Tag Archives: church

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.

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?

“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

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.