Thursday, February 4, 2010

Common Creed

Hang with me here, I'm going some place after the opening paragraphs of ecclesiology.

I've attended a house of worship all my life, so like other longstanding activities in which people engage, it's possible to take it for granted. Not long ago, however, I was singing along with the rest of the members of the congregation at my church in Chinatown, Philadelphia, when I was struck by the oddness of this particular activity. The subject of the song was not the issue. (If you are committed to a church and its worship, you can speculate fairly accurately. If church is foreign to your everyday vocabulary, it may all be rampant fanaticism anyway.) The sense of oddness arose from the activity itself. I was standing in my usual spot singing with my usual sincerity and gusto when I became conscious of the fact that 130 other people were singing exactly the sang words, with the same melody, with approximately the same zest. For the non-cognoscenti this would have to appear profoundly bizarre. Is there a comparable activity anywhere outside the Church?

I devoted some idle little gray cells to the task of figuring out how to describe this ritual. Let's see, we uniformly believed what we were singing. It served the purpose of helping us to unite collectively behind the beliefs represented. It was getting our minds and spirits ready for the succeeding elements of worship. I had it.

We were creeding.

Oxford English Dictionary defines a creed as "acceptable or professed system of religious belief; the faith of a community or an individual, esp. as expressed or capable of expression in a definite formula." By transference it means "a system of belief in general; a set of opinions on any subject, e.g. politics or science." There are commonly accepted creeds in the Church that enter the liturgy at various timess. Singing as creeding is different, though. No denominational body bestowed creedal honors to any given song we sang. But we were professing what we communally believed through each song we sang that morning. And there was certainly formula in the way we sang it. It's all very interesting from a theological perspective.

What struck me so odd about this as I looked at it with an outsider's eye, was the near total foreignness of this activity to the secular world. The closest activities I could conjure were the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. And even the latter is a bit of a stretch, because it professes no belief whatsoever, even if it does serve a communal purpose in a definite formula.

I happened to comment about these observations among some friends and received an amendment to my list--but one that will only have significance to those with a regional affinity. The words begin: Fly, Eagles, fly, on the road to victory!

As foreign as creeding is in secular society, it's even more so in the professional realm. Think about that for a moment.

You might argue that company slogans are creedal, but how many managers lead their team members in a regular, even irregular, recitation of the company slogan? I came across a newspaper article--of course I won't be able to give you any details, it always happens that way--that did provide a window into the Walmart experience. Apparently, managers Do lead their team members in recitations of company slogans. Fanaticism you may dysphemize it, but creeding produces solidarity, passion, identification.

For Technology for School Library Media Centers, a graduate course I teach in the Education Department of Arcadia University, I've been thinking about a slogan for us to use. The only award it might win is a Phlegmmy, and I haven't even yet worked up the gumption to promote it, but it goes like this: SLM-C (pronounce slam-c) and new technology, [clap, clap, pause] I can do that!

Yep, I'm feelin' it.