June 27, 2006

Music in the Church

As a senior in college, I was required to either write a thesis or take a senior seminar. I chose the thesis, mainly because it was the only way I'd get the registrar to approve my major. When I set out to write said thesis, I decided to go with a question: where does music fit into the world of the Christian? This required a lot of research, which was painstaking (mostly because very few people ever asked this question) and eventually, my paper turned into a description of the emerging church, where our culture has come from and perhaps where it may be going. The music part became a bit of an afterthought in lieu of something that, at the time, I thought was more interesting.

Part of the reason I made the change, though, was because of the rather boring answer I stumbled across. Now I think I may need to re-examine my position and explain it further. But I've noticed quite a few people talking about the subject of Christian music in the past several weeks, and I decided I want another crack at it.

Most people seem to be complaining about the stuff. I used to be a huge fan of the "contemporary Christian music" (CCM) scene, until about a year and a half ago. To be fair, my tryst with CCM was the result of a semi-depraved childhood; I grew up in a very traditional presbyterian church where the organist played all our hymns half-tempo and where nobody cared about being culturally relevant; the question hadn't even come up. Then we left.

When I got to the next church, the reason we stayed was one Greg Campbell and the fact that he asked me to play saxophone on his worship team - music was what I loved, and that someone would take an interest in it with me was almost too good to be true. That was when I discovered that people had been writing music like the rest of the world for years, except that nobody had bothered to tell me. I was hooked; most of the "secular" music I'd encountered had left me wanting more. I didn't realize that I'd just been listening to the wrong "secular" music; turns out that pop and r&b and boy bands really aren't my taste, but I couldn't find anything else. But I fell in love with the music of Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, and especially David Crowder and Jars of Clay.

I still have a great respect for Michael W. Smith's music, and I remain a huge fan of David Crowder and Jars of Clay. Add to that Jeremy Camp, Kutless, Switchfoot, and Caedmon's Call. They're probably still the music I listen to the most. But my view has changed. I used to think (especially when I discovered this music for the first time) that one shouldn't listen to "secular" music because it would poisen the mind, like, why would you listen to "bad" lyrics when you could listen to "good" lyrics (I think I used to equate "good lyrics" with "lyrics with the name Jesus in them").

I've changed my tune, so to speak, since then. As I began investigating postmodernism, it seemed to me that the music of Christian circles was rather shallow. It was never very musically intricate, the poetry was sort of lame, and the same "christian" cliche's kept appearing over and over until every song, regardless of the artist, began to blend together. (What I love about David Crowder is his ability to use words like "intoxicating" and apply them to his love for God). It got me thinking, do these people have any idea what they're saying? Do they think about what they write or are they just trying to write another piece to use next sunday?

I think now that music is simultaneously nothing special and something very intimate. Music, and indeed, all art, is a means of expression for a Christian community. Look at the original music of a community and you'll be able to tell a lot about them. At the same time, music is not the equivalent of "worship." You can worship through music. But we worship with our very lives, the way we live and breathe in this world.

The hebrews knew this; the reason that nobody likes reading Leviticus or Deuteronomy is because those books are full of the rules for a good hebrew to worship God. They're not musical rules, either; they apply to everything from the sort of fibers to use in their clothing to the way to sacrifice a goat on which day of the year. The mundane was still worship for the hebrew people. Likewise, we who call ourselves followers of Jesus, while not bound by rules, are called to live a life of worship. A life of worship. Not "on sunday we worshipped so well in that song the band played," but our. whole. LIFE.

Music, in this worldview, becomes something of a problem. I love music, but I'm coming to think that maybe paid worship pastors aren't such a good idea; it gives the wrong idea, like the only time we worship is on sunday at a corporate gathering. Even if we had the most amazing music in the world (which we don't, I'm sorry, John Mayer and Linkin Park and U2 and Eminem write better poetry than most so-called "worship artists"). Music is a form of personal expression - poetry and the music that goes with it are a way of expressing the raw emotions and yearnings and rhythms of our primitive souls. It's also communal expression - the psalms are an entire book of music written to sing together to God. But let's not elevate music to such a high place that it overlooks other worship - the way we prepare an onion to sautey into spaghetti sauce, the way we walk down the street, the way we talk with our friends ... the way we serve the poor and take care of our environment. In everything we do, we worship.


Greg said...

Good thoughts, Chris. I have always struggled with people calling us "Christian" musicians because I did not want the stigma that is attached to that. I just wanted to be musicians who are Christians. Most people automatically designate us to that genre however because my songs deal with the relationship I have with Jesus. Thus, they are only and always... christian.

Oh well.

As for the always worship thing, I was singing the song Famous One by Chris Tomlin (I like his stuff by the way, but one thing about music... the liking of it is very subjective...) Anyway... He has a lyric that says:

With every breath I'm praising you...

At times, I have taken that with a dose of shame. Knowing that I do not actually "praise" God with every breath, it was sometimes difficult to sing that. But as I have grown to understand that God loves me, forgives me, and walks with me in everything that I do, and that I am... I understand that my performance may not be "praise" to him, but my very breath IS praise to him. The God who created me is worshipped by the fact that I am alive. His creation by its existence proclaims his greatness... in effect... worships him.

That's a cool way to look at it, I think. That me being here, broken as I am, but the object of his love and grace just the same - that whole thing is worship to this Great God. There is still room for me to verbally and otherwise actively "praise" him... but I think that might be how the "rocks cry out"... by their existence he is praised.

Just a thought for you, on worship.

Oh, and my link in this post is wrong... just fyi. :-) you have gregshead.net/home ... it's just gregshead.net.


Mike said...

As a Music and Arts Pastor... i agree with much of you have said here, Chris. You and i have talked on many occasions on this topic, so i won't rehash all of that. I would like to point out that my 'title' at Artisan (title - because people like to define other people, and Artisan, www.artisanchurch.com) is Music and Arts Pastor, and not Worship Pastor. I hate that title. I even struggle with Music and Arts Pastor. I was much more comfortable with the title "pastor", as that role far supercedes the role of 'music and arts' relative to my congregation. If all a "worship pastor" does is program the weekend assembly and provide the occasional retreat or art project or christmas pageant, then we should be rid of them and let the members of the church do such. But if the role of the worship PASTOR is to be a PASTOR, who happens to do music sometimes, then maybe that's like being a christian who happens to be a musician.

Sam said...

Greg: "I just wanted to be musicians who are Christians. Most people automatically designate us to that genre however because my songs deal with the relationship I have with Jesus. Thus, they are only and always... christian."

Then why is Bono from U2 not (widely) known as "a christian musician"? His songs deal with his relationship with Jesus, and probably most important: about his thoughts on how we can spread God's Dream over the whole world.

Maybe, if we don't just sing about how we love Jesus but really show the world THAT we really mean what we sing, we don't get stamped "Christian Musician" too quickly. Like Bono.