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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Worship As Meaning

I don’t have time to give a chapter-by-chapter survey of Worship as Meaning; I’ll try tp patch together some reading notes and queries based on passages I’ve flagged with Post-It notes. My notes don’t identify the best, most important passages, but the ones that trigger digressions in my thinking. The book is denser, and richer, even than I remembered.

Pp. 102-103: Hughes narrates an incident in which he, presiding at Communion, raised the bread and cup in order physically to express the words, “we praise you and we bless you [for these gifts],” but an observer thought that he was demonstrating reverence for the material signs of God’s presence in the elements. Hughes pays special attention to this incident as evidence that the expression always bears with it the possibility of miscarriage. In the seminar, we’ve talked about futile efforts toward “securing meaning,” and here Hughes works through some of the tangles that misplaced emphasis engenders.

P. 108: Hughes discusses the “joke” as a clue toward meaning, a great topic (I wrote a paper comparing parables with jokes in my own seminary years). On my Post-It I’ve written, “The problem isn’t with ‘entertainment’ per se, but with people trying to make liturgy ‘entertaining’ on Hollywood/Broadway terms. Liturgy should be entertaining!”

Pp. 115-16: Hughes narrates three moments of liturgical performance, and teases out various ways in which the “meaning” of the liturgy involved the material, enacted components of the liturgy (the setting, the attitude of the pray-er, the social interaction involved). Hughes notes that these elusive (arguably “subjective,” though his whole book sets out a way of thinking abgout the contingency of these matters that is not reducible to “subjectivity”).

Pp. 125 and surrounding: In these pages, Hughes articulates the extent to which the linguistic model for meaning itself thwarts our efforts to arrive at the soundest possible account of liturgical meaning. On 126, he notes the semiotic power of silence — but silence, in the nature of the case, can’t have a “meaning” (where would you look it up? Not under “s“, smarty-pants!). In this context, Hughes touches on the problem that people without a developed sense for meaning can’t tell when they’re missing the point — related to the research the full report of which I can no longer find online, summary here, that indicates that incompetent people over-estimate their own ability, and can’t recognize incompetence (their own or others’). (Found a PDF of the article.)

(There are many other Post-Its idnentifying provocative aspects of Pierce’s semiotics, the usefulness of the triad “iconicity, indexicality, and symbolism,” and so on. I may flesh this out later.)

Pp. 222ff. Hughes’ typology of liturgical thinking: “church theology,” “evangelical (biblically-centered),” and “mainline Protestant” — how satisfactory is it? On the “no typology without ideology” premise, where does the ideology inflect Hughes’ characterization?


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