Okay, so here's a charming experience I had today:
I was sitting in a coffeehouse not far from my home, working through some deep, deep thoughts about worship and especially worship music. We are, as I have mentioned, bumbling through some fairly deep and radical changes to our community, and so occasionally I find myself in these one-woman brainstorming session, usually with an open journal and coffee getting cold in front of me, praying, thinking, taking the occasional break to bang my head on the table and moan quietly. These sessions are fruitful, and they are painful. Usually. It just takes some time to get through the noise and figure out what I really think - or MAYBE what God is trying to say - about a thing.
So I was thinking about church, and Sunday gatherings, and I was thinking about the uses of music and the things that get in the way.
And of course it practically goes without saying that one of the (many) things that gets in the way of the effective use of music in corporate discipleship is OUR CONSUMER CULTURE - the fact that people are in the habit of purchasing and consuming music rather than creating it, the performance paradigm, the fact that we have reduced art to entertainment and then outsourced it to "experts", so even if we wanted to create something, we'd likely feel unqualified. Our bodies cannot be trusted even to eeek out a praise chorus.
But of course, we long to be involved. We, everyone, has a drive to create, but since we've outsourced creativity, our finest contribution is: critique. Deciding whether we like it or not. How we feel about it. It's not just a habit, not just a cultural tic, not just an industry - it's pretty much a way of life.
And of course, God does care deeply about each person - their passions, their gifts, their problems. But how do we balance this with the idea that Sunday - corporate worship gathering - are not in fact all about me.
By the way, have you noticed how agitated I am? How long these sentences are? Can't you just hear me running out of breath, panting a little, as I go on and on? Keep that in mind.
So here's something that occurred to me: we have, over the years, worked very hard to "be good". I want very much to have good liturgy, good sermons - we've made our name, such as it is, on "good" sermons - and I'm pretty sure that everybody around church wants us to have "good music".
Everyone has a completely different idea of what constitutes "good music", and lots of them , frankly, could probably get sufficiently worked up to punch you in the head over it.
So here's what I think.
I think that most of the music we have done - over 25 years - is not "good".
You could go right now and download better vocals, more beautiful guitar solos, more perfect poetry, better melodies, and more thoroughgoing theology, in one minute, for free. If we wanted something "good", we could go out and buy it. Or our congregation could go buy it when they get home.
People in our middle class suburban congregation have instant access to EVERY CONSUMER PRODUCT ON THE EARTH. Any work of art that they might want to consume - see, listen to, read - is out here on the internet. Probably free. Or for money, but then you can get a free shipping upgrade and have it by Wednesday. Any kind of fun you might want to have, any sort of mental stimulation or emotional experience that can possibly be dispensed - you can get it. Probably instantly, and probably free, at home, in your underwear. Any time of the day or night.
So what can we, the local church, possibly give you that you can only get by being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually a full part of the church?
and (this is a separate question)
what can you get by coming to church, in person, this Sunday, that you cannot possibly get anywhere else?
Well, I scrawled a couple of columns of answers to that, and then I looked up and looked around the coffeeshop. Because I knew what I thought the answers were, but I wondered if I could get any ideas from, you know, regular people.
And this is where things began to get a little weird.
A young man named Doug had come in and ordered a frappacino. I fell upon him like a seeker-sensitive wolf.
Me: (after blathering on for a long time)...blah blah blah that you cannot possibly get anywhere else?
Poor little Doug: Um....Community?
Me: Yeah, okay, tell me what community means to you. I think that means different things to different people, and everybody SAYS it, but what does it really mean?
Poor little Doug: You know, um, personal contact. Like, the chance to meet new people.
Me: (wild-eyed) okay, okay, good, good, personal contact.
I blather on for a while longer. Doug, to his credit, maintains eye contact and does not seem to be looking for excuses to back away. I let him get an occasional word in. He asks what church I'm working for, and I tell him. He nods. I begin perceive that Doug is a church guy.
Me: You're involved in a church, right?
Doug: Um, yeah, a little.
Doug: (names large and growing independant church nearby. One noted for its good programs and music. One that a couple - okay, several - of my friends are currently attending, having left the church where I work.)
I moan, hopefully inaudibly, and slap on a smile and we continue to talk for several more minutes. I thank him for his time and squeeze his hand before we separate. I am nauseous.
Okay, so, worst case scenario - Doug goes to his church on Sunday and says to his friend the church staffer "Well, I can see why ___________ is coming here these days. The staff at their old church is F-ING NUTS. Nuts like crazy homeless people. Driven barking mad by liberal theology."
Over the course of the drive home, I begin to see that this is actually funny.
If that's the worst that can happen, I can live with that.