The Strange Fire of Unauthorized Worship

I’ve been trying to move into a bit of a better place – not physically, but spiritually and emotionally with where I’m at on the Church issue. For the most part, my hectic schedule is set up so that I end up working on Sundays. Miraculously, I’ve gotten the last two Sunday mornings off. While I wasn’t quite feeling up to the hassle of actually going to a church, I did opt to listen in to some churches in my area with radio programs.

Last week, one radio program talked about “authorized worship”. He started off with a question: “Does the worship of God have divine regulations or can we worship Him as we please?”

He pointed to the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 – it’s the story of two of Aaron’s sons who offered up an incense mix other than the one God specifically outlined. They were burned to death by the Lord right on the spot.

He went on to outline the regulations of authorized worship as mentioned in John 4:

  1. God is to be the object of our worship.
  2. Our worship of God is to be in spirit; genuine and sincere – from our hearts.
  3. Our worship of God is to be in truth – which is the Word of God, the Bible.

He said that human traditions had a way of making void proper worship to God (Isaiah 29:13 or Matthew 15:8-9):

“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

This week, he identified “contemporary worship” as “unauthorized worship.”

“We like to use modern instruments and sing new songs.” A church member might say, to which he responded: “Well, did God authorize it?”

“I’m just not getting anything out of worship.” A frustrated believer might say, to which he responded: “Are you even supposed to get anything out of it?”

“We’re just not attracting new people, we need to make some changes to make the church more seeker-friendly.” Another might observe, to which he responded: “When did we get the idea that worship was about attracting the sinner?”

“We’ve lost a lot of young people, if we want to keep them around, we need to make some new changes and do things differently to keep from losing them.” Someone else points out, to which he responded: “What will you do when new and different wears off and becomes old and stale? Keep on changing things? Where will it end?”


*Frustrated sigh* it’s church leaders with this mindset that basically banished me from the church in the first place. What Contemporary worship does is align my truth and my spirit to worship God in a way that Traditional worship never did and never could. Let’s also keep in mind that in the whole history of worshiping God; the Christian expression of it is as unauthorized as you can get – being a departure from all of the Temple regulations. Do we even know whether the Protestant Reformation was authorized or not?

Even so, how most churches worship today is a departure from how churches worshiped in the Bible. For us, the Lord’s supper is a thimble of juice and an oyster cracker – for the Corinthians – it was a first-come-first-serve feast complete with drunkenness where it wasn’t uncommon for the food to run out before everybody could get something to eat.

For us, worship is what it is. For the Corinthians – they had the occasional inquirer or unbeliever come to church to see what all the fuss was. Think of them as regulars who really desire to join the church. They got to show up and participate in some aspects of worship – but as unbelievers, things like the Lord Supper wasn’t allowed for them. They would spend serious time learning the teachings of the church and if their desire to be baptized proved strong enough they would be formally admitted into the church, baptized, and given permission to take part in all aspects of worshiping God. So to a certain extent, the worship of God meant having room for unbelievers to see what they’re signing up for if they decide to seek membership.

We don’t worship like the Corinthians worshiped. Or the Galatians. Or the Ephesians – or any of the churches listed in the Bible. We don’t worship like the Early Church that formed as the members of The Way spread the teachings of their Rabbi/Messiah to all corners of the Roman Empire. And we don’t even worship in the same way that the Holy Roman Empire worshiped God. And yet you want me to believe that all those people had “unauthorized worship” just because they never had hymnals and pianos and we just happen to be the lucky souls who have “authorized worship” after millennia of everyone else getting it wrong?

So you fear change? Let me grant you your wish and show you a church where change does not happen:

Woodward_Avenue_Presbyterian_Church_view_from_balcony_detail_on_seating

This is a church that does not change. Nothing threatens what is: an unending quietness – the absence of singing, and no echoes of people taking or screaming infants. No prayers are uttered here. The Bibles and hymnals that remain are closed. There are no power grabs from upstart youth, no wielding of power from the old guard. Could you worship here? Could you be the last soul this church serves? Where there is life – there is change. The young change into the old, the new changes into the familiar, the different becomes the same. The process continues with a whole new generation taking root and thriving, creating an even newer generation that will, in time, take their place. Change is not – and never has been – the enemy. So yes, we will keep changing and keep living – and God willing, keep inhabiting our worship spaces in new and different ways that honor Him.

But let’s not underestimate how important it is to get something out of worship. Humanity has a vast difference in the expression of it’s spirituality. Everything from monotheism to polytheism, religions seeking truth, others enlightenment, others an understanding of suffering, religions with profound teachers who are revered for their teachings – we all devote a serious amount of time, energy, effort, and wealth in our search for spirituality. The something that we get out of it is what keeps us in the faith that we are in – rather than trying them all on for size. This is true of our denominations as well – the something we get out of them is why we’re apart of them and why we feel no need to go elsewhere to get it – until that something is gone. Then we must seek it out and go to where it is now. You might not even know how to articulate the something that you get out of worship – but odds are you would recognize what it’s absence would be were you in any other setting, right? That’s how it is with me and contemporary worship. I can’t tell what it is about it that works for me, but in it’s absence, traditional worship just doesn’t do the same thing. And that’s why it’s so very easy for me to continue my vacation from church because there’s nothing but traditional worship churches in my area and I know they hurt more than they help.

As to the question of authorization – it’s a false obsession in the church. Imagine a young child drawing a picture of their mommy or daddy. Will their parent be so heartless as to tear up an “unauthorized” masterpiece because they used markers instead of crayons? If God has such a need to be worshiped that he created humans with free will and boundless creativity – would it make sense for him to prohibit every single which way He could be worshiped save for one way? What about the lack of punishment for supposed violations of worship? Why aren’t contemporary churches filled with various plagues? Why aren’t bad traditional churches bursting into flames spontaneously? What if we all have authority to worship God in any and every way we can think of – even in new ways that haven’t yet been created?

What really tears me up is knowing that I’d never belong in a church where he or others like him are in charge. I’d never be able to reveal the depth of my knowledge or talk about how I feel because these things are supposedly non-essentials in the worship of God. I’d never be able to worship God according what my spirit says is the truth. I’d have to play my part and act on cue – sing this, smile warmly, silently listen – but I’d never belong or be accepted or worship in spirit and in truth. It just doesn’t seem to matter though, because as far as he and others like him are concerned – his worship is the only right worship because it satisfies his spirit and his truth and as a powerful leader in the church, he makes all the decisions for everyone else.

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On The Road

Sometimes I like to imagine what it might have been like for Jesus’ disciples as they were travelling with him from one place to the next. It’s in the cool of the evening. They have set up camp. They’re sitting down, giving their tired, dirty feet a rest. The disciples – all of them, both “the twelve” and “the women”; the ones who had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs, cook the meals, provide financial support with their own money, were also in close range so that they could hear his instruction.

They’d simply talk. Jesus was training these to be his insiders, so he explained things clearly and simply. The intimate conversations are the sorts of things that the Bible doesn’t clue us in on, but it does indicate they happened. I think about Jesus’ character, the salt-of-the-earth person that he was. He wasn’t a rabbi who was big on the prestige and title. He was just a guy who had a way of speaking the truth and reading people’s thoughts and emotions.

Anyway, I think he had a particular ethic. He was a pacifist in a society where violence was ordinary and commonplace. He was merciful and compassionate; when a sea of people searched him out to be cured of their illnesses, He healed them. Whenever there was a circumstance when the proper thing to do was to shun somebody – Jesus would do the opposite. It wasn’t in his nature to be an enemy of any living soul.

That’s how I’d like to be. I know this world doesn’t make it easy. Some Christians make it harder than it needs to be by insisting that their version is the only way, the only truth, and the only life and only through them and their teachings can true salvation be secured. Jesus had to deal with people like that, people who were technically right if the letter of the law were the most important thing – but they were actually wrong because the missed the spirit.

I’ve been walked through the plan of salvation over and over again by Christians such as these, so determined to win me over to their version that they cannot see the flaws in their foundation. I don’t want a technically correct Jesus that lacks the empathetic spirit of Jesus. What good does it do to have a form of godliness through following these rules, but to deny the freedom-giving power of rule-breaking godliness in the process?

Some days, I wish I were on that road, speaking with Jesus about today. Asking him: how I can make room around our campfire for anyone regardless of who they are or what they’ve done? How can I bring healing balm to those as wounded as I am from extensive fighting on this invisible front? How can we declare a truce and begin talks in order to restore true, lasting peace?

A Biblical Justification of Racism and Slavery Exists – let us tear it down.

Christians, now more than ever before, have a duty to really examine the Scriptures and find the truth for themselves. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’d like to show you a list of what people said they believed that people said the Bible said:

Teaching: “Mark of Cain”
Story: Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and marked him so that he could live a long, cursed life and people would know to steer clear.
Application: When the Northern and Southern Baptists split over the issue of slavery, the Southern Baptists claimed that slavery was justified as the dark skin color of the slaves was the “mark” that they were meant to live as slaves. The idea that dark skin color was the mark comes from Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

Teaching: “Curse of Ham”
Story: The flood has ended, the family has left the ark and Noah ended up getting drunk on wine. Ham walks into the tent and realizes his father is naked. He goes and tells his two brothers, who drape a blanket across their shoulders and walk backwards into the tent – they did not see him naked. When Noah recovers, he curses Ham – saying he should live in servitude to his brothers.
Application: This teaching was popularly used to justify slavery when America was involved in the slave trade. They said that Ham’s descendants married Cain’s descendants – so they had dark skin and were therefore meant to be slaves.

Teaching: “The Tenth Commandment”
Story: Moses is revealing to the Israelites the ten commandments by which they will honor God.
Application: Since the commandment goes: ” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant (that is “slave”), his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”” Christians are instructed not to covet another man’s slave, Christians are not forbidden from owning slaves.

Teaching: “You May Take Slaves”
Story: Moses is giving the Israelites further instructions.
Application: God permitted the Israelites to take slaves of their neighboring nations, but forbid the practice of making fellow Israelites slaves.

Teaching: “Mixed Marriages are Wrong”
Story: Ezra has just helped to rebuild the temple – now it’s time to rebuild the respect for the Law of God.
Application: The Israelites have gathered and admitted that they’re guilty of marrying foreign wives. In order to please God, they decide to send away (abandon) their wives and children.
Story: Nehemiah has just helped to rebuild the wall – now it’s time to rebuild the respect for the law of God. The book of the law is read aloud and everyone commits to obey it.
Application: The Israelites pledge, ““We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.”
In both stories, part of the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem’s Walls and Temple is blamed on having had foreign wives – marrying the wrong race.

Teaching: “Paul Returns Onesimus”
Story: Onesimus is a slave who fled from Philemon’s household. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon.
Application: Paul couldn’t have thought slavery was wrong if he would return a runaway slave to his master.

Teaching: “Biblical Households have Masters and Servants”
Story: Paul writes to new Testament believers to tell them how to live as Christians, Children are to obey their parents, parents aren’t to exasperate their children, wives are to submit to and obey their husbands, husband are to to love their wives, slaves are to submit to and obey their masters, masters are supposed to love their slaves like a brother/sister.
Application: Since Paul establishes a believer’s household to have masters and slaves, then slavery must not be wrong.

These are probably some of the more famous historical justifications for slavery and racism in Christian teaching. You’ll find that deeply racist ideology is also deeply religious ideology as well. Christians who want to turn the tide against racism must first confront the Biblical justifications for it – even the ones that persist today. Churches must do better than being silent against this misinterpretation of Scripture; because God’s word is being used in this way to justify evil. Let’s get it right this time – or prepare ourselves to repeat history.

Giving Love and Compassion Every Chance to Change Things For The Better

I’ve been thinking of everything I’ve ever learned about God’s holiness. It can be this wonderful source of power – that is, when it’s not threatening to do serious harm. When I first heard the story of Uzzah’s death; how he reached out to steady the ark because the oxen pulling the cart had stumbled and that was something that God viewed as irreverent and so he smote him then and there. I would have thought God could have weighed his motives and intentions to see that all Uzzah wanted was to keep the ark from falling off the cart and smashing into pieces – that even though Uzzah wasn’t holy and pure, his intentions were and therefore he was worthy of not dying.

It’s like the time that Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire to the Lord who felt incensed that his instructions were not obeyed to the letter so he burned them. One guy told me this story as a warning not to go beyond what was prescribed because God never changes and one day he might decide that anyone who worships him in an unauthorized manner is guilty and deserving of the same punishment.

Or when Korah dared to speak up and ask why only Aaron and his sons were allowed to have the priesthood to the Lord when the whole Israelite people were also holy. “Isn’t it enough for you that as a Levite you’re more special than everyone else?” Moses asked him. The Lord gave them his answer to the question – in causing the ground to open up and swallow Korah and the families of the 250 men who were on his side – as for the men themselves – they were burned.

This is where I just don’t get God. He could choose to be consistent and our history could be littered with every single movement or denomination that angered God that he ended up smiting – with only one exception – the authorized form of worship that pleases Him. But the New Testament version of him only makes a few short corrections – as Ananias and Sapphira and Simon the Sorcerer discovered.

I wonder, how would Jesus have answered the questions, “Is it okay for just anyone to read the Holy Bible?” “Is it okay for just anyone to worship God however they please?” “Is it okay for just anyone who step into a leadership role in the worship of God?”

It’s true that Christianity doesn’t have a lot of holy relics – the kind that you’re not supposed to touch. My denomination was never one to believe in such things anyway.

It’s also no great surprise that modern Christianity has a variety of styles of worship, bluegrass, gospel, hymns, contemporary – some are rather toned-down and others are full of energy.

Now the God of the Old Testament was rather specific about who could and who couldn’t be a priest, priests had to be men who were descendants of Aaron, they had to be without any defects whatsoever (blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, crippled hand or crippled foot, hunchback, dwarf, eye defect, sores) – even their wives had to be virgins – any woman who had been a prostitute or divorced was considered disqualifying. God demanded nothing less than perfection itself. But today we would consider it an awesome testimony of our leaders to have struggled with disabilities and found faith in God. Some of our denominations have no problem with letting women be leaders.

Surely, if God hasn’t changed – then he’s waiting for the full measure of sin to be built up in the church before smiting them like he did with the Egyptians and Canaanites of old. Or perhaps, we’ve misread the playbook. God might not have changed, but his plans might have changed. I don’t know why people are so scared of the idea that God might not operate in the same way in the Old Testament than he does in the New Testament and that he might operate differently now than he did way back then. All of us are who we are regardless of what we do when, right?

Why is it we think that when it comes to God, his holiness and sovereignty are his most important attributes through which all of his other attributes (love, compassion, meekness) must be filtered through? “God is love” but love alone isn’t enough to keep him from acting in wrath in order to protect his holiness from us sinful, dirty, human beings. “God is love” but this love bows to God’s sovereignty by which his power can be used to harden people’s hearts and prevents them from loving him. Really? If anything, it seems that our New Testament version of God is all about love and compassion and tends to let matters of holiness and sovereignty slide. Perhaps that’s why the circumcision party wasn’t more harshly punished for their interference and various false teachers were left to their own devices. Perhaps God wanted to give them every chance to come to the right way of thinking – rather than outright punish them for having wrong beliefs.

I wish we’d do that – give everybody every possible chance to do their own homework and come to believe as they should in whatever ways that work for them than to take matters into our own hands and punish and shun people for not believing as we would want them to or in ways just like us. The thing is – we’re not God, I don’t know if we have the capacity to restore love and compassion as the highest attributes of how we worship God and how we view the world.

 

In Good Company

(It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since I had the honor of visiting The Church of the Company of Jesus in Quito, Ecuador. When I arrived, I was given a pamphlet about the church which I had never read – until today. The fact that it’s in Spanish isn’t a problem given that my Spanish has finally gotten usable and for the most part I understand what it’s saying. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, I’ve included the Google Translate version towards the end – with some minor corrections as there were some flaws.)

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús

Quito, Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Quito – Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, cumbre del barroco latinoamericano, construido por vario jesuitas entre 1605 y 1765, fue inspirada en dos emblemáticos templos jesuitas romanos: Il Gesú y San Ignacio.
El templo tiene planta de cruz latina, nave central, norte y sur, transepto, crucero, presbiterio, antesacristía, sacristía y capilla. La nave central cubiera por una bóveda de 26 m de altura, realiza con ladrillo y piedra pómez y finalmente decorada con yesería, policromía y pan de oro en estilo mudéjar, es un importante aporte a la arquitectura colonial quiteña del Hermano jesuita italiano Marcos Guerra, quen colaboró también con la construcción de las cúpulas ubicadas in las naves laterales y en la cúpula mayor del crucero.
El templo de la Compañía fue levantado con las manos de innumerables artistas de la Escuela Quiteña, quenes perpetuaron su habilidad y entrega para tallar y dorar con fina lámina de oro de 23 kilates cada centímetro de la iglesia.
Durante 160 años se edificó y decoró la iglesia con magníficas obras de arte; muestra de ello son los 16 Javier Goríbar, artista quiteño del siglo XVIII. Al pincel de Hernando de la Cruz se le atribuyen los dos grandes lienzos originales del Infierno y del Juicio FInal, obras Alejandro Salas en el siglo XIX hoy se ubican en los extremos norte y sur de la iglesia. Se admiran en las enjustas sobre los arcos de medio punto de la nave central las escenas bíblias de Sansón y Dalila, y de José, hijo de Jacob, obras anónimas del siglo SVIII. En las naves laterales se destacan 6 imponentes retablos atribidos a la afamada escuela de arte quiteño del siglo XVIII: el de San José, El Calvario, y San Luis Gonzaga en la nave norte y La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada y San Estanislao de Kostka en la nave sur. En los transeptos norte y sur sobresalen los retablos gemelos de San Francisco Javier y San Ignacio respectivamente, atribuidos también a Marcos Guerra, y en el presbiterio destaca el dorado del retablo mayer realizado por el tran imaginero colonial quiteño Bernardo de Legarda.
La fachada de la iglesia es una sobresaliente obra de estilo barroco, construida toda en piedra gris de origen volcánico. Tiene cada espacio cubierto con el más mínimo detalle finalmente labrado; así se admiran flores, ángeles, arcángeles, símbolos eclesiásticos y varias imágenes representativas entre las que se descubren: …
Dos hechos religiosos importantes están ligados a la Iglesia de la Compañía: uno de estos fue el fugaz paso de Mariana de Jesús, la primera santa ecuatoriana que se consagró en este templo y lo escogió para morar para siempre; Mariana murió en 1645 (siglo XVII) y es en el altar mayor donde ahora se veneran sus restos. El milagro de la imagen de la Virgen Dolorosa del Colegio, es también un hecho de fe profunda sucedido en el comedor del antiguo Colegio San Gabriel en el interior del edificio jesuita, el 20 de abril de 1906.
La torre de la iglesia, en época colonial reconocida como la más alta de la ciudad, sufrió dos embates telúricos: en 1859 el primero, luego de lo cual fe reconstruida, y en 1868 , año desde el que permanece tal como lo conecemos.
Durante los últimos diecinueve años, 1987-2005, la iglesia ha vivido un importante proceso de restauración integral, el mismo que ha sido reconocido por el profesionalismo con el que instituciones nacionales así como centenares de técnicos, arquitectos, restauradores, y obreros realizaron, con abnegado trabajo y mística personal para alcanzar la total restaución del templo.
La Residencia San Ignacio y la Fundación Iglesia de la Compañía encargadas de la conservación y mantenimiento del templo le invitan a admirar la iglesia y de esta forma apoyar en la promoción del compromiso que como ecuatorianos tenemos de preservar este legado cultural.


The Church of the Company of Jesus
Quito, Ecuador
The Church of the Company of Jesus, serves as a peak example of the Latin American baroque church, was built by several Jesuits between 1605 and 1765, and was inspired by two emblematic Roman Jesuit temples: Il Gesu and San Ignacio.
The temple has a Latin cross plant, central nave, north and south, transept, transept, presbytery, antechrist, sacristy and chapel. The central nave was covered by a vault of 26 m high, made with brick and pumice stone and finally decorated with plasterwork, polychrome and gold leaf in Mudejar style, is an important contribution to the colonial architecture of the Italian Jesuit Brother Marcos Guerra, Who also collaborated with the construction of the domes located in the lateral naves and in the greater dome of the transept.
The Temple of the Company was erected with the hands of countless artists of the Quito School, who perpetuated their ability and delivery to carve and gild with a fine 23-karat gold foil on every inch of the church.
For 160 years the church was built and decorated with magnificent works of art; 16 Javier Goríbar, an eighteenth-century artist from Quito. Hernando de la Cruz’s brush is attributed the two great original canvases of Hell and Final Judgment, the works of Alejandro Salas in the nineteenth century today are located at the north and south ends of the church. The bible scenes of Samson and Delilah, and Joseph, son of Jacob, as well as anonymous works of the SVIII century, are admired in the area over the arches of the central nave of the central nave. In the side aisles there are 6 imposing altarpieces attributed to the famous eighteenth-century Quito school of art: San José, El Calvario, and San Luis Gonzaga in the north nave and La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada and San Estanislao de Kostka in the southern nave. In the northern and southern transepts, the twin altarpieces of San Francisco Javier and San Ignacio, respectively, also attributed to Marcos Guerra, and in the presbytery stands out the gold of the greater altarpiece made by the visionary colonial of Quito, Bernardo de Legarda.
The facade of the church is an outstanding work of Baroque style, all built in gray stone of volcanic origin. It has each space covered with the finest detail exquisitely worked; Flowers, angels, archangels, ecclesiastical symbols and several representative images among which are discovered: …
Two important religious events are linked to the Church of the Company: one of these was the fleeting passage of Mariana de Jesus, the first Ecuadorian saint to be consecrated in this temple and chose to live forever; Mariana died in 1645 (seventeenth century) and it is on the main altar where her remains are now venerated. The miracle of the image of the Sorrowful Virgin of the College is also a fact of deep faith happened in the dining room of the old San Gabriel College inside the Jesuit building, on April 20, 1906.
The tower of the church, in colonial times was recognized as the highest of the city, suffered two earthquakes: in 1859 the first, after which was rebuilt faithfully, and in  the year 1868, from which it remains as we now know it.
During the last nineteen years, 1987-2005, the church has undergone an important process of integral restoration, which has been recognized by the professionalism with which national institutions as well as hundreds of technicians, architects, restorers and selfless workers and church ministers to achieve the total restoration of the temple.
The San Ignacio Residence and the Church Foundation of the Company in charge of the conservation and maintenance of the temple invite you to admire the church and in this way support in the promotion of the commitment that we as Ecuadorians have to preserve this cultural legacy.

The Hit

I’ve been going through the top 40 hit lists from Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40 – each month there are either four or five lists of forty songs – multiply that by fifteen and you’ll find that there’s well over two thousand hits listed – thankfully quite a few are repetitive. One hit stood out for being from an unexpected genre: MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine“. This Christian song managed to be on the top forty list right up there with all those secular pop, rock, grunge, rap, and alternative rock hits of the day.

With all the vitriol and hatred against contemporary Christian music, many elder might not know that the odd song escapes from the Christian bubble and has an impact on others in a way that hymns just don’t. Sure, we all hear the odd hymn song – maybe on an episode of a t.v. show as a character is in a church or going through some emotional cross-roads. But they have a limited sphere of influence. For some, hymns are like classical music – a relic of a time gone by that other people like … but it’s not their cup of tea.

I’ve heard stories about how elderly people in nursing homes hold onto the songs of their youth, the tunes that they danced to, the hymns the worshiped God with, the melodies and jingle of commercials – if that’s so, then a song like “I Can Only Imagine” will be a good one to play when it’s this generation’s turn to be in nursing homes. Sure, some of us will respond to hymns – but not all.

But because contemporary Christian music can do what hymns cannot – reaching the airwaves of even the most secular stations, one would think that anyone who cares about introducing God to others would welcome the sort of music that does just that inside and outside of churches. And perhaps, we might find room for those secular songs that speak to something of God. A lot of David’s hymns were songs of angst and frustration: “Why me / How long / Don’t forget me” that sort of thing. Perhaps that’s a missing element, we have music that represents only the rainbows and sunshine side of life and the few songs that don’t (like “It is Well“) are only pulled out in immense tragedy. We don’t have a lot of music for being in-between or for the journey from the spiritual high to the spiritual low and finding our way back when we’re lost.

The more I try to create my playlist, the more I see that music is like a personal language, and the less we can write for others what their music is supposed to be or ought to be like. Looking at the variety of music from ages past to now – Gregorian chant, choir pieces, traditional hymns, bluegrass, gospel – the less it feels like God only wants one kind of music, one type of song, one particular hymn above all the rest. He has inspired music in all it’s form to praise him in his limitless capacity; perhaps we should see that music has limitless capacity to praise an infinite God.

Other People’s Music

Perhaps it was the fifth time I had heard “Walkin’ on Sunshine” or the sixth time that “It’s Rainin’ Men” blasted over the store speaker system that I realized how horrible other people’s music can be. Not in that “they have the worst taste in music” sense – but in the way that there are songs that are fine once in a blue moon become annoying when heard multiple times the very same day; songs that you barely tolerate once become much more difficult to stand as they’re continually repeated. The more I heard other people’s music, the more I longed for just one of my own played just once. But it also made me wonder if I really should share it, after all, what if other people don’t like my music any more than I don’t like theirs?

It makes me think of the worship wars and being the odd one out. Music is and can be it’s own personal language. For someone going through a tragedy, “It is Well” can help them cope, for one celebrating “It is Well” can be quite a bit of downer, particularly if you know it’s history. No two people take to the same song the same way. Even with contemporary music, “In Christ Alone” has it’s fans and it’s detractors. Ultimately, other people’s music really has no power over you. As much as I don’t like hearing the same songs over and over again in the course of a day, as much as I don’t like old-fashioned hymns – it ultimately falls flat. The thrill that others might get out of “Walkin’ on Sunshine” “It’s Raining Men” “It is Well” and other hymns is pretty much a “meh” for me.

Unless the Holy Spirit is a void entity in the world of contemporary Christian music, then the reality must be that God inspired both old-fashioned hymns and contemporary Christian music – and that both are ultimately God’s music. One would think that no matter which side each of us as people fell on, churches would be capable of celebrating both kinds of God’s music. But it doesn’t seem to be the case. Most churches are small and tend to pick just one – out on the rural areas such as this one, hymns tend to win hands down as the congregations are often older and haven’t much experience with contemporary music. It takes a spectacularly humble elder to set aside his or her own taste in order to accept their kids, grandchildren’s, and great-grandchildren’s preference in God’s music in order to facilitate the worship experience of the younger generation – and such elders seem to be a rarity indeed.

Being the odd one out is a special misery – where you realize that in certain churches you will never, ever get to sing your favorite song to honor God, in a chorus with the voices of those around you, lifting up your sacrifice of praise. You get to lift up other people’s songs though, ones that don’t resonate with you. You might, if you’re very lucky, get to do a special music of the song that you like – but you’d have to perform it alone with all eyes on you, and you’d have to sing it really well because no other voices will come to your aid. If you’re not a talented singer (I’m decidedly not) then you don’t even have that option.

Some days I really wish that the shoe was on the other foot, that the hymn-singing churches would have entire services with contemporary music where it’s done right. Where they get to miss out on their music and come to understand what it feels like to know that never again “In the Garden” or “Blessed Assurance” or “How Great Thou Art” will ever be sung again. Then I think twice and realize that I’ve gotten used to the misery of other people’s music and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I know that misery loves company and I just mostly wish I wasn’t so miserable – I just really, really miss my own music these days.