Guitar Mass

On Monday night Richie and I sat outside on our vintage lawn chairs — turquoise, circa 1955, to go with the new house– and watched the kiddos “water the plants” aka play with the hose. We talked about his experience growing up in a Catholic family in New Jersey and I learned things that I did not know about my husband of almost seven years.
Simple things– like what he remembers about the weekly services he attended with parents and siblings. ‘Guitar Mass,’ as it was called, was the more informal weekly service held in the cafeteria of the Catholic school adjacent to the sanctuary. Guitar Mass consisted of a priest upfront, an altar set up and broken down each Sunday, a group of guitar-playing musicians, and rows of folding chairs. On Richie’s favorite weeks everyone sang together of Mother Mary in the Beatles song ‘Let it Be.’ 
This was starting to sound familiar.
“Church in the Cliff is guitar Mass,” my manfriend explained to me. I had to stop and think about that one for a while. The comment actually helped me realize that I continue to carry some assumptions about “Catholics” that I should probably take out and revisit.
Growing up in a Methodist Church here locally, I did not hear a lot about the Catholic tradition. I had an elementary friend who was Catholic and an awkward visit to her church once where her mom told me I couldn’t take communion with them (She looked at me meaningfully as she kind of pushed me back on my bottom in the pew and said “Someday I hope you can…..” Not her best mama moment. But I digress.)
Mostly I only saw Catholic churches from the outside in. Riding by in the car I would notice that their crosses had Jesus still hanging there and I would wonder about that. I knew that we were all Christian, but I also internalized an unspoken message from family, friends, and fellow churchgoers: there is a difference between Protestants and Catholics, and they are other, and so one should be respectful but a little suspicious of their tradition and practices.
Now, I hope I’ve learned a few things since then. I’ve gone to conferences and heard smart, passionate young Catholics talk about Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and her radical hospitality and care for the poor. I have fallen in love with the teachings of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Thomas Merton, a religious thinker, social critic, Cistercian monk and powerful author provides the quote for our weekly program: “The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.”
Maybe the thick line of ‘otherness’ is not quite so impenetrable.
And yet when Richie said that Church in the Cliff was guitar Mass, some part within me resisted. We aren’t guitar Mass. We are progressive and creative and Mass is well, more formal and uptight, right? It was then that I saw it. My own mental map: the silos where I store information based on what I believe to be true. And somehow I had managed to carry through this idea from my childhood that there is a boundary between Catholic and Protestant traditions and my side is better, more open, and more flexible. Do any of you still carry one or more of these assumptions? 
But really, I think Richie’s analogy stands. Especially considering the timeframe he grew up in and the major upheavals occurring in the Catholic Church in the wake of Vatican II. (Pope John XXIII called the second Vatican Council in the early/mid 1960s to “open the windows of the church and let in some fresh air”-specifically with the goals of restoring unity among all Christians and starting a dialogue with the contemporary world.)
Vatican II changed everything and local parishes were engaged in the messy work of trying to figure out what it all meant: how to worship in English rather than Latin, how to make the formal liturgy more inclusive of the voices of the laity, how to change music and venue and whatever else it took to enliven the practice. In this way I think Church in the Cliff and our worship likely does share some attributes with the ‘Guitar Mass’ of Richie’s youth. We too strive for more inclusivity, intentionality with our language, and a healthy examination of theological assumptions.
Now I recognize that I am traveling across some deep and complex terrain in a few brief paragraphs. But I look to the individual stories of our members to ground our conversation this week. Indeed, by inviting folks who grew up Catholic and Lutheran to share in the same week we have an opportunity to honestly examining a historic divide between Protestants and Catholics. Let us come together to listen deeply to Kristin, Damon, Richie and others as they share their experiences and let us be open to the quickening voice of God as She cuts through our previous misconceptions and partial truths.
Church in the Cliff folks seem to enjoy meaty subject matter and a little controversy. So join us tonight and Sunday for what I expect will be good talks and good times.
Paul is making beans, rice and a big summer salad. Bring drinks, dessert and a little cash. 108 S. Rosemont, 6:30pm. See you there, newcomers and old friends alike! Call 214 233-4605 with questions.

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