February 24, 2014


Photo Credit: Len Bishop
Oil and water don't usually mix very well. It has something to do with their chemical makeup; one just doesn't blend with the other. And yet, if you go to any cookbook, you'll find them both as ingredients in many recipes. By themselves, they don't mix well, but add another ingredient (or more) and a little heat, and suddenly you're enjoying waffles or pancakes.

Now, I like pancakes. Every saturday when I was a kid, my dad would make blueberry buttermilk pancakes for breakfast. It became something of a family tradition, and though I don't usually have blueberries around anymore (Nutella is a nice substitute, in case you were wondering), I've started making pancakes for my kids on saturdays too.

We can learn a lot from oil and water. Churches I've been in have oft equated their two different worship cultures with oil and water; the traditional people and the modern or contemporary people never seem to mix well. Or it's generational; the old people and the young people scrupulously avoid one another because they're quite sure they'd never mix very well ("they're so disrespectful!" or "they just don't get me!"), and are quite sure, then, that they SHOULDN'T mix at all.

Now, it's true - oil and water are very different from one another. Both have unique chemical properties that allow them to do very different things. Water is a substance that makes our planet incredibly unique - it is one of the primary substances that allows earth to sustain life. It is the only substance I know of that expands when it freezes and shrinks when it warms. The unique electrochemical properties of water allow it to dissolve many things to create useful, even necessary solutions (like coffee). Oil, too, is unique; it enables many machines to run because it lubricates without evaporating (where water would not help). It enables cells to exist as unique bodies so they do not dissolve in their watery environments. Some of the most amazing paintings I've ever seen were created using oil-based paints.

So it's not a question of whether or not they are in and of themselves good, nor should that question ever arise in these discussions. Many traditional hymns have much to give, since its original purpose was to instruct theology in a way that people could remember easily. A lot of modern music too, has much to contribute, since its strength is how well it can help us emote. While this is a huge overgeneralization (modern music is often theological and traditional music is often emotive), it's a simple way of looking at this.

What we need to keep in mind is that these are not to be kept in isolation from one another. Sure, they may rub each other the wrong way, but what if we added a third ingredient into this mix and made some theological pancakes out of it? There are a lot of things we could say, although "just add Jesus" seems a bit trite, but I'm going to settle on one:


Photo Credit: Marc Garrido
When our worship cultures rally around a specific musical style or preacher or denomination, it's no wonder that we spend so much time bickering and infighting. That's consumer language, which makes US the subject of the gospel instead of the Triune God who invites us to be part of the story. Our music is many things, but what it is NOT is a product to consume. When we rally around the same mission, when we focus together on the vision of a world reborn, made new by the King of Kings, then all of a sudden it becomes a catalyst for something bigger, and BOTH are necessary for their strengths and for how they can speak to one another's weaknesses. It's the best argument for multicultural engagement I can think of: if we make the Kingdom our common focus, we will all be better.

And together we can enjoy a delicious pancake. Please pass the syrup.

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