Saturday, February 24, 2007

May the Thunder of the Desert, Rain Blessing on Our Heads

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that one element of post-modern worship music is lyrics filled with disjointed images. The lines themselves may refer to Scripture or an image from Scripture, or an application of a biblical concept, but the combination of the lines only serve to deliver a hodge-podge of diverse images that have nothing to do with one another, seem to be chosen for their rhyming potential, and do not work as a systematic line of reasoning or discourse which grants any sort of understanding.

The images of Scripture form a rich tapestry of recognizable and consistent ideas that promote an intellectual and emotional understanding. There is inherent unity, repetition, expansion, and irony that is possible because of the context and connection of these references.

This is rarely true in lyrics that seem to rely upon a “cool” concept or “safe” religious words. If stuck for a two-syllable word, “holy” generally works well. Sometimes “holy, holy” is effective. Forget about the biblical, Trinitarian repetition of holy—especially if you’re only lacking four syllables. Of course, “hallelujah” works for four syllables as well.

The dripping emotionalism of God being “the air we breath,” of Jesus thinking of me “above all” others while on the cross (not you, but me—Jesus loves me best), of the “passion in the art,” the resolve that we make to live in the light of the reformation truth of Soli Deo Gloria (which contradicts the Reformation teaching), the subjective assessment of God being altogether lovely, worthy, and wonderful to me because of my personal experience with Him, and songs that talk about the fact that we’re just about ready to sing about the fact that we are planning on joining in worship after we sing about what God is going to do when we do finally get around to worshipping.

The other thing I can’t understand is why it takes three of four people to write a song with four lines of repeated lyrics and two lines of music.

It bears repeating that even though lyrics may be biblically true, they may not be presented in a manner that is good or beautiful. In fact, the very way in which they are presented may undermine the actual content. For example, we should ascribe glory to the Lord, but by the time we’ve repeated the word “glory” 25 times, have we really understood the concept of ascribing glory? Has there been a deepening of our understanding? A growing in knowledge or wisdom?

There is a burden of discourse, biblical connectivity, historical continuity, and intellectual as well as emotional instruction that should be inherent in the songs we sing. Artsy images may catch our imagination, but having been caught, where do they ultimately lead.


Kari said...

Thank heavens.

Someone else squirms when singing that inane song about Jesus thinking about me on the cross. Chapter and verse, please?

The pivot point of all eternity, the most fundamental display of the passion of Christ, the outrageous act that forced all creation into silence, is all about the triune God and his magnificent glory, wisdom, holiness...and we silly hobbits want to make it all about us.

Then, we are asked to repeat one word over and over and over and over, and look worshipful while we do it. I've often speculated that the rapturous look on most people's faces after five minutes of glory, glory, glory is as a result of contemplating the Shoney's buffet that lie twenty minutes in his/her future.

Then, we are sold the bill of goods that these repetitive pieces of "scripture" music are superior to the poets of the Church. Funny how we complain about the dumbing down of education in this country, but not the dumbing down of worship.

Nah, we think that's cool.


Richard in Austin said...

Has anyone read "Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the Century Culture" by Marva Dawn?

I leafed through it in a bookstore recently, and it is much in the same vein as Wilbur's post and Kari's comments.

Kristina Adelle said...

I posted a similar comment to this one when introducing your blog on my blog (since I enjoy reading your thoughts on worship) and a woman rebuked me on the grounds that, in essence, this way of thinking about worship music leads to division in the church, prevents the person who holds these opinions from worshipping unless everything is completely up to his or her subjective standard of what is good enough for God, and is based on the kind of knowledge that puffs up instead of the love that edifies.

What would you reply to that? I wasn't sure, because I know it can lead to what she fears, especially when our opinions are elevated to the level of the word of God or when we thrust out our thoughts without any concern for other people, but I still agreed with what you said about worship music.

Randy said...

Altered state of consiousness anyone?

How about Bible illiteracy?

And oh yeah (repeat 15 times) there's that old time subjectivity...

Michael said...

Good words to contemplate. There is much that needs correcting in the arena of music in our worship in both the more contemporary vein as well as the more formal vein.

While too much repetition can evoke a sense of boredom and allows one to put one's mind into neutral, we must never forget that Scripture is full of commands to "remember", which calls for a repetition of thoughts, ideas, and actions of our Triune God. We must indeed remember the warning of Scripture that knowledge does puff up. It is easy to always think it is the other guy who suffers from such a malady. Who are we as fallen creatures to think that we grasp such magnificient concepts and truths such as Holy, Grace, Love, Election, etc.? Are we so puffed up that we think that only one mention of such eternal truths are sufficient for us??? May it never be.

All music should be evaluated by the triune concepts of truth, beauty, and goodness. However, having said that, I think it is also true that none of us can escape the subjective elements of music or other forms of art. It seems easier to agree upon the elements of truth and perhaps goodness, but beauty is more difficult to grasp. There are however elements of beauty that can be measured in art such as proportionality, harmony, melody, simplicity, complexity, etc. Music can contain truth, and therefore goodness, but that does not necessarily mean it contains beauty. One may think it beautiful and another not think it so, though they may agree upon many of the other elements to some degree. This is not to submit to the common error propounded in today's culture that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet it seems to me that we cannot deny the slippery element of subjectivity when it comes to art. Should we ever think that the great Triune God can be contained in only one narrow genre of music? Where is the diversity of creation expressed if we limit ourselves to just one genre of music? We know God loves diversity, yet I would never make the case for just anything goes. Our focus is not to please man, but God. How can we say with certainty that a genre of music from the past is the only music that glorifies God? Has God's spirit ceased to move in the hearts of moderns when it comes to music or is He only moving in the hearts of those who write within a certain genre of music that is reminicent of the past?

Let us never have disdain for the glorious music from the past, but let us also ponder the modern music that seeks to glorify him as well, though it may call for great discernment.

Randy said...

Repetition of a 2 to 3 line chorus (not a few times but many many times) has been proven to be able to cause an altered state of consciousness. This does happen in certain circles and does make way for the frenzy (contrary to worship that is based in the beauty of holiness) that some times follows. Now Michael's points as to our need to "remember" are quite valid, well taken, yet of a different nature (I think) compared to what we are discussing concerning the repetition factor in singing choruses.

I don't believe for a minute that there is only one genre of music that glorifies God. I have never read anything about it, but I would bet that there were plenty of hymns written that did not make the hymnals of old (or new for that matter).

It is very easy to become one dimensional in our thinking regarding worship - divine worship. Music usually takes top priority, and for some, the only priority when it comes to defining worship, and scripturally this just isn't sound. Thanksgiving, prayer, the reading of the scriptures, confessing our sins, affirming the creeds, the Lord's supper, sacrifice/laying down one's own desires (and more) have always been integral parts (not wholes) of worship.

We could go on and on but to the point, I basically agree with what Michael has said. A final note - if you are singing a chorus or a hymn or any "spiritual" song, and it resounds with an "all about me" theme of some kind, you might want to move on to the next one...