Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Near/Far

Recently, I've been running across comments and blog posts complaining about the "feminisation of the church", and not just from the Wild At Heart types.


And I've also come across other sources decrying what they consider the vomitous drivel of worship songs which they categorize as "Jesus is my boyfriend" types of songs. And I have to wonder: why all the sudden Christian male fear of intimacy with God?

After all, we're supposed to be enlightened 21st century dudes, aren't we? Not stuck in some wierd 1950's Leave It To Beaver kind of gender role assumptions? So what's the deal with saying that the church has been "feminized"?

What's the preferred, more balanced, man-friendly alternative -- worship services modelled after a wrestling match or perhaps a tractor pull, with the platform adorned with flannel-draped power tools, and where the pastor looks like Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, or perhaps that icon of Canadian manliness, (insert genuflection here) Red Green?

Okay, I'm being just a wee bit sarcastic, but it DID strike me as odd this sudden sense of angst over the church being "feminized" (the decorating committee chose pastel colours again?). DANG, gotta get me some kind of sarcasm filter here...

I think the real issue behind this feminisation of the church and reaction to "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs -- which seems to include ANY song that speaks of loving Jesus (contrast with the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Mark 12:28-30) -- is the false dichotomy and pendulum swing between God's transcendance and imminence.

When songs like Arms Of Love by Craig Musseau, or Father I Want You To Hold Me by Brian Doerksen (to name just two of many) were written in the late 80's and early 90's, they were addressing a whole element missing from much of our worship: that God was approachable, intimate, a Comforter and a loving Father. The pendulum up till this point had been more focussed on God's transcendence: His holiness, His complete Other-ness, His attributes, and the need for reverential respect (fear) of the Lord. In many church circles, these songs of intimacy were perceived as an attack on God's sovereignty, or at the very least, the watering down of an understanding that God is HOLY.

And in some instances, there probably has been an over-correction, where God is now viewed as the Big Buddy in the Sky, or a feel-good hey-holiness-is-no-big-deal smilin' bobblehead, or even with the cavalier attitude of "Jesus is my homeboy". And perhaps we could start a contest in the comments to this post: "Syrupy Worship Songs That Send Me Into A Diabetic Coma". But this just represents the fringe element on the far side of the pendulum swing, which only serves to perpetuate the false dichotomy.

But perhaps the pendulum is swinging hard in the other direction; just as the anti-everything crowd gets their knickers in a knot about the irreverence towards God, so the emerging conversation has an element that seems to want to put God back in His unapproachable, unknowable, unlovable transcendent place.
Respect? Sure. Wonder? Okay. Mystery? Cool. Intimacy? Not at my tractor pull, buddy!
We need to learn to be comfortable in tension; radical middle people who can hold in one hand the idea that God is holy, righteous, soveriegn, just, and to be held in a deep reverential respect (fear of the Lord), and hold in the other hand the reality that, as Jesus told Philip, "if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father", and then look through, say, the Gospel According to St. John, and see just how Jesus modelled the heart of a Father who loves, cares for, blesses, and comforts His children. There is no biblical reason we should have to separate God's imminence and His transcendence; it's a false dichotomoy.
"For this is what the high and lofty One says -- He who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (Isaiah 57:15)
This post is getting long, so I'll stop here for now, but I think I'll be unpacking this one a bit more in the next couple of days.

19 comments:

  1. Hey Robby

    You nicely summed up and gave words to a few thoughts that were knocking around in me noggin.

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  2. Great thoughts!

    I think it's not so much "feminization," because then we're basically saying that feminine is wimpy and weak...which isn't true (according to the pictures of the strong women we see in the Scriptures, anyway).

    I think it's just that we've turned Christianity into white bread and twinkies. The gritty is taken out, the raw passion, the hungry searching. It's now 3 neat tidy bullet points, or five principles to live by. The X-rated Bible has become a Disney movie.

    So I wouldn't call it feminization, unless we're buying into the Victorian stereotype of feminine. I think it should be called denatured ("to change the nature of natural qualities of").

    We've stripped out the nutrients, much like brown rice was turned into white rice, and we say, "See, look. THis is good. This white stuff cooks in half the time. Isn't that cool?"

    And then when the planet starts dying of beri-beri (which they did, when white rice was first "invented," because they no longer got valuable nutrients out of their main food staple now that it was denatured), we just scratch our heads and keep on feeding them more of the same.

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  3. hey rob,

    Our beloved pirates arrrggh! are the perfect example of both Gods intimacy and power to us!

    molly, touched it quite right with a X-rated bible turned into a Disney movie. At this moment at various Dutch emergent/missional/ post-charismatic/post-reformed blogs there is a discussion about why many young people leave church: These people don't want to get beri-beri.

    Another effect of beri-beri christianity is fear by church leaders of probing but honest questions. Many people feel its not save to ask them.

    I am afraid this sounds familiar to the Canadian audience

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  4. (preface: the following comments are made by a long time now ex worship pastor)

    Overreaction is the typical Christian response so no surprise there. We (the Church) tend to go back and forth between extremes. Like Luther said, a drunken peasant trying to get up on the horse but falling off both sides. However, I don't think the two songs you refer to (Arms Of Love and the Doerksen song) are representative of the radical middle. I wouldn't consider them feminine but I can fully understand why a guy might feel awkward singing it. I say we need to recognize that most people will struggle with either romantic worship songs or Braveheart style war chants, though I still don't think that makes them invalid. We all need to learn to sing "I love you". We can work to disassociate this phrase from its typical cultural connotations.

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  5. Matt,

    Thanks! Hey, I see from your blog you're at SSU -- I'd be intersested in hearing how's that going, and if you see Zachari Smith, tell 'em hi from me.

    Molly,

    Yeah, I found the use of "feminisation" to be -- at best -- an awkward and unfortunate choice. I like your phrasing of "white bread and twinkies", which I think sums things up better anyway.

    And as Nico-Dirk has latched onto the term "beri-beri Christianity", I guess that means your taxonomy has been adopted already, at least in the Netherlands! :)

    Nico-Dirk, when honest and probing questions provoke fear in leaders, perhaps they're more the lily-livered, yellow-bellied type of pseudo-pirate in the first place. Make 'em walk the plank. Arrr!

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  6. Bill,

    My apologies, I wasn't trying to cast those two songs as "radical middle"; I was using them as examples of how the pendulum was swinging into a direction more in line with the imminence of God. Offhard, I can't think of any songs that could even be considered "radical middle" all by themselves.

    I think WE need to be the radical middle, and be willing and content to sing both kinds of songs. And songs in between. And songs of lament (a whole 'nuther genre and discussion), which would probably be best sung in minor keys, and preferrably done blues-style. But that's probably best saved for a future post... :)

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  7. Hi Robbymac,

    thanks for raising this and for sharing your thoughts, much to make me go hmmm and ponder, cheeres bro.

    I confess I have an interest here having had a very interesting time exploring the Q of where have men gone in church here: http://www.jasonclark.ws/2006/08/13/where-have-all-the-good-men-gone/

    One of the things that I found interesting was that men had some sympathy for the issues covered in the post whereas women heard it more in terms of reaserting some masculine dominance thang (a fear i can understand since that is what they are used too in chury history).

    In fact there was so much fear that I thought it was important to address the post on men with one clearly saying that women can teach/lead and i am not advocatin a return to some bad ol day, which if interested folk can see here http://www.jasonclark.ws/2006/08/25/exploring-the-role-of-women-in-missional-churches-of-the-western-world/

    Whislt I accept the point of living in tension between intimacy and mystery of God my own view is that we've over played the initmacy side so much that men's emotional slow thinking processes have finally found the words to say, heh we feel uncomfortable here. Much as we love the whole God as a loving dude we feel there is some more things/ways that we need to express/connect with our creator.

    Personally I think it's the same thing with mission, we have hardly any songs about mission but a great back catalogue of love-in songs - Jesus I love you/you love me is great but it is like every week is chick flick in church - i admit i love bridget jones the film as much as the next person with a sense of humour (but not as much as my wife loves hugh grant!) however take a look at my dvd shelves and there is as much adventure in there was well.

    But then again I'm just one of those wild at armpit types http://paulmayers.blogs.com/my_weblog/2006/08/wild_at_somethi.html :)

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  8. Hey Paul,

    Yes, I remember the posts you did at Emergent UK, and actually linked to the first one in my "A Few Good Men" post at the time (as did quite a number of other bloggers, as I recall).

    Two commentors on my "A Few Good Men" post, Dana and especially Iggy, had very thoughtful and insightful things to say on the topic. Check out what they wrote!

    And hey, I've not only got the Braveheart DVD, I think I've memorized great chunks of it from watching it so many times! The movie inspires me (being Scottish-Canadian helps); it's a prophetic statement, encouragement, and rallying call for me.

    But I don't find intimate worship -- as much as I also enjoy a good thrashin' warfare song -- to be like a chick flick. "Real men" can be warriors AND lovers; the same Jesus who trashed the temple also showed amazing tenderness and compassion on the woman caught in adultery.

    You've touched on some of the other things I want to post on in the next few days, so I'll sign off for now, and post later more fully.

    Thanks for dropping in!

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  9. thanks rm, good post/thoughts, i like and agree with both iggy and Dana - i'm not advocating some cult of machismo or indeed some sort of feminisation - sorry boys the urninals all pulled out of the bathroom,from now on we all have to sit, in fact we need to ask before we go sit... lol

    I think there is something that is more than just steroetyping - tool time and flak jackets would not get me into church but as I think dana posted, we need to look at our language and our theology and say hang on a minute have we pushed too far one way, is that why fewer guys go to church as all the get is Jesus intimate, sweet, lovingly cuddling a lamb, looking after his mother and talking eye shadow with Mary M...

    Personally i shy away from going down the warrior route - i guess i don't like the whole military idea but adventurer, hero, brother etc are all ways I connect my masculine side with Jesus, i just don't often hear the words/images/stories/teaching reflected.

    Braveheart great film, even if it grates on me historically - more of a gladiator man myself :)

    Anywho, I'll be back to listen to more of your thoughts, thanks for the ongoing exploration :)

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  10. oh and just for clarity - on the chick front, what i was saying that intimate worship is not inherently bad, it has a loving/romantic/beautiful tone (i'd give it for me the emotional temperature of a chick flick) - but as a man in worship i need to sometimes have the temperature turned up to something a bit more adventuresome/exciting/call for action esque/mission (turning up the thermostat to a lil picture of mel in a kilt :)

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  11. Hey Robby

    Yeah, I'm at SSU. I'll try to give the shout to Zach when I see him next... which will probably be within the hour given the size of this place.

    As for how SSU's going, well, I don't want to threadjack this too much, so I'll just let it be said that it's a one-of-a-kind kind of place. I like it, but some days I don't too and I think that's a good sign.

    Great thoughts going on here. I certainly don't want to lose intimacy as a much-needed aspect of worship, but one thing that I'd love to do away with is songs that could just as easily be sung to a romantic partner.

    Seriously, when my wife and I were dating, we'd hear these romance-worship songs and the last thing we'd be thinking about was God. We'd just look at each other and try not to laugh at the silliness of it all.

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  12. Love the pictures!
    I'm new here and desire to really hear and learn and grow as we share views.

    robbymac, your comment just rings so true. I find things swinging so far back again. There seems to be so much criticism about what we were/are and who's way is the way. I wish we could just do it, sing it, take it, give it,be it, etc. the way He created each one of us to be and accept that those around us might feel different than we do about it. To me, it's all called UNITY. I believe the enemy uses changes in the church big time to cause disunity - and we let him.

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  13. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for stoppin' by again. The more we interact, the more I "get" where you're coming from. It's almost like, a conversation or something... :)

    Your statement "we need to look at our language and our theology and say hang on a minute have we pushed too far one way..." made me think of Makeesha's post on this subject. Like Dana and yourself, she is trying to put language to this without making it a male/female thing. (Or are you the same Paul that commented there already?) :)

    Matt,

    Sounds like SSU is good, based on the fact that you like and don't like it at the same time. I had a similar experience at Providence College in Manitoba about 20 years ago -- loved parts of it, hated parts of it, overall really glad I went and God used it in my life.

    If Zach says, "Rob who?", you have my permission to fish-slap him.

    Joanne,

    Good to see you here! I've enjoyed our email exchanges, but it's good to have you in the conversation here as well.

    Everybody, say "hi" to Joanne! She's new in these here parts, and just getting to know all of us, so let's show her some blogging hospitality and welcome her,

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  14. Rob, I'm honored to be agreed with by both you and Paul :)

    Having lived through 50 years now, I think the biggest reason "intimate with Jesus" songs became so popular is that so many men were/are starved of intimacy in their relationships to their fathers. Think about the slew of God the Father songs that came out in the '80s. I think the reason for that was that ours was the first generation that could put words on that problem, and it was reflected in our worship music (not to mention film and thoughtful "mass market" music too). I'm interested in the sociologic/anthropologic angles here, because I think they say a lot about our theology. I'm still pondering the pendulum swing to the "other side".

    Dana Ames

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  15. Robby -
    I have been enjoying this discussion. I can't help but to think that worship-songs have been tainted by modern-day humanism. The songs are more about me than anything else....the way I feel when I worship, the warmth I'm experiencing, The comfort I feel, the promises of all that I'll experience in heaven, etc...
    These tendencies will at first glance seem somewhat "feministic", mainly because they are fundamentally MY song, decribing how I feel in MY life, when encountering MY God....
    Humanism states (in one form or another)that the end of all things is the happiness of Man...

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  16. Heh Robby, it's almost like some kind of mystery, talking and listening, listening and talking, it's like wow, simple yet profound :) yes I am the same Paul who posted at Mak's place and then found myself clicking on the link to come and read your thoughtful conversation on the subject.

    Dana - I'm honoured to agree with you as well :) I remember that Brian Doerksin (ok that's not how you spell his name) was really big on the Father's heart for a fatherless generation - I thought he was right, still do, I guess I feel I didn't miss intimacy with my dad in the same way the music auggests - more something of learning to be a man from him - I deciced that i wan't going to be passive like him, a most destructive vow which saw me being the most angry, manipulative, always right, always needing to dominate and be incharge kinda guy, with a warped sexuality and a bad case of self justification. It was a dramatic encounter with God that changed that around for me, including repenting of that vow and I felt in many ways God gave me permission to be his sort of man, hence one of my values is just being open about a healthy masculine identity not some false construct of maniliness - i lived it and for 15 yrs and it destructive...

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  17. Hey Rob,

    Man, is God ever using you to bring about incredible conversation about Him. Thank You again for heeding the call that God has put in your heart...

    Now, onto the subject at hand. For me, if the song has a passion for God that is just oozing from it, I could care less if it is chick-flickish or just a bunch of people banging drums (OK I'm partial to the drums...lol). I truly believe that one can tell if the song was done in the spirit when you hear it on the radio or on Sunday Morning. Those types of songs will touch your soul in the middle of what ever you are doing. They will bring out of what ever you are doing and put you immediately in the presence of God.

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  18. If intimacy = feminized, which as one commenter said, seems to be used as a synonym for "weak," then we would have to discard many of the psalms and selected passages where the prophets bare their hearts to God in complaint or distress.

    While there are no doubt some syrupy songs out there that ought to go, you should not draw the superficial conclusion that what appear to be "songs about me" are inherently humanistic or watered-down worship. When you find yourself in situations that mirror the circumstances of the psalmist in distress, as I have on many occasions, the psalms are not "songs about me." They represent the struggles of men trying to get to the next level in God, not trying to preserve personal happiness.

    If some "intimate" worship songs seem superficial, it's probably because the writers simply don't have the depth of personal relationship with God of the psalmists, not because "intimacy with God" is an insubstantial subject for a worship song. There are many people who trumpet the "substance" of traditional hymns who, when they sing them, are simply honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from him, which is to say there is little substance to their personal relationship with God as well.

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  19. Some great comments here...and good discussion... Thanks! It's been good to read...

    I think I'm going to have to start using beri-beri Christianity more frequently, too. :)

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