A spirituality of truly BLENDED worship...

As my worship series concerning "the unforced rhythms of grace" and living as "apprentices" of grace comes to a close (this Sunday, July 31st), another summer series has grabbed my imagination:  a spirituality of truly blended worship.  Five years ago, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on "a spirituality of rock" in which I teased out some of the theological,biblical and practical reasons why incorporating the "music of the people" in contemporary worship was faithful.  

Using the insights of Harvey Cox's Feast of Fools - the direct inspiration for the rock musical "Godspel" - my text, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, not only suggests liturgies and songs that congregations might use in their quest for God's "still speaking voice," but also offered a way to evaluate contemporary music.  After all, not all rock - or rap or country or jazz - brings beauty or blessing to worship - and some is destructive, too.  What I want to try to do in this summer series is synthesize my doctoral arguments into a form that is more accessible to those outside of the academy.  It is my hope that after four weeks I can accomplish three goals: 

+ First, I want the congregation to have a useful paradigm for evaluating how some contemporary songs of the spirit - sacred or secular - can be used to both listen for and commune with the Holy.  It is my belief that a still speaking God is alive and well on mp3s and popular music even if the evidence is more murky in our churches.  

+ Second, I hope to show why truly blended worship - worship that honors tradition as well as innovation by incorporating a variety of musical styles and traditions - is crucial to breaking down the increasingly segregated nature of modern life.  One of my mentors, Betty Pulkingham, once wrote:

The church is grappling with the depersonalization of our increasingly technological society, and trying to find ways to supply meaning and a sense of belonging for today's (peoples.) The mega-church offers yet one more place to be anonymous, a face in the crowd, so it really does not fill the deepest needs of people today.  And if we tend to think that huge choirs and elaborate ceremonial acts somehow impress people and make them think that God is a great and splendid being, we may need to think again."If this was ever so, it is not so now. People are not impressed by a ceremony performed by people whose lives do not reflect what their worship expresses. It is seen nowadays... that glory can be given to God only through the lives of those who truly worship the Lord." (M.E. Marshall.)

+ And third I believe it makes sense to give people some beautiful and living examples of how this works in practice.  So, in addition to speaking about the biblical and theological context for blended worship, our band will be playing songs from Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan, Sarah McLachlan and Joan Osborne.  There will also be examples for world music as well as the sacred realm of traditional church hymnody, too.

Given the fragmentation of our contemporary American reality - from politics to entertainment and worship - I believe it is essential to find ways towards common ground.  Again, Pulkingham cuts to the chase when she writes about how to live into our calling to be Christ's people in an age of division:

There are two parallel streams of thought that seem to travel to the (heart of this challenge...) On the one hand, a great concern for the transcendant beauty of worship; and on the other hand, an equally great concern for how music can reach ordinary people.  Is it too much to hope that our might be the century of integration of these two values with the Christian church? Do we see this as a part of the kingdom coming?

If only one style of music - or worship - is true, doesn't that make us fundamentalists who believe we have a monopoly upon wisdom (and style?) If only organ music and German chorales are sacred, are the vast majority of God's people to be considered heathens? What do we do with the fact "that the majority of the Christian world does NOT adhere to the Western aesthetic model" that is so often the guideline for churches in our tradition? Likewise, is the "worship and praise" expression of "seeker" churches the only alternative to traditional worship?  Do we give up our connection to our ancestors and a vital history just to attract people who like soft-rock?  Hardly... but so goes the conversation all too often. The depth and breadth of the Divine is so much greater than our attempts at segregation, don't you think?

So, off we go on this conversation.  I think our search for a new music director has helped push me towards tackling this need - playing with a jazz band in Turkey, too.  I'll keep you posted... in the mean time, check out what Paul Simon has to say about all of this here:


Black Pete said…
"You took the words right out of my mouth!"

Todd Rundgren, via Meatloaf

Preach it, brother!!
RJ said…
I need to remember them both... thanks, my man!

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