Thursday, March 7, 2013

Holy Space

UPDATE: Our thanks and appreciation to the HT team who send us this update: The Media guys in Higher Things worked all last night to make sure that the skits were edited and placed in the appendix of the VBS. Version 1.1 of the VBS was posted last night for download. So, not only are the skits expressly OPTIONAL, there can be no confusion that they are not to be done in the sanctuary. Thanks for the help!

Now, we've heard your concerns. We've acted on them. There's no reason for y'all not to ALL have these VBS materials. 

The link is http://higherthings.org/vbs/

There is a rhyme and reason to traditional church architecture. It's no mistake that Joel Osteen's church is just a stage with a couple ferns. Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and traditional Anglican churches are built as they are because those are the folks who believe that the Sacrament is really Jesus' body and blood. When the Puritans and other Reformed-influenced folks got a hold Anglican churches, the ornate altars came down and were replaced with a simple wooden table for a reason: they didn't believe in the Real Presence.

The chancel is holy space because of the Sacrament. The nave is holy space because this is where we gather to receive the Sacrament. The pulpit is holy space because this is where the called minister preaches God's Word to push people toward God's Sacrament.

Jocularity, play acting, and entertainment are out of place in holy space. We need to be reminded of this because in our zeal to communicate the Gospel we may forget this truth. I remember how I cringed one day in chapel at CSL as a beloved, confessional, erudite professor of mine dressed himself in a Charlie Brown pageant costume and pretended to be St. Paul in the pulpit. His heart was in the right place, he wanted to teach us something, he thought this would be a fresh way to do it.

But the laughs and smiles he elicited were out of place in holy space. Can you imagine St. Peter and St. James acting out David and Nathaniel during a sermon in the first century? To paraphrase Paul, "Do you not have theatres and televisions on which to exercise your thespian inclinations?" Can you imagine St. Titus plotting to ask St. Timothy to interrupt his sermon and pretend to not understand the doctrine he was preaching while dressed in his bathrobe?

Our children, and ourselves, need to learn respect and holy fear for the things of God. Using the pulpit and chancel steps as a stage for play acting does not serve this goal - no matter who wrote the script.

+HRC

36 comments:

  1. Let's see Gottesdienst write their own VBS. You have the talent. Why not?

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    1. I think the Pax Domini VBS is super excellent and highly recommend it. No sense reinventing the wheel.

      And none of this is to say that the HT VBS is terrible - it isn't. But, in my opinion, it could be stronger in having regard for holy space.

      +HRC

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  2. Thank you for the link! I was going to get the CPH one. I like the HT one much better!
    You guys rock!

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    1. Check out the Pax Domini stuff, too: http://pax-domini.com/Pages/VBS.html

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    2. Pax Domini is about the same. Both are top-notch

      --BH

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  3. My sense of humor can't help but notice that you are posting this before Laetare Sunday, which is by it's very definition happy. Since last Sunday was Oculi, we can keep our serious faces for a few more days before the Lord roses us up.

    The Lord calls specific men to the office of the Holy Ministry. Each man is unique. Each personality different. Each one a gift to their particular congregation (topos - Acts 1). They are just the right man for just the right place for just the right time. That's the way gifts work. "He gave gifts unto men..." (Eph 5)

    The robes make the man indistinguishable from the last man who was in the office at that particular place. But, the man still speaks. He still preaches. He still reads. He still chants. He has particular things which make him unique - even robed. There are gifts in our uniqueness.

    Jerry Seinfield on birthdays comes to mind (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynmLdLwlgLI&feature=youtu.be). Serious Jerry is funny Jerry. He can't not be funny.

    A serious man can't be humorous. A humorous man can't be completely serious. Borghardt is not Stuckwisch. Stuckwisch wouldn't want to be Borghardt nor would the Lord want him to be. St. Peter can't be St. Paul. St. Paul can't be St. Peter. Voelz can't be Matthias. The man the Lord made will bleed through even the robes. It's not sinful. He's the man who the Lord called for that place. It would be dishonest for him to be someone else.

    Joy is fruit of the Spirit. Even Confessional Lutherans can be joyful. Can we take our joy too far and have it be over the top? Yes. Can we be so serious that we suck the joy from people or teach them that to be in the Lord's presence is to be without any joy whatsoever? Yes. Both are equally wrong. Wouldn't you say? True joy is a gift. False joy is just play acting or emotional manipulation.

    So, extremes aside, each pastor is the man he is. Each congregation is the congregation the Lord called together. Pastor for congregation, congregation for pastor, right fit, right time, that's a gift.

    Blessed and a happy, smiley, Laetare Sunday to y'all! (Thanks for plugging our VBS - http://higherthings.org/vbs)

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    1. I am sympathetic to your points here, Pastor Borghardt, and I appreciate the fact that you are able to acknowledge and accept my "seriousness" as something appropriate. I also know you, notwithstanding your joviality, to be serious about the good things of God, for which I give thanks.

      Personalities, of course, are also fallen, as well as sanctified. They become vehicles of God's grace, only by His grace, as they are sanctified by His Word and Spirit. That they not become idolatrous or blasphemous -- whether in seriousness or humor -- they ought to be tempered by the Cross of Christ. That is especially true of His servants, who speak and act, not simply for themselves, but especially in His Name and stead.

      I'm still learning how to be comfortable in my own skin, so to speak, without becoming defensive of myself, and without striving to become somebody else. Most of my stumbles in life have come from one or the other of those two temptations and dangers. It is not helped by those who criticize or laugh at me for being "too serious," but neither is it helped by my misguided efforts to "lighten up." Really, the only solution is found in daily repentance, which is really to say, in the faith and forgiveness of Christ.

      We are what we are, warts and all, and the grace of God is that He preaches and gives the Gospel in such earthen vessels; not because there is some merit in our frailty, but on account of His mercy for us and for His people.

      Anyway, what I'm getting at is that we are, and will be, the men that we are -- and the Lord's men, by His grace -- without having to "try" to be anything. Your example of Jerry Seinfeld is somewhat apropos. "Trying" to be anything is perhaps already dangerous ground. I'm tempted to say, there is no "try," but only "do" or "do not." But we do strive to be faithful to that which our Lord has spoken and given us to do. And it is in those things, which we do "at His divine command," that He has His way with us, and accomplishes His purposes through us, for the sake of His Bride, the Church.

      Since she is His Bride, and not our own, I suppose that perhaps Pastor Curtis' point and critique could be rephrased in this way: that we ought to conduct ourselves with her, with the sort of courtesy, decorum, and etiquette becoming of a gentleman for another Man's Wife.

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  4. While you are correct about each man being different, finding joy in the gospel, etc, etc, wasn't Higher Things the organization that promoted the mantra, "When we work, we work. When we play, we play. When we worship, we worship"? I think we all liked that mantra because it said something about what goes on in worship -- as joyful as it is, it is also reverent. It is not the same as entertainment.

    Now you could say that VBS is different than worship, and that is true to some extent. But the question Rev Curtis is asking has to do with what is going on in the sanctuary -- are silly skits an appropriate way to use that area? What does it teach when we do so? What does it say to all the visitors who see this going on in the church? Etc.

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  5. Let's also remember that each station in life is unique too. Kids aren't adults. Adults are not kids. Part of working as a kid is to play. And part of being a kid is to be a child. For such belongs the kingdom of God...

    Any attempt to defend the use of skits in a VBS program is only going to make me sound like I'm pro-contemporary worship. Not happening.

    Instead, I'd invite you to read the skits in their entirety. They are hilarious and wet with baptismal water. The pastors never dress up as anything other than pastors. Ever. There is a really deep and faithful respect for the Holy Office and the sacred space.

    What should disturb us more than a few skits is that even when the most conservative, confessional, traditional congregations do VBS, they get all CCM. This is the context of VBS in modern Lutheranism. With the Higher Things VBS there is care to balance between teaching, singing hymns, and worship.

    I'd challenge you to find a better VBS program that is faithful to what we confess as Lutherans and written to teach kids as kids. It's not watered-down material. This is doctrinally sound stuff! It's by no means a perfect VBS, but it's a step in the right direction. It's a first try.

    Finally, I would also point out with a giant smile that the skits are marked "OPTIONAL" in the VBS program. The "OPTIONAL" is in BOLD and in ALL CAPS. It's like writers were screaming "Don't turn the guns on us. We're in the fox hole with you! All we are trying to do is give good Lutheranism to little ones!"

    (Shameless plug for the VBS: - http://higherthings.org/vbs)

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    1. So why not a similar skit on Sunday morning for the kids, say during Matins? If not, why not?

      I think continuity of reverence in the holy space of God's Church is important. I see your point in reaching kids where they are - but I hope you can see the point of our critique in saying that the chancel is not the place for this particular tactic. Setting is important - a skit in a classroom is great - a skit in the chancel interrupting a homily is, in my opinion, inappropriate.

      Overall, I think the HT VBS has many wonderful things to offer. I think if HT had stuck to their mantra of "when we worship we worship, when we play we play" it would have been universally good.

      +HRC

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    2. To liken "School" with "Worship" is more of a Reformed idea.
      Lutherans believe Worship and School are two different areas of ministry. Not the same thing.

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    3. Heath,

      I'd say that this would be like a skit in a Sunday School Opening.

      Watch the slippery slope fallacy. If we have an optional skit for children in a VBS program or a SS opening, then we will have a skit for children in Matins or the Divine Service? One doesn't follow the other. It's like because we have women Sunday School teachers, we'll have women pastors. Uh? Slippery Slope. I'm fasting from them this Lent.

      Have a beer. It's gonna be okay! We're talking about something that is marked OPTIONAL. So, please ignore the OPTIONAL skits.

      Thanks for your input and your concerns, Heath. I'm gonna leave this discussion and get back to writing a happy, smiling, Laetare sermon. (grin)

      BTW.. that link is http://higherthings.org/vbs/

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    4. Fair enough, Pastor Borghardt. Slippery slope arguments are slippery, in themselves, and ought to be approached with care and trepidation.

      However, the original concern was of a different sort altogether. I think we do all understand that the skit in question is offered as an option. The question would be, whether such an option in the chancel (in the sanctuary proper) is appropriate. Clearly there are some who would say and argue, "Yes." Pastor Curtis suggests that, "No," it isn't appropriate, but confusing and inconsistent and irreverent, in view of the sacred gifts that Christ freely gives in that place.

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    5. Regarding children, they do also have differences in personality, and my observation has been that children tend to embrace what they are led and taught to expect and desire. There is a time for play, for light-hearted fun, and even for godly "silliness." But children my experience has been that children, even young children, as well as young adults, also appreciate and gravitate toward, and benefit from, a reverent piety in the presence of God. This is not quite the same thing as "play," but it is another way in which they are learning deep truths experientially, with the participation of their bodies.

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    6. Dear George:

      The fact that it's optional is a red herring fallacy. The whole thing is optional. There are no "shall" rubrics in VBS. VBS itself is optional.

      Back to Heath's point, is it unreasonable to see a contradiction (or at least some lack of clarity) between play in the holy space of the chancel, (looking very much like liturgical worship, with homily, hymnody, liturgical dialogue, etc.) and the motto of HT about work, worship, and play?

      It just seems to send a mixed message. Other than the slapstick, I think it looks very good. I don't think there needs to be any hypersensitivity about Heath calling it like he sees it.

      It is what it is. Maybe some people go for the pie-in-the-face stuff near the altar, pulpit, and font. I'm just not going there no matter whose logo is on it. People are entitled to disagree (there seems to be this unspoken ecclesiastical version of Reagan's 11th Commandment that there can be no critique of fellow conservative liturgical Lutherans). I think we should have these discussions and keep them civilized.

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    7. Unfortunately, our congregation's VBS is for both children and adults.

      Maybe you need a Higher Things for adults.

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  6. It's Vacation Bible School and the skit is OPTIONAL. Let's loosen the lugnuts on the '54 Ford and take a deep breath before we spin into Bizarroland.

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    1. Right - we are discussing what the best option is, since it's optional. Most of the things we comment on concerning our worship are just such optional things.

      +HRC

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  7. The CCM songs are in day 2, once you actually order it you'll get all the good stuff worth blogging about. Order now before we block your IP: http://higherthings.org/vbs/ ;)

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  8. Interesting opinions and comments. Nothing ventured, nothing gained when it comes to making VBS more distinctively Lutheran. Use what you can; give us your constructive feedback.

    WM Cwirla

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  9. We've used the excellent Pax Domini VBS programs for five of the past six years, the other year using the VBS put out by LHF. This year, we're going to purchase and use the new VBS by Higher Things. We've never done skits inside the sanctuary, and we won't start doing that this year. Any skits we'll do will be out in the fellowship hall. We'll reach the kids in a way that the kids can be reached, but we'll also teach them about proper reverence for Holy Space, which is something that Higher Things has done exceedingly well through the years. I've been blessed to take several youth to HT conferences on five occasions, and I was very thankful that they had a proper reverence for Holy Space reinforced at those conferences. Awesome, that!

    Given that awesomeness, with Heath, I was a little confused and disappointed by the option for having a skit in the chancel area during worship when I saw it a few days back, as it seemed so un-HT-like (and so was my Board of Ed. chairperson, who was downright giddy about HT putting out a VBS program, but also a little taken aback by the skit option when she pointed it out to me). I'm not going to throw a fit about it or anything, and this is not going to deter us from purchasing and using the program, but I do hope that the good folks at HT will listen to some of us who are their biggest fans and re-think this if they produce future VBS programs. Let's keep the wonderful motto about keeping worship, worship; play, play; and work, work in tact, even at the VBS level. Children are never too young to learn this.

    But, Stan, if CCM songs show up in day 2, I'm coming to find you, dude! :)

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    1. Since you do come to conferences, if that happens on day 2, I'm yours for a beating. :)

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    2. Until a month ago, I would have been able to help you find him any time of year, not just during your conference times. But alas, the Lemons have been transplanted from Butler County, PA to Indiana.

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  10. The proper distinction of Worship, Teaching, and Fun remain, as always, a top priority with Higher Things.

    wmc

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  12. Help someone who hasn't seen the HT VBS stuff. Is the placement of the skit in the chancel required? Or could you do skits, say, in the parking lot.

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  13. I also don't think using CPH VBS needs to be CCM. Just keep it out of the chancel. Kids can sing silly songs and hymns in the fellowship hall and then learn by the default practice of the congregation that some of those are appropriate as the Body of Christ gathers together and some are not.

    I'm glad there are options for VBS like Pax Domini and HT. Had we known about HT earlier (CPH starts marketing in August with a big discount on next year's kit), we might have done that this year. As it is, we have the CPH kit, and we'll make it work in the context of a liturgical parish.

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  14. Heath,

    I wanted to post this before I hit the sack..

    The Media guys in Higher Things worked all last night to make sure that the skits were edited and placed in the appendix of the VBS. Version 1.1 of the VBS was posted last night for download. So, not only are the skits expressly OPTIONAL, there can be no confusion that they are not to be done in the sanctuary. Thanks for the help!

    Now, we've heard your concerns. We've acted on them. There's no reason for y'all not to ALL have these VBS materials.

    The link is http://higherthings.org/vbs/ !

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    1. Thank you, Pastor Borghardt. And thanks to your media guys.

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    2. An excellent solution! Thanks a million.

      +HRC

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  15. Since I am the one with whom the buck stops for our VBS material, I'll chime in.

    I'll admit that the chancel skits were "pushing the envelope" and probably going beyond liturgical propriety. However, the focus and content of the skits is (1) introducing questions about baptism that are answered briefly in the skit that will be answered in depth in the Catechism sections; (2) teaching kids to ask their pastor when they have such questions; and (3) highlighting portion of the liturgical furniture and space (font, cross, lectern, etc.) The content of the skits is sound, but I will agree not best done in the church sanctuary/nave/chancel. Do the skits! They are a great introduction to the lessons that would be great for a whole group introduction before they split up into smaller groups. They are fun and teach baptism! Just use a different room to do so.

    We have heard your concerns and recognize they are good concerns. I don't want anything to stand in the way of folks choosing to use the HT VBS, even if they only use portions or adapt the material. Again, the skits have been rearranged to be clearly optional and used as a daily introduction to the lessons outside of the sanctuary setting.

    Thanks everyone for their thoughtful comments and gentle reminders to be careful to keep clear the distinctions between the Three Ws: worship, work, and fun. :-)

    We appreciate your support of Higher Things and look forward to your feedback when you purchase and use HT's great VBS material to deliver the the gifts of Gospel and Baptism to the children entrusted to your care! We rejoice in the great freedom we have in Christ to be able to faithfully teach the Scripture and Catechism, liturgy and hymns, daring even our little ones to be Lutheran and having a blast while we do!

    The link again: http://higherthings.org/vbs
    Order today!

    In Christ,
    Pastor Mark Buetow
    Media Services Executive, Higher Things

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  16. I'm very impressed with the response HT gave to the friendly critique of our Gottesdienst eds. This kind of humility is rare and exemplary. And after all, the concern was, as noted above, never about the materials themselves, but only about the venue in which they were to be used. As to the content, it is of the kind of high caliber we have always expected of HT. It would appear that we are all on the same team.

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  17. I think the VBS looks good. The only thought my Christian Education Coordinator had when reviewing the samples was that some of the craft and lesson materials would only work (in her opinion) for a certain age group. But hey--for a first try at VBS, I think this is great. The more options the better (for VBS materials, that is).

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