There is an old joke:
Q. What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?
A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.
I recently wrote about the negative view many people hold of the word and concept of “liturgy”.
In this current post, I want to make a comparison between “liturgy” and “grammar”.
Compare the negative joke above to the use of “Grammar Nazi” as a pejorative term for those concerned about grammar.
When comforting a Grammar Nazi, I always say, “There! Their! They’re!”
But pause for a moment to think about the heart of grammar. Grammar is concerned about communicating clearly.
1) I saw a man eating alligator.
2) I saw a man-eating alligator.
These two sentences are communicating VERY different things. Grammar helps us to be clear about our communications.
Sure, sometimes people obsess about grammar rules that don’t really make any difference to clarity. Joke away about that. But, as in my example above, taking care with grammar can often make a difference.
And so it is with liturgy. Firstly, just like grammar deals with the whole of our linguistic communications, so liturgy deals with the whole of a service of worship (not merely the bits we vow and sign to do).
Secondly – in grammar there are points that have an objective reality (e.g. nouns, verbs), and there are grammar points that are simply conventions, and doing things differently makes little difference to the communication. Similarly, in liturgy, there are some things we change at our peril, and some ways we do things that are simply conventions, and doing this differently makes little difference.
A native-speaker can generally communicate quite well without a lot of grammar rules in the forefront of his or her mind. Writing may need some practice and the help of someone who is trained in grammar.
Similarly, if you have been formed for years in good-quality worship, you may participate in the grammar of worship without much scholarly help. But if you are going to lead worship, it generally is beneficial if you do that with the assistance of someone who is trained in the grammar we call “liturgical studies”.
If you haven’t watched the following video, and if you want to reflect more on grammar as a model for worship, I encourage you to watch:
And what do you think?