Tag Archives: post-Christian

Metrical hymns on non-traditional topics

Metrical hymns are out of fashion these days in favor of praise songs and pop-influenced worship music. But rhymed metrical hymns are easy to memorize, and they’re actually a really efficient way to give people of all ages a basic introduction to discrete religious subjects. And every metrical hymn provides a theological interpretation of to its subject matter, so it is doubly useful: you get the basic topic, and an interpretation of that topic.

So I’ve been thinking how post-Christian Unitarian Universalists might use metrical hymns to teach post-Christian topics. I’ve been reading about the birth of Buddha in the Jataka-nidana, and I was captured by the story of the Four Omens. This would make a good metrical hymn: it’s a concise story about two paths open to a baby, one path leading to worldly success and another path leading to a life on contemplation. The baby’s father of course hopes for worldly success, but learns that if the boy ever sees a dead person, an ill person, a mendicant monk, or an old person, then the boy will grow up to be, not a king, but the Buddha. What a thought-provoking story!

Anyway, an early draft of such a hymn appears after the jump. Continue reading

Possibilities for post-Christian worship, appendix

Reading — words and language — are central to post-Christian being. A course of readings could be used to tie together common worship, small group work, and private devotions; as well as provide a link between common worship and curriculum for young people’s religious education. Call this course of readings a “lectionary.”


The “lectionary” year is divided roughly into four seasons: December-February, March-May, June-August, September-November. Assuming not all post-Christians live in the northern hemisphere, or in locations with four defined meteorological seasons, these “seasons” are not assigned names. A post-Christian perspective does not assume one set of readings will fit all post-Christian congregations in all locations, no matter what the surrounding culture might be, so there must always be some flexibility in which readings are used by a given congregation.

The “lectionary” year starts in December: Christmas season as the time when post-Christians tend to remember their Christian past with the most fondness. Readings for December-February explore Christian scriptures, and Hebrew scriptures as filtered through the Christian tradition (i.e., not from a strictly Jewish perspective which would require some familiarity with the Talmud). In March-May, the readings are drawn from non-Western religious traditions.

June-August has two options: more Bible readings for congregations which value their Christian heritage; and readings in social justice. September-November covers readings from the immediate heritage of the congregation (denominational or otherwise), as well as material pertaining to indigenous religious traditions connected to the congregation’s location. Note that for June-November, a special effort can be made to find readings by women.

Rough outline for a three-year cycle:

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Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 8

Eighth in, and conclusion to, a series. Bibliography included at the end of this post. An appendix to the series will follow. Back to the first post in this series.

(F) Conclusion

In the end, the hard work needed to overcome the challenges and threats to common worship liberal worship is well worth the effort. Post-Christian common worship is ultimately a countercultural act; it holds out hope for change for the better in a world that is in dire need of change; it helps to strengthen us as individuals, and the wider democracy, in the face of “the impersonal forces of a mass society with its technological devices for producing stereotyped opinion.” (Adams 1998, p. 172) At the same time, post-Christian common worship without the self-discipline of a private devotional life, or participation in small group devotions, is probably impossible (or at least improbable).

What is crucial for post-Christian common worship, if it is to survive and thrive? I believe that we must remain attentive to the reforming tendencies of the post-Christian attitude. The tendency of many post-Christian congregations is to reform only so far, and then to stop:– to adopt the flaming chalice as a liturgical element, for instance, but not to take the next logical step of figuring out what it means to include a flaming chalice in worship, and then the next logical step of saying those reasons during worship.

Or, more to the point: if we are going to engage in the counter-cultural act of doing post-Christian common worship, we need to start talking about what it means to be a post-Christian, and what it means to do post-Christian worship. Drifting along and letting the wind blow us hither and yon should not be an option — someone had better grab the tiller, and someone else had better watch the mainsheet, and the jib, before we drift onto some rocks of inattentiveness and founder.

Which is the whole purpose of this series of posts. I’ve grabbed the tiller, and if you don’t like the direction I’m steering, now’s the time to say so. If you see rocks in the direction I’m steering, sing out now! It would also be nice if someone selse would take a turn at the tiller. So start talking….

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Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 6

Sixth in a series. Bibliography will be included with the final post. Back to the first post in this series.

(E) Some challenges for post-Christian worship

At this point, I’d like to face up to several challenges faced by post-Christian congregations trying to shape meaningful common worship. I see two groups of challenges: first, the challenges of liturgical changes; second, several challenges to the commonality of common worship. The liturgical innovations that challenge common worship are the challenge of new liturgical elements, the redefinition of the sermon, and the challenge of false intimacy. Current threats to common worship include the esoteric impulse and the danger of invisible oppression (or not seeing who isn’t there), and the idolatry of worship as entertainment.

(E.1) Liturgical innovations

~~(E.1.1) The challenge of new liturgical elements:

Let me begin by examining a new liturgical element that has crept into my own religious community, Unitarian Universalism. The lighting of a “flaming chalice,” typically a candle or alcohol lamp in a footed vase, is a liturgical innovation that has become widespread in Unitarian Universalist congregations over the past two decades. It is my belief that lighting a chalice at the beginning of a worship service dates back to Kenneth Patton’s Charles Street Meeting House in the 1950s, where a lamp (in the shape of an ancient Greek lamp), similar in shape to today’s chalices, was lit at the beginning of each worship service, and extinguished at the end. Now, nearly every Unitarian Universalist congregation uses a flaming chalice in its liturgy. The challenge is this:– what does this new post-Christian symbol mean?

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Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 4

Fourth in a series. Bibliography will be included with the final post. Back to the first post in this series.

(C) Private devotions and small group worship in a post-Christian congregation, continued

(C.2) Small groups

Small group worship occupies a middle ground between private devotions and common worship. At its best, small group worship offers a continuing opportunity for renewal and reform. James Luther Adams (1976, p. 85) talks about this aspect of small groups when he describes the ecclesiola in ecclesia as a possibility for ongoing reform of voluntary associations:

In the modern period the ecclesiola has been the small group of firm dedication that sometimes promotes the disciplines of the inner life, sometimes bends its energies to sensitize the church afflicted with ecclesiastical somnolence, sometimes cooperates with members of the latent church in the world to bring about reform in government or school or industry, or even to call for radical structural transformation.

Small group worship can take on this positive, reforming aspect in post-Christian congregations. Feminist worship groups in the second wave of feminism (1960’s and 1970’s) may serve as an example of small groups helping to sensitize larger congregations to the possibility of ecclesiastical somnolence. Many such feminist worship groups worked on developing new worship language and new forms of worship that allowed men and women to be true equals (the wide-spread “Water Communion” in Unitarian Universalist congregations in fact originated with a small feminist worship group). Certain Neo-Pagan groups within a larger Unitarian Universalist congregation have operated in this way, challenging liturgical and theological assumptions of the congregation, particularly in the areas of feminism and environmentalism, while remaining fully connected with it. Outside Unitarian Universalism, we might consider the revolutionary role assigned to small groups (base communities) by practitioners of liberation theology.

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Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 3

Third in a series. Bibliography will be included with the final post. Back to the first post in this series.

(C) Private devotions and small group worship in a post-Christian congregation

(C.1) Private devotions

Private devotions, the act of an individual worshipper, appear to be as necessary as common worship. James Luther Adams (1976, p. 64) notes that individuals are not “wholly comprehended in the community or the state of the family or the other associations. Individuals possess an integrity and freedom of their own”; thus implying the possibility and even the necessity of a private devotional life. At the same time, Adams (1998, p. 122 ff.) is equally clear that an inner life of devotion is not enough. What, then, is the relationship between private devotions and common worship?

Liberal Quaker philosopher and theologian Douglas Steere (1992), speaking from a liberal Christian theology, beautifully describes the tensions between private devotions and what he calls corporate worship:

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Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 2

Second in a series. Bibliography will be included with the final post. Back to the first post in this series.

(B) What is worship for a post-Christian congregation?

What is the purpose of worship in a post-Christian congregation? The Unitarian Universalist Commission on Common Worship (1983) says of worship:

Though it is often defined as reverence given to a divine being or power, it need not have supernatural implications. The origin of the word “worship” is in the Old English weorthscippen, meaning to ascribe worth to something….

This is a start towards an understanding of why we worship, although it leaves unanswered the question of what that “something” is to which we are going to ascribe worth. James Luther Adams (1998) goes further, saying:

The free church is that community which is committed to determining what is rightly of ultimate concern to persons of free faith.

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Possibilities for Post-Christian Worship, pt. 1

First in a series. Bibliography will be included with the final post.

(A) What is “post-Christian”?

At the beginning of his monumental history of American liberal theology, scholar Gary Dorrien (2001, p. xx) briefly addresses the state of liberal theology today, saying: “Today the liberal perspective in theology encompasses a wide spectrum of Christian and, arguably, post-Christian and interreligious positions.” This statement of Dorrien’s raises the interesting question of what a post-Christian or interreligious position might look like, and the even more interesting question of what a post-Christian or interreligious congregation might look like.

I would state with some confidence that post-Christian and interreligious congregations do exist, and have existed for some years now. In 1971, Dana Greeley, who was president of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1961 to 1969, wrote:

A question asked of Unitarians and Universalists again and again is “Are you Christians?” I have spoken and written many times on this subject, but I have no simple answer to the question. Most Catholic and Protestant Christians, until fairly recently anyway, would have said that we are not Christians. Most Jews would think that we are Christians. When I told one Unitarian friend that Anglicanism’s Dean Stanley referred to Channing as “the morning star of the second reformation,” my friend immediately concluded that Channing was heralding or prophseying a new era, and as Protestantism (resulting from the first Reformation) went beyond Catholicism, so the second Reformation would go beyond Protestantism; a post-Protestant, post-Christian era would begin. Numerous people believe that, or interpret Unitarianism that way. It is a plausible diagnosis, though Channing would never have thought of himself as the forerunner of a non-Christian faith. (For that matter, Jesus would never have thought of himself as the forerunner of a non-Jewish faith.)

In this passage, Greeley begins to develop one plausible definition for what it might mean to have a post-Christian position as a positive, affirmative religious stance. First of all, Greeley’s post-Christian position looks enough like Christianity to be perceived as such by non-Christians; whereas most avowed Christians would deny that the post-Christian is indeed Christian. Today, many Unitarian Universalist congregations could be characterized as post-Christian using this criterion. They retain certain outward aspects of Christianity, such as holding weekly communal meetings on Sunday morning — a distinctively Christian practice. At the same time, they do not fulfill some common criteria for determining whether or not someone is Christian. Speaking from a Unitarian Universalist perspective, Edward A. Cahill (1974) writes: “Christianity calls for the acceptance on faith of a precisely defined belief system,” in contrast to, say Judaism which requires “observance of rigorous social and ritualistic prescripts”; and both these traditions contrast with Unitarian Universalism which requires “the exercise of the free use of reason in an open atmosphere of mutual respect.” Neither Christian nor non-Christian, Unitarian Universalists might best be described as post-Christian.

Greeley’s second point provides a more positive definition of the post-Christian position. More positively, a post-Christian position can be seen as continuing in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, by taking what is perceived as the best of the Christian tradition while rejecting certain aspects of the tradition which are seen as non-essential. Thus, the post-Christian position retains a connection with Christian tradition, but moves outside some common definitions of what it means to be Christian. We might expand Greeley’s definition to include positions that are derived from the moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings of Christianity but which retain an openness to other moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings.

It’s important to remember that some other definitions emphasize that the post-Christian position has lost what it truly means to be a Christian. For example, the term “post-Christian” may be used in certain Christian circles to indicate persons who lack basic knowledge of the Christian tradition; or “post-Christian” can refer to a society which was perceived as formerly being grounded in Christian values, but which had fallen away from Christianity and into secularism. However, in this essay I am using the term in its positive sense.

Next: What is worship for a post-Christian congregation?