Friday, April 13, 2012

So Where is the LIne?

This is an article about worship in traditions other than one’s own, but it begins with CPE.  Most clergy have benefitted from, or endured, at least one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) during their seminary years.  It’s a form of on site practical education, most often in a hospital, in pastoral counseling.  I don’t know what the curriculum is like these days.  When I took it, seminarians were introduced to so called “depth psychology” with enough tools for it’s use to become marginally helpful and possibly dangerous.  For my own part, I was grateful for an undergraduate education in psychology, graduate education in organization development, and a thorough grounding in pastoral care through the Stephen Minister program.  
But where does worship fit in?  For some reason I was reflecting this morning on the experience and meaning of worship, and remembering experiences in other traditions.  Like many others, I have had opportunities to observe worship in Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic settings, feeling comfortable about offering my own prayers without joining in the worship being observed.  At the same time, during my NYC years I wholeheartedly entered into worship with the congregation of Temple Emanu-El on many a Friday evening.  But there is a line that cannot be crossed, and I recalled such a time when I was taking CPE.
Ours was a very mixed group from different traditions and religions.  Seminarians took turns leading chapel services from their various traditions with the expectation that all would join in.  That worked out reasonably well until the day it was the turn of one whose religion seemed to center on nature as the physical embodiment of the idea of a god who may or may not exist in any other way.  A pantheist I guess, although it was never clear that her religion had enough of a theology to have a name.  The point is that, while I could reverently observe the worship service she led, I could not join in, and that was a problem because the liturgy she had prepared required participation from each person.  I found a reason to be excused for important work elsewhere.  It caused some hurt feelings.
Several of my fellow seminarians were quite upset at my rudeness, my unwillingness to show an adequate level of support for a fellow CPE student, and my narrow minded, stiff necked orthodoxy, a charge that more than a few friends would find ironically humorous.  After all, what harm would there be?  It raises an interesting question.
So here is the question.  Where do you find the line that cannot be crossed?  

4 comments:

Allan Bevere said...

CP:

This is an excellent question that I have pondered at times over the years with no clear answer. I have worshiped in synagogue services and felt comfortable there since Christianity and Judaism are closely connected. I would have no problem observing a service in a mosque or a Hindu temple, but participation would probably be difficult for me.

How we maintain the integrity of our own convictions and yet participate with others in what are common endeavors can be difficult at times to discern.

I don't know if you have read Miroslav Volf on the question of whether Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship the same God. I am not completely satisfied with his answer, but I commend him for venturing into such treacherous waters.

Country Parson said...

Allan, Thanks. I am reminded of visits to temples in Asia where guides encouraged us to make offerings to particular gods for good health, prosperity, etc. I found ways to decline, hopefully with some degree of intercultural tact.
CP

Gretchen said...

Great question. anything which I would consider worship of something other than God is over the line, including some of the more patriotic utterances of politicians with regards to this country. I mutter around here questions about what national observances are public worship services of false gods...

Reverend Ref + said...

Echoing the others, great question. I'm tempted to answer semi-seriously, "It's like the classic definition of porn -- I'll know it when I see it."

But that doesn't really get at the heart of the matter of being in a position to know and define your position on worship.

I don't know how the rest of your CPE worship "class" went; but in my CPE experience, we not only did the same thing, but we also reviewed the service afterward. The participants were able to express what went well and what went not-so-well. I'm wondering if you missed out on that particular opportunity.

That said, if I find myself in a worship experience, I need to define if I'm a participant or an observer. I'm certainly a participant in most mainline denominations. I have a feeling I would participate at a Jewish synagogue. I would be an observer in the Eastern religions. I've also been an observer in some Baptist congregations.

I guess my "line" would be that I can't participate in a non-Triune, overly exclusive worship service (with the Judaism caveat).