Friday, March 23, 2007

Life Notes - Relational Thing (2)

Christianity is a relational thing.

A friend on a forum where I take part in the discussions recently wrote:

"If I could sing praises to God with the instrument alone in my home, then I could do it in a church building with others. Worship is worship is worship. If I'm home doing it and NOT worshiping, then what am I doing? Pretending to be worshiping?"

So I wrote her a note back to share how my own thinking about instrumental music and Christian worship got started with a similar question. Here's what I wrote to my friends on that forum, many of whom, like me, have questioned the fact that where we grew up going to church, we never used instruments to accompany the vocal singing. We never used them at all, except for the occasional pitch pipe for the first note of a song or a hymn. We sang a cappella style. Why? I wondered. Here's a few more of my thoughts on the subject of music and questions we ought to ask ourselves...

I grew up asking that very same question! I asked a lot of questions then, and still do, I guess. And I agree with your answer, as far as it goes. Would you mind if I share some more questions? If you do, then stop reading...because I have a few I'd like to ask anyone who never sings a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song to the accompaniment of musical instruments. I ask to learn.

Please note that I am not seeking to accuse anyone with these questions, but rather am seeking to get us all to focus in on the influence that music has in our lives...even subliminally.

Here goes:

1) Do you only listen to a cappella music, or do you sometimes listen to Contemporary Christian music and just not sing along - even in your heart? Also, do you ever listen to Rock'n'Roll or Country or Metal or Classical or Jazz or R&B or other genres of music? And do you know any of the lyrics to Garth Brooks' song Unanswered Prayers? or the Kentucky Headhunters' version of Spirit In The Sky? or Cat Stevens' Peace Train or Morning Has Broken? or any of dozens of other poular tunes of almost every genre that express the faith of the writers? How are those songs okay to hum or sing along to if we should never use IM in praise to God?

2) IF you listen to other types of music than just a cappella, do you pay attention to the words to keep your mind and heart pure and undefiled by the messages of songs that do not seek to glorify God at all, but rather quite the opposite? (Why allow subliminal messages that promote acceptance of sinful thinking?)

3) IF you only listen to non-verbal instrumental music - or at least, non-vocal - do you seek to find out whether the composer wrote that song in appreciation to the Lord? Would it matter to you if a song using IM was written to lift the soul and open the heart to the very Spirit of God? (And do you ever feel so lifted when you heard a song played with IM accompanying?)

4) Do you believe "secular" music to be sinful, since it does not focus on bringing glory to God? Do you listen to such music on the radio? What do you do when someone else turns on such music in your presence, or when an elevator has Musak playing softly as you ride in it?

5) How do you feel about music that links nationalistic patriotism with faith in God - the way God Bless America or America the Beautiful does? And what do you do with John Denver's Thank God I'm A Country Boy? or even a song like Barry Manilow's Oh Mandy that speaks of someone who came and gave without taking? Do you quickly shut off the radio when such a song with IM stirs you to think about Jesus or God in some way?

These are all good questions, some admittedly more valid for some people than for others. And I have wrestled with every one of them many times over, as one who grew up in the non-IM churches of Christ. I wrestled with them when my Dad played a song from the hymnal in our living room on the organ or piano. I wrestled with them when I first heard The Imperials perform Water Grave. I wrestled with them while I was in a very conservative preaching school and listening to Amy Grant and Ray Boltz and The Imperials on my compact tape player as I worked at my Grounds Maintenance Chief job that helped to get us through those lean years.

But I was never satisfied to just accept the music, even when in High School as a part of the Chorus we had Christmas and Easter programs that included the Hallelujah Chorus(?) and Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee and even Handel's Messiah. I searched the scriptures and read all I could find on why we didn't use IM in worship and what the words meant in the pertinent passages and what the messages of those passages were. I read as widely and as exhaustively as my reading skills and eager mind could find and allow. And I sought to expand my reading as I expanded my skills in reading languages. I spoke with brethren privately who taught me and whom I respected as students of the Word to ask what they taught and why. I studied and memorized all the arguments for and against that I could get my greedy little hands on. I did not just accept that we live in a world moved by music and have not enough control over all that we hear. For a while I even took to using the stairs, no matter how high the climb, to avoid the Musak - so I know what it means to be serious about this.

You know the conclusions I've reached so far. I have not made any of them secret at all. I have poured out my heart here. Would you share with me what you struggle with about IM as well? I hope so - so that I can continue to grow and so encourage you...because I have studied long and hard and have not arrived at perfect knowledge. I live what I know and I trust in grace all along the way. So...will you journey beside me in this study? We may not agree, but I, for one, will be richer for the time spent sharing the journey...and maybe you will, too.

Life Notes - Relational Thing (1)

Christianity is a relational thing.

I am basically an adequate guitar player, nothing special. I have the guitar my Dad used for most of the time I can rememeber him playing, both at home and occasionally in public performances. Dad was better than me at it. But I have his Alvarez flat-top guit-box with the special leather strap my brother made for him. And I have an Ibanez 12-string that my wife bought for me a few years back. It is as awesome as I thought it would be for all those years I dreamed of having one. And the last guitar I have is a hand-made (one of four like it) original that my Dad crafted from home-made forms and store-bought wood and home crafted tools that look and function just like the ones in the book on guitar-building he read. Dad's craftsmanship rendered a rich, full-bodied classical guitar with a capital Z carved into the end of the keyboard. My Mom has one, my sister another, and my brother has the last of the four. In truth, my brother finished the work that my Dad began but could not finish on my guitar, due to the lung cancer that claimed his physical tent.

I shared all of that to give a glimpse of the kind of musical influences of my family as I was growing up. Still, we attended only non-IM churches of Christ all the time I was growing up. Dad never had a problem with playing hymns and singing them together as a family at home, because it came from the heart as Paul said to do, so maybe that was a good influence that helped me to see things the way I do. We had organs and pianos and guitars and bongos and tambourines and morracas and chimes and even a xither. And my Dad built a harp during the time he was beginning to make guitars, too.

So I finally picked up a guitar in college, 28 years ago, and never - until this last Christmas season - had ever played an instrument in an assembly of the saints. At our Sunday assembly we sang music celebrating the coming of the Word that was made flesh and I preached about the Savior and we closed the service with the congregation singing Silent Night as our sound man and I played guitars and one of our elders played the piano. It was a wonderful time of encouragement and praise and fellowship. And it was the first time I played in an assembly of saints...but probably not the last, Lord willing.

Now I know there are some who will mark me for doing this, perhaps even here, but I do not stand or fall before any of these. I seek only the blessing of my Father in heaven, for He is the only One who can make me to stand in His presence. My heart and my voice accompanied by my guitar and Tim's guitar and Ken's piano and the voices of the congregation with their hearts sang the melody together. Some may struggle to understand this, but I must say that it was one of the most spiritual moments for me. Finally I offered the gift of my Dad and of my own heart to the Lord. No one asked me to give another gift because it wasn't the right one or because it wasn't their gift. No one asked me to offer a different gift at all. All who were there understood that we all offered our gifts to the Lord, and we all took time to encourage one another further before we left that assembly.

And so I wonder ... how many others, like my Dad, have longed to offer the gift they had to the Lord but were told it wasn't the right gift? (Like my Dad was told when he was asked to lead singing but told them he only sang lead when he played his guitar, due to insecurities about his voice.) My Dad's voice was a wonderful, rich baritone voice trained by singing and performing country music whenever he could and wherever he could. And I remember well those times he would play the organ and accompany us as we would sing the songs we had sung that week at church. I remember him calling out the chords as they changed, so I could strum along on his guitar. And I remember wondering if the saints we assembled with had any idea what they were missing when they told my Dad it wasn't acceptable for him to play his guitar in an assembly, or even at a fellowship in someone's home. Dad accepted it with grace, but declined to lead singing without his guitar, because he really never learned how to do that - and no one offered to teach him, either. I barely struggle through leading songs and still do not have the skills to teach someone how to lead a song well - so I could not teach him.

Well, now Dad is asleep in the Lord, waiting to waken to the trumpet's call and rise to live with the Lord forever. And I look forward to the day when Dad and I will pick up guitars together in heaven and sing for Jesus as He listens face to face. What a day that will be!

That's a part of what I mean when I say, "It is a relational thing."