Renewing the Festive Center

Peter Leithart, in Against Christianity, writes:

Modernity is a revolt against ritual, and the modern city is an unprecedented attempt to form a civic community without a festive center. (p 79)

As Peter Leithart argues in this book, the church and her liturgical worship are the true festive center of human life, activity, and culture. In addition to countless other things we could say about the church’s liturgy, this fact of church-as-festive-center is why we worship with wine in the Eucharist.

What are some practical steps that leaders in the church can take to renew this center of festivity to our lives?

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As far as the leaders are concerned: I think they should initiate (in consultation with the Vestry, Session, Consistory, Diaconate, Church Council, etc.) regular, preferably weekly, meals/feasts together after the Sunday morning (or evening) worship services.

Preferably these would be covered dish dinners (dishes brought from home) or cooked by church members in the church kitchen (on a rotating basis) as opposed to catered or cooked by paid staff or contractors. This would provide the opportunity for fellowship, rejoicing, getting know each other better, getting to know the visitors better, ministering to one another.

As part of the festivity, there could even be music provided by choirs, ensembles, or individuals. Perhaps, in some congregations, maybe even square dancing or some other type of dancing in which people would not easily be or feel excluded. Thanks for asking the question, Matt. It’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit–but I would definitely like to hear others’ ideas, too.

Thanks Gordon.

I like your thoughts, and they are (rightly and thankfully) very “Redeemerish!”

One of my intentions as an Episcopal priest is to consistently facilitate “feasting” on ALL SEVEN of the Principal Feast Days of the Church: All Saints, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity.

The one I am most excited about is Epiphany, because of its imagery of light. Besides, who ever heard of a wild night of celebrating the Epiphany?

Each feast will have a liturgical component with brief teaching, a meal (though not necessarily “sit-down” at tables), and drinks to make mens’ (and womens’) hearts glad. (Ps 104:15)

This is really cool. I love the phrase “festive center.” It reminds me of the Christmas Eve midnight service mom and dad and I once went to at some random Episcopal church in Arlington, where we were surprised and delighted to find all manner of goodies and wine in the church hall after the service.
Still, a question: is it possible to believe in liturgy and festive centers without being personally all that into it? M and D talk about weekly eucharist as if it makes their week, but I have to admit, for the past couple years my main emotion during communion has been boredom — even with the benefit of the gorgeous BCP. Is this purely because I’m a bad Xian? Do you have some kind of theological response to boredom with liturgy?

Libby,

I cannot speak for Mom and Dad, but I think that “boredom” with liturgy ought to be expected. The liturgy is not entertainment, but rather it is the formation of virtue by _paideia_.

The liturgy _is_ and can be boring in the same way that learning the play the piano might be boring for my six year old daughter Bella.

Why might Bella be bored? Because she is disengaged. Why is she disengaged? Because she does not see the value of this work.

So when her piano teacher shows her how to place her fingers thus and so, her eyelids become so heavy with fatigue that she cannot keep them open. She is bored.

I do admit that the BCP is “gorgeous” and I do think that worship ought to be beautiful, but is is also work, in the same exact way that prayer (contemplative or otherwise) is work.

And work, sometimes, seems boring.

Now, it might seem strange to describe something that is work (ie, the liturgy) as, at the same time, festive.

But it is festive. It is a lot like sex, in fact. In her book _Real Sex_ Lauren Winner describes sex as both something which couples at times _make themselves do_, as a discipline, as well as something which is rejuvenating and renewing. So it is both, I think.

I totally see where Libby is coming from regarding liturgy sometimes coming off boring. For me, liturgy (as opposed to the worship services I was used to) was first, odd, then seemingly mechanical, and then boring (it is not like that anymore, but for a few different reasons). And while I’m sure you see it the way your big brother explained it, I like how Matt grants that “‘boredom’ with liturgy should be expected”; just as I saw in one of Matt’s later posts, speaking of something like a “discipline” needed in liturgy as almost a reaction to (or protection from) an “entertainment culture” mentality (i.e. his example of Bella’s piano lessons). I just wanted to add to the conversation, some of my earlier comparisons I drew from my readings in art philosophy and aesthetics with liturgical worship/”modern” worship. And no, Matt, I am not saying liturgy is art (I read your past post on that).

My focus was on the concept of kitsch vs. art (or in Greenberg’s terms “legitimate art”). Nevermind that I disagree with most of Greenberg’s essay (and not for the same reasons of so-called “cultural populism” the 90’s cult studs cashed in on). But I think some of what he mentioned in his essay, “Avante-Garde and Kitsch”, can be applied to the argument/discussion about liturgy and how it engages our sensibilities and tastes.

I am tempted to see as “kitsch”, formats of worship that “target directly” our senses, what Kant described as “barbaric”. Although now, the adjective, barbaric, may not be the most accurate description in keeping with our entertainment culture, perhaps, maybe the word “theatrical” would be more suitable. And I feel this is the case because cultural production has become more mechanical, and more superficial (under the auspicious of being more “democratic”) that the obsession of quick and convenient dis-attractions (and it’s huge profitability) has changed the landscape of engagement and interaction (and the discourse for how to value and identify it). What Greenberg called legitimate culture, because its taste and values were “derived at a second remove, as the result of reflection”, was opposite of kitsch, “predigested” art, that “spares [the spectator] effort, provides him with a shore cut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art”. In other words, Matt, your example of discipline, is Greenburg’s idea of cultivation;liturgy requires discipline to cultivate the appropriate appreciation of the worship, as opposed to other engagements or interactions that are determined by “other kinds?” of tastes and sensibilities, which are either enticed by directly targeting an already established taste or captivated by the sheer saturation of a particular fad (to the point of a becoming a cultural fetish). (I’m sure it is more complicated than this, of course).

This reminds me of my old pastor who use to chastise us in church because our level of joy in the worship was not as “visible” as it was when we were watching, say, a football game. But I always wondered why he didn’t apply that to the level of joy two parents share and display upon bringing into this world a new born baby. Just another example of entertainment as the new measure for engagement.

***A side note, Greenberg mentions that “superior culture is one of the most artificial of all human creation, and the ‘peasant’ (I hate that word) finds no ‘natural’ urgency within himself that will drive him…[therefore] he can enjoy kitsch without effort”. While there is an argument to be made between, what is liturgy and what is a practice of worship that is designed for (and within) the field of a particular culture’s habitus. There is a difference between an inherited practice and a learned practice. This is another topic (but part of the discussion).

Lib,

Are you familiar with Greenburg? (I’m not!)

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