Sunday, August 05, 2007

Age to Age

I'm conflicted today, and I'm blaming it on Sunday's worship experience.

I'm also digesting this post from its much longer first edition. It's been mentioned to me that I've outed my church before on this blog, and that despite my effort to be circumspect and respectful in the process of writing this post, I've still been a little too harsh with my opinions. So I'm editing myself out of respect for the other members of my church and its recent guests.

I'm certainly not the first to get all worked up over how a worship service is conducted, and even typing that phrase makes me realize how silly an idea that is. But for whatever reason, how we worship gets people stirred up.

Really, the details of my earlier, longer post are just details that set me to thinking about how worship ought to be organized. As significant to my thinking as this weekend's worship service was my recent rediscovery of Nickel Creek. Their greatest hits album was loaned to me this weekend by a junior higher at our church. I think it's safe to say that there's hardly a musical genre more dead than Bluegrass in the popular imagination, and yet a few years ago these three Bluegrass (or "Newgrass," I'm told) musicians, each under the age of twenty-one, got everybody jamming to the fiddle and the mandolin again.

They did it not by reasserting the genre, not by banging everybody on the knees with a banjo and shouting "Why can't you see this is better than the tripe you normally listen to?!?" but by reinventing it. The Bluegrass community had its own internal debates about how to understand Nickel Creek, but no one could deny these kids' musicianship, their place in the historical progression of Bluegrass as a genre, or the wide appeal of their music. In the meantime Nickel Creek proved compelling to the broader public; they sold a lot of records and concert tickets, and recruited a lot of new fans to the genre.

All these factors conspired to get me thinking this weekend about how, as a member of a congregation, I ought to approach worship. I think regardless of how the traditional-contemporary divide ultimately shakes out, the conversation needs to be one about creation. How have we done it? is a question with finite value; so is the question How is everyone else doing it? Ultimately each congregation must ask of itself: Who are we, and what are we doing here, together, this Sunday?

9 comments:

Rick said...

That there even exists a "conversation" is probably a blessing. When that's gone - when the divide has stopped folks from being together - then we're really screwed.

Jenn said...

You sound like I've been feeling about some other "churchy" issues lately. (Well, and other stuff in general.) Thanks for thinking on-line and bringing us into the thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You don't know Psalm 23 in the blessed KJV? And you consider yourself a Christian? Damn!

David A. Zimmerman said...

The first three comments were about the long version of this post; these poor souls had to endure about twice as many words as the rest of you.

Charity Singleton said...

Your post here reminds me loosely of something I read over on Al Hsu's blog. There, he was talking about Christians rewriting the stories of our culture through literary pursuits. I see your points here similarly; we need to rewrite our own story, as the church, through all of our creative pursuits. Not making new things, but making all things new. I think redemption can even reach down and touch things like worship style which do certainly get us all stirred up.

Pete Juvinall said...

I think the long post had me thinking through a long reply, but I'll shorten it :).

Not a fan of 20th century revival music either; my least favorite song being 'Coming again' (maybe morning/maybe noon/maybe evening and maybe soon/coming again/coming again...) which reminds me of a song you'd hear at a skating rink (o.k. everyone, reverse skate!).

There needs to be more communication than what there is; many people come from the side of 'oh you're *wrong*', usually beginning words with the phrase 'blessed...' :).

The under 40 crowd tends to forget that one day they'll be the 'over 40' crowd and the grace that they show the under 40 crowd in those days when people complain about David Crowder in the same way we do about phillip bliss will do a lot to moving us toward multi-generational worship.

On the other side of the aisle, the boomers need to understand that worship is not generation-centric (no one has a corner on it).

My spiritual DNA from college fostered an appreciation of multi-lingual worship such as songs as 'Santo Santo' and I think the place where we need to be is similar.

We need to be looking at songs like 'Let the lower lights be burning' and 'Here is our king' as multi-lingual worship and smiling; you may not understand the words, but it's probably meaningful to somebody and somebody's probably glad you played it.

Jeannine said...

Dave,

While thinking about this post, I stumbled across a pretty good response on another blog. It kind of gives a different perspective on the old music/new music debate. It doesn't really say anything about the whole Ps. 23 from KJV, however. I'm with you on that--it was pretty out of line. Anyway, check it out, if you wish. http://www.vocationquest.org/cenaclearchives/

Oh, and thanks for providing such great coffee break reading! I've been lurking here for awhile, and am always impressed with your reflections. (You write a whole lot better than I do, which is why I had to steal a response from some poor nun!)

Jeannine

David A. Zimmerman said...

Thanks for joining the conversation, Jeannine, and for the link to vocationquest. There's a Cenacle retreat center near where I live, and I had a momentous retreat there once (complete with my first-ever labyrinth walk, which was disappointingly lacking in flash and bang--just some railroad ties marking a labyrinthine path; I get it now). I never attended a "Puff the Magic Dragon" mass, but I sang "Morning Is Broken" at mass a lot when I was a kid. I knew it as a Cat Stevens song; only after I bought his greatest hits CD did I learn it's based on an ancient Celtic hymn. Jokes on me, I guess.

But that's maybe a good example of what I'd like to see more of--liturgy as creative act, worship service as canvas. I like the idea of songs filtered through the sieve of the church over the ages, but there's more to music than the communication of an idea. Once a song's idea is accepted as orthodox (the jury's still out, in my mind, on a fair number of songs in our hymnal), the task of the church moves from composition to arrangement: how can we take this hymn and sing a new song unto the Lord with it? Nickel Creek did it with "The Fox," a song I sang under duress in grade school but now, thanks to their arrangement, go crazy over every time I hear it. (Imagine my surprise, further, when I heard the live version, which mixes in Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" for an entirely new song made up entirely of old lyrics being presented with old instruments. You should all download it.)

Anyway, thanks to all of you for taking my thoughtless rant and making it something spirited and stimulating and, more important, constructive.

Anonymous said...

I like your analogy to the Nickel Creek phenomenon. NC, Uncle Earl, Old Crow Medicine Show, Foghorn String Band and a host of Old Time bands ("All Bluegrass is Old Time, but not all Old Time is Bluegrass.") are steeped in tradition, but are able to branch out in ways that deviate from the tradition. It's not no-holds-barred-anything-goes: this music respects what came before, but realizes that traditions require adaptation in order to preserve the core elements of those traditions.