Tag Archives: life

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.

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.