Tag Archives: church tradition

Why Do We Sing?

worship3I recently asked social media for inspiration because I needed side project to sink my teeth into for a while. In response I received the following question from one of my students,

On the subject of Hymns: What’s your opinion on the modern day version of “church music”. Which is to say, do you think that the music has become more representative of the modern church and, if so, is that something that should be avoided?

Great question and timely.  I’ve been thinking and talking about worship with some of my close friends lately and wrestling through my thoughts on the subject and what I want to role model to the young adults I lead as a person who believes that worship is very important.

I’ve experienced worship in many different settings; from the extremely conservative to the rock concert variety to the ancient traditions to the super emotional… I could go on…

If I’m being honest, I have to say that I have a lot of frustration with the idea of boiling worship down and making it all about music and singing. That’s not to say that I don’t like music, music is a very important part of my life, it’s essential to my personal creative process when it comes to writing, and God has often used music, with lyric and without, to speak to me in ways that have pulled me out of very dark places. Music is powerful, it’s a language of its own and it’s something that, I believe, is linked to the soul of humanity and the essence of being made in God’s image.

That being said, I strongly believe that worship is something we do with our lives and not just about the songs we sing on Sunday morning and how we sing them.  And I know that’s not exactly addressing the question being asked here, but stay with me, I’m going somewhere.

The biggest complaint I hear from young people about current praise and worship music is that it’s self-indulgent and too emotional, and I get it. I do. And I have been right there with them at different points in my life thinking, “I’m singing ‘it’s all about you Jesus’ but it sure feels like it’s all about me and what I’m getting out of this whole thing.”

The truth is, at least in my opinion, even when you look back at old hymns, and I love old hymns, if you consolidate them into everything that encompasses worship, then they don’t really come out looking much less indulgent than the stuff we have today. So there’s this thing that happens in Christian music where we work out what we’re going through in these songs and it is emotional. I found it really hard to relate to until several years ago while I was living in Dallas and going through what were some of the most desperately sad times in my life. I’d lost my mom, my job was falling apart, and I was facing people saying horrible things about me in a way I had never experienced before in my life. And in that pit of a place that my life was then I started reading through the Psalms and where I used to think David was the whiniest guy in the bible suddenly he was reading my mind. And at that time in my life those songs that had seemed indulgent and over-emotional to me before were suddenly my prayers, they gave me words when I didn’t have them and God spoke back to me through them.

So after that I couldn’t see those songs as not having a place and I couldn’t honestly say at that point if I was worshiping God so much as having a conversation with him through song.

In the midst of that time I also was introduced to ideas about worship being a way of life, worship being something we do with our time and our attention and our obedience, worship being about our lives.

So maybe this doesn’t answer the original question at all, maybe it does, but I don’t think, if worship is only going to be about music, that we can get it right. There wont be a type of song, or a way of singing that will be holy or reverent enough.

Yes, there will always be crappy Christian music. And it’s just crappy because it’s poorly written or maybe it’s intention is to force you to cry. That happens and I support people avoiding crappy music as much as possible.

What I know is this, personally I can’t tell you what kind of song God prefers coming out of your mouth more… traditional, mainstream, chanting, or anything else you can think of.  For me whatever the words or style, worship has a lot more to do with why we’re singing and what we’re doing with our lives to honor God, than it has to do with the style of our songs.

I hope that in some way answers the question. =)

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Food for Thought.

Food-for-thoughtYesterday I came across a blog post on Twitter  called The Crisis of Relationship with God by a man named Brent Bailey. I don’t know a whole lot about Brent just yet, but I really appreciated some of the insights I found in that blog post and wanted to share some important things I think it highlighted, here. I definitely encourage you to go and read the whole post for yourself though.

For me this blog post identifies some issues that I think are very much worth paying attention to and some that I, personally, don’t see come up very often. I’m going to use a couple quotes from the post and then respond to them with my thoughts–

It’s a bizarre time to be a gay Christian if you’re connected at all to conservative circles. Only recently has a gay-affirming sexual ethic gathered momentum on a broad level, and gay Christians who once received a conclusive answer from other Christians about homosexuality now encounter ambivalence when they seek to determine God’s will for their lives. That ambivalence can be soothing when it provides much-needed space to ask questions and give words to emotions that have long felt unutterable, but that ambivalence can become maddening when it sends gay people on a seemingly endless journey to determine what they believe and whether they’re prepared to handle the consequences of those convictions.

The key word for me that flew off the screen was ambivalence. I feel like I’ve been sensing this emotion permeating mainstream Protestant church culture for a while, but somehow never put my finger on it until I read it in that paragraph. I’m going to do a whole lot of leveling the playing field here because, while I understand Brent’s point is to speak directly to how these issues are effecting gay Christians, my purpose is to find common ground. And not only that, but to see Christians come to place of unity, where we recognize the issues facing The Body and support one another, not as gay Christians and straight Christians, or liberal Christians and conservative Christians, but simply as brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of the biggest problems I see in mainstream churches today is that there’s no real discipleship going on. I see it most commonly in “seekers” or “new Christians” and I can most definitely see it being a frustration for gay Christians as well. So many churches have adopted a habit of openness, which in theory seems good, grace-filled, and loving, but doesn’t actually give much direction. Once you cross the threshold of being out of relationship with God to being in relationship with Him, often people find themselves wondering, Now, what does being in relationship with God look like in my life? And, unfortunately, in a lot of mainstream churches you’ll be hard-pressed to get a real or consistent answer from anyone. We are very concerned that people know that God will meet them where they are, and that’s good, but the trouble is that instead of exemplifying that truth in the way we relate to the people around us while being committed ourselves to loving God back through obedience to Him in our own lives, we’ve kind of turned that on its head.

I know that it’s not something that’s limited only to my generation, but it’s something I see my generation in particular becoming more and more fed up with– Since love has become deluded down to a general sense of positive feelings towards God and other people, we don’t understand how love and relationship means self-sacrifice and what that looks like realistically in our lives. This should be where discipleship steps in, where we learn, through faith and church tradition, what to actualize relating to God and to others looks like day-to-day, but in mainstream Protestant church culture ‘tradition’ has come to be viewed as a dirty, oppressive word. Which leads to the next quote…

[Side note: A friend and I recently noticed how gay people involved in more established, historical traditions that emphasize submission to church authority, like Catholics, rarely seem to face this same uncertainty about what they ought to believe—not because they’re unthinking or uncritical, but because they’re confident in church teachings and trust the church will support them in their obedience. Those Christian circles with more diversity of belief seem more apt to engender the anxiety I’m describing.]

The emphasis there is mine because from my perspective this is really important observation. This makes me want to sit back, take a deep breath and just think for a while. It’s sobering to me on a lot of different levels. I don’t question that the intent of how we’ve tried to be open in churches has been bad, but that we’ve gone about it in much the wrong way, and as a result people are struggling inside the church with trying to relate to God. I am absolutely FOR people knowing that they don’t have to clean themselves up to know God and I am absolutely FOR churches discipling  people as they learn to relate to God and I believe with all of my heart that church tradition plays a major role in that.

Trust me when I say I know how old-fashioned this could make me look, and I know I run the risk of causing people to believe that I am too conservative or legalistic in some way or another, but if you know me at all, you have to know that is not true. I believe that these ancient faith traditions are bold, that they teach us to reach for something beyond ourselves in a culture that is constantly encouraging us to only look inside ourselves. I need that and clearly so do other Christians.

There’s a LOT more in this post that I can dig into, honestly, it has the wheels in my brain turning so fast I can hardly keep up, so I may revisit it in a second post of my own. Again, I want to emphasize that I feel really passionately about losing the labels we have for one another, and not to water down Brent’s experience as a gay Christian, for which I am really grateful that he took the time to share. I know that the mainstream church has only just begun to wrap their heads around the idea of gay Christians and that it’s still met with a lot of vehement opposition, but I almost feel as though we needed the label just long enough to undo it. That what we should be striving to see is that none of us should be a Christian with a subtitle, but that we are all Followers of Christ who sin and struggle with the common goal of relating to God and understanding how we are loved by Him.

I welcome your comments… unless they are to tell me that I’ve become and old woman, to which my response will be to throw my cane at you. ;>

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