Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Music Feeds Your Soul? PART VI

Have you ever stopped to wonder, "Why music?" Why do we like it so much? For me it is a kind of out-of-body or existential question. It is such a personal and profound question that it seems like I'm really asking myself why I like to eat food or sleep. We might run the gambit and offer some theological/philosophical reflections on why music is so essential, but ultimately I believe music just is.

The better question--a question that is still difficult--is what kind of music is best to listen to. Most of us stop to consider what kind of food is best to eat, and likewise we need to think clearly about our taking in of music. The assumption that I have been working with is that not all music is created equally and that music is not benign. Making a decision for or against a particular kind of music can be as much an ethical question as it is an aesthetic question. I say "can be" because there is much to be qualified about the ethics of art. For example, Hitler loved both Wagner and Beethoven. While I could live comfortably in a world without Wagner, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is the tune that gave Nazis a German sense of spirituality and strength for battle. Incidentally, it is also the tune of "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee," a song still loved by the church today. The difficulty in stating that music is ethical is that we might then try to systematically differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil music. This in practice is a very delicate task and ultimately a waste of time.

While music is not benign, it is also complex. It is possible to identify certain behaviors as wrong and to write laws against them because certain behaviors are concrete or exact. Certain behaviors leave little or no room for interpretation. Unlawful behaviors are those specific behaviors that our society agrees are wrong. However, music on the other hand leaves us with large territory for interpretation. As soon as you find something dark or heavy or confused in a song, you might also be able to find something true or good or right--something worth redeeming. It is the complexity of music that has led many to surrender it along with all art forms up to the realm of the subjective: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

But it is not! Beauty is not in my eye or yours. Beauty does not come from humans. Beauty comes from the One who is Beautiful, the One who created "all things bright and beautiful." Beauty is made and defined by God. And here is my most important point: arguing that beauty is objective does not have to turn us into the Stasi. I am not calling for a mass book burning or a purging of all mp3s from hard drives.

Instead of starting heavy handed from the outside--or top down, instead of chasing down every example of wrong music, we start from the inside out. Again, it is a question of formation. If we become more like Christ, if we put on the mind of Christ, if we walk in the Spirit and hunger and thirst for righteousness, then our aesthetic tastes will be shaped into making ethical choices that reflect the beauty and goodness of God.

Below I've outlined what I call "Full Gospel Worship." Our worship should cover all of the eight expressions listed. Some OT scholars identify some 20-30 different types of worship expressions found in the Psalms. I've narrowed it down to eight for the sake of simplicity. You will notice that "Full Gospel" does not mean trite, simplistic, sentimental or idealistic. My understanding of "Full Gospel" arises from Fredrick Beuchner's The Gospel As Comedy, Tragedy and Fairytale where he explains, "the Gospel is bad news before it is good news." A theologically sound definition of beauty then, must contend with the ugliness, horror and tragedy of our existence.

You may be wondering, "What about music that is not strictly 'worship' music?" I've intentionally tried to not create a discussion about worship music over and against the rest of music because in daily practice there is and should be necessary blurring of the line that seemingly separates worship music since all of life is worship. The eight expressions below can and should be expressed in all the music we listen to. Another way to consider it would be to assume that if we properly form our worship music, it will then properly form the way we engage all other art forms. Form the heart and the mind and from it goodness will flow.

  • Thanksgiving/Celebration:  The God of provision and abundance. The faithfulness of God. The God of Salvation and hope.
*Psalm 47:5-7 God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.

  • Exaltation: The God who reigns above. The transcendent God. All powerful. The God above all other Gods.
*Psalm 27:1,2 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes they shall stumble and fall.”

  • Adoration: the God who reveals himself. God who is immanent. God who is close in Jesus.
*Psalm 42:1,2 “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

  • Confession: the God who is holy, righteous, judge…a look inward at what is wrong, broken, confused.
*Psalm 51:1,2 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

  • Lamentation: a complaint, a look outward at “the state of things” to groan or ache for what is wrong to be made right
*Psalm 22:1,2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night but find no rest.
  • Supplication: prayers to the God who is near, tends to be a prayer for our “daily bread.”
*Psalm 31:14-17 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. 16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. 17 Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave.
  • Intercession: prayers to the God who is above, for God to act on a large scale, for God to move with power.
*Psalm 79:5-7 How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire? Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.

  • Remembrance: rehearsing the works of God, a regular act of attending to God’s faithfulness.
*Psalm 111:2-4 Great are the works of the Lord studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds.


Courtney Kay said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts on this topic!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Lance said...

Good stuff Josh- there's definitely a book on this topic based on this series of blogs.

EMS said...

I have just found your fascinating blog - what you say about our choice of music .......rings bell with something I found on the web about Arun Gandhi - Arun travels the world trying to keep alive his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, based on the principles of love and truth. A young teacher in one of Arun’s lectures raised the question of “the corrupting effect of violent movies, TV shows and obscene and violent music on the young people in America.” Should they avoid such things, she asked. This, he replied, placed the cart before the horse. Those who live a life of practicing “truthfulness” would not want to watch or listen to any such media in the first instance.