Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Great Chain of Being a Worship Wonk

I had a wonderful experience recently, finding myself one small link in a great chain of worship wonkedness. Here are a few of the key steps, though of course there are many links, both before and after the ones described here, about which we cannot fully know.
  • A friend, Chip Stam, makes a presentation on Keith Getty & Stuart Townend at the North American Academy of Liturgy meeting in San Diego.
  • My worship interns ask me to speak a little in class about using the first-person personal pronoun in worship songs.
  • I respond with a 15-minute mini-presentation on the objective and subjective in worship songs. I argue that while some people say there is too much "I" and "me" language in some genres (and they may be right), the Psalms -- the songbook of God's people with some authoritative precedent -- is full of those first-person pronouns. I suggest then, that those subjective "I"s are usually spoken in balance with and response to objective statements about who God is and what God has done.
  • During the presentation, I use some handy-dandy illustrative materials from Chip's Getty/Townend presentation to illustrate.
  • My interns plan chapel and decide to use the Getty/Townend song In Christ Alone. They also attend very carefully in other song choices to the balancing of the objective and subjective.
  • I have a conversation with a Fuller student who confesses that his extensive musical training has kept him in a perpetual state of disgust with "contemporary" (read "pop") church music. He has hated it, even as he has had to endure it regularly. Not long ago, however, he tells me that he attended a Fuller chapel service since he was playing percussion for the Fuller Vocal Ensemble. At that service, he was getting ready for his weekly wallow in disgust when he was struck by the fact that the particular "contemporary" worship songs sung that week not only "didn't suck," they were actually quite good - both lyrically and musically. The song that got his attention, of course, was Getty's In Christ Alone.
  • This experience catalyzed within him a desire -- stoked by another class he is taking in ethnomusicology here at Fuller -- to reconcile his 'high art' church-music self with his 'low culture' rock and roll self. He is rethinking the role of music and the various cultural languages with which we speak our praise and prayer in worship.
  • This student, by the way, is an excellent composer, and a fair writer. Who knows what happens next... Maybe he'll write the excellent songs my children will sing in worship in 20 years. And another link in the chain is forged.
Solo Dei Gloria.

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