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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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July 22, 2013

If You're Happy and You Know It

I was walking with my family in downtown Chicago yesterday morning, enjoying the sound of a distant street-corner saxophone player. We could make out the strains of Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" and the "Tequila" song from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Then, as we approached the corner where he was standing, he took up another familiar melody: "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands." Without missing a beat (literally), a dozen or so strangers at the intersection of West Jackson and South Franklin simultaneously clapped their hands: clap, clap.

It was a great example of the power of spontaneity and non-verbal communication. No instructions were offered; there was no planning, no preparation. There was no one even singing the words of the song. But suddenly we clapped together, right on cue — a little like being in an impromptu flash mob.

It was also a good reminder of the "folklore" that still manages to survive in our complex and technological culture. There are vestiges of a shared tradition — songs learned in childhood and never written down — even as we rely more and more on satellite radio and personalized digital music players.

And this little event had an effect on us. I don't know how many of us would have described our emotional state as "happy" a few seconds earlier — busy, hurried, distracted, maybe — but suddenly we were all laughing and smiling together about the moment we had just shared.

The words and gestures of the liturgy ought to work this way. A simple phrase, such as "The Lord be with you," is intended to evoke an immediate, almost instinctive response: not only the verbal rejoinder "And also with you," but a sense of community, a shared way of faith and life, and an entry into prayerful participation. A simple gesture, such as the lifting of open, outstretched hands in prayer, ought to direct our hearts to the worship of God, alert our minds to the presence of Christ, and connect our souls in the communion of the Spirit.

Of course, such words and gestures can become tired and empty, and lose their power. That's why it's so important to deploy them sparingly, in appropriate settings, and use them with sincerity. If the saxophone player marched around playing "If you're happy and you know it" all day long, it would quickly lose its charm.

For instance, I hate hearing people shout "The Lord be with you" in a noisy room, when what they really mean is "shut up, the meeting's about to start." Then, the next time we hear this phrase in worship, there will be a part of us that thinks we are being silenced, instead of invited into communion and communication with God. Tap a knife on a glass or shout, "hey, let's get started." Don't use a wrench as a hammer.

When taught and used with grace and care, however — and, most importantly, infused with the power of the Holy Spirit — the words and gestures of our shared tradition can be a vital resource for connecting us with God and one another in worship. They can be a powerful, shorthand way of saying, "God is with us, and we know it. Let us pray."

Tags: worship


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