Working Through Worship (Music) Part 1

Life is a juxstaposition of the encouraging and the not so. I have been inviting criticism of my CD, Noticing the Sky, and asking for some honest responses. Well, thankfully I think, I received some which will definitely leave a mark.

I am not going to spend this time defending against the criticism, that defeats the purpose of asking for it, but rather I am going to try to work through the bigger issues that were raised through the correspondence.

I anticipate this will be a multi-part discussion, as the topic is massive. Some background. I think that we are entering a new worship debate that we need to be very careful not to turn into a battleground. Currently, to oversimplify, there are two forces at play. The creation of art (in this case with the expressed intent to worship God), and industry. These two things playing against each other have always created tension between artist’s and business people. Where these two meet most “plesantly” is pop music, or as John Mortensen refers to it “masspopcult”. John’s comments are in response to Brian McLaren’s letter here.

The old battle, and unfortunately it was a battle, was between contemporary and traditional music. It still rages in pockets, but let’s leave it lie somwhere else for now. The new emerging debate is over depth of art (and theology) vs. industry. I have said, most likely unoriginally, that “it isn’t art until it touches someone”. Some might argue that it may touch someone and not be good art, but then we are debating levels of skill or influence rather than it’s ability to meet the criteria. Negative art can send successfully a negative message. I don’t like it, but I think it meets the criteria.

So now we come back to it. Where are we with art in the church, say specifically, musical art? The music we use every week to worship God.I think McLaren brings up some great points about the depth of topics that should be re-introduced into our music. He talks about eschatolgy, songs of mission, using historic lyric to new settings, songs about God himself, and songs of lament. When I look at my CD I only see one or two of these categories being hit, and I am motivated to look outside myself more, and in some cases more inside myself, to wirte some songs that would add value to the church by covering some of these important areas. I will say in response, not to my critic, but as an expanation of my CD in the context of McLaren’s letter, that it was an attempt to authentically reflect my journey with God. I used lyrics that I thought pushed the envelope of comfortable for congregational singing (e.g. “I’m wrecked by my shortcomings”) in hopes that it would take worship for its users somewhere deeper. My CD speaks heavily of the learning that I experienced in chasing after God to be more holy as God is holy: tracks 3, 6, & 12. To share my faith: tracks 5 & 8. To worship God as Creator and Saviour: tracks 4, 11 & 13. To worship God for who He is, track 1. There is more but I will stop.

My biggest fear as we enter into a massive time of experimentation and depth chasing in worship art, is that we will focus our energies, and lose spiritual focus, by always critiquing the art and not just worshipping. By shutting off when the art level does not reach our ever increasing standard. Remember our mission. It is not, go into the world and create amazing artful expeiences, it is, “to make disciples of all men”. There are many interesting and valid expressions of emergent worship. (link 1, and link 2) I often, as a worship leader and pastor, remind myself that I am to make disciples, and love. Then I ask, how am I doing in those areas? I am paid to create worship environments that help people worship, it is a passion and something I want to get much better at. My life, howver, is about making disciples and loving everybody as best I can in the name of Jesus.

I think I have some growing to do artistically. I really appreciate the time, comments and correspondence of my critic. They sent along two of the articles above, and that is what sparked this blog more than there critique of my project.

I have to be careful not to judge those who are, with the way God made them, trying to go deep in their understanding and worship of God. Likewise, “deeper artists” need to be careful not to judge those, who with right motivation are more simply (get the double meaning there) expressing legitimate worship to God through their art.

I might add, I have written much deeper, frankly more artful, music and lyrics that I have not recorded. I have not recorded it because, although they are some of my favourite songs, I don’t believe anyone would buy them. The struggle between art and commerce rages in me. Maybe some more success (whatever do I mean?) will give me the ability to record something of high quality that will lose money and touch many. Who knows? I guess it would be art then, but not industry, and certainly not masspopcult.