Sunday, August 2, 2009

What a Wonderful World

This morning between the two services I caught the Contemporary musicians practicing the offertory for the 10:00 service. This is the song they were playing:

I realized that this sort of popular song would not fly in many churches (to be honest, it would probably not fly in our church on many occasions.) But I caught myself smiling when I heard it. As I went over the order of service with them, we realized that they did not know that there were two baptisms this morning. However, they were quite pleased -- they thought that their selection was especially appropriate for the day.

This got me thinking about the recent acclaim and controversy over the joyful wedding dance on YouTube. Some focussed on the dancing; others worried that others would request this sort of thing, but not be able to do it as well; others were pleasantly surprised that something like this could go on in a church.

This morning's local paper weighed in on all of the variety of opinion, especially among clergy and church goers. I especially took notice of those who had been long away from the church, but thought they might give it a second look, based on this video. It made me think that the pastor's decision in this case might have been a wise one, despite my misgivings about the content of the Chris Brown song. (In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just say that I'm not a big fan of recorded music of any form, sacred or secular, in a church service. I'll also disclose that I had an outdoor wedding a couple of years ago where the "Austin Powers Movie Theme" was used for the recessional and where each couple made up their own dance steps as they walked back up the "aisle." I thought it was cute and especially appropriate for the close of the wedding service.)

I'm wondering more and more about the strict line we sometimes keep in the church between sacred and secular, between holy and profane. I wonder if sometimes we don't miss opportunities to speak God's truth because we are unwilling to start where people are -- whether that place is Louis' Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World, or Bill Withers singing Lean on Me.

I'm not suggesting replacing Hymns with Beatles songs or Scripture verses with self-help books. But if we allow ourselves the creativity in our sermons to compare and contrast the world of the Scripture with the world we currently live in, why not in our music too?

I'll admit, I don't have this all figured out; I know that not every song is the Lord's song; I know that God's grace and truth are often strange, and not familiar. And yet.... and yet....

It's a wonderful world, and it's a heartbreaking world, a world of hurt and of grace, of terrible evil and redemption behind our imagining. But above all else, the greatest mystery of all is this: it's a holy world, and it's God's world, every single last secular and sacred molecule of it.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

That article and the UTube sure brought out a lot of comments on all sides, the middle, and under the carpet. We sure our shaped by our initial concepts of any thing, especially church, so much so that we can't very well separate out what is in the scripture from culture.

While I do think that church services need to have a reverence about them, it is right to ask, what does that mean? And does that mean that other forms or methods are unacceptable to God? How do we know that? Surely God isn't looking favorably on just one little segment of humanity based on one type of worship.

Regarding marriage, my pastor likes to respond to anyone that talks about "Biblical marriage" by saying, "Which form of Biblical marriage?"

Mompriest said...

As a former dancer I LOVED the dancing procession at the wedding. I have not seen, read, or heard, the conversation around it...but really what is wrong with being celebratory. Love the song too! Would love to hear it in church on Sunday with baptisms...

Kievas said...

I haven't watched the video but I don't see a huge issue with it. Dancing as an expression of joy before the Lord goes back a long way.

BTW, I really like both Lean on Me and What a Wonderful world :)

Barbara B. said...

I loved the dancing too. I think when churches insist that people only 'color inside the lines' it unnecessarily turns people off.

altar ego said...

You touch on something that has been on my mind, too, though not specifically related to music. I had the odd experience a few weeks ago of hearing the eucharistic liturgy as a bit stuffy and not in sync with where so many lives seem to be. Not the meaning of the eucharistic, but the wording. I began to imagine different words and images that would capture strike chords and offer hands on hope. That same impact was missing the following week, but the reflection about it still lingers in my heart and soul. Thanks for bringing it up.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

My responses to music is usually emotional. And I know that many composers make the music fit the theme of the words of a song. Emotional responses tend to bring on a physical reaction too, so some sort of dancing and swaying are in order with some songs.

I've found that occasionally I've had a disjointed reaction to a hymn or piece of "church" music (sometimes something from another tradition.) But that I mean hearing a hymn with joyful words about what God has done for us being played as a slow funeral dirge [organist at my MIL's church does this ALL THE TIME.] Also, I've heard songs during Holy Week that expressed the anguish of those days, but the melody was too upbeat.

The last 10 or 15 years, the camp songs I've heard have been very slow compared to what they used to be. I've been surprised by this, given that they are dealing with kids and being praiseful.

RevDrKate said...

I thought the dancing was great and was so obviously a reflection of who those folks were. I sent it to my future wedding party with a kind of whimsical "What do you think-are we ready for this?" and they said "No way Kate!" In picking hymns for liturgy I do get frustrated sometimes by the "lack of fit" of either lyrics or music. I want it to all be of a piece with the scriptures, the sermon...all conveying the same theme and message. Tall order some days with a hymnal from 1982 as the main source!