John Witvliet on Sincerity

Why do some people associate sincerity with raising hands or hand clapping, while others associate it with kneeling or pregnant silence?

Why do so many churches resist confessing sin or lamenting brokenness “because sincerity on these matters can’t be forced,” while singing demanding songs of extravagant praise without a similar concern? …

Why do so many of churches resist pre-written prayers unless they come in the form of song texts?

…Patient engagement with these cross-currents reveals all sorts of internal contradictions and implicit biases, as well as promising discoveries which strengthen our capacity for empathy. Ultimately, these discussions create space not simply to deconstruct constricting approaches to sincerity, but also to reconstruct a capacious alternative.

…I have discovered the value of six “corrective lenses” to common astigmatisms in our more-or-less free-church Protestant way of viewing the world, which I offer here as a work in progress, inviting further ecumenical discussion.

First, a lens of outside-in sincerity corrects the temptation to treat as normative an expressivist approach to liturgical experience, which posits that the concordance of internal experience and external actions happens “inside out” when we pray out of the overflow of what we already think or feel. Jesus’ command to “pray in this way” (Matt. 6:9) offers an alternative, inviting us to apprentice ourselves to a text, rhythm, or gesture originating from outside us. Indeed, to engage in public worship often involves having the boundaries of our small ego-centric selves enlarged by expressions and emotions we never would have imagined on our own.

Second, a lens of vicarious sincerity corrects for the individualistic assumption that all that counts is isolated personal experience. On any given day, my experience aligns with only a small portion of the vast range of human experience compressed into the Bible’s Psalms or a given historic liturgy. But this need not mean that engaging these sentiments is insincere for me. When I may not be able to sincerely sing or pray a given text, I can, nevertheless, ponder who else may be praying that text, and pray it on their behalf. In so doing, I begin to experience freedom from the bondage of the modern, solipsistic self. I taste the joy of ecclesial solidarity.

The complete essay, “The Mysteries of Liturgical Sincerity,” (Apr 26, 2018), is available on the blog Pray Tell — HERE