjoy your blogs….am not much of a formal academic….but I do know what a semaphore is….. have not had anyone inspire me to think of the church in a long time.

    Did not attend the AtG Messiah as I was to be on a plane, I thought.. Going to try the plane again tonight. It has been interesting comparing the various reviews of this Messiah. You always manage to put a positive but informative spin on your reviews and I appreciate your willingness to attend new…risky …music and events.

  2. I loved your post.. and I have a copy book form of Handel’s Messiah as it was my music prize age 15 as I left school…. I started out not understanding Opera, mainly because of the language.. But in later years fell in love with it.. and all of classical music…

    The Church is outdated and thats why it fails to have many walk through its doors… We do not need a Cathedral in order to worship .. we can send out our thoughts in sacred prayer just as easily from our hearts in our own ways in our own faiths… Just like the Music of our souls as we can sing from our hearts.. We may not be opera singers or will ever make the charts LOL,, But if we each of us give from our hearts and bring Joy to that which we do… then we start and create a better, brighter world around around us..

    Thank you for your Music my friend, Thank you for the posts you have shared here.. and sending you Love and Blessings this Yuletide…
    Sue xox

    • barczablog says:

      And thank you Sue! I’m thrilled we can connect. As they say, there’s more than one pathway up the mountain.

      Wishing you all the warmth & love of the season. Be well and be blessed.
      L xxooxxoo

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