Monday, February 18, 2008

Do you worship? Or, I worship, therefore I am.

This is my first request if I can remember correctly. My good friend, youth cell group and adult cell group co-leader and youth pastor, Josh Wilson challenged me last night to explore different forms of worship music and how people tend to have their favorites. In my typical over achieving way, I just decided to take the whole enchilada and do worship all together. I'll also publish the post as I'm working on it, so until you see my signature on the bottom, it's not done.

First, what is worship? Typical acts of worship include: prayer, sacrifice (korban in Hebrew), rituals, some forms of meditation, holidays, festivals, sacraments, pilgrimages, hymns, psalms or worship music, dance, the construction of temples or shrines, the creation of idols of the deity private acts of devotion. To clarify a few things here, Jewish and Christian scriptures forbid the use of idols and probably shrines because they often use images. Then there are private acts of devotion which create a whole mess of their own because of the simplicity of their complexity in practice. I'll focus on these when I speak of idolatry.

So, do you worship?
Unless you are dead, the answer is yes. It is the whole devotion aspect. What or who are you devoted to? Are you devoted to hobbies, education, ministry, leisure, sex, sleep, work, video games, cars, your significant other, or yourself? What do you spend most of your time thinking about? Let us explore some of these concepts.
If you worship a deity or spiritual being, that is something not often physically seen, or with supernatural powers or whatever, to worship that being is to essentially attempt to become like that being or to take on some of that being's attributes. If that being is known to have delivered a message to the world through a messenger or to have condescended to take the form of a human to deliver the message him/herself, you are likely to regard those messages or teachings with special importance. If there are commands or examples, you are likely to attempt to follow them. Performing these acts of compliance can be considered worship, and noncompliance can be considered to be not worship of that being, or more importantly, worship of something else. Therefore, an act of fornication if you are a Christian can be considered an act of worship, either of worship of the act itself, or worship of the other person, or worship of one's self depending on the motive of the act. This is because God forbade fornication, and not following that command means not devoting one's self to God, which can mean devoting one's self to or worshiping something other than God which God calls idolatry.

Now naturally, I am speaking from a Christian perspective here because I am an unashamed Jesus Freak myself. My acts of worship include all of that list above except for the construction of idols and shrines as I mentioned the reasons for previously. Some theologians have called humans homo adorans that is "the worshiping man." In a very basic sense, I'd agree with this. Basic to the point that I mentioned before that doing anything, literally anything, is an act of worship or devotion. Therefore to be a human can be defined as being able and in the process of worshiping something. Rene Descartes (day-kart) famously philosophized Cogito ergo sum, that is "I think therefore I am." He came to this conclusion in his search for meaning after considering that nothing could really be proven to exist. But a thought had to come from something that thinks, and something that thinks has to be, therefore if it thinks, it is. I guess if I carry my stuff here out to that logical conclusion I get: I worship therefore I am. Worship must be carried out by a worshiper, therefore, if there is worship, there is a worshiper.

Music is often used in worship. I like the creativity inherent in all music. It to me is worship. It uses the God imbued powers of choice and creativity to create a masterful work of art. I'm not just talking about worship and praise music here, I'm not even speaking of Christian music, I am talking about all music. Certainly most music is not created with the intent of devotion to God, at least not my God. However, as I said before, all the abilities a musician has are there because of the gift of God. Therefore to me, though I can be disgusted with the lyrics of Eminem for instance, I can marvel at the creativity and sheer skill my God has gifted him with the ability to achieve. Some of my favorite musicians are rappers, not that I enjoy the usual rap music, because I don’t, because of the subject matter. One of my favorite bands was Rage Against the Machine. Though some of the social messages were a little misguided, many of them were really good, and to combine social messages with extremely creative and fast paced lyrics and the incredible guitar work by Tom Morello just made incredibly intriguing music to listen to. That kind of energy is often missing in music devoted to Jesus. The only CCM artist that I can think of off hand who is on par is TobyMac. I might consider that guy the coolest person on earth.

One thing that gets on my nerves quite a bit is the concept of “praise and worship music” because any music is worship. I often hear music in church composed by Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman or Aaron Schust or Michael W. Smith. Where is worshipful but loud and fast music by the likes of TobyMac or Switchfoot or Relient K? There are very very very few churches that will play that kind of stuff during a service. All of them that I know of are far into the non-traditional church arena, and that is good, but the church traditional is always behind, and likely always will be. Many churches prohibited rock and roll early on, only to embrace it now as standard fare. If they had embraced and invaded it when it was in it’s infancy, we would have a vastly different world today. Of course many CCM bands will play to both audiences. Newsboys concerts are loud and fast with a lot of crazy stuff, but they also have some of the most worshipful (according to traditional definitions) music around. Third Day is the same way.

The thing most often cited in the breakup of a church is worship style. Everybody likes the stuff they like, the stuff they are accustomed to. Often these patterns are set up in the late youth to early adulthood era. That's why there are so many classic rock stations, even though they basically play the same stuff over and over and over and over again. They might as well have a single 12 hour cd that they play every day. Anyway, don't get me wrong, I like classic rock, but the reason I don't drink grape soda every day is because when I do drink it, I'm going "SWEET, GRAPE SODA!!!" whereas if I drank it everyday, I'd just say "oh, grape soda." I digress. Anyway, the inability of an influential person, or group of persons to accept what others see as worship is often what breaks apart spiritual communities, churches in particular. These people are often middle aged or better, and there is always some sort of divide between those of that age, and the younger often more populous crowd. What the younger crowd needs to understand though is that the older crowd is the group who pays for the church. No old people, we meet in the park.

This brings up the concept of favored worship style. Naturally, some people feel more confident praying in private and some feel confident enough to raise their hands and/or dance during the service. Some are confident to sing their lungs out, and some do so even though they sound horrible. One of the most spiritual men I know has the worst singing voice I’ve ever heard, but he loves to sing and praise Jesus. That’s the important thing, it’s the purpose of the whole enterprise. What is the purpose, is it to please certain groups of people or is it to provide an atmosphere wherein people can worship?

To be perfectly truthful, I was once part of a church split, and I’ll say right out in front, I was on the wrong side. Actually, there was a small split before that that I was in the middle of, but not involved with. The first one was fairly simple, the church band wanted to start a new outside church band, and the church leadership said that the band’s prime responsibility was to minister to the church and that they should not be playing at other church’s services if it conflicted with the home church. So, a few people left and started their band and that was that. After that, the remainder of the band, three people with the original two leaders, had a lot of work to do, rebuilding the worship service and song resume. After six months, things began falling apart and the two leaders began having complaints about the other three of us. We of course didn’t like the implications we were being charged with, some of which were true. So we went to the church leaders and asked for some reprieve from stuff and to just get back to being a worship team. The two leaders threw mud, and one of us (not me) was kicked out of the band so the rest of us quit as well. The former band leaders quit the church all together. Eventually, the rest of us did as well, and of course, started our own band. Eventually, I got tired of the pseudo-spiritual act and the tired music, and God changed the path of my life and brought me to Arkansas.

Honestly, in church, I’d love to hear much more upbeat, fast, and loud music in church. I believe that dancing should make a return to church, remember David who danced with all his might before the Lord? What would that look like? I know what you are thinking, but maybe he didn’t look like a drunken hippy. Maybe it looked more like the dance in the temple in The Matrix Reloaded. It reminds me of some of what I have seen in African worship services with drum music, and jumping around, and crazy amazing worship. Honestly, that’s how I like to worship with music. Unfortunately, I so rarely get to do it that way. The other way I do it is by playing my bass guitar for church. I’d love to get so much more into it and excited, but it is just not to be. Our church is filled with people whose background and attitudes just wouldn’t be comfortable with that. And the thing is, I’m ok with it. I have grace enough to allow others wants and needs to come before mine. I trust that God will allow me to worship him in my favorite way in the future as he has done in the past. But until then, it is my lot to worship him in someone else’s way
Worship hard.



Josh Wilson said...

Good stuff... keep it coming.

The Clarks said...

I agree with you- music itself is worship... often misguided in who it is for, I get so sick of "christian" music, although there are some that I love. I seem to either LOVE it or hate. Did you read the tangent in my ranting blog (soapbox) where I vented about this? I really liked your blog, good 'un. :)

WiredForStereo said...

I picked up this quote from that post: "I tend to be liberal when I'm around stuck-in-the-mud conservatives, or conservative around angry-self-righteous-sob Libs."

I left a comment asking what you thought of me then, a center moderate independent.

I agree with you about what you said about people trying to be relevant. However, it's not the relevant people who are concerned with this, it's the irrelevant. The relevant Christians (I like to be called a Jesus Freak, no ambiguity there) are the ones who are already in the culture, doing like Jesus did and tearing away the foundation from within.

No, leave discussions of relevance to church boards and congregations struggling to gain members. We are individually as relevant as we need to be.

Sarea said...

You would be one of those people that make others uncomfortable and squirm. :-) Thinking outside the box . . . it is a concept that more people need to catch on to. Until then, I will read your blogs and allow myself to be uncomfortable!

Sarea (Ben and Heidi's sister)

WiredForStereo said...

Thank you for the compliment, I make myself squirm. I speak as much to me as anyone.