The Pathological Truth Journal

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Archive for November, 2011

I sat in on a very interesting discussion on contemporary and traditional services.  I will tell you right now I think both are valuable as long as they are rooted in God’s Word.  I also believe there is room for both just as I think there is room for boisterous praise and quiet contemplation.  However, there is a reason why liturgies came to be as they are and a good contemporary service needs to consider some issues that face that kind of service.  I have seen great services that address the issues and make for a fun time and others where I have felt so completely lost.

1. Know when you need to lead others and when it’s a solo.
An organist is there to facilitate the worship service with the music.  It is a leadership role that is solely there to support the congregation.  Even those who can not read any music can pick out the melody played.  First the hymns are written that way and secondly an organist is there to facilitate participation in worship.  Very rarely will an organist start a hymn and then change to a 20 minute solo because they feel moved to do so.  In a contemporary worship service there have been many times where the band feels moved to change the tempo, have the only singer sing a counter melody or do any number of fun things.  I’m not saying “fun things” sarcastically.  It is fun to do that and it usually sounds good.   So, cool except the congregation gets left behind and completely lost unless they have sung with the band (or the song) enough times to get where they are going.  As the point is to relate to outsiders and involve them in the worship it is sort of self defeating to the purpose.  Also, as there is usually little or no written material the leadership role of the band and worship leader are increased.

2. The song format.
A hymn is generally written as A A A A or verse 1, 2,3, 4 and so on.  There are exceptions but even they are repetitive and by the time you get halfway through you know the tune.  This can be a good or a bad thing depending on who you ask.  The issue that contemporary music faces is that it is generally written as A A B A A B A A CCC or verse 1, 2, chorus, verse 3, 4, chorus, verse 5, 6, and finally a repeated variation of either the verse or chorus at the end.  In other words it is written as a song.  A new person might be able to catch the verse or the chorus but rarely all of it.  Add to that the solo like singing of the band leader and it becomes even more difficult to get into it.  So, pick something that other people who don’t have the music can sing after hearing once and use the other music for others to listen.

3.  Do what YOU do well.
There are two types of contemporary services.  The first is a group of people who have specific talents and cultural leanings who get together and want to share it with a community that also shares that culture.  An example would be a polka worship service directed at other polka aficionados.  (Don’t laugh.  I have been to that service and it was very cool.)  The second type of contemporary service is one run by people in order to entice those people over there.  You know, those ones that they really don’t know that much about.  An example would be a bunch of speed metal bands who hate polka running a polka worship service.  If people have the genuine desire, talent and will to make a contemporary service it is a much more authentic and enthusiastic in the response by the people involved.  If on the other hand the congregation is only doing it out of some attempt to appeal to people that they don’t know then it is different.  The experience can seem very fake to outsiders.  Not only that but it can be uncomfortable for the congregation and everyone else involved.  Outsiders tend to respond to the Word of God and the climate of the congregation and far less to what type of liturgy is used because to outsiders all liturgy is a little confusing.

4. Connotation
Do you know that the Ode to Joy used by Beethoven in his 9th symphony (chorale tune used as a popular hymn) really is not Christian and talks about gods and magic?  Do you know that some organists will not play Wagner’s Bridal March?  Do you know why?  Probably not because that music is over a 150 years old.  (If you do know then you are awesome you musicologist, historian or Wikipedia reader!)  Now do you know what “My Humps” by The Black Eyed Peas is about?  This issue doesn’t bother me but I know it bothers others.  Even though it can be used as an advantage we can not ignore that there is cultural connotation to music.  This connotation is only erased slowly as generations die off.  I want to state clearly that any genre of music can be used to God’s purpose and any music can be used secularly and using music both ways is fine.  Still, if you use a certain genre just be patient with the explanations you will need to give to the people who associate that genre with a specific song that was heard over the radio that one time in the car and was really terrible.  You will need lots and lots of patience.

5. Contemporary Christian music
Alright.  Fine.  Let’s bypass the whole issue by using established contemporary Christian music like the stuff you hear on the Christian stations.  Cool.  First do an experiment for me.  Turn on the radio and with your eyes closed turn the dial until you hit the station that plays that kind of contemporary Christian music.  Most likely you found it pretty quickly.  Why?  That kind of contemporary Christian music in an effort to sort of be all things to all people is its own genre.  While there is overlap just like most modern music you can easily tell which is which solely by the music itself (not the words).  It uses modern instruments but it isn’t really rock or pop or folk or anything else.  Since contemporary Christian is its own thing that does get around the issue of connotation.  So, like before if this is what you love and your gift then by all means go for it.  There is a lot of modern Christian music that I do like.  However, to many Christians the point is to get a common point with secular culture so that the worship service is relatable.  So what is the problem with established popular contemporary Christian music then?  As its own genre it is not the secular music people know.  They don’t know the tunes and the genre sounds kind of like other stuff but not quite.  It can be just as alien to someone outside of the church as chant is to most churchgoers these days.

6. You can’t please anyone.
I’m not just talking about the dissent in the established congregation who are afraid of guitars.  The greatest reason I hear for contemporary worship is “to bring in the youth”.  Alright.  Which youth?  I don’t mean the good or bad kids.  Do you remember being in junior high and high school?  Did everyone listen to exactly the same kind of music.  Heck, even my brother and I who are close in age and lived in the same house listened to completely different music in high school.  (He liked country and I liked hard core gangster rap.)  Whether it is an age group or an ethnic group to say that one group automatically likes one kind of music and will draw them in is kind of insulting.  So if you lean toward folksy and soulful acoustic guitar you will exclude the punk kids.  If you use hip hop you exclude the kids who listen to country.  And if you try to include everything in your genre then no one likes it.

7. I don’t want to clap
This is my personal one in here.  I don’t want to clap.  I don’t want to raise my hands above my head.  That isn’t how I grew up showing reverence to God and it’s uncomfortable to me.  I recognize that many people were and that is cool.  The non-clappers such as myself always get called out by the band or worship leader.  “I see some people not clapping.”  “Come on, get into it!”  And so on in order to generate energy.  If you clap then you clap to worship the Lord.  If you don’t then you refrain to worship the Lord.  Both are fine.  It could also be a sign that the person doesn’t know what the heck is going on in which case calling attention to it just embarrasses someone more. 

8. Transcending the limits.
Traditional services can work as effective outreach.  Contemporary services can work as effective outreach.  Compline services can work as effective outreach.  What you do can be a miserable failure too if you try to reduce God’s Word to a certain cultural identity.  Ultimately God’s Word is not dependent on our cultural context of it.  It never needs to be reframed (translation is a different matter).  Our cultural identity can give us gifts to express the Truth but that is all because our identity as fallen, broken and sinful humans transcends any other identifying factor.  So does our standing as redeemed Christians.  We need to understand that at our core we are all in the same boat.  I’m not saying we can’t use what we know and what other people know.  That would be silly.  I’m saying it’s not you who is doing anything but it’s God who is working through His Word.  This is most important in de-politicizing this debate.  In fact the sides do talk about each other like Democrats and Republicans instead of brothers and sisters in Christ.  The traditional side thinks the contemporary people are all heretics.  The contemporary side thinks the traditionalists hate people (hypocritical heretics).  This isn’t true.  Both sides have very valid points and details that need to be considered.  We can’t listen to one another if we are tearing each other down.

1. This Is Just A Vacation
I’ve worked most of my life.  I really needed a break.  I can finally get some rest!

2. Sending Out Resumes To Appropriate Job Positions
It shouldn’t take too long to get a new job.

3. Work on Dream Projects
Now I have time to finally work on that screenplay about a Korean restaurant in America.

I hope something comes in soon but we are getting by fine. 

5. Evaluation
I wonder why I’m not getting any job offers.  Maybe I should examine my strengths and have someone look over my resume.

6. Finish Projects Out Of Boredom
Well, the garage is clean.  I think there is time to start on the basement.

7. More Bills
How can our heating bill be $200?

8. Desperate Re-evaluation
Maybe I was always meant to be a cattle roper or a clown.

9. Sending Out Resumes Anywhere
At least the Colonel is willing to pay me if I fry for him.

10. Acceptance of Any Job
Yes. I definitely want to join the world of professional competitive bug wrestling.

And if you want to hire me I am still looking.

This is an amazing video from Whitestone Motion Picture.  As someone who grew up steeped in Civil War and post-Civil War era language, costumes and Appalachian scenery (and accents) that part grabbed me initially.  The story is incredible and very powerful.  The music is perfect.  Really.  Check it out.

Blood On My Name – Vimeo