What The Kavanaugh Hearings Can Remind Us About Worship

The past few days we have been listening to two stories. One story by Dr. Ford, one story by Judge Kavanaugh.

The question we are attempting to figure out is which story is true?

To me, this entire attempt at divining the truth has been a fascinating (albeit, grueling) spectacle. What I’ve noticed is that the representatives on each side of the political aisle have been jockeying for power.

Integrity Over Power

When Brett Kavanaugh emotionally insists that he has never done the things he is accused of, and then in the same breath essentially refuses to have an outside investigation conducted, I see a power move. If he were to invite the inquiry, he very well might clear his name of any wrongdoing. However, in the process, Judge Kavanaugh very well might be forfeiting the chance to get confirmed as Justice Kavanaugh. It seems that he is choosing the Supreme Court over his integrity.

That, to me, is the main problem I see. I would think that losing the chance to have the big time job is not as important as clearing one’s reputation of the accusation as a sexual assailant. Just spitballing here…

So this gets me thinking; how does one establish credibility as a person of integrity and reliability? They share their failures, not their strengths.

The person who courageously and honestly shares the myriad ways they have failed, stumbled, messed up, screwed-the-pooch, and otherwise missed the mark is far more likely to be seen as trustworthy than the person who espouses his or her greatness and success, with perhaps a quick reference to the general idea of their imperfection.

To say that “no one is perfect” does not make you an endearing human-being, it makes you a captain of the obvious, a Sherlock of the no-shit. To be specific (even just a little) about HOW you are not perfect is how you become human. Rigorous honesty is the lynchpin of respectability; vulnerability is the catalyst of humanization.

Ancient Popularity Contests

In ancient Greco-Roman society, a person who wanted to gain power and influence would throw an elaborate dinner party known as a convivium. This party typically followed a standard sequence of events, an ordered liturgy that was in some ways sacred.

First, the most important (rich, influential, famous) people would be seated closest to the host, while the less important would be seated further and further away. Sometimes these not-so-cool-kids would even be seated in the courtyard outside the house. Think grown-up table vs. kids table, except with power-drunk adults.

Next, the host would start the dinner by reciting a litany of all of his accomplishments. He sponsored this winning gladiator, he built this impressive civic center, he was captain of his football team and top of his high school class. The host of the party would go on and on about his good qualities, sometimes even invoking the gods, thereby establishing that even the creative powers of the universe think this dude is the shit. All of this recitation of the host’s personal story of triumph functioned to set the scene that he is a remarkable person, and aren’t you so fortunate to be invited to his party.

Of course, the host hoped that if he did a good enough job hosting this event, he would, in turn, be invited to the convivium of others. So there would be this reciprocity of party invitations. I show you how awesome I am and how fortunate you are to be here in my house, and then you return the favor. In this way, the social standing of the world is established. Who can tell the best story about themselves?

Christian Community Should Be Different

There is an intriguing section of writing in the Christian Bible. In the First letter of Paul to the Corinthian church, Paul describes to the community of faithful believers there how they should eat meals together. Essentially, what Paul says over the span of a few chapters (1 Corinthians 10-13, for those following along at home), is that the church community’s times together look just like a typical convivium. For Paul, that’s a big problem. The Christian community should look different. So Paul co-opts the liturgy of this standard dinner party and then subverts it.

“I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread…” (1 Cor. 11:23)

Paul establishes that the host of the Christian dinner party is not the physical owner of the house, but Jesus Christ himself. And whereas the host of a standard convivium would recount a litany of his most significant accomplishments, Christ the host recounts the night he was betrayed by his friends and crucified by the masses.

Christian Liturgy as Shared Failure

The Christian liturgy is not a pep rally; it is a requiem. The Christian liturgy is not an opportunity to tell stories of victory and conquest, but a space for stories of failure, betrayal, and pain. The power of the Christian community’s liturgy is that it humanizes everyone, even God. There is no social hierarchy in this community of faith, only a rag-tag bunch of humans who all have experienced the shadow of death whether we care to acknowledge it or not.

I wonder what it might look like for our Western Church’s liturgy to fully embrace this subversive litany of Christ’s broken body and spilled blood. Perhaps it means welcoming vulnerable stories of loss and pain as a central component of our common practice. Perhaps it means more creative efforts to see the table of Christ as the place of reconciliation of oppressor and the oppressed, abused and abuser. Maybe it means more public and less hierarchical leadership within the liturgy (after all, Christ is the host of all of us, not any particular pastors or staff persons).

Our liturgy is our place of collective failure. May we embrace it as such, and in that way discover life.