On this episode of the podcast I talk with Dr. David Taylor about his new book, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship. For those of us who tend to think about worship as primarily a matter of the mind or heart, it’s a reminder about the role our physical bodies play in worship. It’s an essential conversation, not least after the the upheavals and bodily deprivations of Covid. Among the topics we discuss:
- – Why worship is just as much a matter of the body as the head or the heart.
- – What it means to worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4)
- – The idea of “body knowledge” and how it shapes us over time
- – Surprises from church history about body postures in worship
- – How to navigate debates over “originalism” and “the regulative principle” in light of cultural difference in the way we use our bodies in worship.
- – Counsel for worship planners to engage the body in an authentic way
- – Why it seems like worship doesn’t always seem to work.
- – How technological shifts towards online services shape the way we think of our bodies in worship
More about David Taylor: https://www.wdavidotaylor.com/
Transcript (click to expand)
Note: This transcript is autogenerated and may contain grammatical errors.
(00:09) Justin Ariel Bailey: Welcome to the newest episode of theIn All Things podcast, where we host conversations with diverse voices about living creatively in God’s created world. I’m your host, Justin Ariel Bailey, and I teach at Dordt University, which is home to the Andreas Center, the sponsor of this podcast. On this episode of the podcast, I talk with Dr. David Taylor about his new book, A Body of Praise. Those of us who tend to think about worship as primarily a matter of the mind or a matter of the heart, it’s a reminder about the role our physical bodies play in worship, especially after the upheavals and bodily deprivations of COVID. It’s an essential conversation for us to have, and we thank you, asalways, for tuning in.
(01:02) Justin Ariel Bailey: Not long ago, I attended a worship service. As the service started, we were told to close our eyes and quiet our hearts. The aim of this was to clear a space free from external distraction—close your eyes—and mindful of internal diversions—quiet your heart. The contemplative moment was brief, as if undertaken primarily to signal a shift in posture, a hallowing of the time and space. The musicians began to sing, which let the rest of us know that we could open our eyes and see the projected lyrics on the screen and sing along. William Dyrness has argued that the practice of closing eyes in prayer can be directly connected to the inward turn of the Reformation. Even as believers were taught to reject external images, they were encouraged to a new kind of imaginative absorption in service of dramatic action in the world. In other words, we close our eyes so that when we reopen them, we will see this place as part of the divine drama that God is directing. But sometimes I worry if closing our eyes might also make us think that life with God is something that is mostly internal, ethereal, and private, rather than something that is interdependent, embodied, and public. If closing our eyes makes us forget our fellow worshippers or forget our embodied life in the world, then it is taking us in the wrong direction. To help us with this, on this episode of the podcast, we are talking with Dr. David Taylor. Dr. Taylor is a theologian, an Anglican priest, and a director of Initiatives in Art and Faith. Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, he has lectured widely on the arts, from Thailand to South Africa, and he is the author of a new book, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship. We hope that this conversation will be eye opening—drawing from Scripture, history, and other disciplines to remind us of just how much our physical bodies matter, both in worship as well as in our life in the world. Here’s my conversation with Dr. David Taylor.
(03:26) Justin Ariel Bailey: I’m joined now by our featured guest, Dr. David Taylor. Dr. Taylor is the author of a new book, A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship, published by Baker Academic. David, thanks for joining us on the In All Things podcast.
(03:41) David Taylor: Thank you for having me.
(03:42) Justin Ariel Bailey: So, this is a book, as the subtitle says, about the role of our physical bodies in worship. And that might not seem that intuitive for some of us who tend to think of worship as a matter of the heart. In fact, I was just in a service not long ago where I was told to close my eyes and quiet my heart as if the most important thing happening is happening within me. But you suggest that this inward focus might actually work against us noticing how much our physical bodies matter. Could you say more about this? Why do we need to take our bodies more seriously in worship?
(04:19) David Taylor: I think fundamentally it comes down to something that may sound very simple, but as you know, sometimes the simple, obvious things bear mentioning and maybe bear mentioning in fresh ways so that we can see it afresh. But I guess I would say that we should take our bodies seriously because fundamentally God takes them seriously in the very beginning. God takes them seriously in making us from the earth at the very end of all things, in resurrecting our bodies to new and unending life—God takes our body seriously. At the center of all things stands the Incarnate One who definitively and unequivocally confirms the goodness of our bodies. When you look at Israel’s worship book, the book that God himself authorizes and verifies and commends to his people, it’s a kinetically maximalist book. And the prophets remind us of the goodness of our bodies inasmuch as their vision of the end, the New Creation, the body always plays an important role. The mending of the body plays such an important role in their visions. And then all throughout the epistles you have this constant drumbeat sounding out the fact that it is actually through our bodies that the very gospel the kingdom of God gets worked out. There is no version of the gospel, there is no version of God’s kingdom that doesn’t manifest itself in visible, tangible, material ways. So, I think that’s probably like the biggest perspective. At another level, I would say our bodies matter because they’re not ours to do with as we please. We don’t get to think about it however we want to think about it. We don’t get to feel about them however we idiosyncratically or subjectively wish. Our bodies belong to Christ’s flesh. His flesh is our flesh by virtue of the Holy Spirit making us participants of his life. And so, as I say, kind of in introduction to the book, at the very least, we’re commanded to love God and worship God with our bodies. It’s not suggestive language, raise your hands, clap your hands, raise a shout. But there’s also a sense in which we need to for our life’s sake.
(06:52) Justin Ariel Bailey: And that’s what you mean when you say kinetically maximalist, it’s this full range of motion of movement in the book of Psalms. It’s interesting because not long ago we had Jen Rosner, who is a Jewish believer in Jesus on the podcast, and she also mentioned the way that Judaism is a fully embodied faith. So, if you think of the first two-thirds of the Bible, the way that faith is practiced in terms of festivals and foods, which by contrast, Christians in many streams, including perhaps the stream I’m in, tend to live in their heads, so to speak. In your book, you point to a lot of Christian teachers who interpret passages like John 4, God is Spirit, those who worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth as—this is a quote from John Piper—”A radical intensification of worship as an inward experience of the heart.” But you say that maybe we should understand passages like John 4 differently. So, I wonder if you could say more about what Jesus is teaching us about worship in this chapter and other places that might lead us to believe that worship is really about an experience of the heart and not as much an experience of the body.
(08:05) David Taylor: This is something I originally wrestled with in my book The Theater of God’s Glory, which is an exploration of John Calvin’s theology of the physical world. So, yay for John Calvin. Yeah, I love that guy. I ain’t Calvinist or Reformed, but a lot of admiration for him. So, I explore at length in that book. In this book, it mainly kind of a summary, but inasmuch as this text from John 4:23-24 has played this outsized role in how it is mainly Protestants in certain maybe sectors of Protestantism have thought about worship, I just felt like I couldn’t avoid it, like I had to reckon with it. So, I did a lot of reading in biblical scholarship to try to make sense of traditions of interpretation, and it ended up coming down to two approaches to the text. One tradition of interpretation would conclude that Jesus’s words to the Samaritan woman are pointing to these invisible, immaterial, essential qualities of God or the nature of God, as well as drawing attention to the interiority of her life. And another tradition of interpretation argues the exact opposite, which is to say that what we have here is actually something that remains consistent with John’s Gospel, which is that it is profoundly trinitarian. So, the language of spirit and truth is not actually describing an anthropological fact, that is, that I think right thoughts in my head, and I have sincere feelings in my heart. What scholars are arguing in this vein is actually reminding the Samaritan woman that the kind of worship that the Father seeks isn’t something that human beings can manufacture. It isn’t something that they work up. It isn’t something that ultimately resides in their capacities to think truth in their head and to feel the right feelings in their hearts. But it is located fundamentally in the work of the Spirit, which in John’s Gospel gets used euphemistically for language from above, which is to say, you can’t do it on your own. You have no metaphysical power to do this new thing that I am inviting you into. I, Jesus, being the truth. I actually find that reading of the text very convincing. And I think the thing that surprised me when I first started doing the research is how so much of the first tradition reads this text in, I mean, I could say, isogetical ways that I feel like it’s sort of projecting onto the text something that does not reside in the text, but more, I think, seriously or problematically, is that the interpretation of the text is rarely brought into conversation with the larger trajectories in John. And one of the things that you discover, I think, when you look at the patterns that recur in John is it is profoundly positive in its estimation of the material, of the physical world. Everything from John 1 and the Incarnation, John 2 in the Miracle of Cana, in the middle of John with the Miracle of the Feeding, and all the way to the end where you have scholars draw attention to kind of these echoes of Garden of Eden type language with Mary, with the breathing sort of this very fleshy, as it were, exchanged between Jesus and Thomas. And so, when you read John 4 in light of those larger patterns, it’s so difficult to escape this reading of the passage that would say it’s actually about how God is renewing all of the earth, and in Jesus that renewal takes place, and we’re invited to participate in it. The only other thing I’ll say about it is, at the end of the day, I actually think that this text, the John 4, is actually agnostic about the physical shape and content of worship. I actually think when you really tease it out, which I try to do in The Theater of God’s Glory, there’s really no prescription that is being offered about what we should or shouldn’t do with the physical sort of shape of worship. And that is to be something that you tease out beyond the gospel parameters. And I think you see that obviously in the early church trying to make sense of what that looks like.
(12:53) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, and that’s interesting because if we take an interpretation that is different than the first dream, then it leads us to believe that there is actually greater continuity between Jewish practices of worship that we see in the book of Psalms and the practices of worship that we find in the New Testament. It made me think, as you were talking about the heart and the head, just how often we tend to play off these against each other—head knowledge over against heart knowledge. But you also point out that there is body knowledge. What do you mean by this? And how does this play out in worship?
(13:27) David Taylor: Yeah, I’ll answer that question, but first let me answer a question that sometimes makes people worry about me, and that is that I don’t care about the head and the heart. Let me just say for the record, I have a profound interest in head knowledge. For crying out loud, I’m an academic. And I have a very high estimation of heart knowledge. And that’s something I had to grow into in my earlier adult years. But reckoning with how it is that God does such amazing, beautiful, powerful things out of the heart. But for this book, it’s body. So, body knowledge is like a big umbrella and then sort of like a subcategory. So, in sort of the big umbrella, body knowledge is like when there are weather changes, and you have a bum knee and you feel it, your knees feel sort of something is at play in the climate, in the weather. Well, that’s a form of like your body knows something. You don’t need a weather app to know that barometric pressures are rising or falling. We had a gardener when I was a kid in Guatemala. I grew up in Guatemala, and he was so in tune with the land, with creation, that he could smell the air and tell us whether a storm was coming later that day or the day after. He just had us. He could, he could, sense the atmosphere and tell us. I was an avid runner in my twenties, and I ran so much—put in the proverbial 10,000 hours—that eventually I could step outside and tell you what the temperature was within two degrees, because my body had acquired, my skin had acquired, sort of this capacity to tell, oh, it’s like 42 degrees or thereabouts. So, these are kind of like simple forms are like when you play piano, you put in the 10,000 hours—your fingers have a mind of their own. You don’t have to cognitively make a series of discrete decisions about where to put your fingers, your fingers and athletes, I think muscle memory that comes into play. I think the more interesting part of body knowledge that plays itself into human language, and Mark Johnson talks about this in his wonderful book on the body. He talks about how our language is so often rooted in our experiences of the physical world. So, when we say things like, “I’m feeling up today,” or, “I’m feeling down today,” it’s only intelligible because there’s a thing called gravity. And either we have a sense of lightness because gravity feels like it has a less sort of pull upon us, or gravity is pulling us down some sort of forceful way, and we feel heavy to the ground. Or when we say things like, “Oh, I grasp that idea, that phrase, that statement,” is only meaningful because we have first held physical objects in our physical hands, and so we have some kind of analog for what it means to grasp something when it comes to worship. And I mentioned this in the first chapter, and then basically the rest of the book, is trying to play this out for the reader. We may participate in corporate worship at some point. Maybe it’s singing songs, maybe it’s confession of sins. And we hold our hands open, palms open to the heavens. And this is a way to say with our bodies, “I remain open, and I remain receptive.” Now, my hope is that 10,000 hours later, this practice of holding our hands open will cultivate in us a disposition of open handedness to God in the rest of our lives. And I would say the same thing with kneeling or bowing or prostrate or holding hands, that some traditions do a lot of that over time. This would forge sort of these instincts in us, kind of these dispositions in the world which I write about later, these don’t come automatically. I mean, I was raised in a Catholic, predominantly Catholic country, and people went to Mass all the time, which was kinesthetically maximalist, but you still had Mafia that did mafioso kinds of things. So, it didn’t matter how much they went to Catholic Mass and did all this stuff with their bodies. It didn’t translate into ethically, virtuous conduct. But I think in principle, what we do with our bodies over time do register a way of being in the world. And hopefully the concepts worship can participate in the active formation of Christ likeness in us.
(18:18) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, that’s good. And I want to ask you more about that in a second, about why worship doesn’t seem like it’s working to form not just Catholics in Guatemala but us here in everyday life.
(18:32) David Taylor: Exactly.
(18:33) Justin Ariel Bailey: But before we get there, you mentioned a few different worship postures, kneeling and prostrate. And I learned a lot from reading this book, especially about the way that body posture in prayer and worship has changed throughout church history. For example, we tend to think of either sitting or kneeling to pray as the standard prayer posture. But you point out that standing to pray was the primary prayer posture for the early church, and I wonder if you could say more about why this was the case and if there are other things that might surprise us about the role of the body in worship throughout church history.
(19:06) David Taylor: Yeah, one of the interesting things that you learn or maybe relearn when you research how it is that, let’s say the first three centuries before Constantine, what was going on with sort of the physicality of worship there before Christianity and Christians themselves have legal status and then permission to flourish socially, economically, politically, artistically, and so on. And then the time periods after and medieval and so on and so forth, is everybody is reading the biblical text with theological presuppositions. Nobody really comes to the text neutrally, as I’m sure you tell your students all the time. So, I think it’s incredibly surprising to Protestants, not surprising to Eastern Orthodox because they still do this. But the first virtual 1000 years of church history, standing is the dominant posture when you come to corporate worship, which sounds like that sounds tiring on your legs and knees, right? Or waist or back.
(20:10) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, I don’t even want to stand up for a concert anymore. That’s my number one question. Can I sit down, or do I have to stand up the whole time?
(20:18) David Taylor: Right. Well, the funny thing is when you go to, maybe it’s not funny, but a curious thing is when you visit Eastern Orthodox churches they’re not only standing, there’s an ambulatory aspect to it. So, there’s like a walking around, and I think it’s like incredibly physically intelligent thing to do. Like a therapeutically physical therapy would say don’t just stand in a rigid, move your body around. And they’re doing that. Why is it that early century of the church stand? Well, they look at Scripture and they look at the Psalms and other sort of moments in the Gospels and the Epistles, and they look at Revelation and they say, well, what is like the most appropriate, the most fitting way to be before God in our bodies? Because there is no other way for us to be human except in our bodies. Right? And they say, well, objects that are fully reaching up to God and fully faced out to God. That seems like the proper disposition. And therefore, I guess standing sort of this sort of maximalist upright position that that even as God raised Jesus from the dead, so there’s this upward trajectory, and our faces are turned up toward God. Then standing seems to make the most sense. So, corresponds theologically—the liturgical posture corresponds theologically—to the Resurrection is the main sort of idea that comes into play. Kneeling would be the exception, but you would kneel for penitential reasons, confession of sin, Lent, and so on and so forth. And it’s only in the medieval age that kneeling comes into play and then becomes the dominant posture for Christians in worship. But it’s a cultural importation, an import good from feudal societies where you have the practice of somebody who is renting land, using land that belongs to the Lord. And the Lord says, yes, you can use this land and you can make a small profit off of it, but we need to sign the contract. It’s a John Hancock kind of moment, but they’re not signing a document. What happens is the individual puts his hands in that kind of typical prayer hands that we see on Catholic icons and stuff. And then the Lord puts his hands over the folded hands, and that’s kind of the physical signature to say, “I am pledging fealty.” So, then that gets imported into the liturgical space, and so kneeling and praying in that kind of posture becomes common. I think the other kind of fun things you discover is the kiss of peace. If you have spent any amount of time in Latin America, you know that greeting with a kiss, or the Mediterranean countries, greeting with a kiss is just like normal way that you greet each other. And that would be true in the many early centuries of the church that greeting with a kiss is a common way of expressing neighborliness peace, but you would only do it with members of the same social, economic class, or ethnic class, ethnic group. But now in this body that is bringing Jew and Greek, male and female, Greek and Barbarian, as the New Testament puts it, all are now being brought into this common space. And so, the kiss of peace was this radically subversive act of overturning hierarchies in the society of the time and somehow shaking hands. There’s nothing wrong with it. It just doesn’t have the same potency as that kiss of peace would have had. I mean, other things would be like, pews don’t make it into the church’s corporate practice in any normative way until the 13th century. And that’s just a boatload of centuries. Yeah. Before that’s, like, oh, pews are normal, organs are normal. Well, organs don’t make it until, like, the 10th century. And I think that’s hopefully the benefit of church history. You read it afresh, you encounter things afresh. Yeah.
(24:54) Justin Ariel Bailey: I always show that passage to my students, to greet one another with a holy kiss, to alert them to the cultural dynamics of interpretation. And when we say we take scripture literally, what does that mean in terms of our cultural practices? And it leads me to my next question. You write about a debate that happens among worship scholars about what is called originalism, in which the historic practice of the church directs our worship today. So, if we can find a worship practice in the early church that makes it normative for what we do. Or what we don’t do. Those of us in Reformed circles may be more familiar with what’s called the regulative principle of worship in which the practices we find explicitly stated in Scripture are the ones that are normative for what we do or don’t do in worship. And those debates have often struck me as a bit culturally naive, or they can be sneaking in cultural presuppositions or canonizing particular cultural expressions out of a good desire to be faithful to Scripture or to tradition. But can you help us with this? How do we allow Scripture and the great tradition of the church to direct our embodied worship while also remaining attentive to cultural diversity, to cultural difference in the ways that we live in our bodies and use our physical bodies to worship?
(26:09) David Taylor: So, you have the very famous and immensely helpful words of St. Paul that are meaningful only in context, in 1 Corinthians 14, where he says that worship ought to be orderly. So, the first question we have to ask ourselves is what does it mean in context, what was actually going on in the context of the Corinthian Church that required this admonitory word? And then there’s sort of the levels that kind of rise up from that of, well, what is it for something to be ordered? What is the opposite of order? Well, maybe disorder, but is there a thing called non-order which jazz musicians would say yes, but the text does not tell us, culturally speaking, what order ought to look like. So, you have sort of analogues that can come into play. What does an orderly basketball game look like? Well, it’s orderly on the terms of the game itself, that there are boundary lines and there are rules of play within those boundary lines. Rules of play? Well, there’s a lot of creativity and innovation that comes in. But that form of orderliness, or the kind of orderliness that would mark Lindy hop dancing or hip-hop dancing, there’s an order to it. There’s a logic to it, but it’s very dynamic. Right. Or a jazz ensemble is orderly on its own terms, which would be different from a performance of Bach Goldberg Variation or something like that. But what happens in the early centuries of the Church, and then eventually, when Christianity is legalized, is that Roman culture, and more specifically, elite Roman culture, begins to determine the rules of grammar for the proper idea of order, which is then marked by dignified, restrained, modest, economical type movement. Because that would be what would correspond to how they thought normal world should look like. In sharp contrast, however, to the earthy spirituality of Jewish worship and in sharp contrast also to the, again, kinetically, sort of maximalist spirituality of typically African worship. And so, you have had a lot of African theologians kind of come on pretty strong over the last 100 years and say, well, maybe since the 1960s in Vatican Two, when there’s an attempt to renew the church to say, “Hey, you have married, falsely married, gospel and culture. You have created an idolatry out of elite Roman society and then basically said all cultures in every part of history and the globe should actually do worship in this idea of order. But my order, like a well-ordered worship, also, could it also be kinetically fulsome?” Those are the kinds of things that you, I think, you know, discover when you read history carefully. And, and, again, maybe so much of history is a sequence of action and reaction. It’s like swinging from one thing to the other. And the renewals of the church may swing in one direction, and a renewal may swing in another direction. So, John Calvin is swinging away from what he felt were these sort of engorgements and excessive attributes of liturgy. There’s too much, right, and we are missing the basics. And so, he kind of swings in the direction of a modest, minimalist, economical type A simplicity, which would be kind of a word that would predominate and reform sort of reflection about worship. But then in the 19th century, even in Wesley’s time, you have maybe the renewal is going in another direction to say, but our hearts need to be strangely warmed, and our bodies need to be activated so they’re fully given over to God. And so, I think that’s what I try to do in that chapter on history is try to help the reader understand what I call the sort of the double edged sword of originalism. That is, if we can find it somewhere in history, then it’s good for us. If we can’t find it, it’s not good for us. Or the opposite, right? We don’t see these things in church history, therefore we ought not to do it. Well, the fact of the matter is you don’t find the use of musical instruments anywhere in worship in the New Testament. And at the very least, you don’t find it prescribed. And you find trumpets at the so-called rapture, and you find trumpets in the book of Revelation. But those are pretty dreadful trumpets. Those are, like, terrifying. Those aren’t like, aren’t a happy trumpet. But we have come to conclude that musical instruments ought to belong in corporate worship. This is where I think the Church of Christ people are more consistent and they’re like, no, it ain’t there. It’s not prescribed. It’s not prescribed. It’s just silent all the way through. So, nix the musical instruments, and this is where culture comes into play. Well, we can appeal to the Psalms for the musical instruments, but why do we not bring all the goodness of the Psalter into our practices, singing and dancing and shouting and reveling and all those kinds of things? So, I think that’s what I’m trying to do in that chapter. The last thing I’ll say is there’s this thing called the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, result of a three-year series of conversations in the Lutheran Church, global Lutheran Church. And so, in 1996, they gathered together and produced this document on worship and culture. That is how Lutheran churches should think about the relationship. And they came to the conclusion, which I think many of us have embraced as very sound and wise, that the Gospel and worship should always be contextual, cross-cultural, transcultural, and countercultural. And you see that the Gospel is always doing that all throughout the Gospels themselves in New Testament, Old Testament. And so, I think when it comes to worship, I think we want to hold in dynamic tension how it is that our worship can be culturally contextual. Like, that’s a good thing we want to preserve. It’s also transcultural that some things will transcend cultural context, some will be cross-cultural in the sense that we will be sharing cultural goods with one another. And then lastly, and this is something Lesslie Newbigin says in his book Pluralist. Foolishness to the Greeks is the name of the book. Yes. And he talks about how it is that the global church should always be holding mirrors up to each other in order for other members of Christ’s body to help us see how we may be confusing gospel and culture or making certain things normative in our culture that ought not to be normative, and places that we have created idolatries of our culture.
(33:17) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, that’s really helpful. And I wonder, you mentioned the call for worship to be orderly. I wonder what you would have to say to those who are in charge of ordering the worship for their congregation. What would you have to say to worship planners? This book is full of a rich diversity of practices, engaging the senses, considering the arrangement of chairs, how all of that shapes us. And I always worry in worship discussions if it might become a bit of a novelty or an appropriation of someone else’s tradition that feels cheap sometimes. And so, I wonder what counsel you might have for worship planners of how to order worship in a way that is intentional in doing all those things that you just said, engaging our bodies in worship.
(34:00) David Taylor: Yeah. At Fuller Seminary, as you know yourself, it’s multidenominational. And so, I am negotiating so many different traditions when I am teaching. And one of the things I eventually concluded, as I kept sort of experimenting with how it is that I can provide insight and wisdom for my students, is that I ended up sort of realizing that maybe the first step in these activities of renewal or refreshing our liturgies is to mine the riches of your own tradition by mining as M-I-N-E. Not minding, but mining and discovering maybe at different eras of the tradition’s history or different sectors of the global expression of your ecclesial tradition possibilities that you might retrieve or recover. So, for example, I was a pastor at a charismatic church, nondenominational free church tradition, and we were not good at silence. Silence was something was profoundly uncomfortable, or it was felt to be antithetical. Like real worship is we’re just all out wall of sound. And I, as an Anglican, was always trying to say, “But silence matters.” And they’re like, “Yeah, that’s because you’re Anglican.” And so, I had a student in my class who’s Vineyard, a Vineyard pastor, and he’s like, “I can’t just simply be in the business of imports and experts. I’m importing the Catholic. And I’m importing the Lutheran. I’m importing the Presbyterian and the Methodist. At some point, people are going to get crazy.” And so, I said, “That’s a completely reasonable response. So maybe the question is, are there places in the charismatic tradition, charismatic Pentecostal tradition that you are a part of as a Vineyard pastor that intersect with the possibility of silence?” And lo and behold, if you go far enough back in history, you discover that the Catholic mystics are themselves in many ways charismatics, charismatics of their time. They love adoring the face of the Lord, and their affections are full for God. And it’s very emotional and sensory in the way that charismatic, but they appreciate silence. So maybe you can discover that, and you’re retrieving it. And since it’s indigenous, and because it’s indigenous to the soil of your tradition, it has a fighting chance to flourish. So that would be one thing. I would say the other kind of the bigger goal is just to ask yourself in what ways might we deepen our fellowship with the Triune God in the fullness of our humanity? And that could involve micro changes or macro changes. Macro changes are going to be more difficult, but micro changes are like our congregation a few years ago, our pastor said, “Hey, you know what? I think it’d be really good for us to hold hands during the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. And I know it’s going to be weird. Some of you are uncomfortable with that. I get it. There’s mercy for all kinds of things. I think we need to kind of have the sense of, like, when we say this prayer that the Lord has taught us, to feel it in our hands.” And at first it was weird, and then after a while it became a culturally comfortable or culturally familiar kind of thing and that was really powerful for us. In the opposite direction, our congregation as Anglican, a lot of people would feel more uncomfortable raising their hands in worship spontaneously. But we do raise our hands at the beginning of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as something prescribed, like part of the liturgy is. We raise our hand, we lift them up to the Lord, our hands and our hearts. Right? So, trying to encourage our congregation to consider the possibility that we’re already raising our hands because we believe it is the right way to honor God, what if we gave ourselves permission to raise our hands out of the overflow of our heart’s desire to honor God? So those are the kinds of things maybe I would say is like discover possibilities within your tradition and then discover like micro and macro changes that still retain integrity to who you are as an individual congregation, who you are as a family of congregations, and as members of the larger body of Christ.
(38:50) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, great. Thank you for that. Let’s go back to that question of why worship doesn’t work. In recent years, as you know, there has been a move both in the academic and the popular literature towards the importance of habituated practice in Christian formation. A well-known version is Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgy series. His popular book, You Are What You Love, which concentrates on the ways that our desires are shaped by liturgies, by these bodily practices that we engage in. But sometimes this can sound a bit like worship determinism, that if we just get the practices right,if we just get the rituals right, over time, the 10,000 hours you mentioned, it will form us in patterns of faithfulness. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on this from your research on the role of the body in formation. Why does it seem like there are lots of us who have spent the 10,000 hours going through the motions without meaningful change? Why does it seem like our bodies believe one thing and do another? Why does it seem like worship doesn’t work?
(39:52) David Taylor: I think I try to unpack this question in my last chapter, and I know I try to make sense of it all throughout the book. Maybe I’ll say it this way. Fundamentally, God is in the business of holding all things together in Christ by the power of the Spirit. Now, I know that sounds like a big theology kind of thing to say, but if it is true that the business of the Holy Trinity is to reestablish shalom on earth as it is in heaven, then basically what that’s getting after is everything is related to everything. The integrity of everything is everything. It’s an all hands on deck affair. And the holistic wholeness of everything is everything. Everything, everywhere, all at once.
(40:45) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah. For those who are listening, we’re recording this right after the Oscars.
(40:50) David Taylor: Okay, what do I mean by that? If what we do when we gather once a week in corporate worship is bifurcated, disintegrated from what we do the rest of our lives, it will fail. If what we do at home is bifurcated from what we do when we gather at corporate worship, it will eventually break down. If what we do at church and at home is disintegrated or bifurcated from how we are in the public square, how we are at work and school and elsewhere, it will eventually break down. So, the question is, how can what we do in corporate worship be deeply integrated to what we do at home, what we do in the therapist office, what we do with our neighbors, what we do in the marketplace, and so on and so forth? So, I could be somebody who is profoundly committed to using my hands in both prescriptive and spontaneous ways that I am all about crossing myself. I will cross my sign myself, my cross, everywhere I go, all the time. And I feel like it’s very important for me in the musical worship to raise my hands, whether I feel like or not. If, however, I am not also asking God’s help and the help of others so that my hands are the loving hands of Jesus at home, then I am a fractured. I am fractured in my humanity. And so, my hands are never used in abusive ways, thank God. But I can withhold care with my hands, or if I have an argument with my wife, I can get into the habit of crossing my arms and holding myself at a distance from her. So, what I need is to trust that Jesus cares deeply about what I do with my hands and arms at home. And if I am broken in some way in the ways that I am in my bodies, then I need to ask my wife’s help. I need to ask my children’s help. I need to ask a therapist’s help. I need to ask friends to come alongside me and say, “Hey, you do realize, David, you have this habit.” And then I get good help there on the home front, relational front. But then with members of Christ’s body with whom I disagree, or they irritate me or frustrate me or disappoint me or they cause despair in me if I am not practicing the extension of the right hand of fellowship to them, then I am not fully integrated, I am not whole. And so, I think that is what happens. That’s why The Sopranos can be such an amazing TV series where you see a bunch of Catholics go to Mass, and you go to the confessional booth and say, “Father, forgive me if I’ve sinned,” and then go out and commit dastardly deeds of violence because they’re not integrated. And at the end of the day, to go back to my original statement, God is interested in the maximal comprehensive integration of all things in the one in whom all things hold together. So, the moment we hermetically seal off one facet of our lives from the other, it’s at that moment that the disintegrating forces of sin can sneak in through the back door or invisibly and fracture and warp our ways of being in the world.
(44:27) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah. And speaking of disintegration, and this will be the last question, but speaking of disintegration, the shadow that hangs over this book is the season that we’ve been living through for the last three years of COVID-19 of the pandemic. And it’s funny. I don’t know if funny is the right word, but every book written during this time had to reckon with the pandemic in some way. This is the way that this book changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this book in particular had to reckon with COVID-19, not least because of the way that it sent so many of us online for extended periods of time. And some have yet to return to in-person worship, others have never been able to fully participate in in person worship. And so, they’ve found the accommodations that almost every church developed to be a great blessing. And so now we’re trying to figure out, what do we do now? So how do you think we should reckon with the new possibilities and challenges of the digital age and the accessibility questions when it comes to embodied worship and the arguments that you make in this book?
(45:41) David Taylor: The argument I make in a previous book, Glimpses of the New Creation, is relevant, I think, here, because I really spent an entire book trying to make a case that every practice of worship, including every use of the arts, always opens up and closes down possibilities to form our humanity. So, no one practice of worship, no one practice of art does everything. I think that’s true also with digital technologies. I would say at bottom, with a little asterisk I would say, all digital technologies are neutral on their own. Once they are incorporated into the life of a congregation, then they acquire inertias, and those inertias can positively form us, and they can negatively form us or malform us or form us deficiently. So, it’s not so much that they’re malforming us, but we’re missing out on something. And it’s kind of like, I think it’s a little bit of attention. The New Testament is aware of what it means to be incorporated. Bodies and distributed bodies. Both are important to the life of the Church. But when we welcome in any form of digital technology, including the microphone, the microphone made it possible for church buildings to be built differently, because now you could achieve intimacy anywhere in the building. You didn’t have to have a dome over the pulpit that could sort of amplify sound out. So now, as a microphone, you can achieve all sorts of things. The introduction of electricity. You can now obviate the rhythms of creation, the rhythms of our bodies. I don’t know if you ever had lock-ins when you were a teenager. I love the lock-in, and it’s only really possible because of electricity, although I guess you could do it with camping. But I think the question is less so much, “Are there good digital technologies and are there bad technologies?” But instead, “How might digital technologies enable us to worship God with the fullness of our common and individual life?” And then “How might these individual technologies both open up and close down?” So, I think what we discovered was digital technologies put us in the same company as the elderly, in nursing homes, as the terminally sick and their caregivers, the shut-ins, homeless people with different kinds of disabilities, people Christians who may be in context of duress or persecution. Now, we felt our kinship with them. That is an amazing gift that the pandemic gave us. I guess we had eyes to see. I think we also discovered ways in which our worship could still be in some manner embodied. That is, even though we’re at home or in a hotel or at work, we still can activate our bodies together or by ourselves. And it still is bodily in one sense. And I try to make sense of this in that chapter on ethics. At the same time, I think it’s fair to ask, “Well, what losses are incurred with these digital technologies?” And again, it’s like maximalist use of digital technologies and modest or minimalist use. Each one demands different sort of exercises and discernment. But I think we all discovered that it’s practically impossible to sing the Doxology together through our computers. I’ve tried it when the Pandemic hit in the spring of 2020. My class went to all online, as it did with everybody. And one of the things I would do in my residential classes on theology is I would start by singing the Doxology together. So, I thought, come on, guys, we can try this. But with that blessed half second delay, oh, my gosh, it was so long. You can’t really lay hands on each other when you pray for each other. You can’t smell flowers or incense or anointing oil preachers. I mean, I remember preaching to a camera, and I cannot read your nonverbal communication. And that is 90% of the ways that we feel that we are together is by our nonverbals. So, there is a lot that is lost. But I guess what I’m hopeful. And I wrote a piece for Christianity Today in the first month of the Pandemic because I thought, man, maybe there are kind of some things that can help us negotiate this in lifegiving rather than just frustrating ways. But I hope that congregations at the end of these different periods of the Pandemic would not say, well, let’s get rid of all this stuff. But we would say, okay, we have welcomed in these digital technologies. Maybe some of them will keep because we discover that they are offering a way for our people to be more deeply knit together and more deeply knit to Christ himself, but also to be very sober minded and clear headed and discerning ways in which there are irreducible goods that result from being together. And I’ll end with sort of this example that I use with my students. I can play NBA basketball with friends through video games that are very amazing video games. And I could even use ocular—what is it—Headsets VR to approximate what it feels like. But there’s no substitute for having five or ten people on a basketball court using their bodies all in the same physical space. It’s like you cannot replicate that, not even in Ready Player One, that movie where everything is possible. But the conclusion of that novel and that movie is there are some goods that are essential to our humanity that are not replicatable in the digital VR augmented world. And I think those are things that we have to reckon with as like the tea loss of our worship together.
(52:30) Justin Ariel Bailey: Well, our guest has been Dr. David Taylor. The book is a Body of Praise, published by Baker Academic. David, thanks for joining us on the In All Things podcast.
(52:39) David Taylor: Thank you, sir.
(52:50) IAT Staff: Thanks for listening to the In All Things podcast from the Andreas Center at Dordt University. Original music is provided by The Ruralists, and thanks are in order to Ruth Clark, Channon Visscher, Vaughn Donahue, and the production team at the Andreas Center. You can find us online at inallthings.org or follow us on Twitter under the name @in_all_things. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are found. And if you find our content beneficial, please help us out by leaving a review and sharing with others. Thanks for tuning in.