The Liturgy of Iron Chef America

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows.  What can I say, it is hibernating season!  Time to add the layer of fat for winter =)

Needless to say, I’ve seen my fair share of episodes of Iron Chef America lately.  And as Alton Brown and Kevin Brauch and the Chairman lead us through the competition, I found myself saying their lines with them!

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There is something much different going on here than the formulaic structure of a sitcom or a drama with a problem that must be solved and the inevitable lightbulb moment about 35 minutes into the 42 minute arc.  No, what I realized is that Iron Chef actually has created a liturgy to lead viewers through the experience.

I think the connection really stood out to me this past week because we are talking about the liturgy in the Disciple Bible Study I am teaching.  The prior week, we discussed the giving of the law and the ten commandments… but then comes the instructions for worship, the setting of festival dates, the prescriptions for proper worship and proper attitudes.  As our lesson pointed out, God gave us the law, and then gave us the liturgy, the worship, the practice that would instill those values into our lives, the method to overcome who we are and to purify ourselves.

Instrumental to this process is the liturgy – the work of the people – the litany of words and actions that create the worshipful experience.

There are many churches these days who frown upon liturgy or deny they have one.  And yet, any time we create a structure for our worship, we have done so.  Even if it’s four songs and a message and some more songs, it is still a liturgy.

I think in many ways, the liturgy invites people to participate.  It provides the script for the activity.  It tells you what you are supposed to do when.  It creates insiders and outsiders.  When you know the words, when you know the actions, you are a part of what is happening.

So every Sunday, when we gather to worship and begin with a call to worship, we are inviting participation.  As we recite together the Lord’s Prayer, we are building community.  When we sing together the Doxology, you know who is in and who is out.  When we pass the peace, we invite others into that experience.  And a good church provides ways for those who are new to learn the liturgy so that they, too, may participate.

I think we get so wound up about whether or not folks will understand what is going on in worship.  We try to make everything really simple, dumb it down to the lowest common denominator. But in doing so, we forget that the liturgy is meant to be lived.  That it doesn’t become a part of your life the first try.  That you have to sit with it for a while, experience it, and in time, it becomes such a part of your life that you can’t exist without it.  As I have experienced at the bedside of folks with dementia – when all else fails, Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer is still there.

The first time I watched Iron Chef, it seemed a little cheesy, a little overdramatic.  However, just because I wasn’t a part of the in-crowd the first time didn’t mean that I couldn’t watch or learn. And learn I did.  I learned the liturgy.  I know what the Chairman is going to say. I know the rules that Kevin will present.  I remember how Alton will lead us into the verdict.   And now when I need a break, I turn on food network, and I can join in the experience and it feels like home.

Does our worship invoke the same feelings?  Does it invite us in with familiar words?  Does it instill in us a sense of rhythm and direction?  Does it ask us to participate?   It should.


  • B Smith

    November 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm Reply

    I think you really hit on something here. How many TV shows have a liturgical feel to them? I thought about doing my senior project at VDS about the liturgy of sports, specifically football. The announcers, the cheerleaders, the band, the specific rituals for specific teams, I think it would be a fascinating study, but it was a lot more work than I was prepared to do at the time.

  • Katie Z.

    November 15, 2010 at 9:45 am Reply

    I'm wondering if it is mostly competition shows. Game shows have the same feel, as do reality television shows (like Biggest Loser and Dancing with the Stars)… although not many in quite the pronounced way that ICA does. Maybe someday you'll take a sabbatical and have time to do that research!

  • Chaplain Elliott

    December 15, 2010 at 6:23 pm Reply

    In Iron Chef, the liturgy of the chairman lays claims upon the participants AND the viewers. It is a sleight of the hand in some sense, since viewers don't have to do anything but watch chefs fly around the kitchen/stadium, but we internalize the urgency of it all anyway. I think that in many Christian traditions, liturgy can and does function in this way… But some people have difficulty connecting with liturgy, and I wonder why that is. What doesn't it feel as alive in church as it does when it's a competitive television show?

  • Burgess410

    March 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm Reply

    I like the idea of Iron Chef being like a liturgical experience. It has a litany, music, creed, call to worship and even a postlude. It's cool when you marry Faith with TV.

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