Friday, December 18, 2009

What Music Feeds Your Soul? Part V

Alright. My hiatus from my more favorite music is over. As I write this, I’m listening to Wolf Parade’s “Apologies to Queen Mary,” and yeah, its “doing it” for me. Other interesting news: I don’t know if anyone noticed that John Michael Talbot posted a comment on the first of these “What Music Feeds Your Soul” posts. I looked around on the net and he does have a facebook account and actively writes blogs himself. So, there is reason to believe it was really him. Pretty cool. I’m just trying to figure out how he found my blog. Hmm…?

Oh, and speaking of news, Susanna is now 18 weeks pregnant. I can honestly agree that she is officially showing. I felt the baby night before last. It was two slight taps.

Continuing the discussion on what Christian music could become….

Here is a tough question that arises regularly in the course I teach, and it’s also something the worship team struggles with too: when does worship music become manipulative? My students, rightfully so, are very aware of the power they wield in creating a mood. Speed up the tempo, turn up the volume and get people excited, or slow things down and work a ballad for a somber, reflective state. Either way it is obvious that music can influence us by shifting our moods. Marketing specialist know this. Moviemakers know this. Party throwers know this. So, what is the difference between a worship leader and the rest?

Here I affirm once more the importance of the biblical and theological training of the leader. He/she needs the training to be able to discern when and how to use the power of music, to be able to identify what biblically sound music is. It is this kind of discernment that motivates me to keep writing out these thoughts. I want to imagine a kind of Christian worship that does not rely on the same over worn, and in effect, sentimentalized and manipulative instrumentation and arrangements.

Remember the road trip experience with the radio, how you can tell while flipping through radio stations which is the Christian music even before listening to the lyrics? I was in a studio in Dallas a few years ago watching a friend record the vocals of a popular Christian artist you have most likely heard of (but who I will not name here). The final tracks were sent off in the middle of the night to Nashville. In the morning the song came back fully mixed and ready for radio release as a single of the artist’s forthcoming full-length release. The mixing engineer’s compliment to my friend, the tracking engineer, was “your tracks have got that Nashville sound!” Of course, I was happy for my friend, a very talented studio engineer and producer, yet the gadfly in me begs the question: why is “the Nashville sound” the standard of success? The studio becomes a place that does, it seems, work hard to manipulate a song so that it matches the Nashville radio sound. So yes, I sympathize with what my students fear about being manipulative, that music be forced into what is predictably ‘feel good.’

Yet, to play the devil’s advocate, much of what worship should offer a Christian is a definite sense of the assurance of their faith. We should be nurturing peace and hope. What is the difference then between ‘feel good’ music and the appropriate sound of hope and joy? How does the worship leader acquire the ability to tell the difference between the two?

Let me pose the question in a different way. Instead of thinking of the power of music as manipulative, why not think of music’s power as formative? Formative is a less pejorative, careful word. Yes, the leader does use the powers of music to influence, yet in the proper, loving and discerning hands the affect of music can be appropriately formative. The question that I want my students to ask is how do we properly use the powers of music to form Christians in the faith?

C.S. Lewis has a chapter in Mere Christianity titled “Let’s Pretend” that really helps us get at the difference between manipulation and formation. He recounts two fables. The second one reads like this:
The other story is about someone who had to wear a mask; a mask which made him look much nicer than he really was. He had to wear it for years. And when he took it off he found his own face had grown to fit it. He was now really beautiful. What had begun as disguise had become a reality.

This is in sum what I mean by formative.

I’ve heard Christians say that they will not sing the lyric of a song that they are not genuinely convicted to profess or even feel. The assumption is that God is more pleased with the genuine state of their hearts instead of empty repetition of religious words that do not “connect” with their present self. The problem with this is circular in its reasoning: when will such a person be genuinely in a condition then to profess the true words of faith? What will inspire the worshiper into such a space? We are in trouble as a church when faithfulness begins with our own personal, sincere and genuine condition.

Lewis in essence is saying that worship is a practice of pretending. Is this hypocrisy? No, not at all. When we as Lewis says are “dressing up as Christ” in worship, when we move beyond our current, personal emotional state to worship God in faith, we are fundamentally practicing that which we truly are. We are throwing off the old self and literally putting on the new.

Music then aids us in this work of helping the Christian to “dress up” and play the part of the Christian. Yes it is manipulative, or better, it is formative to create an environment that can stimulate the senses and awaken the worshipper to their true identity in Christ within the fellowship of the saints.

My concern is that what is most commonly offered in Christian worship music is not capable of nurturing a full enough diet in worship. If anything it is not formative enough. It’s too narrow and is not inspiring the proper fullness of Christian worship.

In the next post I’ll outline what that fullness should look like by considering the Psalms as our model, a map for the full breadth of Christian worship.

I’ll leave this post with a bit more from Lewis for you to chew on:
You see what is happening. The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretense into a reality. This is not merely a fancy way of saying that your conscience is telling you what to do. If you simply ask your conscience, you get one result; if you remember that you are dressing up as Christ, you get a different one. There are lots of things which your conscience might not call definitely wrong (specially things in your mind) but which you will see at once you cannot go on doing if you are seriously trying to be like Christ. For you are no longer thinking simply about right and wrong; you are trying to catch the good infection from a Person. It is more like painting a portrait than like obeying a set of rules. And the odd thing is that while in one way it is much harder than keeping rules, in another way it is far easier.

The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to 'inject' His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.


Amy said...

18 weeks or 18 months...either way congrats to you both!

Joshua Banner said...

ha ha! I'm a dork. 18 months... I wonder what kind of animal would need that long? Hmmm. Thanks for the heads up on a needed edit.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.