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Saturday, March 26, 2011

On ritual

            Here’s a story from when I was in college.  About 20 miles away from the school, in the nearest major city, was a church which, in that area, held a place in the city somewhat similar to the position Ebenezer Baptist holds in Atlanta—the most notable church in the African-American community, and the one whose leader the media run to for a quote when there is a topic concerning Christian belief, civil rights, and/or an issue specifically concerning the African-American community.  One person from that church was on the faculty of the school I went to.  I didn’t know her, but I did know a couple of other persons who went to that church, so one Sunday I decided to go there as a broadening experience, as I grew up in a town in which, for many years, no one of any minority lived, and later one black and one Hispanic family, which doesn’t effect a culture too much, given that the reason for a lack of minority residents wasn’t insidious, it’s just that none had settled in my town until certain legislation forced the largest companies in town to go out of their way to hire and move in to town a family to prove to the government they weren’t discriminatory.
            Anyway, I walk in sit down, and in a few minutes the service starts.  Just before the service began, six women dressed in nurse’s uniforms came to stand equidistant apart from each other in front of the stage.  I was thinking, “Maybe this is ‘Honor the Nursing Profession’ Sunday or something.”  The service starts, and the choir sings for, I am guessing, about 45 minutes.  At that point, the pastor gets up, says a few things, and then says that “sister (name here) is going to give a testimony.”  A young woman gets up, tells about a situation in her life, how blessed things happened, and that she was joyful for it.  At this point, she starts building up her voice, getting more and more excited, eventually bending over, swaying back and forth a little, and finally falling on the floor somewhat like convulsing.  At this point, the six women in nurse’s uniforms pick her up off the floor, and carry her out of the auditorium.  If any of them returned, they must have been behind me.
            As much as this may have seemed bizarre to me, it is obvious from the nurses being up front standing like an honor guard that this was totally expected.  What just occurred to me is that, in its own place, this was just as much ritual as a Catholic mass delivered in all Latin.  It is also more obvious to me because neither are “my” favorite rituals.
            It is harder to recognize that something is ritual, and not specifically directed by God for all places and times when you like it.  I came to faith in Jesus in 1968, but the year I grew as a believer the most was my freshman year in college, 1971-1972.  That year, I was also introduced to the music of Larry Norman.  The way he did things was anti-traditional, and some of what he said was blatantly insensitive to some believers older and, in some ways, wiser than he.  Nonetheless, what he said and how he did music to honor Jesus, for me, fit the situation I was in, the secular university in which faith in Jesus was an unacceptable thing as far as the image of outer society’s status quo was concerned.  From the experience of those years, I have always placed “Does it align with Scripture?” ahead of “What does anyone else think?” 
            In the “real world,” as off a campus was occasionally referred to when on campus, the attitude within our culture that Christianity is/was (depending on the person) the status quo belief of our culture makes standing for Jesus in spirit and truth more challenging for the ironic reason of it not being directly challenged. 

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