Beyond The Pale

Mean It ‘Till You Feel It

This morning in Church, I wasn’t feeling it. The music was “on” as they say, and people were all worked up. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t one little bit. I was distracted by how much the worship leader looked like one of my college professors, by how many women were wearing high heals with jeans, by the sheer number of mohawks (have the styles changed that much this year?), by wondering if the violinist would have that long of a neck if she hadn’t spent so many years playing the violin, by, well, everything.

Everything besides the songs we were singing.

And why shouldn’t I be? The music was thumping, everyone was emotionally charged, but I wasn’t feeling it. I don’t choose to feel it without a reason, and I wasn’t given a reason. Here’s what we sang:

You are good. You are good.
When there’s nothing good in me.
You are love. You are love.
On display for all to see.
You are light. You are light.
When the darkness closes in.
You are hope. You are hope.
You have covered all my sin.

Not bad right? Put some snappy music to it, and that’s something you can really get into. It’s got everything you need for an ecstasy. It’s repetitive, for nothing produces euphoria like a good chant. It’s simple. And it’s falsely humble, for no one who would sing that song can do so honestly. Any person who would want to sing it would also claim some influence of a perfect God in their life.

And so I sound like the bitter student who came out of CBC in 2002 with a chip on his shoulder. But I’m not. I don’t actually have anything against that song—for those who are in a state of worship already. Who have found that emotional stance that we pretend worship isn’t about. And it might work for those who aren’t ready as well, but the way that it works for them is a poor substitute for leading them into a real attitude of worship because it’s the music that’s going to take them there, regardless of whether their minds come along or not.

So I stood and thought about the song, and I worshiped in my own way, tried to find that mental worshipful stance without the help of a key change or the fog machine on stage.

Then a different song came on:

Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of thy redeeming love.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

What a different position I suddenly found myself in. The emotion washed over me like a flood, of minor keys and dry ice, and I was able to worship with abandon!

Not true.

My emotional state changed exactly zero.

What did change was the nature of the song and the way in which it was able to help me into a worshipful state. The difference between the first song that I quoted and this one is where they fall on the slide rule between what I call “Chase the Ecstasy” type worship and “Mean it ’till you feel it” type worship. These songs don’t represent the extremes by any means. If I was going to extremes, I’m sure I would have chosen that stupid Darrell Evans song from around 2000 “Trading My Sorrows” as my first song, and I might have chosen the Newsboys’ “Strong Tower” as the second one so that I couldn’t be accused of just liking old songs better than new ones (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was written by Robert Robinson in 1757, when he was 22). But this song helped me worship in a way that the other one could not have because it’s theologically relevant, a prayerful statement of devotion and a request for protection and assistance from the creator of the universe. The other song is exciting, and it’s not devoid of theological content, but it certainly is low calorie at best.

My point here isn’t to draw attention to extremes, nor is it to disparage either type of song. There’s a place for both of them—well, maybe not for “Trading My Sorrows;” that song is really horrible—at least to an extent. But I’ve been to churches where there was nothing to think about during worship, so if you don’t show up ready to get pumped up, then you aren’t going to get anything out of the service. I’m sure I always misunderstood, but I always got the impression from my parents when I was a kid that if a person couldn’t “get into worship” there was something wrong with their walk with Christ. My parents probably didn’t mean it that way. They aren’t that nutty. Regardless, I repudiate that thought. People are in different states when they come in. They have had different experiences this morning, this week—this ten months. And some people might need that ecstasy, but others might need a song that they can chew on and sing, meaning what they sing until they feel it, as I did. Or maybe even singing it until they mean it, one step further removed. I applaud Manna Church’s worship staff for taking the time recognize that both kinds of song are necessary.

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April 3, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Church, Worship | Leave a comment