I Write the Songs…

In The Republic, Plato quoted Damon of Athens as saying “Give me the songs of a nation, and it matters not who writes its laws.” For thousands of years, music has been at the forefront of culture. While we know very little of what the music was for thousands of years, we do know that it showed up fairly early in the history of humanity, and has played a prominent role in our lives ever since.

The church scene is in a very interesting place right now. The praise chorus movement of the last 30 years or so has almost completely obliterated hymns in some circles, and has caused a general uproar by everyone (I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know). What is interesting to me is where worship in the church is going. Generalities are usually frowned on, especially in the academic realm, but I can’t help but generalize church worship into two separate movements fueled by my generation–the ones who are quickly growing up and taking the place in the church that boomers held for so long. It seems to me that people my age are either headed down some sort of seeker sensitive/emergent road, or they are looking for something that feels much more liturgical and less new age.

I have discovered a new passion this year: I believe that people who call themselves Christians should know what they believe and what it means to be a Christian. Specifically, I feel like the church desperately needs a movement to solid theological understanding, and a replacement of ’emotional worship’ for ‘purposeful worship.’ Honestly, as much as I despise the thought of coining this phrase, there is no getting around its effectiveness in relaying my point: I believe the church needs to get back to ‘Purpose Driven Worship.’

A thousand years ago, everything had explicit purpose when it was done in the church setting. Cathedral architecture all reflected theological understandings in ways meant to convey that theology to the common worshiper. Floor plans were designed to teach. Stained glass windows all contained Biblical teachings, often stories from the Bible. In a world where the overwhelming majority of people were completely uneducated, the cathedral was a basic way to educate the Christian and remind them of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

Today it is not a fundamental education that is lacking from our society, but rather a religious one. Most people go about their lives, blindly believing whatever it is they have been told by parents, friends, media, society, and the like. Not only do they have no clue what they believe, they don’t even know why they believe it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should cram years of theology down a new believer’s throat as soon as they become a Christian. Jesus himself said we should have faith like a child. But faith is not negated by education, rather I believe my faith as increased as my theological understanding has grown. God’s desire is not for us to be content with the basics. James tells us that God will give wisdom generously to all who ask for it, and Paul mentions more than once (okay, Paul mentions it, and whoever wrote Hebrews mentions it) that we should not continue to drink milk, but should move on to solid food. I just can’t stress enough how important it is that Christians continue to develop their spiritual life, not just by praying for it to happen, but by putting forth personal effort to make it happen.

One of the major benefits of a highly liturgical service is the meaning that everything has. Because everything is planned out ahead of time, the words to be spoken written with deep care, the rituals performed with highest consideration, you get a service that has purpose. It tends to emphasize the corporate aspects of worship, and also helps to de-emphasize the individual who is leading the service. Together, all of these things will hopefully draw the attention to the words being spoken and the actions being performed, rather than on feelings and emotions.

So… what does this all have to do with Damon of Athens? A lot. I recently read a study on the most popular worship choruses of the past fifteen years and their theological content, focusing specifically on trinitarian worship. Of the 72 songs, two of them mention all three persons of the Trinity by name, and a third does indirectly. Does anyone see a problem with this? Plato and Damon believed that songs were the most impactful part of culture on their society, and the same holds true today. Like it or not, believe it or not, what we’re singing is shaping and forming our beliefs, and according to the 72 most popular praise choruses of recent, apparently we don’t believe very much in a triune God.

My point is not to bash praise choruses, although I think it is deserved. My point is to try and show just how much of a need there is for solid theological teaching to all Christians, regardless of how old they are, what denomination they attend, or where they live. We serve the almighty, infinite God of all things. Don’t you think it’s worth the effort to get to know who he is?

Dr. Maher

I’m not sure how many of you are still reading since I haven’t written much in a while, but for those of you who are you’ll be happy to know I have four post-it notes of topics to write on, and they’ll be receiving attention starting tonight. These ideas spawned from lunch with a very dear friend of mine, Dr. John Maher. I had music theory with him way back in my Freshman and Sophomore years, and always was a big fan of his. Somewhere along the way last year, we started getting to know each other on a more personal level over the course of several lunches, and now we try to meet for lunch a few times a semester to enjoy each other’s company and usually to have some very engaging discussion. I can’t express to you enough how much our lunches together mean to me, and how thankful I am for them and the relationship we’ve built over the past couple of years.

Today at Subway, we had some really great conversation about the things that were on our minds, mostly about religion and the church, and it spawned a lot of thinking for us. My four post-it notes have 12 different topics we touched on today that I would like to write on. Some of them are really in-depth topics that would require a lot of research and hard work, many are things I need to think on a lot more, and a couple are simply opinion issues that I have strong opinions about.

I can’t promise you which topic I’m leaning towards writing about tonight, but something is coming. And it will be deep. And it will be worth reading (I hope).

Lessons from the rooftop

Tonight after dinner I went to help Aaron Gouge finish up part of a roofing job he’s doing. He realized that it was supposed to rain tonight, and he wanted to get at least one half of the roof done and tarped so the rain didn’t damage the house he was working on. For about the first hour and 15, everything went fine. We worked under the light of our headlamps; I fed him shingles, he nailed them down, and we listened to oldies (which apparently means 60s and 70s now) and talked. Just as he was getting to the last few shingles, we saw our first flash of lightning, and began our very much audible prayers for the rain to hold off long enough for us to finish. The storm continued to roll in, lightning flashing every now and then, and we finished the shingles and moved right to putting down the tarps. As we began laying them down, it started to rain, and we ran out of tarps with about 18′ of roof left to cover still. Crap.

So we quickly picked up and headed to the townhouse, where I knew there was an extra tarp in the closet that was long enough. During the short drive, the storm quickly turned from a rainstorm to a fairly violent thunderstorm, and by the time we had the tarp back at the site, it was pelting huge fatty raindrops and lightning was flashing about every three seconds or so. Aaron and I have always wanted to climb up onto a roof in the middle of a severe thunderstorm, and that’s exactly what we did. We climbed up, layed down the last tarp, and went about dropping bundles of shingles to secure it to the roof. All I remember was a lot of lightning, a lot of running on a wet roof (not really intelligent), and a lot of very loud prayers for mercy as we quickly dropped the last bundles and ran back across to our perfectly conductive aluminum ladder and scurried down to the safety of Aaron’s car. We were drenched from head to foot, full of adrenaline, and somewhat amused at what we had just done.

So, we learned a few things tonight. The first one is an easy one. Don’t do roofing projects during severe thunderstorms. Simple enough, right? Secondly, if you must do a roofing project during a thunderstorm, make sure you have enough tarp to cover the entire roof. And thirdly, always make sure someone is holding on to the tarp during a thunderstorm. If no one holds on to it, chances are it will blow away.

If you need more lessons about the perils of rooftopping during thunderstorms, let me know and I will be more than happy to sit and chat with you about it sometime.

Where, o where could I be?

I contemplated a lot of other things to write about today.. there was the thing Combs did, or inspiration by Amy blogging about blogging, and I even took some random pictures of me just now hoping to get one worth showing. But alas, nothing happened. So since I spent part of the night thinking more about my future, I think I’ll go with that. I should preface this writing by saying it depends on whether or not I can pass Health and Wellness, which right now is not looking very promising. I loathe gen eds.

So here are the options, as I see them (in no particular order):

1. Go to grad school for ministry. I have looked and am looking strongly at going to Fuller (in Pasadena) for grad school. There I would get an M.Div with a concentration on Worship, and see where that leads.

2. After going to Fuller, I could join the Navy as a chaplain, or pursue further schooling with the intent of teaching at college.

3. I could go to grad school for a technical degree, such as Purdue’s MFA in Technical Direction. This would give me great experience in the technical arts, and would open up the door for jobs such as a technical director in a performing arts center, or would go very well if I chose to make it part of my Worship education. I would love to one day teach in a Worship program, teaching the practical side of the field. Sound and lighting, set design and construction, maybe a little music; something like that. This option either leads to a job somewhere, or (crap!) more schooling.

4. I could just find a job somewhere. It probably wouldn’t be anything incredibly stunning; but it would be a job nonetheless. It would pay bills, and hopefully set me on the track towards financial stability. It would also get me out into the world and out of the IWU bubble/college bubble.

5. I could learn how to fly. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and still want to do. I could go into the Navy to do this, or find a school somewhere to learn. I’m not sure what exactly it would lead to, but probably a job being a pilot somewhere.

6. I could take some time to explore the world. It’s a costly option because this one doesn’t come with Stafford loans, but it would be an incredible experience.

7. I could fail Health and Wellness and stay at IWU for another year. This is very unlikely, because I would probably just quit if I went through four years of college (and even managed a B+ in an upper level Bible class with Wilbur Williams) but couldn’t graduate because of the easiest class in the entire catalogue.

8. Something else.

Right now, all of the options sound appealing depending on the day and what mood I’m in. Generally the grad school options sound the best, though I can’t decide which one I like better. I certainly would enjoy getting my M.Div, but getting the MFA sounds like a lot more fun. Life isn’t all about fun, but if I had to choose what to do in school for the next couple of years, I am leaning towards the one with classes that make me actually want to go to them.

It’s late and I’m tired. I’ve probably said something outlandishly wrong, and I apologize. I’m not sure what it is, but entries like this always get someone riled up about something. Four words if you’re that someone: send me an email.

My Worship Philosophy

Even though I have other homework due sooner than this, I decided tonight to begin working on my philosophy of worship. It’s for History & Philosophy of Worship class, and it also is probably one of the most important things I’ve written to date, and will be for some time. It will no doubt have a large impact on what happens in my near future, whether that is finding a career, going to grad school, or moving to Hungaria.

The outline I have so far breaks the paper down into three main parts, with several sub-sections. The first sections is about the Biblical foundations of worship. That is the hardest part of the paper, will require the most research and study (if I was writing this before taking a class on Bib Foundations it would all be so much easier… :), and is probably the hardest part to write and read. The next section is on corporate worship, where I will break it down into music, art (visual and drama), technology, liturgy, ritual, and worship as a lifestyle. For now, these are the sections I will be writing in the days to come. Finally, I will write a section on personal worship, and I’ not really sure how it will divide up yet, so you’ll just have to wait on that one. Today I want to start with Worship as Technology. It’s been on my mind a lot this weekend, and I want to get at least some of it out.

Please feel free to give feedback, good or bad. I especially value you helping me know where I’ve done a good job explaining my philosophies, and where I’ve left you unclear or wanting more (if you disagree with some of my philosophies, that’s great; but you’re probably not going to change a whole lot by telling me).

Technology as Worship

Including technology in a philosophy of worship is without question the most recent ‘category’ of worship. Only in the last 50 years has it played any role at all, and only in the last ten has it become overwhelmingly significant. I believe technology has a role in worship that it fits, and should play; but I also believe that its role has been largely misinterpreted and misused, especially recently.

I believe technology has two specific roles in worship. The first is that technology serves as a aid to corporate worship, and the second is that it serves as a platform to which we can make worship more understandable to those who are new or unfamiliar with what exactly our corporate worship is, and what it means. To say technology is a means of worship in and of itself is errant, but rather it is a medium of worship, no different than the altar was a medium which the Israelites used as an aid in their worship to God.

The foremost goal of technology in worship is to completely disappear from thought or conscience of the worshiper. If the worshiper is focused on how great the lighting is or how terrible the sound is, then technology has ceased to fill its role in worship and has become a distraction. This is the reason why I believe it is so important than hours of planning and preparation come before any worship service ever occurs. Technicians must realize importance is in the message, not the media. A certain video may be cinematically thrilling, but if the message is lost in the camera work or the acting, then all that video has done is become a hindrance and distraction to the worshiper. I do want to clarify here that for those working with the technology, their worship is very much in the technology because their efforts to do their best and present the best offering they can is their worship. But for the uninvolved worshiper, a perfect worship service, technologically speaking, is one where the technology is never even noticed.

The secondary goal of technology in worship is to serve as a way which unbelievers or new believers can relate to and understand. To just throw an unexperienced person into a worship service is like putting a passenger in the cockpit of a 747. You may have seen planes in the sky, or even flown on them, but if you have no training in how to fly it, the cockpit will look like an imposing myriad of buttons and switches. In this case, worship serves as a ‘flight simulator’ of sorts. It simplifies everything down to just a joystick, something easier to grasp and much less terrorizing to dive in to. For an outsider who is unfamiliar with what is happening, technology can serve this purpose well. Putting song lyrics or Bible verses on a screen will help focus in on the activity being performed. (I preface this next statement by saying I have nothing against hymnals, and I grew up singing the old hymns and I love them) By eliminating the need to find a hymnal and understand how to use, or keeping a person from searching for a pew Bible, the media has successfully skirted the first obstacle for someone in unfamiliar territory. That is not to say that worship should be a comfortable thing, for I believe it should be the exact opposite; but there’s no reason a worship service need scare a person away just because it’s hard to understand what is happening.

2 weeks

By my count, it’s been two weeks since I wrote something serious and worth readind. Well, it will be at least a couple more days until that happens again. But I just wanted you all to know that something is coming, eventually. I promise.

Remember that Christmas carol?

Remember that Christmas carol I wrote about during the documentary? The one I said was terrible, awful, and extremely funny? Well, due to popular demand, the lyrics are here for all to read.

A Christmas Carol for Homeless Children
by Claude DeBussy

We have no more house nor home!
Enemies took all we had;
all gone, all gone
Even our own little bed!

The school they burnt;
They burnt our teacher too.
They burnt the church
And also the Lord Jesus Christ,
The poor old beggar too who could not get away!

We have no more house nor home!
Enemies took all we had;
All gone, all gone
Even our own little bed!

Surely, Daddy to fight has gone,
Poor Mummy is in Heaven!
Died and did not see all this.
O! What shall we do….now?

Jesu! Infant Jesu!
Do not go to them;
Don’t go back to them ever.
Punish them all!
Avenge the children of France!
The little Belgians, the little Serbians
And the Polish children too!

Yet should we some forget,
Pray forgive us.
Noël! Noël! Noël!
No toys! We want no toys!
But may we please get back again our Daily Bread.

We have no more house nor home!
Enemies took all we had;
all gone, all gone
Even our own little bed!

The school they burnt;
They burnt our teacher too.
They burnt the church
And also the Lord Jesus Christ,
The poor old beggar too who could not get away!

Jesu! Listen to us,
Our wooden shoes we have no more;
So please give Victory to the Child of France!

So there you have it, the Christmas Carol for Homeless Children. Something tells me there’s some issues here.

School officially began today.

Somewhere in the midst of the 374 things I had to do today, school officially began. Yes, I’ve read several books and written several papers and even done a couple of group projects, but no school year is official until you have one of those days when you just feel like imploding. Maybe it was the fact my day started an hour and a half earlier than normal, or the fact that staff meeting went long and I had three other things to do during my then shortened lunch time, or maybe I should blame it on dinner, when I got my only half-hour break of the day, which gave me just enough time to crash. But whenever it was and whatever caused it, stress showed up at school today.

At this point, all I look forward to is my bed. I should spend some time studying tonight, but I’m not going to. I’m tired of this day, and can’t wait to put it to death in my nice, warm sheets. Of course we have no weekend to speak of because of Chorale, and I love traveling with Chorale, but it really couldn’t come at a worse weekend for me. The last three or four have been luxuriously free from anything, and of course the one weekend I need the time is the one I don’t have it.

Nothing spiritually deep or insightful tonight. Just a request that you keep me in you prayers. It’s going to be a very long week and a half or so, but Fall Break is coming. It is coming, it is coming, it is coming…..

Clarifying comments

I don’t have much inspiration for a new article today… but I would like to explain myself to Amy since she asked me what I meant by “and she digressed from there by basically becoming one of those old people who have no appreciation for where music is headed right now.”

I guess the best way to explain my thoughts here is to say I was trying to put Gloria into that stereotype view of old people that a lot of the younger generation has. I don’t personally feel like older people are generally detrimental to the progression of worship as far as style goes, and I don’t necessarily think the fact that worship is almost universally (I say universal meaning the typical evangelical American church with at least a moderate amount of regular attenders) gravitating towards the Christ Tomlin feel is really a great thing either.

But the point was to get across my feelings on how she seemed to turn from her original argument (‘its the message, not the style’) to one of a prescription of music that must be followed.

Also as far as her theological reasons for harmony, I don’t mind using that as a great parallel between music and the body. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to call it a theological reason for harmony. Somehow I get this feeling of doubt that God created the body to work as it does just to make us all sing 4-part. Especially since 8-part is better, anyways. :)

So far this semester Friday has been a good writing day for me, so look forward to good stuff again tomorrow night.

One of my earthly passions…

Some of you know this about me already, but I rarely write about it, so I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite things in the world to do.

Racquetball is an incredible game. Sure, it probably helps that I have some talent at it, but I just love it. Fast paced action with a ball moving up to 150 mph (and when I play good people, we absolutely hit it that hard), a court that’s only 20 feet wide and 40 feet long yet can keep you running the entire time the ball is in play, the amount of strategy involved to play well, it just is such a great game!

Tonight I played some racquetball with Jesus. Jesus is a great guy I got to know as an apartment-mate last year, and this year we’ve started playing some racquetball together. I honestly don’t think he expected me to give him competition–and not only did I do that, but I’ve taken two of the three games we’ve played now (all three very, very close games). After the longest game of racquetball I’ve ever played, we went out and found a couple of good players to play doubles with. They took it to us the first game and skunked us, but we were tied the second game when we got kicked out of the rec building. Not because we were too good, just because it was closing.

So I thought I’d share with you the highlight of my day. I’ll get back to some of the worship comments tomorrow night, because I’m tired and want to go to bed.