Monday, September 8, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress and the prodigal son

As a biology major in college I missed out on reading many of the classics. I’ve been behind since then. This week I finally read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress in a revised edition in contemporary English (not yet available in our store) retold by Gary Schmidt (Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008). I see why it is a classic and it describes part of my life today.

The main character in Pilgrim’s Progress is “Christian.” He ventures forth from his home in City of Destruction toward Celestial City. Along the way Christian encounters many temptations and takes numerous diversions. I feel like Christian in my travels to Home Church this summer.

My faith home for several years is too far from home. It takes two gallons of gas to attend church. I am not able to attend evening weekday activities due to the time and distance. “There must be a congregation nearer home that I can attend” I told myself and my friends at church. For the months of summer I have tried other congregations to no avail.

Author Phyllis Tickle visited our store a few weeks ago. In conversation she described three kinds of liturgies in Episcopal congregations. There are those that are reverting back to a better time. They use an older liturgy where God is “He” and we speak in old English thee and thou. There are other congregations whose liturgy continues the tradition and remains the same as it has been for decades. They include the reciting of the Nicene Creed that our church fathers developed in the fourth century and the older form of the Lord’s Prayer, for example. And, there are those congregations that keep pushing at the liturgy to make it more meaningful to today’s world, today’s view of Reality that includes quantum mechanics, an expanding universe, string theory, and contemporary interpersonal relationship modes. Phyllis Tickle named this last category as the emerging church or emergent church model some of which name themselves emergent and others are just working at making their liturgies meaningful today.

Yesterday I felt like the Prodigal son as I returned to my home congregation of many years. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress I tried other paths, other congregations and for me they all came up lacking the worship that feeds my soul at this time. It is in the emerging church expression but does not refer to itself by that term. Thankfully my home congregation welcomed me home (yes, with open arms, but not by killing that fatted calf). For me there was more meaningful worship of God in yesterday’s liturgy of music, words, and actions than I had encountered this summer. It was Wonderful to be home! And like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz I don’t intend to stray again, but being human I suppose at some point I will.

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