Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Insipid Contemporary Christian Music And Shallow Hymns

Henry Neufeld has an interesting post on his Blog entitled: Worship: Few Words, Boy Friends, and Girl Friends. Here are some snippets from that post:

David Ker is complaining about modern worship songs (since the 90s), and Peter Kirk has partially taken him to task about it, wondering about the air down in Mozambique and whether it causes David to rant. (Personally I suspect it’s looking at too many hippos, but in non-essentials charity, I say!) David continues with a more in-depth piece, Droning, desymbolization and Christian mantra. I think the latter is especially well worth reading, though all three will help set the stage.

Now I’m going to try to “let my words be few,” but I’ve already written quite a number of words, so that may not be easy. [Note after completing this--I failed.] Since I have an eclectic readership, let me note here that this is written to Christians. It’s internal shop talk and will probably be simply boring or weird to others.

I’m personally in sympathy with David on this from the point of view of music quality and what makes me worship. Over the years, however, I’ve tried to learn to be less critical. If I find it difficult to handle a song, I look around the congregation and inevitably I see plenty of other people who are quite deeply drawn into the crowd. If I focus on that community, I often find myself drawn in as well–to the worship, not really the music.

Having said this to members of the congregation, I would like to emphasize a paragraph from David’s second post:

But, worship leaders also have a key role in this. On the stage, it’s easy to get swept away in the beauty of the music and the enjoyment of the moment and not realize that a hundred people in the congregation have their hands in their pockets and are bored out of their minds. Open your eyes, worship leaders! Be aware of the temperature of the congregation. You are supposed to be leading others in worship not zoning out in the front.

I send a separate message to leaders and congregants. Leaders, if you see your congregation bored, uninvolved, uninterested, or simply not worshiping, then you have some work to do. It’s fine for someone like me to tell people (especially myself!) to get over themselves and worship. But that’s not an excuse for some of the careless crap that goes on in worship.

People treat a stumbling presentation of the liturgy as a joke, something nice and folksy about the church. Communion is done so frequently that many pastors don’t take time to connect it to the message and the rest of the liturgy. One gets the feeling of “oh yes, we’ve gotta hand out some bread and wine” from such presentations. Worship leaders don’t pay attention to scripture or theme.

Rather than being folksy and fun, such things make the congregation treat worship as something unimportant and casual. If the minister can’t even find one sentence to insert in the communion liturgy at the appropriate points (marked conveniently with asterisks in the United Methodist hymnal), or the worship leader can’t be bothered to communicate with the minister and provide musical settings with a sense of connection, then the worshipers are justified in concluding that somebody doesn’t really care.

But finally, what is this business about boy friends and girl friends? Yes, I finally got to that point. It has to do with “I am so in love with you.” (No, not YOU, someone else!) I believe that in scripture one of the strongest metaphors for the way in which God seeks people and for the bond between myself and God is sexual passion. I don’t mean sanitized, hand-holding, going on a date level passion. I mean the kind of passion that makes one unable to wait to get to the bedroom before the clothes are coming off. I imagine that image offends some. Enjoy being offended.

Then read Ezekiel 16, for example, and see God’s passion for us represented as the passionate desire of a lover, while unfaithfulness is represented as the passion for someone other than our true spouse. There are many other texts. The problem with “lover” music, in my view, is not so much that we trivialize our love for God by expressing it in the form of cheap love lyrics; rather, it’s that our love for God is often so much more shallow than those cheap lyrics.

Hmmm. I intend none of this as judgmental about any particular person. There are many of you, such as both David and Peter, whose service for God indicates that they speak from a depth of passion that most stay-at-home American Christians cannot hope to match. If you’re in that situation, please don’t be offended at my suggestions here.

But if you’re just checking off the boxes of your supposed weekly activities, then give it some consideration. Is your relationship with God a casual date or a life-long covenant?

And from David Ker's post---Droning, desymbolization and Christian mantra:
Stare at the watch in your hand and repeat: “watch,” “watch,” “watch,” “watch,” “watch,” “watch,” “watch.” You can keep going. It shouldn’t take long. In a few seconds the familiar word detaches itself, and hardens. You find yourself repeating a series of strange sounds. A series of absurd and meaningless noises that denote nothing, indicate nothing, and remain insensate, formless, or harsh.

This process, of desymbolization disassociates a word from its meaning and is a central component of the Hindu and Buddhist practice of repeating mantras. By repeating a word or phrase over and over again it allows us to focus our minds in meditation. David Crowder Band and Darrel Evans are contemporary examples of this phenomenon. But, it is by no means an innovation in Christian liturgy. Medieval chants of Sanctus or Kyrie Elieson right through the Masses of Bach or Mozart all include reductionist prose as the basis of spiritual exaltation.

I’ll take Paul’s words slightly out of context here but I think they capture the gist of what I’m trying to say:

What should I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing praises with my spirit, but I will also sing praises with my mind.

1 Cor. 14:15, NIV

There is a place for both content-packed hymns and emotion-packed worship songs. If those leading the congregation are sensitive to the congregation and individuals are willing to enter into the collective experience, a full spectrum of musical genres can be beneficial.

Are Christian mantras an orthodox expression of worship? See here and here for proponents of this practice. Peter Kirk also responds to my previous post.

Both of these posts offer valid critiques of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and are why fundamentalist nutjobs like John MacArthur criticize it as in: although I have to say I agree with R. C. Sproul's comments in the video. Hymns can be just as repetitive as CCM is ie. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. I agree with David Ker in that:"there is a place for both content-packed hymns and emotion-packed worship songs" and I am glad to be in a church that utilizes both styles.


Anonymous said...

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Ricky Johnson said...
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Ricky Johnson said...
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