christ, Christianity, church, domineering, empire, feminism, god, how great is our god, how great thou art, imperial, jesus, jesus christ, lyrics, manifest destiny, married to the sea, nonviolence, onward christian soldier, pacificism, patriarchal, patriarchy, praise and worship, psalters, Religion, sigur ros, spirituality, the mercy house, the psalters, theology, tmh, worship, worship music
On another blog, we were discussing whether anyone would leave a church because of the music. The question was posed to me: Why the distaste for church/worship music? It’s a good question. I’m not sure I have the full answer, but I’ll do my best to discuss it here. Perhaps my sentiments are best summed up in this Married to the Sea cartoon:
First and most nauseous, are the lyrics of most worship music. There are few songs that I find both substantive and agreeable. At best, most songs tend to be little more than spiritual, emotional masturbation. The songs are packed with heart-stirring, insubstantial lyrics designed to illicit the highest possible emotional response. It’s about getting that queezy, I’m-in-love feeling in your stomach–but not much else. Allow me to cite my favorite example of such. Consider the opening line to “How Great Is Our God” by Chris Tomlin:
The splendor of a king
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice
Alright, did everyone reading this pass elementary school English class? Good. All sentences must have 1) a subject and 2) a verb. “The splendor of a king clothed in majesty,” is not a sentence. I suppose technically you could argue that “splendor” is the subject. If that is the case, then there is no direct object after the verb “clothed.” What did the king’s splendor put its majestic clothes onto? We may never know, but the earth sure is rejoicing. I’ve seen people sing this song with such conviction, closed eyes, raised hands, the whole gamut. Did the words they sang make sense to them? Not if they were older than 8 and actually thought about what they were singing.
At worst the lyrics are horribly patriarchal, imperial and domineering. Because we’ve all sung the same songs a million times, we end up shifting into auto-pilot and letting the words come out of our mouth without thinking them. What are we actually singing? I forget. Was it about Manifest Destiny, female inferiority, domination? The most vile of worship songs seem to support the notion that God has a penis and uses it to smite anyone who doesn’t have Jesus in their heart. Jesus may have said, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” but let’s all sing:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see his banners go!
What amazes me most is that many churches will sing popular worship music or historic hymns seemingly without once stopping to consider whether the lyrics they sing agree with the theology that will be preached fifteen minutes later. We’ll sing a song comparing Jesus to a glorious warlord, then listen to a message encouraging us to live peaceful, compassionate lives. We’ll sing about how all we wait for is to be swept up to heaven, then hear a sermon about how we should try to be content with our circumstances. It baffles me.
Furthermore, most worship music written in the last couple decades is generally simplistic, unimaginative and uncreative. Obviously, there are exceptions. At the Mercy House, Joe and his crew have been known to break into beautiful solos that sound reminiscent of a Sigur Ros concert. Certainly no one could ever accuse the Psalters of writing stereotypical music. However, the joke is funny because it’s true: If you can play G, C, D and Em on guitar, you can play any worship song.
Ultimately, I find most of the lyrics and music unimaginative, uncreative, shallow, insubstantial and offensive. Now, I not a very negative person. Even in the worst songs, I try to find something I agree with or look for some new perspective which might deepen my understanding of God. That said, most worship music represents a minute fraction of my understanding of the spiritual experience. Frankly, 15 minutes once a week is just too much. It’s like taking a biology class, and the professor spends the first three weeks explaining what the word “biology” means. Sure, it’s important to know, but you’re boring me.
There are songs I like. “How Great Thou Art” may be my favorite. Generally songs extolling the beauty of creation are my favorite. But that may only be because they’re actually talking about something (instead of nothing), and it has nothing to do with God’s penis, empire or hate. I also appreciate good music. I appreciate talented artists. I enjoy going to art museums. I enjoy going to concerts. If you’re playing good, creative music at church, I’ll enjoy it more.
So… you asked. That’s why I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if we cut the music out of church all together.