Friday, May 21, 2010

A New Song...

(photo from
Today I'm torn. There are two really good texts in today's readings but I can't, or maybe shouldn't, do both. Maybe I'll be inspired and find someway to tie them together, who knows.

In Sunday school, a couple months ago, I was asked a question: "If there was one thing you wish you could do better in church, what would it be?" That's an easy one for me. I'm not tone deaf by any means. I can play a little guitar, well not a little guitar, but some guitar. A little guitar would be a ukelele. I can pick around on the piano. But I can't sing a lick. If there was one thing I wish I could do better in the church, that would be it. Steph can, so I just stand up there, play my guitar, and let her shine. In fact, we were asked to sing at a community thing last year and we were introduced as "Stephanie and Hannah Lee, and the guitar guy." Honest. But that's ok.

I love music. There is just something about both lyrics and melody that speak to the soul. I can hear certain tunes today and I am immediately whisked away to some other time or place. Steph gets upset because I remember which songs were playing when I was dating someone else before we met. Each girl I dated had a song. Music is powerful. Music done well is very powerful. But what if the music doesn't speak? What if melody and lyrics become disconnected from the souls of those listening, or singing? Is music powerful then?

Today I'm going to the Psalm. Psalm 98 says, "Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things." I've got to be careful here. One of the most divisive elements of worship I have encounted so far in my ministry is music. We forget who we are singing to, and get all caught up in what we want out of worship instead. The Psalmist says, "Sing to the LORD a new song," not "sing to yourself," or even "sing for yourself."

If we keep that in mind, many of the other things begin...begin to seem less important. That doesn't mean they completely fade away. Here's why. If a particular song connects with my soul, I am going to give more of myself to singing it. If it doesn't, my heart just won't be in it. And the question I have, "If our hearts are not in it, is it still worship?" That's why this is a question we cannot avoid as the church. If our worship is fake, if we're singing out of our heads and not our hearts, or if we're just going through the motions, then not only are we doing God a disservice, but we cannot be transformed and equipped.

A lot of churches are struggling with this right now. They are asking, "Should they continue with the hymns, which tell their theology stories? Should they begin to transition to something that speaks more today? Or, should they try to find some way to bring the two together into one worship experience?" I don't have an easy answer. For me, the hymns, while they are beautifully poetic, just don't speak. I have no idea what an ebeneezer is, but I sure sing about raising mine.

I get tickled because this can be so divisive. Our own hymnist, Charles Wesley, wrote something like 9000 hymns during his lifetime, and most of them were then sung to bar tunes. "Well that doesn't sound very holy," you might say. But, the people were already familiar with those tunes, so he used them. They were then able to connect lyrics, melody, and soul, singing to the LORD a new song.

"Amazing Grace" is one of my favorite hymns, but to sing it to the tune printed in the hymnals just kills me. It's too slow, and not just a little boring. But take those same lyrics, connect them to the Eagle's "Peaceful, Easy feeling," and it's a totally different experience. And if you really want to shake things up, sing those same lyrics to the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun," or the Gilligan's Island theme.

The point is, this is a fickle dance we are engaged in. Our audience is not ourselves, or even each other, but God. Still, for our hearts to be engaged, the music must speak to us. So, how do we tell our history and theology, while finding some way to sing a new song to the Lord? Honestly, I don't have the answers...yet.


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