This post was first published on June 28, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For starters, Alan Jacobs of Wheaton wrote a delightful piece on Harry Potter in 2000 and the piece was recently re-published by First Things. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a diehard-Potter fan. I discovered the books early into the series, I believe it was in between the publishing of Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. Since my adolescence, I have read the books with vigor, attended 4 midnight book releases, watched the movies with a mixture of joy and zealous criticism, listened to the books while I paint, and most recently I attended Harry Potter in Concert with the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center. I feel a bit like Paul at this point in giving my credentials—only slightly joking—but I do this to suggest that I am not some squib jumping on the HP bandwagon.

I was listening to the original NPR announcement of Harry Potter this morning—it can be found here—and something grabbed my attention. Margot Adler predicted that the word “muggle” would become a big thing in common language and then shared an audio clip from Rowling discussing it further. Within the HP series the term “muggle” simply means “non-magical person.” However, Rowling shared that she began receiving letters and emails from fans who began expanding the term for modern, non-literary usage. In this form the term came to mean something like “dull and unimaginative person.” And I cannot tell you why, but it was like a lightning bolt scared my brain (see what I did there) and it got me thinking:

What if there are liturgical muggles? What if the loss of the sacramental imagination is like the difference between magic and muggle (or at least squib)? I suppose the easiest place to begin is first with the sacramental imagination and its loss.

…Before I go on, please hear: I am not suggesting that the liturgy is an actual form of magic or that words spoken over bread and wine is a spell or an enchantment like Stupefyor Avada Kedavra. I am not looking to debate hocus pocus (hoc est enim corpus meum) or medieval superstitions. If you find yourself arguing with me on these points then you’ve missed my meaning entirely. The reader may continue…

We are heirs of the Enlightenment. Our collective sacramental imagination has shifted over the course of 2,000 years. The ways in which we interpret information, tell stories, share experiences, and view the world today as Christians in the democratic, capitalist West is different from the earliest centuries of the church in the East and in Rome, it is different from the medieval church, it is different from the overwhelming majority of church history. Why does this matter?

Because we no longer actively view the world as being full of God’s glory, imbued with his presence, overwhelmed by his love, rich with encounters of him, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ lyric, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God” makes no sense to us. Our imaginations, our sense of awe and wonder, our belief in the movement and action of the Holy Spirit is greatly diminished. There is a reason that Harry Potter, Lewis’ Narnia, the Force in Star Wars, and many similar stories capture our imaginations. It’s because it is so other than what we know and what we are used to. It’s not that these stories view magic positively but that they show a world teeming with possibilities, of a world where the supernatural is bumping against the natural regularly, where things aren’t always as they seem.And that brings me to the liturgy…

Our post-Enlightenment, Protestant worship has seen a minimalist approach to liturgy and a dwindling view of enchantment, wonder, awe, and terror before God. These have been replaced with rationalism, with Bible, with Sermon. In many Protestant, evangelical churches the sermon is the centerpiece. Rather than a dually climactic service where Word and Table play off of and interpret each other, these worship services are almost exclusively comprised of worship songs and a long, highly intellectual (though not always) sermon. The mind is what matters here, and how it affects the hands and the feet afterward, but the body is left relatively alone.

Enter the liturgical muggle.  Remember that I am using muggle as a “dull and unimaginative person.”

This is the subtle shift from sacramental worship to rational worship, from Word and Sacrament to more and more Word. I think, and I may be mistaken, that it is obvious how this shift would result in making liturgical muggles. But those in more historical, liturgical conditions aren’t entirely off the hook. This isn’t an us vs. them situation. It is entirely possible to be(come) a liturgical muggle within the liturgy because, for me, liturgical muggles are those who have lost the sacramental imagination.

Even amid liturgical worship, we have lost a sacramental consciousness, awareness, and imagination as the sacraments have less and less to do with reality and more to do with vague and ethereal signs and symbols. Baptism becomes more about the confession of faith (or covenant promise) than the reality of and individual being washed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, of being made a new person, of being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Or Eucharist is about nourishment for the spiritual journey, or a political act of the highest degree (don’t get me started), or a sign of socio-economic equality in the Kingdom of God and not about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood, joining the worship of the cosmos in the heavenly throne room. I could go on and on and on here, but suffice it today that for liturgical muggles water, oil, bread, and wine are always just that. There is no imagination, there is no magic (be careful here) per se. Worship is dull and unimaginative because it is focused exclusively on what our minds can handle and conceive rather than that God is doing in and among us, breaking into our midst regularly, sacramentally.

In my opinion, and I say this with all sincerity and humility, we need to guard against making more liturgical muggles and losing even more of the sacramental imagination. Our Christian worldview needs to shift, and shift pretty dramatically. A deeper, richer, more robust view of the Sacraments will help us avoid becoming liturgical muggles. At the end of the day, rationalist worship or rationalist Christianity is a separation of mind from body, of head and heart, of brain and soul. It may not appear that way, it certainly wasn’t intended that way, but it is it’s own form of escapism, of isolationism, of segregation. The reintegration of these elements, the reintroduction of Sacramental teaching and imagination will result in a holistic, fully-formed, fully informed, fully alive worship and a Christian spirituality that is committed to working within the world we inhabit rather than railing against it constantly.

This post was first published on June 24, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

There’s no good way of classifying those who are liturgical snobs by virtue of being low liturgy or low(er) church. I do not have in view those belonging to churches who lack a historical liturgy or connectivity. This is not an anti-liturgy, contra-liturgy, or alternative-liturgy list (that might be another blog post for another time). I know a significant number of people who are Low Liturgy and who deeply appreciate the liturgical tradition of the Church even if they hold said tradition in a less-than-high regard and draw different conclusions.

This list is predominantly based on my personal experience as an Anglican, although certain substitutes can be made (Calvin’s Institutes in place of the 39 Articles, etc.). Do not be fooled, friends, those who are low church and low liturgy are every bit as snobby as those from my list from yesterday. Their views are held with as much fervor and information as Liturgy Snobs.

Here it is: you might be a Low Liturgy Snob if…

  1. Use the 39 Articles as your guide for liturgical and sacramental theology.
  2. Believe the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to be the only prayer book. Extra points if you’ve uttered, “We don’t use an epiclesis because 1662 doesn’t.”
  3. Consciously—and perhaps even with pen in your prayer book—you replace the word “priest” with “presbyter.” Bonus points if your title is Sr. Pastor instead of Rector. Extra points if you avoid being called “Father” because no one can be called Father but God the Father.
  4. Translate High Church as Catholic and Anglo-Catholic as Anglo-Papalist.
  5. Differentiation between sacraments and sacramental rites is of the utmost importance to you.
  6. Who needs liturgy when you have the Solas?
  7. Think that 1552 was Cranmer’s first prayer book. A snobbier position would be in thinking that 1552 reflects his mature theology and is therefore more complete and authentic than 1549.
  8. Wear your preaching tabs or academic hood more often than your collar. Extra points for referring to your collar as a “dog collar” or “flea and tick collar.”
  9. Reject the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday believing it to be superstitious or works-based.
  10. You insist upon using a Table rather than an Altar for Communion (you definitely don’t call it Mass or even Holy Eucharist).

If you’ve made it to the end of this list and are guilty of the majority of these points, then you are likely a Low Liturgy Snob. You draw your positions on the sacraments, liturgy, and more from the documents and theological milieu of the 16th century Reformations. Low Liturgy Snobs are highly informed and well-read; their positions come from thoughtful study and reflection. Even as I write this list in jest, please be assured that I think you are a valuable part of the Anglican family. I may not agree with you on all points, but then again I don’t agree with anyone on every point.

Here’s the secret to differentiating between Liturgy and Low Liturgy Snobs:

Liturgy Snobs will likely believe that the law of praying shapes the law of belief. They may believe in a two-way street as well.

Low liturgy snobs will definitely believe that the law of belief (doctrine and theology) shapes the law of praying.

This post was first published on June 23, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

Here is a bit of levity for you on Friday. Snobbery can affect any category of people: food snobs, wine snobs, sports snobs, shoe snobs, book snobs, etc. etc. ad infinitum. One group of people not often mentioned but highly afflicted is that of the Liturgical Snob. Liturgical snobbery is not necessarily a bad thing. As you’ll see from my list, most points are actually good and well-informed. It becomes an issue, however, based on how you use your snobbery. Snobbery for snobbery’s sake is annoying and unhelpful. Also, lighten up and have some fun.

Disclaimer: I am a liturgical snob myself. This is fun and jest. I shouldn’t have to state this but there will be those who are too buttoned up and rigid to realize what I’m doing.

You might be a liturgical snob if…

  1. You own a copy of Ritual Notes. Extra points if you treat it as holy writ.
  2. Complain regularly about the use of “just” in prayers. (This type of complaint is grating on my nerves. You can expect a post about it soon.)
  3. Debate versus populum and ad orientem.
  4. Properly translate and interpret Prosper of Aquitaine. Hint: he didn’t say lex orandi, lex credendi.
  5. Have strong opinions about Hippolytus and Dom Gregory Dix.
  6. Sacrosanctum Concilium is a well-read part of your library.
  7. You have a thing for liturgical lace. Are well versed in the various forms of liturgical chanting (Gregorian, Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong, etc.)
  8. When asked to pick between incense and asperges your answer is, “Yes.”
  9. You treat the faculty of Notre Dame’s Liturgical Studies Department as celebrities or the Dream Team.
  10. You know the lineage and pedigree of your favorite Prayer Book and often refer to it as the Prayer Book.

Now, read through the list once more and if you are able to understand all 10 points and/or are guilty of the majority then you are officially a Liturgical Snob. Welcome to the club! Don’t take yourself too seriously, though. That’s where the problems set in. Go and enjoy yourself today: pray with a different liturgy, refrain from correcting someone on Facebook (you know you do it!), try using the word “just” in a prayer. Cheers!

This post was first published on April 20, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

First Sobriety Birthday

I have been engaged in a new liturgy recently. This liturgy has changed me profoundly.

I arrive a few minutes early to each gathering and sit in a room amongst like-minded people. We definitely do not look the same, each coming from different walks of life, but we are all committed to the same principles, traditions, and concepts.

The one presiding over the meeting will call the gathering to order, read some opening acclamations about the purpose of our time together, make some announcements, and then invite others to participate.

At this point someone new begins to speak. Normally this individual is going through something difficult or has a strong compulsion to share and ask for guidance or advice. There is no judgment here—on several occasions I have been the one who felt so compelled to speak and every time I found understanding and others who said, “Me too.”

Once the theme or trajectory of the meeting has been firmly established, those gathered also participate by offering up their own stories and experiences in order to help the one in need. After speaking, there is usually a chorus of, “Glad you’re here” or “keep coming back.” The welcoming atmosphere can be a bit overwhelming.

The meeting concludes with the Lord’s Prayer which binds us together and sends us out to continue practicing that which we know to be true. The meeting ordo is simple: Gathering—Reading—Exhortation—Prayer—Dismissal. It is not unlike the Anglican liturgy in which I have been participating for almost 30 years. Nor is it the same.

Every time I speak during the gathering, I begin with, Hi, my name is Porter Taylor and I’m an alcoholic.

For the last 14 months, I have been attending meetings regularly. On March 9, 2016, I admitted to my wife and family that I am an alcoholic, that I was and am powerless over alcohol, and that my life had become unmanageable. (Taken from 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Step 1.) That day, I began the life-long process of recovery from this disease.

As you can imagine, the process of recovery has not been easy. There have been difficult moments, days, and weeks – recovery is not for the faint of heart. But there has also been healing, joy, and triumph. The gift of rising strong. As the slogan says, the program works if you work it.

A lot of you might be thinking How can he be an alcoholic? If we are judging by the stereotype, you’re right. I rarely had more than two drinks, my children have never seen me even close to drunk, in 12 years my wife has only seen me drunk twice, I wasn’t in line at the liquor store when it opened, I never got the shakes, I wasn’t a “homeless bum” living under a bridge. I am a husband. I’m a father of three. I own a home, cars, and a business. I’m a PhD student. I’m a priest. From the outside looking in, I had it all together.But on the inside was 30 years of pain and emotions never dealt with. Inside was a hugely sensitive person who thought feeling wasn’t normal. So for 30 years I did what I thought was normal: I repressed everything. Angry? Go for a run. Scared? Make a joke. Sad? Pour myself into work. Worried? Play with the boys, go on a date with Rebecca. The key was: ignore. And then, eventually, the key became to drink.

For me, alcohol was always a means to an end—in fact, it was never really about the alcohol. It was about numbing pain, trying to forget, trying to bring suppressed feelings to the forefront of my mind; it was about “deserving” a drink because I was happy, tired from a long day, or needed to take the edge off. Or maybe I had accomplished something positive, or needed the “liquid courage” to be around people. In short, alcohol became whatever I wanted it to be and it morphed into something different each time. Alcohol could help me feel or not feel, whichever I deemed necessary at the time. And for a while, it worked.

But that’s the issue: It wasn’t about what I drank, or even how much, but why I drank. As Glennon says, I would send my representative into the public arena so I could remain hidden and safe in my cocoon, away from tempestuous and unpleasant emotions. And that’s part of the point: one does not have to wait for total devastation to hit before admitting struggle, addiction, or bondage.

And so I admitted that I am an alcoholic.

I don’t share any of this with you to brag or to promote myself or the Fellowship, but to share with my friends (and some strangers!) what has been going on in my life. I don’t want to send my representative out into the world anymore.

For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed with life, befuddled by the complexity of emotion(s), or uncontrollably resentful for things that have happened in the past; for those who seek to alter their attitudes, actions, or surroundings through alcohol or other chemicals; for those who feel as though there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to satisfy or quench or numb or help; for those who are dependent upon a substance but don’t know how to admit it; for those who are in positions of spiritual leadership and are too ashamed to admit their need…

For anyone like this, I want to say to you, “I know. Me too.”

There is another way of living. As someone told me in my first meeting, you never have to feel this way again if you don’t want to. If you are tired of sending your representative into life, tired of running, lying, or hiding, reach out. If you’re ready to embrace the hard, hopeful work of recovery, you can.

It is with extreme gratitude, humility, and joy that I can say to you: My name is Porter Taylor and I am an alcoholic.