Monday, July 19, 2010

I can hear music

About a year ago, I participated in The Truth Project. This is a sort of video based class sponsored by Focus on the Family to discuss a Christian worldview with respect to a variety of disciplines. Its intent is to serve as a guide, of sorts, and appeals to a reasonably intellectual audience -- high school/early college or so. In an early episode, Del Tackett, the "Tour Guide" said in a sort of offhand apologetics concern, "If there is no God, then why is there music?"

I am not in a position to offer an theological history of music, but I feel comfortable in claiming that music almost certainly was developed as a form of worship. Regardless, music is something that is important and pleasing to God, and there is no shortage of Scripture to back that up. This can be a problem for me, because I sometimes have picky musical preferences. A lot of times, praise music which ought to be encouraged in principle, just does not make the cut in my estimation.

This is not a new struggle for me. I was reminded of it most recently at a contemporary service on Sunday. I do not mean to sound like a snob, but the lazy repetition of lines like "All your ways are just/ You are just in all your ways" does not measure up to "Teach me some melodious sonnet/ Sung by flaming tongues above." It just doesn't. However, praise songs like this one are very real and very emotional ways to worship and vehicles to reach closer to Christ for a lot of people, not the least of whom were those leading the service.

So, when I find myself in a situation like tat, surrounded by people who are singing and getting into it, I have to wonder if his is simply a matter of taste between two people, like when Mandy gave me a hard time for choosing a plain chocolate shake at the Clemson creamery when a whole host of flavors were available around us, or something more egregious, by missing a whole range of ways of worshiping God, ore akin to not eating anything at all. By not feeling the excitement of a Christian praise song that others do, am I not filled with enthusiasm the same way they are? Are all forms of worship made equal?

Both of those questions are complicated. The latter has a few layers, but I think the answer is "sort of." I think that when someone like Brian Moore, an acquaintance, who performed an impressive trumpet solo in church does that, it is a special public worship in part because it took preparation (in order to be taken seriously) and it is not done every Sunday (as to not be simply done by rote). That, in my mind, is better than saying the Lord's Prayer every Sunday to the point of becoming mechanical and meaningless. However, compared to other methods of worship, or even other trumpet solos, I cannot say. If a technically inferior performance followed but represented a higher proportion of the performer's effort, then it might be better, because the second gave more of him or herself, and we would no really know. But compare either of those to the organist who plays every week or to me writing this or even you reading it -- who can say? All I know is that I cannot perform like the do, so I admire it, and I can write like this, so I don't think much of it. The only reason to ask, though, is to judge how well we are using our time. If writing for others was inferior to music, should I take guitar lessons?

The answer to this question is related to the other one I asked first. If you were given one of those talents with the purpose of service and you are not serving, then there is a clear delineation of one being better than another. If Brian chose to shirk his musical talent in pursuit of something else, say acting, and his kills did not help inspire like his trumpet did, then his time is probably better spent with the trumpet. If I find myself in a service with music that is more of a hindrance than help to worship, hen I ought to go somewhere that is not true. However, if I sit with my arms crossed wearing a grinchy face, saying, "This music is dumb," and concentrate on that, not only am I getting in my own way, I can set a bad example for others, too. I think it is important to go where I can do the most good.

The other side of that, though, is a reminder that we should not judge. While I was sitting in that church with a grinchy face, the kernels of this, my own personal form of public worship, were being sewn before I even knew it. This serves both as my public adoration and my public confession; while sitting there, I could not help but thinking "My God deserves better than this lazily written song." The performer could just as easily think, "My God deserves better than to have that sourpuss stand in silence." Of course, we would both be right, but that is what we had, who we were, and what we gave. Worship, sincere worship, is the best we can offer, whatever form it takes.

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