Category Archives: Music

Come

Come, follow me into the realm of music.

Here is the gate

Which separates the earthly from the eternal.

It is not like stepping into a strange country

As once we did. We soon learn everything to know there

And nothing surprises us anymore. Here

Our wonderment will have no end, and yet

From the beginning we feel at home.

 

At first you hear nothing, because everything sounds.

But now as you being to distinguish between them. Listen.

Each star has its rhythm and each world its beat.

The heart of each separate living thing

Beats differently, according to its needs,

And all beats in harmony.

 

-Your inner ear grows sharper. Do you hear

the deep notes and the high notes?

They are immeasurable in space and infinite as to number.

Like ribbons, undreamt-of scales lead from one world to

Another,

Steadfastly and eternally moved.

 

Hugh Mac Diarmid, In Memoriam James Joyce

The meditations of my heart

I am currently in the process of writing a paper on “a theology of worship.” Note: a theology, not the. Thank goodness. At the same time, I have also been working on a lecture to be presented to our school faculty about the musical choices we make for our school chapel.  During this process, these words continued to come to my mind:

May the words of my mouth

And the meditations of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight

For you Oh Lord, are my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19: 15

My childhood pastor used to pray these words every Sunday before he began to preach.  I wonder how often we think on these words before we sing our praises to God in worship. 

When speaking of the sacrificial system described in the book of Leviticus, late Jewish Scholar Nahum Sarna wrote, ” If the prescribed norms are not adhered to, the sacrifice is said to be unacceptable, and the harmony in the relationship between the devotee and God that it is intended to promote remains disturbed.”  (On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, 95). We sing of a “sacrifice of praise.”  To me, there seems to be a disconnect between this idea of acceptable sacrifice and our poppy tunes – often shallow in both musical craft and theological message.  What are we sacrificing?  What are we offering? Mediocre entertainment? Pale copies of what the godless world has come up with?  I feel it is akin to offering our leftovers to a Holy God. Thanks be to God, the only necessary and final sacrifice has been paid through the blood of Christ.  Yet, in light of this (not in spite of this) should we not all the more carefully consider our praise?

What are the words of our mouth?

What are the meditations of our heart?

Could they in any way be acceptable?

Church s/hopping…

Yes I’m back!!! My apologies for my terribly too long leave of absence. My life in between posts has involved two moves across the country, starting a new job, having a husband start seminary and a variety of other natural and unnatural disasters. The most life changing one of these being that we are going to have a baby!!

In other news, along with moving to a new place comes the horrendous task of finding a new church body to be a part of. I thought shopping for blue jeans was painful, but shopping for churches is much worse. I think that is the most painful part about the entire thing…we are shopping

We have visited mainline denominational churches, non-mainline churches, big churches, small churches, liturgical and non-liturgical, close to home and far away. We still haven’t found a place to call our home church; and a big part of that is that not only are we shopping for a church, the church is shopping for us!! During the last few months my husband and I have been the targets of some of the worst marketing developed by mankind. Not only is the marketing poorly done, I am not even sure what some of these churches are “selling.”  Social programs? Free babysitting? An easy place for networking? (after attending one Sunday school class, a woman who I had just met that day wanted to give me her card in case any of my students were looking for a voice teacher… I knew nothing about this woman; she knew nothing about me… It was our second time at this specific church and only our first time at Sunday school. I thought we were here to worship. Could we possibly save the Christian networking until later?)

At one church building we were greeted at the door by people giving out flyers to a motor rally.

“Wait, where am I? What is the purpose of us all meeting here again?”

What has added to the stress of church shopping is that even though during the week days I am generally done church shopping, the church is still shopping for me. One of the funny little cultural quirks I have noticed about living in Texas is that a very normal introductory question from someone you just met is, ” so where y’all goin to church?” In New York people ask what denomination you affiliate with, which may or may not imply that you actually attend said church, but gives an opening to an interesting discussion about ideological differences without becoming too personal. In Minnesota people ask what your dad does for a living. (The church question is not very PC in Minnesota, and besides, if you don’t look Jewish or
Muslim, we will assume you are Catholic or Lutheran…or at least you
think you are. If you were mormon you would have told us already,
no need to ask.) In my beloved home state of Minnesota, it is more likely that you will meet a stranger and talk of everything from how much you hate your job, your family’s entire geneology, and how your dating life is going this week before the question of church comes up. That will have to wait until youhave known each other for at least six months or so.

I digress. Anyway, back here in the great state of Texas,  it is not so much the reoccurrence of the “where y’all goin to church?” question that is scary to me. It is what so often is coming next. Once I tell them that we don’t know where we are going to church yet, we will be invited (and I do honestly believe with the best intentions) to such and such church that has “really cool…” you fill in the blank. Either that or I will receive an invitation to some social event or another. I don’t have a problem with “events” and “coolness” persay. It’s just that that is not at all what I am looking for. Where is the Church? The Congregation of Saints? The meeting of God’s people together with His Holy presence to remember and celebrate His past and continued interventions into the world of men? Where are His people meeting to worship?

I am traveling through the world’s shopping mall of churches, each trying to sell me what it thinks I want…trying to meet my needs and be relevant to my life…the very concept of which is ironically entirely not what I need and is entirely irrelevant to my life.

Some things never change

“There exists a vast mass of love songs of the poets, written in a fashion entirely foreign to the profession and name of Christians.They are the songs of men ruled by passion, and a great number of musicians, corrupters of youth, make them the concern of their art and their industry; in proportion as they flourish through praise of their skill, so do they offend good and serious-minded men by the depraved taste of their work. I blush and grieve to think that once I was of their number. But while I cannot change the past, nor undo what is done, I have mended my ways. Therefore, I have labored on songs which have been written in praise of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
(c. 1525-1594)


Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

miserere nobis.

have mercy on us.

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,

Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,

dona nobis pacem.

grant us peace.

And He shall be called Emmanuel; God with Us

In honor of the Christmas celebratory events that are so soon to come upon us, I have decided to give this post an advent theme!  That, and I was inspired by the rendition of the hymn “O come o come Emmanuel,” we sang in Church on Sunday as they attempted to squish the 12th century carol into three chords and a march like rhythm driven by boom chucks on the trap set. This replete with three women singing into microphones and bopping around like they were singing “Here comes the sun doot do do do,” with egg shakers and an occasional brush of the wind chimes.  Between that and the rewritten gender-inclusive, non- militaristic lyrics, I was so distracted I had absolutely no idea what we were singing about.

For clarification, I have nothing inherently against trap sets, egg shakers or wind chimes, or even bopping women with microphones.  But seriously, stop for a minute and read these words.  What are we singing about? Who are we singing to?

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

As I was ranting in the car on the way home to my husband, he pointed out (and I believe he was right) that I can’t really hold the musicians at fault- they are not trained musically, and they are just doing with they have always done.  No song would be complete without an egg shaker. =)  But here’s the thing, whether the musicians were “at fault” or not – I still think what they were doing was inappropriate.  We were singing about the incarnation of Almighty God in human flesh come to earth to ransom His people from death and Hell.  How does boom chuck and egg shaker add to or uphold that message? Someone with a great amount of skill and musical intuition could probably make it work- but it wasn’t happening on Sunday.

I think one of the things I have been most struck with lately is that if the intention of our music is to express some truth about God and His work in the world, we must express it in a way that neither dilutes or distracts from that message.   When Christ was preaching He often said things that his “audience” did not find immediately understandable or even gratifying,  some of which we still struggle with today- “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Whoa.  Yet, He didn’t seem trouble Himself saying, “oh, you’re right, that’s way too complicated, let me simplify, let me make that more ‘culturally relevant’ or let me make that ‘less offensive’.” He spoke what was true.  As servants of Christ, the music we make should be appropriate to the message we wish to send, music that is true.  It should be true to the message of Christ.

Inspired by my husband’s message to his youth group later that night, the next morning I read the book of Matthew, one of the places where we find that beloved quotation from the book of Isaiah, “’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel (which means, God with us).”  If you keep reading through to the end of the book, Matthew concludes with Jesus saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Sometimes when you read only sections, this ending can seem kind of abrupt, but read as a whole- the book is meticulously crafted- ending where it began like perfect bookends.  God with us.  I feel like this might be an important concept, and probably not a real simplistic one. One that may not find itself well expressed with three chords, boom chucks or shoo-bop-sha-doobidoos.

Emmanuel, God is with us.  This is what Christmas is all about.  Almighty God has come to earth in human flesh to save us, to reconcile us to Himself, so that He may be with us even to the end of the age.  He wants you to know. He wants you to hear.  Don’t let the egg shakers distract you from the truth of the message.

What does that mean anyway?

So this Sunday as we were driving into church I happened to glance over at one of the church signs we passed.  Usually these signs contain what the sermon topic of the week is going to be or some ridiculous quote that makes me slightly queasy.  For example, one week this sign proudly pronounced: “Scooby dooby doo, God loves you.” Seriously, that’s what it said. Proceed with heavy groaning.

Anyway, this Sunday’s epithet was an advertisement for a service that would utilize Christian pop rock.  I don’t get it. What does that mean anyway?

First, a disclaimer- I personally enjoy listening to varieties of both popular and rock music.  I also like cotton candy, but I don’t eat it for breakfast, that would be neither appropriate nor healthy.

Okay, back to Christian pop rock.  It seems like this term is an oxymoron, or it should be.  First, the term pop: popular, was Christianity ever meant to be popular?  In our society, popular also means secular, what is accepted by society at large.  Popular music is born of a worldview that holds up the pillars of “instant gratification,” and “give the people what they want.” What do these things have to do with Christianity?  In my mind: nothing.  In fact, these ideals are downright anti- Christian.

Rock: the term in itself implies the heavy rhythmic force that drives this style of music.  In the days of the Patriarchs, pagan music was vehemently spoken against and mainly on these grounds: the music of pagan worship used extremely loud instrumentation, which rendered the words used superfluous, and the rhythms were meant to encourage frenzied and sexual dancing.  Sound familiar?

Another disclaimer: I was a drummer in high school; I love driving rhythms.  I also love to dance.  I am not saying Christian music should have no rhythmic interest or that Christians shouldn’t dance, but how should these gifts be implemented in the church?  The medium you use to get your message across becomes part of that message.  What is the message of Christian pop rock?  Is it one we wish to propagate in the sanctuary?

Pious doggerel

“One hundred and twenty-one years ago, Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney voiced concern over the fact that the popular gospel music of Dwight L. Moody’s cohort, Ira Sankey, was finding its way out of the revival tent and into the sanctuary of many a Reformed congregation.

The most that can be said of Mr. Sankey’s [songs] is that they do not appear to have introduced positive error as yet, and that they exhibit no worse traits than a marked inferiority of matter and style to the established hymnals of the leading churches. The most danger thus far apparent is that of habituating the taste of Christians to a very vapid species of pious doggerel, containing the most diluted possible traces of saving truth, in portions suitable to the most infantile faculties supplemented by a jingle of “vain repetitions.” ”

This is taken from an article on the Reformed Worship website- for the full article click on the link below.

Just any song won’t do

“Holy Holy Holy” or “Nice nice nice” ?

I have trouble praying sometimes . . .

Not that I have trouble coming up with things I think I should tell God, but sometimes I find myself again and again just coming to God with my little list of things I would like Him to do for me today.  In the words of my mother, “God probably laughs when I continue to bring Him all of my ideas about how His world ought to be run- but He lets me ask anyway, so I do.”  I know that requesting things of God is something allowed- even highly encouraged in several places in scripture. In fact, more of the Psalms found in the Bible spend their time petitioning God (or even vehemently complaining) than anything else.  But the Psalms do something I do fairly seldom- more than thanking God for what He has done, they praise Him for who He is.  Sometimes I need to use the words of others to help me to do this.  What words do I use to praise God for who He is?  I seem to run out- my heart can feel them, but my head and my mouth at times have a hard time articulating.  So, last week I decided to start by simply praying my way through a hymnal I have sitting on my bookshelf.  Sunday evening I opened up to the first page- and there was “Holy Holy Holy.”  Now, there are some words.

Lately I have been reading from a book by Frank Burch Brown called Good Taste, Bad Taste and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life.  In chapter eight, Brown quotes Edward Farely saying,

“To attend a typical Protestant Sunday morning worship service is to experience something odd, something like a charade . . . Lacking is a sense of the terrible mystery of God, which sets language atremble and silences facile chattiness . . . If the seraphim assumed this Sunday morning mood,  they would be addressing God not as ‘holy holy holy’ but as ‘nice nice nice.'”

Granted, I think this is a slight exaggeration, but only slight.  I have been in many churches where this seems to be the general feel- it comes across in the posture we take during our worship, and especially in the words we speak and sing.  We are not being trained to think of and speak of God as a Holy God we should prostrate ourselves before, but as a pretty nice guy who is willing to fix your problems so say thank you.

I have been mulling over this idea of the Hebrew verb “prostrate yourselves” and how it is often translated “worship” in our English Bibles.  It seems we have lost much of this sense in our musical worship as a Church today.  During my undergrad I often stumbled upon advertisements for churches that promoted themselves as having “really great worship.”  This generally implied a well-rehearsed band that played lively music in a dimly lit auditorium.  What any of this had to do with prostrating ourselves before the creator of the universe, I have no idea.

Here are the words to the hymn- many of you probably already know the tune (NICAEA) that generally accompanies it. The lyrics were written by Reginald Heber in 1826 paraphrasing texts describing the throne room of God found in Isaiah and Revelation.  Maybe you are at a loss for words as well when it comes to praising the God of the Universe- maybe words like these will help.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

“Holy holy holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Revelation 4:8