Thursday, July 09, 2009

What does it mean to be opened to the Other culture?

In the orientation to chapel worship briefing, Jeffrey Truscott, the chaplain of TTC's chapel, told us that various forms of worship and liturgy are performed in the chapel's services.

Some time ago, the chapel has used incenses during the service, like the Eastern Orthodox churches. At other times, the services are being carried out through different denomination and cultural expression of the faith. So there are Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and other forms of worship style being used.

Amazingly inclusive. Seems like a big step to union, if not ecumenism.

Truscott also asked the participants of the chapel services to be open to the other cultures' embodiment of praising God. He assured us that we do not need to be shocked or reserved over the differences found in each different denomination.

Truscott gave an example. When the Holy Communion is administered by a Methodist minister, grape juice is used to represent the Lord's blood. And when other denominations' ministers use red wine instead of grape juice, the Methodist and congregants who cannot and do not want to partake the wine are asked to freely abstained from taking it. Truscott assured these congregants that it is fine to take only the bread in the Holy Communion.

A commendable and daring openess to the alien world of the Other. An apparent recognition and embrace of all the different human's creativity found within each community's own cultural giveness and giftedness.

All was well until Truscott announced that the participants at the chapel's services cannot wear shorts. He explained that it is inapropriate.

I was stunned.

Wait a minute.

Did he mean that we were flexible to adjust and alter the very sacramental gift institutionalized by our Lord Christ according to our convenient, and yet when it concerned our dressings, which are neither sacred nor institutional, we cannot be as flexible?

So, flexible only on the sacred stuffs... (Dare we? Apparently, Truscott dares.)

But non-flexible on mundane stuffs like shorts... (If we can be flexible on the sacred stuffs, why not on the non-sacred?)

So the question boils down to what is 'sacredness' as practiced through TTC's liturgy? I get the impression that there is no 'sacredness' in the liturgy, for it is according to our whims.

On the other hand, where have all those 'inclusive' languages which graced the briefing just minutes ago went? Or is the whole idea of being open to the Other culture is a joke?

It could be that Truscott does not think and acknowledge shorts as an artifact which reflects a certain cultural expression. If he thinks so, then he had hit hard with Andy Crouch, the winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture,

"...culture is the accumulation of very tangible things - stuffs people make of the world... While it is certainly true that culture can have effects on us that we're not aware of, culture itself is anything but invisible. We hear it, we smell it, we taste it, we touch it, and we see it. Culture presents itself to our five sense - or it is not culture at all." (Culture Making, p.67)

A pair of shorts embody its own story and context. It is a cultural artifact.

And hence, I do not know what to make out of Truscott's instructive words in the final part of the briefing, "Do be opened to new experiences and come experience the new."

Perhaps that is more of a reminder to himself?


Sivin Kit said...

In my church, there were times when church leaders served communion with Khaki shorts. Looks like he would be banned by TTC?

Anyway, Truscott is a good guy, and fellow Lutheran - to engage deeper in your observations. Go beyond the surface, and talk about what that comment means and conveys in terms of culture and contextualization.

Even more so, in one's theology.

Good one!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Sivin, I love to visit your church one day!

Yes, the culture/church issue is always torny and hard to start thinking about. And thank you for the tips on culture and contextualization. Will keep that in mind when I happen to catch up with Truscott.

pearlie said...

Wow, that must have been an interesting experience. Wish I could join you :)