Monday, September 04, 2006

Worship - Not About Style

I would like to pick up a thread of conversation that Kansas Bob pursued in his comment on my last post. I had written a rambling critique of bad music in worship being “the downfall of the worship style formerly known as contemporary.” KB responded, “The mocking tone of your comments tells me that you don’t understand this type of worship and how people are touched and moved in worship singing these types of songs.”

Well, he is right about the mocking tone he detected, but wrong about the target of said mocking tone. I was not mocking contemporary worship itself, but rather I was mocking the bad music that sometimes comprises a service that is labeled “contemporary.” I would similarly mock bad music that sometimes comprises a service that is labeled “traditional,” but in the post about “Christian kitsch,” it was not relevant. I could write a-whole-nother post about bad “traditional” worship.

But with regard to worship style, I really don’t care too much what happens in a worship service (within limits, of course), as long as it is centered on the presence of God, it is done with passion and energy, and it creates an environment conducive to the divine/human encounter. I certainly would not mock any worship experience that meets these criteria, whether it be one that features blue jeans and a band or formal robes and an organ. Some people seem to think that, just because it is a “traditional” service it must be lifeless and lethargic, and likewise some people seem to think that, just because it is a “contemporary” service it must be shallow and selfish. All of which further points out the problems that arise when we use labels in conversation – assumptions abound and definitions get pretty slippery sometimes.

Kansas Bob makes an assertion that, “…usually the total exclusion of choruses equates to passionless singing.” To which I reply, you ought to hear a British Methodist congregation sing And Can It Be that I Should Gain! There is passion, there is power, and there is energy. Partly because of the familiarity factor, which cannot be overestimated. We must always consider the context of worship in these kinds of conversations. But part of that passion is because of the depth of meaning in the text of the hymn. The poetry resonates with the mind, the theology stirs the spirit, and the resultant energy is embodied with a full-throated, lusty, courageous sound that is glorious to be a part of.

KB and I will find some common ground on this issue, I think, because he says, “…whether it is from a hymnal or overhead projector, give me passion over tradition ... even if it is judged as kitsch by some :)” Though I take exception to his assumption that tradition is passionless, I concur completely with his point that passion is a vital part of what makes worship, well – worship.

PS – Another thread of conversation from my last post that gets me thinking is the whole “blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus” thing. I think I’ll write my next post about that one, mainly responding to the question posed by anonymous, "Why is a b-h, b-e Jesus unacceptable?"


Kansas Bob said...

Great post Andy. I think that much of my thinking comes from being raised in a New York Episcopal tradition and having a radical conversion experience in my twenties accomanied by healings and other wonders. It was then (1976) that singing simple choruses seem to set my soul on fire.

I need to add that these hymns below, to name a few, are some of my favorites to sing ... I have experienced a bit of heaven singing them:

+ It Is Well With My Soul

+ Victory In Jesus

+ All Hail the Power of Jesus Name

+ Up from the Grave He Arose

+ Power in the Blood

... and my first wife's favorite ...

+ Amazing Grace

... these and other hymns will always be precious to me.

Blessings to you Andy!

Kansas Bob said...

Doesn't seem to be any passion lurking around this post :)

Anonymous said...

For what it’s worth, I grew up in a church devoid of passion. I assumed that all Christians were passionless. It’s difficult to be excited about God when the people around you look like they are doing their taxes!

Not surprisingly I fell away from God.

Eventually I came back to a church that has more passion, vitality, and God’s presence than I’ve ever experienced. It’s this passion that God harnessed to change not only my life, but also the lives of countless other people.

It’s such a radical 180 from what I grew up with, that I’m still amazed at how excited I get doing simple things (like making this post).

Dana said...

Hey Kansas Bob, check out "Rescue the Perishing" - it has a similar feel (I think) to "Up from the Grave," with a sedate-ish verse and a surprisingly vigorous chorus.

"He Lives" is about my favorite one. But I think a passionless rendition can ruin an otherwise glorious song... I have trouble keeping a merciful heart towards folks who bop right on through songs whose texts are pensive, or conversely, who draaag morosely through songs with upbeat, joyful words.

Context! GRH!