Dluxe's World

Wednesday, February 15

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 6 of 3278

I have met a lot of people... It's all about the 'Woo' in me, I suppose. While I've interacted personally with only the smallest fragment of the world's population, I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like music. While I've met people whose musical taste is strongly in question, I can't recall anyone who lacked some appreciate for the art.

Music is powerful stuff... The Greeks believed that certain modal harmonies could alter people's moods. The mythic Orpheus stormed the gates of Hades to win back his love, Eurydice, using the power of his lyre - moving the shades to tears with music. Leonard Bernstein said that music can "name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable."

It's no wonder, then, that the authors of "Give Praise to God" devote two more chapters to different aspects of musical traditions in church. The two essays address the promotion of "Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World" and the restoration of the Psalter tradition.

I could write responses to these two essays for weeks. Fortunately for you, kind reader, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm attempting to condense my entire position on music in the church into only a couple more screenfuls of text. I should note, for safety's sake, that when I blog you're getting the uncompressed thoughts of Dluxe. This isn't edited or refined... So, I don't want this to be treated as some definitive statement or anything. But these thoughts are representative of what I believe right now.

Music is a key element of worshipping God, both now and in eternity. Is it surprising to us that both in Revelation and elsewhere, the heavens worship the Sovereign Lord with singing? I don't think it is... And I think that's because our Creator saw fit to weave that almost divine response to melody and harmony into our mortal frame.

We must acknowledge the selfish desires we often bring to worship… Namely, that we desire to experience something for 'our sake' rather than to offer glory to God for who He was, is, and always will be. This selfishness has no place in worship. God desires to meet us and refresh us in our worship of Him, so we can come expectantly. But we must seek His glory, not merely that which gets our toes tapping or tickles our ears.

When scripture recorded heavenly music, it only preserved the lyrics. This is not by chance, in my opinion. Rather, I would say that the intellectual content of the music (what we’re saying) is more critical than musical content (how it's being sung).

Good music naturally reflects cultural vernacular. If you were born in the 1970s, it's almost a certainty that you’ll remember a lot of 80s tunes. That music defines you, somehow, and you can appreciate it for what it was (at the time). Your kids, born in the 2000s, will likely think that most of it is crappy, campy junk.

Great music, in contrast, transcends the vernacular and reaches the sublime somehow. Bach's harmonic twists and craftsmanship were light years ahead of his contemporaries. Wagner, deplorable person though he may have been, almost single-handedly caused the trumpeting of the 'death of tonality' (at least as traditionally defined) with works like the Prelude and Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde". People of all ages still listen to the Beatles "Sgt Pepper".

To appreciate the present, we must understand the past. This is true for music and all of life. To really get where we are today, you need to look at the road that brought us here. Musically, if you listen to Bach critically you'll hear how he set up the scaffolding upon which every tune John Coltrane ever played rests. We mustn't forsake the past.

So, here's the summary (as readers breathe a collective sigh of relief):

God has blessed us with music, an art of His own design for bringing Himself glory. If a chemical engineering researching the latest in polymer technology can glorify God in his/her work, a songwriter writing 'contemporary music' can also offer his tunes as an offering to God. In a corporate worship setting, we should seek to draw on the full range of musical colors that Lord has given us to glorify Him. In some churches, heritage or location will determine what musical forms/styles are dominant (we shouldn't ask or expect a church of urban, Latin-Americans to sing solely ancient, Scottish hymnody).

While styles are up for grabs, the message must not be. Songs lyrics must lift the minds and spirits of the singers to worship God in spirit and truth. As music is so good at pressing things into our minds and hearts, we must use it to infuse our worship with things that are worth dwelling on. Songs should be saturated in solid theology and the word of the Bible... But that need not be communicated in King James English. The Savior came to save people from every language, race, and time. We should connect with them all, not being latched only to the immediately relevant or the frozen past.

I heard a fascinating little story in a lecture by Bob Kauflin... With this, I leave you:
We have a guy in our church named Curtis Allen who grew up in the streets of Washington, D.C. and was a rapper... He joined our church, which is called Covenant Life Church - when he initially joined he called it 'Covenant White Church' although it is more mixed racially than it was when he joined...

The strange combination of his past and our theologically, cross-centered church has resulted in him writing rap songs that are heavy in theology and that actually are quite powerful for moving people’s hearts. So we've had some Sundays where Curt has come up and done rap as part of a song. One of the most enjoyable, enigmatic, amazing things was to have a 60 year old woman come up to him after that meeting and say, "You know, rap would not be my music but I was in tears when you were rapping this morning"...

This is a teaching moment... Rap music, though it’s associated with a lot of evil things (and this is not an endorsement of rap music), the vehicle itself is not evil. And when done by someone who’s a Godly man, who’s biblically trained, and who is not arrogant, it really has a powerful effect. And I felt it! You get a phrase that is very meaningful and then another phrase comes quickly. You have this collusion or combination of phrases all hitting together in your head at the same time. The effect is very profound, and different... And you realize that you’re overcome by truth.

I never would’ve thought rap music could be used to glorify God, but it can be. And I think that's an example of making a distinction between the main things and the things that can change.

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8 Comments:

  • "This isn't edited or refined... So, I don't want this to be treated as some definitive statement or anything. But these are the representative of what I believe right now."

    do you mean to say that you aren't therefore "responsible" for the following thoughts? or do you mean that you may yet be persuaded to some other (better?) position??

    By Blogger coramdeo, at 11:38 AM, February 15, 2006  

  • still, well said.

    What abou the call for an "inclusive" psalmody? I think the point is well made...but we prolly need revised and appropriate musical forms (but, I do like the highlands!)

    By Blogger coramdeo, at 11:45 AM, February 15, 2006  

  • Certainly, I'm responsible... I was really trying to make sure that other people distance themselves from what I say on here, a little. I'm not trying to build a 'following' and anyone who would adopt something I post on here as dogma would be sorely disappointed in the long-run.

    I've noted previously, this blog is really on ongoing conversation in my own head that I've thrown out for public consumption for some reason.

    Thinking about it, I'm not really sure why I would do such a thing... Kinda strange to bare one's soul to the world, especially when you often admit your own ignorance. But, then again, I'm the guy who tells everyone (ask Deef) about my life in way more detail than people prolly want. I used to tell people in the chat years to ask me anything. "I'm an open book." The caveat is, obviously, you better be ready to get the full monty back as an answer.

    I tend to think out loud. That gets me in trouble, I suppose, because you can't reclaim a word once it leaves your mouth. By putting those thoughts on (electronic) paper, I can critique my own thinking - "Man, that's stupid now that I see it!" - and have other people correct/guide me.

    We're always learning, right? That's all I was trying to say.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 11:53 AM, February 15, 2006  

  • Oops... Missed your second comment re: Inclusive Psalmody.

    I am firmly in favor of the psalter being part of our worship experience. I think it is a very valuable part, at that! Perhaps I could've/should've made that more explicit in the following segment:
    "While styles are up for grabs, the message must not be. Songs lyrics must lift the minds and spirits of the singers to worship God in spirit and truth. As music is so good at pressing things into our minds and hearts, we must use it to infuse our worship with things that are worth dwelling on. Songs should be saturated in solid theology and the word of the Bible... "

    My main point is that I think we need to recognize there is some differentiation between the substance of our worship and the forms. Scripture should permeate a time of corporate worship - whether it is read, sung, or preached! If you choose to sing through the Psalms rather than read them, I think that's great! They make for wonderfully powerful music.

    But, there's no need to simply use the classic psalmody forms to accomplish this goal. Not that I think it is a great tune, but look at the Psalm 139 lyric I tried to write. It's basically quoting the entire Psalm, but using a contemporary musical idiom. Moreover, it refrains a particular passage of the Psalm to (hopefully) leave you with that verse stuck in your head and heart.

    Another analogy would be computer programming. Some people champion PERL, others PYTHON, while others trumpet the merits of Java or C++. At the end of the day, if the code is well crafted and completes its assigned function the underlying language is less important to the end-user.

    Thus with music - if it rivets us on Christ, the Cross, and the facets of God's Holy glory it has done well. And we should jump into all the modes of expression (choruses, hymns, psalter, even rap) and desire to milk out every ounce of worship that we can.

    //end rant.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 12:07 PM, February 15, 2006  

  • I love having a "public" chat that is SO public, it might as well be a private chat!! Maybe Eva will comment here...

    What are your thoughts on (I think it may have been Boice himself suggesting it) scripture set to music (e.g. the psalter) DEMANDS an "appropriate" musical form? If I remember rightly there was a narrowly WASPy orientation. I guess I'm still mulling over Kaufflin's thesis that forms are always "neutral". It seems to me we need a better vocabulary here. Neutral implies that the form is something indifferent to the result. Sorry, Kaufflin actually said forms are "not evil". So...what is the interplay b/w the content of scripture and the form used to convey that?

    continue your analysis of your Psalm setting...You had a muliplicity of good, legitimate options. They would range greatly in impact.

    By Blogger coramdeo, at 12:20 PM, February 15, 2006  

  • Eva will, no doubt. And she has this annoying habit of making people look silly when she does... So we better watch it.

    I think scripture set to music absolutely demands appropriate, tasteful musical forms. I'm not advocating that we take Christ's words to the Pharisees and set them to something that sounds like a Gilbert and Sullivan showstopper. Check out this Kauflin lecture starting about 31 minutes in to the end (he starts taking questions from the audience). Pretty perfectly sums up what I'm thinking.

    He's a cool guy, that Bob!

    We need to let the text, mood, and message impact the musical forms we use... The goal is that the text or thought is elevated and made, somehow, more real...

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 12:36 PM, February 15, 2006  

  • I make people look silly...neato. *points* I said, "ha ha!"

    B, I like what you said about only the words being recorded in scripture, not the way it was played or sung. That made me think. It's intriguing how some things seem to us to be "left out" while others seem almost redundant. (Like why do we need Titus when we have 1+2Timothy, for instance?) Makes me want to take a closer look.

    On the current publicly private (privately public?) conversation, I have naught to add but this question: Has Kaufflin listened to much death metal in his time, I wonder?

    By Blogger Eva, at 9:59 PM, February 15, 2006  

  • You linked to Yanni and Celine Dion! That's cool!

    By Blogger Eva, at 10:02 PM, February 15, 2006  

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