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

Whatever is true… whatever is lovely

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

The Medievals, or rather- the premoderns, thought of beauty, goodness and truth to be inescapably tied to each other.  By definition, if something was beautiful, it must necessarily be also true and good.  If something is to be called good, it must be both beautiful and true, and lastly, if something is true, it is therefore both good and beautiful.  Today, however, we say, “Well, the truth can be ugly,” as well as holding both beauty and goodness to be subjective properties- subject to how each person “feels” about it.  Yet centuries of Saints (that is, our brothers and sisters in Christ) counter this thought.  They hold that our human vision of what is beautiful and what is ugly is distorted due to our inability to see as God sees.

In his treatise on Music, De Musica, Augustine says this,

“ God made sinful man ugly; but it was not an ugly act to make him so.  Man became ugly by his own wish.  He lost the whole, which, in obedience to God’s laws, he once possessed, and was given his place in part of it, since he was unwilling to practice the law, and therefore is governed by the law instead.  Lawful acts are just, and just acts are not essentially ugly. (That is, it was just of God to curse sinful man- to make him ugly.  Yet justice is true and good, and therefore beautiful- though to our human eyes it is ugly.)  Even in our bad deeds there are good works of God.  Man, as man, is good.  Adultery is bad.  But from adultery, a bad act of man, is born a man, a good act of God.”

The reformer Martin Luther speaks of the “hidden” acts of God.  The most hideous and beautiful act in all of human history are one- the crucifixion of Christ, God in human flesh.  Humanity, in the pinnacle of depravity, took the creator of the cosmos and killed Him.  In this same moment, God, the definer and essence of all that is good, beautiful and true- became Man, and gave Himself up to be killed in order that His fallen creation could be reconciled to Him.  Here is the epitome of beauty hidden within the epitome of ugliness.

What does this have to do with music or worship (the supposed topic of this blog)?  Everything.  We think of music as something completely sensuous- that is something that appeals to our senses.  We get to decide what is beautiful and what is ugly based on our personal opinion.  But what if we do not perceive reality correctly?  What if we don’t truly know what makes something ugly or beautiful?  Are beauty, truth and goodness subjective or objective? How can we worship in spirit and in truth if we do not know what truth is?

Crossover

There is this group I love to listen to called the East Village Opera Company. Basically they are a rock group who take pieces originally from opera scores and arrange them in more ‘modern’ settings. It’s a lot of fun. The most ironic thing about my liking it is probably the fact that I don’t care for opera much as a genre, nor do I listen to large amounts of rock, but the fusion of the two somehow hits me as fantastic. I stumbled across one of their albums my freshman year of college and heard Léo Delibes’ Flower Duet for the first time. I understand, for all you opera fanatics out there, that A) the fact I had never heard the flower duet until college and B) that I actually enjoyed listening to it sung in straight tone accompanied by drums and electric guitar, will be more than mildly disturbing to you. Oh well. Regardless, I ended up falling in love with the piece and ending up singing the original version as a duet with my voice teacher for my senior recital.

This idea of a crossover artist (musicians who combine different musical genres and traditions) has been gaining more and more popularity in the last few decades. Much of it has been put forth by the art-music community reaching out to the popular music community (if I may oversimplify). It could be seen as a form of musical evangelism if you will. From Josh Groban to the Three Tenors, this kind of music is popping up all over the place. It is fun, and a lot of it I find fresh- a new way to listen to things. The problem is- it isn’t really “converting” popular music lovers into giving classical music a try. What it is doing is giving people unfamiliar with art (or classical) music little snack-bites of what art music is … but it isn’t the real thing. What it is more often doing is making art music “poppy.” It is music that has been mass marketed, mass-produced, and then outsourced. Soon it will be for sale at Walmart posing as the genuine article but for half the price, half the time and half the effort. But it’s not the real thing…it just isn’t.

We in the Church often do the same thing when we “market” our faith. As is often the trend in evangelism, and especially prevalent in evangelism involving music – we attempt to reach out to those in need of Christ by putting “Christ” in their language, their style. This is not completely without precedent. In the book of Acts chapter 17, the Apostle Paul does the same thing. He appeals to Greek Gentiles through their  idea of the “unknown God,” as well as quotes from their own philosophers in a way that was both respectful and understandable to those he was witnessing to. But by the end of his testimony, Paul has distanced himself from these poets and philosophers- making his appeal only in Christ. There is validity in presenting the Gospel in a way that is comprehensible to those we are trying to reach- however caution is needed. To bring Christ into the world’s idiom dilutes His message. While a new style may bring freshness to the message, or share the old truth in a new way, it is often only a snack-bite of the whole message. It’s like Christ…not actually Christ. It’s the Walmart version- cheaper, quicker and easier. Essentially, East Village Opera Company has little to do with classical music, and Jesus Christ Super Star has little to do with the Gospel.

“Let all earth keep silence before Him.”

“Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am He; I am the first, and I am the last.”

Isaiah 48:12 ESV

This morning I got up early to take my requisite daily walk.   I began with all my necessities: namely my tennis shoes, my dog, and my morning coffee.  I prayed as I walked, sending my morning babble to God’s ears.  I could have gone on like this for possibly infinite amounts of time.  But as I turned towards home I was possessed with the crazy idea that I should stop talking and let my Savior have a turn.  This was not the first time this idea had hit me – Christ gently chiding me (or not so gently as sometimes the case may be, “Stop speaking Nicki and listen.” Not surprising- I am sure my husband often desires the same of me.  What is surprising is that at times it seems almost impossible for me to do so.  This morning was one of those times.  I stopped praying and just tried to listen.  My mind wandered.  My ears began to concentrate on the rhythm of my steps, the sound of the air rushing past my ears with my each breath, the jingling of my dog’s collar- but my mind could not keep still, I could not keep silent and I could not listen.

Last semester, one of my professors would pray before the beginning of each class, beginning with a long moment of silence.  Until the class became used to the routine, the moment was met rather awkwardly, people unsure of just what was going on.   At Church each Sunday, our time of prayer is also preceded by a short moment of silence, which we get through and onto the spoken portion as swiftly as possible.  Why are we so afraid of silence? Why is it so hard for us to listen? Why is it so hard for us to “Be still and know that (He) is God”?[1] Why should it be a task to still our thoughts in the presence of the Creator of the Universe?

Last fall, I went to a Mass and a Vespers service at The Abbey of the Genesee.  The order of monks who make their home there used to be a silent order.  Now I guess they are what you would call an “almost silent” order, but still, talking is limited, and their services are very simple with long moments of silence.  I reveled in it.  It was the first time I had ever been part of such a service.  Sitting in communal silence waiting for God’s Word felt like a warm embrace.  Yet, there were many in the room whom after a time became fidgety and were obviously uncomfortable.   One of my fellow students remarked that he did not really see the point in sitting silently as a group of believers… we could do that on our own anytime.  But do we?  How often do I really sit in silence before the God of the Universe, the Savior of my soul?  Even when I succeed in shutting my mouth, the noise in my head refuses to be drowned out.   I cannot be still.  I cannot listen.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-4nuLjkIPk

Let all mortal flesh keep silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High![2]

“But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

Habakkuk 2:20


[1] Psalm 46:10 ESV “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

[2] Lyrics adapted by Gerard Moultrie from the 4th century Liturgy of St James.  17t century French carol melody (Picardy) added in 1864; Harmonization added by Ralph Vaughn Williams in 1906.



Being a music major isn’t fun…

Or at least, that’s not the point.  It’s not easy either.  Music is not a cop-out degree for people who want easy A’s- that may have been high school, but in college that attitude is not going to get you far.  The summer after my freshman year I worked for the music office at my school.  My main task was getting a large donation of music books and recordings cataloged and ready to be placed in the music library.  However, my non-official job description being “glorified gofer” I did a lot of other random tasks as well.  One of these included getting incoming freshman music majors registered for their placement auditions.  One of my favorite things to ask them was, “Why do you want to be a music major?”  You are always in for an interesting response.  Some were legit like: “Band was always my favorite class in school,” or “Piano is the only thing I’ve ever been really good at.”  Others sent out warning signals right away: “Oh, I just love music, I am just soooo passionate about it,” or  “I just love to sing, I feel like God is calling me to be a singer.” I would become especially concerned if they began answering the question in a sort of dreamy, sing-songy voice . . . generally these turned out to be the students who thought they wanted to major in music because they own an ipod, or once in junior high they got to sing a solo with the choir.  Many want to be music majors because they like the way music makes them feel, and they think it is going to be easy.   Don’t get me wrong, I love the way music makes me feel at times as well- I always marvel at it’s expressive capabilities.  But music as a pastime and entertainment is different than music as a study.  Before music is an art, it is a discipline.  To learn and understand it at its core challenges your body, mind and spirit.  It delves into the realm of kinesiology, philosophy, mathematics, physics, languages- you name it.  Really applying yourself to its mastery will require taxation on your psychological, physical, and emotional limits.  Fun is not the point.  How it makes you feel is not the point.  This is a discipline.  This is important- we’re not messing around.

Church isn’t fun either; or at least that’s not the point.  Like music, the Christian faith is first and foremost a discipline.  To delve into its richness is not easy- it is not something you start to escape other paths that seem more difficult.  You don’t commit to being a Christian as a pastime or hobby.  We are not here to play church.  Christ said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23.  In other words, really doing this is going to tax your psychological, physical, and emotional limits. It may even claim your life.    Fun is not the point.  How it makes you feel is not the point.  This is a discipline. This is a lifestyle.  This is a worldview.   This is important- we’re not messing around.

“In the Church today, nothing is so powerful in dividing believers than the songs we sing.  Worship wars are prevalent in almost any Church body over what we sing, how we sing, when we sing, and even why we sing.  It is commonly held that music is powerful, but the origin, attributes and effects of this power are disputed, or worse, disregarded entirely as unimportant.  It is imperative that the Church defines these things.  This lack of clarity has led to skewed notions of our relationship to God as well as gross abuses and hypocrisy among believers.  The lack of a theology of music has led to no end of misunderstandings of music’s role in our worship of the Creator.

We typically think of music as a response to God’s grace; an offering of praise we give to Him.  It is most closely associated with the emotions and in some Christian gatherings a temporary “high” given by the Holy Spirit.  Though it seems we are not trying to get into heaven through good works anymore, a visitor to any number of evangelical congregations may deduce that we are attempting to capture God’s attention with our skills in entertainment . . .” [1]

I think it is possible that one of the things playing into our church’s “worship wars,” is a general misunderstanding of what music is: its power, its importance- which, I am sure, is effected by and effects our understanding of what “church” is as a gathering.  It skews our understanding of what worship is- or should be.  I believe that the true worship war is not really over style- at the core it is a war over worldviews.  Things like ‘blended worship,” or churches at liberty to have both  “traditional” and “contemporary” services are valiant efforts to keep peace over this matter in the body. However, they seem to be only a temporary fix until the next musical trend sweeps through.  I believe what is really needed is for the Church to take a good hard look at what we believe music is in it’s essence and what it is in the context of worship.  We need a theological backbone for why and how we worship.  There needs to be a standard, a measuring rod.  It is the only way we will ever end this war.   It is the only way we will ever learn to worship with understanding.


[1] Nicole Jordan. “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice: Martin Luther’s Theology of Music.” in Crucible. Vol. 3 No. 1 November 2010. Melbourne, Australia. Forthcoming.

Prelude

When I sit down to play my piano, I remember why I wanted to be a pianist; when I sing I remember why I wanted to be a singer, when I teach, I remember why I wanted to be a teacher, when I conduct, I remember why I wanted to be a conductor.

This morning I am sitting outside in the cold sun and reading through Beethoven’s 8th symphony, listening along to the amazing way the Orchestra shares the melody, takes turns shaping the music- and I think- I want to listen to this the rest of my life.   I want to play this music; I want to direct this music, I want to write about this music, tell people about it, and make them love it too.

Then I think of Beethoven and everything I have learned about his life and heart and music and I remember why I wanted to be a historian.  Then I read the score and am amazed at how wonderfully and amazingly all the parts come together and wonder how on earth could anyone write such beautiful sounds and then I remember why I wanted to be a composer.  Everything fits together- it’s like scripture; there are new connections and realizations every time I hear it again, and how even if I don’t understand how it all works, it cleanses me somehow, it makes me better, and I think- only God could have inspired this- and then I remember why I wanted to be a theologian.

And then I go to church.
Then I remember how much I DO NOT WANT TO BE A CHURCH MUSICIAN! And then I feel God saying “why?” And I say, “Because I don’t like this music God. You have written better than this- and most of this music doesn’t even have anything to do with You.”

And then I feel like there must be something terribly wrong with me… or with the world… or both.

I wrote this in my journal one morning last March.  I had been studying for one of my classes (A graduate seminar on Beethoven) and suddenly, as I was so moved by the music, this wave of thoughts came flooding over me.  Nothing new- I have been mulling over these things for years, but for the first time I felt a real call to come to terms with it.

Prelude

I grew up in the church.  I was born to Christian parents and received Christ into my life when I was three years old by my own reckoning- though it may have been earlier by God’s.  I grew up in the Baptist General Conference (BGC for the uninitiated).  My Nana and Papa (my mother’s parents) went to the Mega-Baptist Church in a suburb that was quickly becoming a metropolis.  I remember going there with such excitement.  Every Sunday service was accompanied by a big choir and an organ that made the voices of the congregation around me soar.  I can still remember hearing my Papa’s powerful voice as we sang those hymns. I suppose ‘feeling’ his voice would be a more apt description as I cannot even remember if it would be a voice that someone would call “beautiful,” I only remembered I liked it.  He always let me hold the hymnbook and I could feel the vibrations of sound in my hands.  In retrospect, I don’t think he actually ever read out of the book since he often tended to be a verse ahead or behind the rest of the congregation…  I loved these hymns.  My mother would sometimes sing them when we were in the car and I would memorize the words.  Often, as I was playing on my swing, I would “practice” the verses I had learned- going back to check with the hymnal in my lap to make sure I had gotten it right.  These words were important.  These songs were important.  I needed to know them by heart.  At times it felt like my life depended on it.

My sophomore year in high school our church was given the gift of a projector screen for the sanctuary.  It was a big to-do.  Many people in the church, including my parents, were worried that the hymnals (which were being used less and less as church favor swung towards newer “worship” music) would fall into complete disuse.  Their fears were well founded.  I know all that changed cannot be blamed on a projector as the music trend in our church was headed this way regardless, but it definitely helped speed up the process.  The music didn’t stick with me anymore.  The powerful words of the sermon each week were in disconnect with the often shallow, mundane, and sometimes just plain confusing things we were being led to sing.

When I got my drivers license, I started getting to church late…not too late, just late enough to miss a few praise choruses.  Just a note- I have never been the “late” person.  I am the kid who got to class first- the kid who showed up early for the party instead of fashionably late.  I know my mother knew what was going on…but I think she wanted to go late too, so she never said anything.  I struggled with a lot of guilt over this.  I still struggle with guilt over this.  As a good child of the post-modern period I had been indoctrinated with the idea that all things were equally good- each worship style equally valid.  I figured this aversion I had to the praise and worship scene was mostly aesthetic- it just wasn’t my “thing.”  It wasn’t until just the last couple of years that I have begun to see there may be something faulty in this line of thinking.

Just for clarification:  I am not a church basher; I love the body of Christ.  I am a member of it.  I am also not a musical elitist.  I am a classically trained musician, but I also love to listen to everything from Barbershop to various Jazz genres, from folk to ABBA.  Seriously.   Handel, Nat King Cole and James Taylor were my first loves.  I didn’t discover Mahler until college.  I am not on a mission to bash every style of Christian music that has been written since the 1960’s and tell everyone we should only play Bach in church…at least I don’t think I am at this point.

What I am is confused.   I have given my life to Christ, and He has led me to give my life to music.   I am one year away from completing my master’s degree in music.  I have dedicated the majority of my short life thus far to the aspirations of becoming a professional musician.  Music has become my life- it is how I communicate with and view the world.  But more importantly, music has become my prayer life.   More than anything else, it shapes how I communicate with and understand my God.  So why is it then, that each Sunday morning it is work for me worship musically with the congregation of God.  Why do I have to sit there knowing that the only reason I am here on time is because my husband is the youth director and it is expected of me?  Why am I relieved when the singing is over and we can move on to prayer and the sermon?  Why at times do I feel a Zwinglian rampage coming on and I would rather we just cut the whole music thing out of communal worship all together?  Why do I not want to be a church musician?  I think it must be because there is something terribly wrong with me…or the world…or both.