Variations on a Theme

Can I just say that I love my Director of Music?

I work for a church that is very traditional. We just recently completed the installation of a brand new, fancy expensive pipe organ. And I love it. I realize that in some ways this makes me a bit abnormal compared to others in my generation. In seminary I remember a conversation with one of my colleagues who found it completely bizarre that “someone like me” could like worship “like that.” I suppose it comes from growing up in a traditional church, infused with hymns, inspired by candles and liturgy. I suppose it comes from finding a value in tradition, ritual, history. And then again, perhaps it’s just preference and taste – not good or bad taste, just different tastes.

However, as someone who loves the old hymns, I also see the limitations of traditional worship music. I can understand that someone who did not grow up with the same background could experience that worship style like going to church in a foreign country. The language is strange; words like salvation, grace, sin are so loaded as to lose meaning altogether. I mean really, what would someone new to church think when they are expected to sing the words, “Here I raise my Ebenezer…”?

Unfortunately, I sometimes find (along with others) that more contemporary Christian liturgy and music lacks a certain theological depth. It often employs a God-is-my-friend theology that feels a bit hokey and lacks the reverence that I personally seek in worship. (I admit it’s not always that way – and I have experienced contemporary worship that is theologically deep, but it seems to be a growing edge.)

I recently heard an interview with a leader of an emergent church community who said he was looking through a hymnal and was surprised to see that the words had great theological depth. (I thought, “duh.”) But that he found the music to be a barrier. So he began writing new music for these older hymnal lyrics. (I thought, Aha!) And now he has this wonderful, very youthful church community singing these wonderfully theologically deep words. (Amen!)

There is this balance, then, in the old and the new. And I think it’s possible to bridge these two churches that we have – the older, more traditional church with the younger, contemporary church in new and exciting ways.

Which brings me back to why I love our Director of Music. This past Sunday, we had a guest musician, who is a congregation member and a jazz musician. He has at least one record out, and plays gigs regularly – very talented saxophonist. He brought with him a quartet – upright bass, piano, drums. The anthem they played, with the choir singing was a jazz rendition of “How Great Thou, Art.” It was awesome. Creative, a bit funky, tasteful, theologically rich. And did I say creative? With congregation singing along, tapping feet, swaying a bit, it was a joy to experience in worship. Now, if we could just help these white folks with their sense of rhythm 😉

With thanks to God for it all…

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