the Brilliance was brilliant
the speakers inspiring
the drama sketches gave us pause
but, the music…

Perhaps I’m getting cynical too soon. I was not stirred by the music. Then again, as one friend observed, I haven’t been for a while. It just isn’t doing it for me. But, why? I love music, and there are certain songs that deeply affect me…the first few listenings. The irony here is that I am part of the Vineyard movement–the very people who put contemporary music at the front of the church are my predecessors. When I think about Sunday mornings at my church, the music is rich and meaningful. It draws us into a space of contemplation, and is not so loud that we can’t hear our neighbors’ voices (which is really the most wonderful thing about singing together as a congregation). Whether it’s a new song or a sensitive rendering of a faithful hymn, our Sunday morning music has carried me through years of change-uncertainty-joy.

Have I gone deaf?

Yet the question I keep asking is, have we equated music with worship? Do we know what is worship apart from Sunday morning rock shows?

I’m noticing two strains of conversation when it comes to worship. The first is making a place for creatives and creative expression in the life of the church. The second has to do with social justice and integrating what we do, communally, with who we are as people of God.

Worship today, as a category, has become a kind of catch-all for creative activities, and especially those that are “art”. Part of this is due to our churches having alienated even mildly eccentric creative types (and programmed the heaven out of artistic endeavors). Let’s face it, representational paintings are not for everyone, nor are they necessarily representative of the kingdom of God. So it’s interesting to see how our church families work out the integration of art and worship. As a seminarian, I had the option of choosing classes oriented towards Worship, Theology and the Arts. While there are many books I should probably read on this subject, I’m still not entirely clear what constitutes a theology of worship. It seems to be a looser play space for all things creative. But, what if doing theology itself is as much a form of worship as painting while the Christian band plays on? (I can hear my professors saying, yes, precisely.) But, then, if it isn’t about defining which activities constitute worship, why is worship so often definitively paired with art? Is it that we’re looking for emotions behind activities that bring us into a space of worship? And what about the role of community? Just when I start to argue that we cannot ‘do’ worship outside a gathering of saints (even just two), I think of our intercessors who have powerful worship sessions in their quiet time.

IMGP0374Artists help us see things or experience different perspectives. Regardless of the activity, they have a powerful voice or medium for nudging us towards the next aspect of the conversation: posture.

Mark Labberton draws a compelling connection between being a community of justice, and worship. While our biblical understanding of justice doesn’t take creativity or artistic expression into account, there is one thing the two have in common. To begin to understand an Other, I must first start with listening. To approach a work of art is to stand or sit before it, giving it my full attention. These are postures of humility. As people of God, we are called to look after widows and widowers, bring foreigners into our households, stand with those who have no family and no legacy seeing them as part of God’s plan for the earth. This is justice, and it requires humility.

The forms of worship, the activities, the musical refrains should change. Worship is not static, it is always action–giving, offering, singing, dancing, gathering, praising, praying. Yet all of these actions are done in a posture of humility before one an(d) other; before the (w)Holy Other, our God.

Is it wrong for me to think that the era of big music is starting to fade? Perhaps I’m just being crotchety. I have a hunch, though, that new forms and new activities are coming soon to sweep us off our feet, and help us land on our knees before the throne of God.