Friday, March 11, 2011

Worship Wars, Part 2

DAY 3 OF 46

For Part 1, please click here

With news of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan today, it's been hard for me concentrate on anything else. I pray that God would bless His people there with peace and grace to recover from such a catastrophic event.

In a way, I've realized how the power we've seen displayed in Japan today can contribute to our discussion regarding corporate worship. Indeed, the earthquake and tsunami represent a mere fraction of God's might, competence, and invincibility. What sheer drama to watch frothy, surging tides washing along Japanese countryside, literally consuming everything in their path.

To think that this brutal, physical force is a product of God's design at first makes some people shudder with disdain, repulsed at a Deity Who would allow - let alone create the elements contributing to - such a disaster.

But for those of us with faith in Him through His Son, we believers should recognize that the God whose very world just witnessed this raw natural convulsion is the very same God we claim to worship every Sunday. He's the God who created the crust of the Earth, beneath the vast oceans, which He also spoke into being. He's the God who designed the core of our globe to be encased in tectonic plates, and for them to shift periodically, causing the phenomenon we call earthquakes and tsunamis.

Do We Worship Who's In Control?

Sure, God could have designed the Earth to be a ball of simple dirt which never settled or shifted, but He didn't. He's God. He could have prevented the disaster that struck Japan today, but He didn't. He's God. He could have plucked every person from harm's way today, but He didn't. He's God.

Can you see a pattern emerging here?

In the relative consistency of our existence here on Earth, we like to think that control of many things are, if not within our grasp, at least within reach. We grow uncomfortable contemplating the reality that ultimately, we do not order our days. I suppose it's human nature to dwell on what we can see and touch, instead of being still and pondering what many of us consider to be imponderables. Things like why preachers get murdered in their own church. And why even the fifth-largest earthquake in recorded history can, although being massive in scale, do a fraction of the damage to Japan that a much more mundane earthquake inflicted upon Haiti, virtually decimating it.

As jaded humans, however, by this Sunday, many churchgoers will have already fallen back into their normal modes of operation, ensconcing themselves back into their routines and figuring the $50 they donate to earthquake relief online absolves them of any responsibility to think about this further. To help themselves settle back into their familiar world of entertainment, instant information, and fun, they'll seek a corporate worship format that compliments the lifestyle they know and find nonthreatening.

But who is the object of worship in such services? Is it the God of the Japanese earthquake, or the god of convenience and comfort that comes from a casual interest in being part of something larger than ourselves? Sure, many people of faith pay lip service to Biblical principles like honoring God and being holy, but do we really want to consider that what we think may not be exactly authentic?

Actually, Classical IS Better

You may be interested to know that the Presbyterian Church in America has begun a missions program to Japan in which classically-trained musicians lead evangelical outreach concerts to the youth - let me repeat that: the youth - of Tokyo and its suburbs. If you're a parent, you've no doubt heard about how much better Japanese schools are at preparing their children for becoming productive citizens. And part of that training has been a comparatively rigorous syllabus in, of all things, classical music.

Hmm. Do you see where I'm going with this? It's not that Japanese kids don't enjoy rock music, but they've been trained to know the value of mathematically robust and aesthetically genuine music, such as what we readily find in most classical repertoire. Conversely, as American students continue to sink in the international rankings of scholastic aptitude, what do American parents let their kids absorb musically? Well, it ain't classical music, is it?

Now, before we get into the whole Tiger Mom debate (actually, Chinese parents like their kids learning classical music, too), let's pull back a minute and think about this. Classical music is appreciated in Asian culture. It's also studied in recognized art and music schools throughout the world. Any suburban teenager can blast rock anthems out of an electric guitar in their parents' garage. But classical music is an acquired skill, and, on a somewhat negative side, an admittedly acquired taste. At least for some of it - and us.

Broadening Cultural Horizons

Not that I'm trying to sound snobbish or even holier-than-thou. And I'm not saying that all classical music is good, or that all contemporary music is bad. But isn't it obvious that classical music is more than just the stuff of dead white guys from Europe?

Which, by the way, isn't far from how many black evangelicals view CCM. Christianity Today discusses this reality in their current series on corporate worship. Think about it. Who writes most of it? White guys, although no, they're not dead or Europeans. For the most part, CCM was created and has been developed as an overwhelmingly white, suburban, middle-class genre.

One of the things America's white, middle-class suburbanites have done very well is forget about people whose skin color and culture are different from theirs. Generally speaking, we've cloistered ourselves off into mostly-white suburbs (and now, ecru ex-urbs) from which we look down our noses at people we think are robbing us blind with social entitlements.

Guess what, though? Those minorities many of us disparage aren't the worthless welfare cases some consider them to be. As a reformed evangelical, I believe there are people of all sorts of cultures and ethnicities whom God has and is redeeming unto Himself. As such, if you're telling me I need to tolerate CCM because that's the music of my culture, these folks have just as much right to expect music from their culture in their corporate worship services. Only, quite frankly, if we start getting a whole mis-mash of cultures and music in a worship service, it's going to get cacophonous and distractingly dissonant very quickly. Right?

Well, I have an excellent solution! How about a genre of music with an impeccable pedigree which cultures the world over have already come to regard as conducive to expressing glory and praise? How about a genre of music which people from any culture can learn, and not feel goofy performing? How about a genre of music which by almost any standard draws the attention of the audience away from themselves? And how about a genre of music which, even though it originated in Europe, has evolved into an acultural discipline which can still respect distinct instrumentation from a variety of countries, such as the djembe, maracas, guitar, and even bongos?

As well as my personal favorite, the pipe organ.

OK, so preference does come into play - at least a little bit. But purpose remains the essential, ultimate objective. A purpose which, as people who tell me I should embrace CCM always say, is culturally inclusive instead of exclusive. And what is the purpose of corporate worship?

Same as it always has been: to honor the God of the universe. The same God who ordained the earthquake and tsunami in Japan today.

The God we should have been worshipping all along.

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