Friday, September 18, 2009

Another Thing on the Worship Music

And this time I'm asking y'all for some audience participation.

I'm going to post a list. This list will contain five--count 'em, five--songs that I think I'd more than welcome in a setting of Christian musical worship, plus five songs that I would not. I even give reasons! Some of them are weak, but they are reasons.

This list was actually made complete about a week ago, but it was started about a month ago.

You can feel free to criticize my list. BUT, here is what I ask in return.

Especially if, but not only if, you have something to say about how much my list sucks, I want you to post a comment with a list of your own with at least two songs in each category. I know all of you have songs you don't mind hearing during audioworship. And I know, even if you think you don't, that probably everybody reading this has some song that just...grates on them, for whatever reason, when they hear it in church. Dig deep! Maybe you're too positive a person to find a worship song you hate. Dig deeper. It's okay to be negative sometimes.

I also really want this to happen because for me making this list was a really good exercise in figuring out where my tastes might lie as a worshiper. Predictably they seem to be more along the lines of lyrical appropriateness.

Ten Awesome Worship and Inspirational Songs

This is to give an example of musics I like, both stuff I'd love to hear in Church, and stuff I wouldn't. The point of the exercise is to try and define more clearly for myself (and for the sake of others) what separates church-acceptable music from church-unacceptable music for me.

Five You Love to Hear in Church, or would welcome if so heard.

1. The Summons, from the Iona community.

Why it's good for me: Each time I hear it, the song itself strikes me as a challenge: Will I leave myself behind and follow Christ?

Why it's good for Church: Biblical imagery used in such a way rarely makes bad theology, and it could serve as a good corporate call to worship. There is very little in the song to distract, lyrically or musically, and lyrics have potential for heart-reflection and mind-reflection. Presents a personal challenge largely in leiu of a bragimony.

2. We Believe in God the Father

Why it's good for me: I personally find more theologically oriented songs to be easier to reflect on, as a good deal of my reflection happens cognitively. This song is essentially an abridged Christian creed, so that does the job; being quite a heartily sung and played song doesn't hurt either.

Why it's good for church: It's the Creed. There is not much more deeply established Truth in Christianity than what is sung when this song is sung, and the chorus, which exalts Jesus as the Name above all Names, provides opportunity perhaps even for the less theologically-minded to reflect on the simple truth of Christ held high as King.

3. Oh Happy Day!

Why it's good for me: I don't like emotional worship much. I really don't. I can get into the feel of worship (as said, I love the heartiness of "We Believe..."), but I don't like very much singing about how God makes me feel, because oftentimes I either don't feel about God, or I feel badly. So this isn't actually my favorite song; it's good for me in that it provides an opportunity for meditation on a central Christian truth, that is, that Jesus comes not only to restore Humanity's right relationship with God, but also to restore the relationship of each individual to God. And it forces me to do so in a slightly more emotional way than might otherwise be comfortable to me.

Why it's good for church: I have to recognize that, my cautions about emotion notwithstanding, there is generally a set of persons in a given congregation who relates to God more emotionally than me; this song provides an excellent opportunity for emotional worship to still stay focused on the theological Truth of Christ's redemption of us all, not just corporately but also individually.

4. Hymn (Jars of Clay)

Why it's good for me: One of the few "happy" sounding songs that I truly like. I dig the guitar and the vocals and basically everything musical about this song, and the lyrics are also quite good.

Why it's good for church: It's a hymn with lots of clever wording (including a particularly good line about doing a ballet step upon one's own grave) that, to be quite honest, is not quite so distracting so as to defeat it as a church song. Lines flow freely to a curious phrase occupying the center of the song, that the congregation "spring worship" unto God, which is perhaps the most confusing thing about the song, but again, far from a defeater given the numerous other theological truths revealed.

5. Delirious? - I Could Sing of Your Love Forever

(It's pretty much incidental that there's a Delirious song on each side of the fence; however I assure you again that with Jars of Clay it was totally intentional.)
Why it's good for me: Of the modern worship songs it is probably one of the few, however oversung, that I still enjoy. I like the words, as well; many songs reference God as Creator, but it sometimes seems fewer acknowledge God's role as Creator; there's an element of God as sustainer in the song too, how God's love is revealed in creation.

Why It's good for church: All the same. It's also relatively simple and provides ample opportunity for both audible participation, and participation via simple meditation on Truth.

Five You Would Not want to Hear in Church, or would severely caution in that context.

1. Fold Zandura, "Return"

Why it's good for me: It's a solid example of FoldZan's sound and the lyrics are quite inspirational, speaking of the eschatological hope of Resurrection and the seeking to know more and more the mystery of God.

Why it's bad for church: Lyrical imagery has more potential to detract, rather than add, to the congregants' experience; also, there are kind of too many guitars for really effective corporate worship, unless it were made very obvious why the guitars were there. Lyrics also carry a possible theme of guy/girl romance along with the theme of communion with the Divine ("but we die together, we live believing the light returns and we'll never be whole until then").

2. Delirious? - "Deeper"

Why it's good for me: I love the lyrics and the sound, and the way they flow together. It's all about the yearning to grow deeper in one's relationship with God; the bridge goes so far as to almost seem a branching into eschatology ("how long do we have to wait? How long?"), and there are several key attributes and paradoxes of Christian living that are alluded to. So yes, I love this song.

Why it's bad for church: Perhaps a little too much structural change to really be helpful. It's not that it would be downright bad for church so much as, with the exception of the bridge, most of the lyrics could (in theory) be applied to a purely human romance, and therefore there's potential for lyrical/emotional confusion in the congregation.

3. The Echoing Green - "She's Gone Tragic"

Why it's good for me: Not gonna lie. For starters it's the groove, which is, quite frankly, amazing. Then there's this imagery of a woman who seems a pointer to the human condition before God, and the ending of the song on a theme it seems of an almost accidental salvation, almost as if we "[stumble] into the light" rather than really knowing exactly what we're doing. There's also that great theme of God giving us gifts that would make us happy if we could see past the comparatively tiny hardships associated with them.

4. Earthsuit - "Whitehorse"

Why it's Good for me: Earthsuit has the capability of creating in the listener a feeling of almost discomfort, a feeling of otherworldliness, almsot. They succeed in that in this song, which plays on imagery about "Jesus riding on a white horse" which they took from the book of Revelation.

Why it's bad for church: The song however is so musically involved with so many different frills; while unlike many of the songs on this second list, those frills seem more explicitly directed at God. And frankly, the lyrics and atmosphere are so...weird, that were I a congregant who did not know it, or even were I myself, I might find myself a little bit too distracted for contemplation or vocal participation.

5. Jars of Clay - "Liquid"

Why it's Good for Me: Amazing meditation on Christ on the Cross. Lyrics take an outsider's view until they zoom in on the Cross, on the Son of God given for us, as "the one thing that I know."

Why it's bad for church: Breakbeat, oversyncopated vocals and a switch from chant-ish vocals to more rock-ish vocals threaten to distract massively. Lyrics are a little bit too broken and a little too narrative for church as well, not quite as good for corporate singing.


There's my list. I look forward to seeing your lists.

There will be one other thing about worship music, at least sort of. But that'll be coming later on and is more tangentially related to the huge post a few weeks back.

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