Friday, June 21, 2019

Going to church

I started attending church around the age of 5. In the past 55 years I've attended a wide variety of churches. I'll just comment on the most significant or interesting examples. 

I've done hundreds of posts critiquing Roman Catholicism. However, I don't critique Catholicism entirely as an outsider observer. Although I'm not a cradle Catholic, after my evangelical conversion as a teenager I did look into Roman Catholicism. Initially, I attended Mass at Saint John Vianney, up the hill from where I lived. At the time, it rented the chapel of the defunct St. Thomas Seminary, adjacent to the defunct St. Edward Seminary. Both closed after the priesthood shortage in the 60s. It was located on a sprawling, scenic, parklike setting, with wooded trails leading down to the shores of Lake Washington. The chapel itself was elegant. However, the celebrant was a guitar-strumming hippie priest. 

I found the folk Mass so off-putting that after a few visits there I took the bus into Seattle and attended Mass at Blessed Sacrament, on the outskirts of the U. District. It had a tasteful, capacious sanctuary and decent music. In addition, the church was staffed by Dominicans, so the homilies were more intelligent. Mind you, that doesn't mean they were exegetically accurate. On one occasion the homilist talked about how wine is a living substance, and drew theological parallels. But that's completely off-base. In Scripture, sacrificial blood doesn't represent life but violent death. Shed blood.

I sometimes attended Mass downtown at St. James Cathedral. It had a large handsome sanctuary, although it was no match for European cathedrals. Music was fairly good. Sometimes had a dulcet cantor to lead the congregation in song. The homilist was Fr. Gallagher. He had a charming, avuncular demeanor. 

This was during the stormy tenure of Archbishop Hunthausen. Ironically, Donald Wuerl, who later rose through the ranks to become the disgraced Cardinal Archbishop of DC, was tasked by the Vatican to curb Hunthausen's progressive agenda. 

Of course, attending Mass isn't the only way to evaluate Catholicism. You need to study the theology and assess the arguments. At a later date I used to do research at the Seattle U. library up the hill, where, among other things, I read many volumes of Rahner's Theological Investigations. Rahner had an interesting technique of replacing traditional, but obsolete Catholic dogmas with modern substitutes. It was revealing to see Catholicism defended by throwing away the offending parts and reconstructing the remainder with newfangled parts. A backdoor admission that traditional Catholicism was indefensible.  

However, there are Catholic apologists who think you can't properly evaluate Catholicism as a detached observer. It's something you must experience, in community. Having sampled Catholicism, I was ultimately unpersuaded. For one thing, I was too Bible-centered to warm to it. 

In addition, I think Catholic piety, even among the faithful, is about professing or affirming Catholic doctrine, not from any sense of direct conviction, but from the sense that as a good Catholic, it's your duty to affirm these things. So there's that underlying disconnect. 

For several years I attended a black church down in the hood. The pastor was an extemporaneous preacher. In addition to that church, I befriended some black guys at a church up the street. We were about the same age.

It was an instructive experience, musically and socially. That's when I cultivated an interest in black Gospel music, which I still listen to, on occasion. 

I saw a lot of talent that wasn't properly fostered and focussed. I saw young kids in church who were on the way to becoming juvenile delinquents, because the adults were preoccupied with having an ecstatic worship experience. I saw one guy I got close to revert to drug addiction. 

The church I attended had a Filipino guy who became a policeman. Some of his friends disowned him because he crossed over to the enemy side!   

The same church had two sister who belonged to the Lummi tribe. Both of them natural vocalists. One of them told me a story about how a relative had been hexed. The indigenous witchcraft was still a force to be reckoned with. 

After that I attended a messianic congregation: Beth David. Saul Wallach was the pastor. As I recall, he was originally groomed for the Rabbinate before he converted to Christianity. Despite many years of Hebrew instruction, when he first went to Israel and ordered something in Hebrew, the cashier responded to him in English!

The worship service had sacred dance, to Eastern European melodies. Tasteful. Not something you see in the average Presbyterian church. 

However, the preaching had an emphasis on the modern state of Israel. The restoration of Israel. The ingathering and all that.  While that's natural for a messianic Jew, it's not something I can relate to personally. I support the state of Israel, but that's hardly central to my theological outlook. And I have no emotional attachment to the land. 

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