Monday, February 10, 2014

Musical Re-Integration

This morning found me relaxing in my living room, reading C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory and drinking some fresh coffee, with Resurrection Band's Rainbow's End as the background ambiance.

Lewis inspires me as a Christian because of the depth and insights found in his books. And Lewis inspires me as a writer because he's deep, he's profound, and he communicates so much with an economy of words (and with classic understated, dry British humor).

But during a brief pause to mull over some of Lewis' thoughts, the CD player caught my attention again. This particular album is pretty typical for earlier Christian rock music: some of the songs are addressed to Christians, some deal with social issues, some are geared more for non-Christians, and some were what we would call "worship".

And it hit me all of a sudden...
When (and why) did we separate worship music from other kinds of music?
I hear fairly regularly from other musicians who have decided to stop recording exclusively "worship" albums, and to include songs about life, social issues, and their own personal musings on faith. I've been quietly encouraging people to do this very thing, but I hadn't stopped to notice -- until this morning -- that back in the olden days, worship songs were quite naturally integrated into a typical Christian artist's recording projects. It was all part of the musical experience and expression of faith.

But then it changed.

Was it because worship became a hot genre in the 90's and beyond? And so every band now felt obliged to record worship albums? (I've heard stories of bands being pressured to do worship albums by their record companies because "worship is hot now".)

And I wonder... By compartmentalizing worship, creating a whole new sub-genre with its own "stars", are we unintentionally encouraging Christians to compartmentalize their faith in general?

Doesn't it seem more... what's the word... authentic to write songs that represent the full gamut of faith? I suspect that such albums would serve a much stronger purpose in encouraging, discipling, challenging, educating -- and yes, inspiring worship -- for their listeners.

(And I suspect the overall quality of worship songs might get better, too.)


  1. Hmm… first thoughts- Please forgive me, I’m about to make ‘sweeping generalizations’ based on what I’ve experienced and seen over the passed 15 years.

    Re: “When (and why) did we separate worship music from other kinds of music?

    Why, because worship music has been used by a large segment of the church as a means of escape. Songs that aid in connecting Lament with Praise are rarely welcome in church.

    An artist has to write the song that’s in them. Lament and Praise occupy the same space. They’re incredible together, because together they tell truth, help us remember what matters to us, and that we’re not Islands. So what do we do when we’re in a community that wants to forget? – We either change our music to meet the consumers taste, or we find a place for the songs we've written- and that often means taking them outside our Christian community.

    1. Escapism. That's an angle I had not considered, Deborah, but I think you've raised an excellent point.

      I'd love to see people free to do both: worship with passion & integrity with the gathered Body, and also playing their music in the dark places that need a light. It can be done - I truly believe that.

  2. Made me think of this from Walter Bruggeman's "The Prophetic Imagination". "The riddle and insight of biblical faith is the awareness that only anguish leads to life, only grieving leads to joy, and only embraced endings permit new beginnings." ..Talks much about the "Royal consciousness" "We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask ourselves if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought" and later, "The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for those questions are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before implementation."

    1. Makes me think of an old Resurrection Band song, "Elevator Musik":

      Elevator musik - it's a subtle kind of leaven
      Elevator musik - so it's a failure in heaven
      What this world needs is music that feeds
      Not elevator musik

  3. (Comments copied-and-pasted from the facebook link to this post Part 1.)

    Good question... No easy answer!... I know people who would consider it a breakdown in their Christian faith to listen to anything but 'Christian music,' which the majority of us have learned by now does not exist. I have had countless profound and spontaneous encounters with the Lord while listening to 'worldly' artists. To those who would vehemently oppose the possibility of Jesus moving in on their hearts through 'secular' art and music, I would pose the question, 'do you live in a christian house, or drive a christian car?' Worship has become a genre with its own stars and competitions for 'best worship leader of the year'... ridiculous... We have entered into the days of 'Worshiptainment' and I, for one, am just not buying it...(literally and figuratively!) (Darin T Janzen)

    It was separated by who ever figured they could make money off of it. Plain and simple. (Mark London)

    You know, Mark, that could be it... how christlike...
    Our music-team is trying to add some 'worldly' stuff in our services, and I was working my butt of to get the other expressions of faith in there too, but my goodness, it's like airbrushing with putty... (Diana Van Loo-Karsijns)

    Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise....The structure of the Lords prayer? (just thoughts) (Rob Cummins)

    Mhmm...the 90's and the profiteers are certainly a factor, sub sub genre indeed but another angle I see is the role of gospel music as in black spiritual music and it's profound impact on blues R&B and Rock. I respond to, listen for and appropriate songs with a certain depth of truth artistic quality and musicality. Sorry to say that but not often found in the new stuff...but I am almost 50! (Paul Seburn)

    Paul, that's exactly why I'm getting at: people should feel the freedom to write about "what comes out" when they sit down creatively to create. I would assume it's normal for that to include stories/songs about life, social commentary, love and romance, the faith journey including the highs and lows and unanswered questions, AND songs of worship to God.
    Ironically, that sounds a lot like the book of Psalms. (Robby McAlpine)

    Paul I think you're right about the feedback loop, 20 years ago everything sounded like u2 now everything sounds like everyone who was trying to sound like u2 20 years ago...loopy! (Darin T Janzen)

    Well what are we gonna do about it? Like most music has benefited from in the last 60 - 70 years a good shot of SOUL may help! unless it (modern worship industry) is beyond help (or does not want it) (Paul Seburn)

    Satan is in it to confuse it - smudge the lines, so that you cannot see the truth for the lies. God knows what is in our hearts, no matter what style of music. Yet, personally, I do not like that we have dropped the old for the new. Congregational singing used to be uplifting. Now it all just sounds like whining. The worship team leads us in new songs every week. Not one person knows them - so we just stand and mumble along. It depresses me. It makes my heart feel sick. The beats and rhythms are irregular which make it impossible for congregations to sing. . . . . and that is just about the music . . . (Coreen Hoekstra Myers)

  4. (Part 2 of the copy-and-paste)

    Part of the issue is that many (most???) of the worship songs are not really "singable" by the masses in a church setting. And harmonies are not easy to sing, if they are in there at all. We struggle with the songs being too low or too high at our church too, and you really can't sing parts to compensate. (Tamara Greenway-Hagens)

    Wow, we're hitting three variations on a theme here:
    1. the blog post itself; that worship song-writing should be integrated with song-writing about all of life (a riff on the "lifestyle of worship" that we hear a lot about)

    2. The UN-creative use of I V -VI VI (first, fifth, minor sixth, fourth) chord repetitions in both secular and worship pop tunes.

    3. Worship as participation in the gathered Body versus worship as performance/tyranny of the "new", whether people can join in or not.

    There's also the deeply disturbing trend of young worship leaders/bands shoving all the "old" people (over 35) out the door.(Robby McAlpine)

    Ahem...that would start a heated discussion in our church. (Tamara Greenway-Hagens)

    Ouch - yes. I am watching Churches fall to pieces over that issue. (Coreen Hoekstra Myers)

    I have seen a musical comedian demonstrating several songs all with that same prog. funny but sad. Coreen, interesting perspective. I recently began leading worship for a mixed but mostly aging congregation. though the songs I choose are new to them, they are often 15-20 years old. I am pretty particular about songs being melodic meaningful and I like several hymns and gospel songs. I hope I help create an atmosphere condusive to worship and praise but it is hard to tell sometimes. No doubt that a widening of repretoire and encouragement of uniqueness (home grown?) would be beneficial. But when a church / worship ministry is limiting the song selection to the flavor of the week? Where is the connection to the last 2000 years of Christian faith? Heck 3-5 years is considered "old" in the MWI (modern worship industry) (Paul Seburn)

    I understand. I just don't know how to deal with it when "Foreigner" sounds more melodic than "Worship". (Coreen Hoekstra Myers)

    Man this thread is on fire! by the time I finished my last post there were like 10 comments.
    Came across this "The Tragedy of (Most) Modern Worship Music":
    From that article : "Here is my non-traditional definition of what we might call worship: Any music, art, or experience that moves us in a transcendent way.This includes things made by Christians and things made by secular hedonists.This includes wordless music, formless painting, and R rated movies.This includes books, poetry, and just talking. Yes, just chatting with friends.This includes silence—the simple, still, do-nothing, unmediated experience of God." (Paul Seburn)

    I've heard nearly exactly these words from one pastor, judging the success of the worship music..."The measure of a good worship leader is often how many in the audience stand up or raise their hands out of their own volition." (Tamara Greenway-Hagens)

    Rob, thank you for opening this discussion. All of these comments are food for thought. May we all seek to know God in our whole life, rather than just "worship" Him with our emotions. Praying for churches too, there is a lot of selfishness, government intervention, and just plain bad attitude prevalent; that ought not to be there. God bless. (Coreen Hoekstra Myers)

    Wow!... I'm just happy the conversation is being had! (Darin T Janzen)