Learning to Speak

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I had the opportunity to attend the Cascadia Worship and Art Conference recently. One of the speakers there was W. David Taylor, currently director of Brehm Texas, a branch of the Brehm Center at Fuller Seminary. He gave an opening talk at the conference focused around the way art and worship form and shape our spiritual communities and us as members of those communities.

Taylor argued for the importance of understanding the “mother tongue” or “heart language” of ourselves and our church community. Wiktionary defines “mother tongue” as “The language one first learned; the language one grew up with; one’s native language, [or, alternately as] the language spoken by one’s ancestors.” But when Taylor is speaking of mother tongue, he doesn’t mean the language your service is held in, but rather the language your heart uses when it calls out to God. Obviously, we can all point to different styles of musical worship that do or do not resonate personally with us–some which we may not even understand. But there is far more to worship and our relationship with God than just the music we sing on Sunday morning.

Do you ever think about how your gathering space forms your worship? What door do people enter through and how does it prepare them for encountering God? What about your actual words, the words in the songs you sing and the prayers you pray? Do you always use very strong, masculine language when talking about God? Do you meditate mostly on human suffering and fallenness? Or do you spend most of your time celebrating God’s blessing and promise of a better life for those who believe?

In reflecting on my own church, Sanctuary CRC in Seattle, I was discussing with a fellow elder how we have a strong thread of transience. Our office is in a rented store-front, and we meet each Sunday in a theater space that we don’t own. A few years ago, there was a fire in the neighborhood and we had to temporarily relocate our Sunday morning gatherings to a different location. Our church-run coffee shop has had five different locations (three of them being “permanent”). As a congregation we have a steady stream of new young couples joining our church, just as we are sending off those who have recently finished graduate school and are moving on to careers or studies in other cities around the country.

Do we acknowledge these things? They certainly come up in passing conversations, in warm greetings to new faces and sad goodbyes to departing friends. But what about in our worship? How does it impact the way we read the Bible? We are not nomads, but Israel spends most of the Pentatuch picking up and moving around their worship space. We are not exiles, but the prophets speak to people who are living in a new place surrounded by unfamiliar faces. We are young, and Paul writes to Timothy. We are striving for community, and Christ calls us to love our neighbors. How might understanding our identity help us live into God’s calling to us and our church?

What about your church? What is your language? Who are you?

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