OK, maybe they are more about Jesus than Buddha or Mohammed, so that makes them "Christian". Jesus said there's only two sides to the fence: either you're in or you're out. So when they tell us to stand for the songs, I stand. There's no music to read, so I watch the bass player to see if I can read his fingers and hum that. I don't see any value trying to learn songs that "worship me." But if they ever repeat the "Me above all" song, I think I will sit down. It starts out OK, (presumably Jesus, but not by name) is "Above all powers / Above all kings," which is Scriptural enough, but at the end the song writer has him defer to "Me above all." It's totally wrong. Jesus Christ is above all, not me. I don't even have a place at his table unless I deny myself. But that was a month or two ago.
This week it was another song that seemed to start out Biblically enough, a reference to Job 1:21, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away; blessed be the Name of the LORD." But there was something wrong, something that bothered me more than all the previous times I heard it. Throughout the whole song, the giving and the taking away are carefully and equally balanced, like Yin and Yang, like the Light side and the Dark side of the Force. The God of this song is dualistic, equally dispensing good and evil. The God of the Bible is Good and never evil. Bad Things Happen, but God didn't do it. In the Job story, Satan did it. God is still sovereign and Satan doesn't blow his own nose without God's permission, but it's permission, not command. Job spoke his praise line in the middle of catastrophe only. When things were good, he offered sacrifices. The outcome is different for the different situations, because the cause is different.
I get the impression these song writers don't read their Bibles very carefully, sometimes not at all. I would hope for better in a "conservative" denomination, but I guess that's too much to ask for.
Postscript, a year later, the pastor of this church (I don't remember
the context) told me that he used to rewrite the words of songs to correct
the theology -- the hymnbook in the pews (which they do not use) does that
to a number of classic hymns, including "Come Thou Fount" which we sang
yesterday to the original words (including "Ebenezer" which is Hebrew for
"rock of help" in 1Sam.7:12, but nobody knows that any more, the verse
also happens to be in my reading this week), but reworked into a
more rock-like syncopated 4/4 rhythm -- but the pastor said now he no longer
bothers to rewrite. I suspect he has learned that the Feelers who come
to church don't much care what the words mean, but only whether they are
affirming or disaffirming.
Playing at churches is one of the few ways left to make money playing music. I know atheists who pull in $30K a year [at it]. -- @Eve6 God's Guitar Heroes p.17No wonder it's so bad! The atheists don't care about content.
But I didn't know what to make of the verses. "Let the King of my heart be The mountain when I run, The fountain I drink from;... The wind inside my sails,... The fire inside my veins." Maybe it's just poetic nonsense, the sort of feel-good "God loves me" that most American church members consider to be the essence of their faith but is rather harder to find in the Bible.
Or maybe the singer wants "the King of [his] heart" (that is, his god) to be parts of the creation instead of the Creator. Notice that he has cited exactly the four elements of pagan Reality: Earth (mountain), Water (fountain, waves), Air (wind), and Fire. McMillan and his followers can worship whomever they please -- Jesus is never mentioned in this song, and God only once, in the last line. But like Joshua, "Me and my house, we will serve the LORD," I want to praise and worship the Creator, not the creation [Rom.1:25].
But I don't know if that's what he meant or not, it's too obscure. What
ever happened to "singing psalms and hymns and Spiritual songs"?
Anyway, our praise team are all young people, and they vanish off into the sunset from time to time to hear some out-of-town concert, or next month I think it has to do with graduation, and we have no music at all. A couple times they got a half-dozen of us guys together to sing, but we had a pianist. This time they volunteered us to do it a capella, because the piano dude is one of the people out of town. One of the guys seemed to be in charge of these things, so I told him that if he'd let me know early what songs he picked, I could be ready to plunk them out for practice. I can read music, and I took a year of piano lessons when I was 12, then convinced my parents to let me stop, and have been kicking myself ever since. Probably just as well, I'm really too clumsy (it's a built-in personality thing) to be very good at it.
Somewhere in a previous life I acquired a small electric piano, which
I have been carrying about each time I move. It's been so long since I
tried to play anything on it, the keys have gotten sticky, sometimes not
playing at all, or (more often) continuing to sound after release. That
might be good enough for finding a single note here and there when practicing
for the Messiah sing-along (see "It's Not
About Love" last year), but I need to get more familiar with the tunes
on these hymns so I can be the help I promised, and the missing or doubled-up
notes interfere with that. So I took it apart today and loosened up some
of the keys. I didn't get all of them -- well, I thought I did, but when
it was back together the problem was still there, mostly for notes I didn't
need. It's not like I need to play the hymns during the service (the guys
will still sing a capella) but at least I can help them learn the
The sermon topics during Advent focussed on the four songs in Luke associated
with the birth of Jesus, and the four pastors in charge of the four campuses
were each assigned one song and took turns rotating around the four campuses
preaching their particular song. I didn't catch his name, but one of the
guys drew the short straw, and he wasn't very excited about his assigned
song. He as much as said so, and you could tell, because he picked one
half verse out of the middle of the song, and preached a topical sermon
on salvation, the word was in that half verse, and he basically ignored
the rest of the song.
This was several weeks ago and I hope I'm not confusing him with another of the young guys -- maybe the Senior pastor hires young guys to do the satellite campuses, because they are less likely to challenge his authority (pretty much all pastors are into authority and control, the other personality types don't want the job) -- he said his first job was as Music Minister, and he really liked the structure of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), which starts out gentle (I don't recall his exact words) with the verses, then gets stronger with the chorus, but the climax is the bridge. I always thought of a "bridge" in its etymological sense of being a way to get over a chasm separating here and there, a means to an end, not the end itself. And while the CCM bridge in most of the songs I can think of hearing in church booms louder than the rest, it's all empty repetition, contentless words that Jesus told us [Matt.6:7] to avoid. Even in CCM, the meat is in the verses.
This has been nagging me for a week now, because (I guess he's) an associate
pastor who came up for closing remarks and/or a benediction at the end
commented on the importance of the repeated line in the bridge of that
final song, that "God is Good" -- which is true, perhaps the only True
thing in the whole song, which mostly invites the four pagan elements (earth,
fire, air and water, plus darkness and light = Yin and
Yang, a different religious tradition, but still anti-Christian) to
become "the King of my heart", thus celebrating the created rather than
the Creator. I never heard any mention of Jesus or God in the whole song.
Lyrics for all these songs are online, and I did find two "God"s buried
out there in the repetitive part I tune out, but still no Jesus. The only
way you can know this is a "Christian" song is that the Deity ("King of
my heart") is masculine, whereas neo-paganism makes their deity female
in conscious opposition to the true God. Oh, also, one of the eight elements
invited to be "King of my heart" is a "ransom" which is a Christian concept
not found in other religions. But I saw that in the downloaded lyrics,
and never heard it go by in the (darkened) sanctuary. The meat is still
in the verses, but it needs more than a heavy beat to hide its putrefaction.
I don't go to church -- certainly not this one -- for the music. There's another church in town that did beautiful music the week I visited (see "Choosing a Church" four years ago) but I had other and better reasons for not going there. With one or two exceptions (neither of whom lasted as long as I did at their church), every pastor I ever knew or knew of is a control freak. I thought the pastor at the church I picked four years ago was an exception, but I was wrong. I do not yet know for sure about this pastor, but I know how to deal with that personality type -- mostly stay off their radar, which is easier in a large church -- so I hope to be more careful this time around. Except I'm more noticeable than most: the senior pastor saw me walking to church and came over to say something, then he saw "the little Red Book" (my Greek New Testament, in which I was reading the text for his upcoming sermon), and repeated the fear that good pastors have of lay people reading Greek & Hebrew. It's that fear that makes them good -- and also (misplaced) causes them to drive me out.
Music here is a wasteland: CCM is tuneless, minimal harmony -- one of the praise team singers tries to sing harmony, but only manages to find notes to sing about half the time in less than a quarter of their song selections -- no rhyme, no worthwhile message, only a driving beat. I think I was still in college and had a music prof say that the joke in England was that "Opera is sung in Italian so that people will not realize that what is too silly to be said is sung." I'm convinced that CCM drowns everything in a rock beat for the same reason. It would appear (from videos and movies of riot scenes) that some people like to chant mindless repetitious phrases instead of thinking about the issues, but I'm not one of them. Perhaps churches (and the CCM industry in particular) sees that as a need they can and should fill.
This church is pretty proud of their small groups, but I'm still rather
gun-shy: One guess at why I got the boot in the previous church involved
my participation in their small (men's) group. But it's only a guess. Fortunately,
I have Covid to blame for not joining -- last year and continuing this
month, dunno about when the pandemic is over.
Anyway, so yesterday one of her songs struck me as somewhat more Jesus-centered than most, still less than half of the nouns + pronouns (10% Jesus vs 13% 1st-person by actual count), but one of the verses in this unstructured song -- all modern artists (including musicians) see their sacred duty to jerk the audience around, so now that somebody has defined a structure for CCM, nobody wants to do it that way any more -- the verse is sung in a punctuated jerky style, full stop between syllables, like this:
I. will. build. my. life. up.on. Your. love.
It. is. a. firm. foun.da.tion...
This form of punctuation calls special attention to the verse, so I thought about it a lot over the rest of the day. Besides making promises you cannot keep (like the general repetitiveness, Jesus said "Don't do that," but who pays any attention to what Jesus said any more?), this verse makes the audacious claim that the alleged love of Jesus is "a firm foundation" on which to build one's life. How do we know that? The song writer(s) don't say. They cannot. The only way to know something religious like this is if God Himself told us (like in the Bible), and God never said any such thing.
I have an electronic copy of the NIV Bible, and I found in it 76 verses that mention the word "foundation" but only 13 of them say what it is made of. The rest of the verses tell what the foundation is resting on, or what was built on it, or how sturdy it is, but mostly foundations get mentioned incidentally in connection with destruction, removing whatever was built on them. Three of the 13 say that the foundation of Solomon's temple was made of high-quality stone. Two verses (Isaiah and Revelation) describe foundations of jewels in the future. Two verses in Psalms say that the foundation of God's throne are Righteousness and Justice; two in Isaiah seem to be about a foundation for our life and times, one of them could be Righteousness and Justice (or else those are only associated with the foundation, and its composition is unspecified), the other is salvation and wisdom and knowledge.
The five verses in the New Testament describing what a foundation is [made of] are all in epistles. In Hebrews the foundation is repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God. Paul's first letter to Timothy "the church of the living God [is] the pillar and foundation of the truth." A few chapters later he invites the rich people to build a foundation for their future out of good deeds and generosity. In his letter to the Ephesians, the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone," which is somewhat like the verse in his first letter to Corinth: "no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." Nowhere in the whole Bible is any foundation linked to love, and certainly not the love of Jesus, which concept is far more scarce in the Bible than CCM songwriters -- and also church song leaders like this one and her male alternate -- would like to believe.
The sermon yesterday is one of a series on the church's "Core Values" where the focus was on relevance (to the surrounding culture) without compromise (of essential Christian doctrine). Different people draw the line differently. The senior pastor here (perhaps with the agreement of his staff, but I didn't hear him say) seems to think that playing music the way the local culture wants it is more about relevance than compromise, so he instructed his sound guy to increase the amplitude to the point of physical pain. The woman at the other end of the row I was in left the auditorium. I will be carrying a pair of noise-cancelling earphones so long as this new policy persists. Somebody else told me today that they always sit in the far rear to minimize the harmful effects of the sound.
I gave some thought to the relevance thing too, and was reminded of the young romantic novelist-sometime-violinist who once told me with a straight face that the baroque composers did not yet know how to express emotion in their music. It is the nature of music that it expresses emotion; her problem was that she only understood and acknowledged one emotion, romance (love). Other kinds of music (for example Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring") expresses joy. The "Dies Irae" in Mozart's Requiem is a fabulous expression of fear in the face of God's Wrath. Rock music -- especially heavy metal -- expresses anger and rejection. That may be appropriate in a Christian context when people are rejecting their past sins and angry at the Enemy for drawing them into it, but some of us want to move past that into the Joy of the Lord. There are Christian love songs, but they are not sung here in this church. A one-dimensional monochromatic music service leaves people starving for nourishment. The pastor preached the previous week on the riots and anger in Washington, little realizing that the very same culture he is trying to emulate in his church, that's the only music people listen to all day long for the past 60-plus years. No wonder they are angry all the time! And he wants that in his church??
Maybe suppressing the sound is a good idea, a multi-dimensional plan
for (my) healthy living. I'm not saying the pastor is "wrong" about his
loud music policy, only that it does not appear to me to be helpful to
anybody *I* know. He knows different people than I do, and he is responsible
for bringing the Gospel to everybody -- especially the ones he knows that
I do not. The church policy on disagreement is "...freedom in non-essentials."
Non-essential works for me: good music is nice, but not what I go to church
But her non-Christmas selections -- she acknowledged that December 26 is the "Second Day of Christmas" of the Twelve Days that end the day before the liturgical Epiphany, and included also (I think) a couple carols -- were remarkably low in first-person pronouns. One of them was page after page of four-line stanzas filled with sound theological content. There's no way I could remember all that stuff, but they had a Trinitarian refrain with a distinctive third line, so I Googled it this morning, and the first three hits all pointed to the publisher's website. None of the usual lyrics sites carried it, and the publisher's site is one of the growing number of websites using some non-standard format that crashes my browser, but I found a blog site that quoted the whole song, and gave it a "10/10" score as consistent with Scripture. Eight four-line stanzas and only two 1st-person singular pronouns, both in the last stanza (three 1st-person plural pronouns scattered about). All overwhelmed by the other pronouns, seven 2nd-person and three 3rd-person referring to Christ, and two more 3rd-person referring to Good People (angels and resurrected saints) and a bunch of theological nouns. A little too dense to be easily learned, but I sure wanted to.
The sermon featured the full text of several hymns, songs I knew the words and music to, but the preacher begged off from singing (or playing) them, he just read the words to us. What's wrong with good music? Oh well, we had a couple inches of snow all over the streets, so most everybody stayed home (maybe 50 or 60 people in a sanctuary that seats 500) and I could hum along without disturbing anybody.
The point of the sermon was drawn from the verse that Mary "pondered"
these things in her heart. I don't think the guy reads Greek, because the
Greek verb combines the preposition meaning "with" and a verb meaning "throw"
in a way that usually refers to throwing people or things together (as
in meetings or encounters), and I think the inspired Historian had in mind
that all these events kind of tumbled together in Mary's mind, but my dictionary
makes a special case for translating the word in this verse only
as "ponder" which is the traditional translation in most Bibles. Maybe
that's close enough. Whatever.
Yesterday, along with the discouragement of trying to get the worst possible programming language (PHP; Malbolge -- see "Malevolence vs the Golden Rule" earlier this year -- cannot be used to program computers, so it doesn't count) to run my programs, I found one of those garbage CCM songs running through my head. This one actually has a recognizable tune, so it's not quite as boring musically as the usual fare, but at 26 out of 251 words, the first-person pronoun is far and away the most frequent, even more than "the" (21) and "a" (20). No mention of Jesus or God at all, and all the second-person pronouns are somebody else, just three non-specific "King"s and three non-specific "heaven"s, which could equally be Mormon or Muslim. This is what I call a "I Worship ME" song.
The next most significant word is "louder" at 18 times -- the title word is a distant 8 -- which is interesting. In my experience "loud" is what people do when they run out of intelligent things to say. I once worked with a very sharp engineer, he generally spoke quite loud, but not when he was discussing electronics where he was expert. Me, I'm not loud at all: once I was doing something with my niece in the garage, and a cupboard started to close on my fingers, and I didn't yell or scream, I just said "ow, ow, ow," in a low voice. It took her a minute or two to realize I needed her to stop whatever it was she was doing. Her husband comes across much louder than I, so she was not prepared for my timid little voice.
There is a Hebrew verb that could be translated "shout for joy," and it is used often in the Psalms, so I guess there's a God-given place for making a lot of noise. It seems to be a guy thing: movies intended for guys tend to be about "going fast, making loud noises, and breaking things." I think it significant that the pastor here told his sound guy to "Amp up" the song service until it is physically painful, but that does not apply to his sermon. Do you see what I mean? He understands that the songs are meaningless noise, not at all like his carefully crafted sermon.
Theologically dubious, this song is. Shouting "Hallelujah" when confronted by your enemies seems a little misplaced. We certainly didn't see that in church, rather he said his "Hallelujah"s ("praise God") in the presence of his friends. Instead of praising God for the "presence" of his enemies, a more appropriate response to enemies should rather be "Hosanna" ([Lord] "save"). Joseph Smith of Mormon fame read his King James Bible quite a lot, but not with deep understanding. Otherwise he would have realized that "Hosanna" is a quote from Psalm 118 (see my "Palm Sunday Thoughts" two years ago), asking for help, and not mere praise (as in his "translation" of the Book of Mormon has it in the mouths of angels, who need no rescue, no "Hosanna"). God would not have made a blunder like that, not when Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon more than a century ago allegedly under direct dictation, and not more recently when whoever it was wrote this song.
Whatever. The sound booth crew forgot to turn on the monitors in the
balcony this week, so I couldn't see the lyrics except by squinting at
the screens in the front. It wasn't like I missed anything.
At least it started out that way: no drums, no syncopation, just a soft piano to match the love-song-like words. Then the words morphed into something more martial and the drummer kicked in. Modern drummers have a hard time doing anything but syncopated rock, and this guy was no exception. Eventually the words caught up with him, something about "Death could not hold You," and "You have no rival, You have no equal," which express separation and rejection and anger, the kinds of things appropriate to the emotions kindled by the heavy unsingable syncopated beat of rock music, and the drummer could -- and did -- do that.
My point is, different styles of music convey different emotions, and emotions drive the actions of the people expressing them. Play continuous rock, and everybody is angry all the time. It's hard on the culture, and it's hard on the people, but that's what we live in, and this church can do better -- we saw that yesterday -- but they don't have the will to on a regular basis. The regular music leaders were still on vacation, these were mostly people who I don't usually see up front. I don't think they even knew what they were doing (probably a "God thing"), perhaps like the two churches where I (in times past) parked my fanny, where men outnumbered the women, and the senior pastor in each case had no clue what he was doing to make that happen.
It wasn't a bad song, more about Jesus than "me-myself-and-I" with three
times more 2nd-person pronouns referring to Jesus than 1st person pronouns
(most CCM songs it's the other way around) but rather
repetitious like the "7-11" taunt, (literally) "7 (in this case 6) words
repeated 11 times." Whatever.
I first noticed the problem three churches ago, when I sang in the choir. A pretty robust way to know what a text or song is about is to count the words of a particular class. Church songs are filled with pronouns, "you" and "your" addressed to God, and "I", "me" and "my" (and much less often "we", "us" and "our") concerning me, myself and I. I started counting the pronouns. The most popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) songs -- the ones that play on the radio stations I don't listen to, and therefore the people in the congregation know, so that's what the song leaders play for them to sing in church -- generally have twice as many first-person pronouns as second person. People like to sing about themselves.
It's backwards. Jesus said that if you want to be on his team, you need to start with self-denial. The Biblical religion is all about God, not me. There are some CCM songs about God, just not many. This last Sunday the guy led off with one, and then his third or fourth song was one I actually knew, "How Great Thou Art." Count the pronouns. Sometimes that gives a wrong emphasis (as in this case), but it's a good start. Maybe it has a lot of "you" pronouns, but the song is about what "you" (God) are doing for me. It's not really about God the giver so much as it is what *I* get out of it, me the beneficiary, because it's all about me.
Me, I druther sing about God. So I don't feel bad that I don't know any of the songs they play at church -- except the one each week (average) from the classic hymns. Some of the hymns are self-centric too: a couple weeks ago they did "Come Thou Fount" which invites God to "tune my heart". Another verse, the traditional words (they changed the obscure words here, but kept the personal focus) say "Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I've come, and I hope..." Count the pronouns: only one 2nd-person pronoun and four first-person. It's about me, what *I* am doing to praise God. Yes, there's some God in there, but mostly me, myself and I. sigh
One song this guy particularlarly likes repeats its main line -- in
so-called "7/11" songs 7 words get repeated 11 times, a slight exaggeration,
but not by much in this church -- "It is for freedom that I am set free"
with special musical emphasis on "freedom" and "I am". The theology is
wrong. We are not "set free" for the purpose of American-style anarchic
"freedom" but rather so that we can be servants of the Most High God, as
Paul clearly points out in Rom.6:16-18 and again in 1Cor.7:22, and expresses
everywhere by calling himself a "slave of the Lord Jesus Christ."
I don't remember her exact words, but it was something to the effect that Bach composed his music before people learned how to make music express emotion. I suspect Maestro Honeck would disagree. The article quotes him as referring to how "Mozart and Bach have a positive influence on the healing process..." in a paragraph that begins "Through music you can touch the soul... people sometimes cry if they hear beautiful music." If that isn't about emotions, I don't know what is.
It seems to me that it is the nature of music is to convey emotions. Different music conveys different emotions. Perhaps my friend has a very narrow notion of what constitutes "emotion" and supposes that only romance qualifies. Hate (rock music) and joy (baroque) and sadness (blues) are also valid emotions. The Mozart Requiem does an awesome job of communicating fear.
We have a 5000+year recorded history of people making music. Even if
you restrict emotions to romance, I am not so selfish and narrow-minded
-- I think the usual term for it is arrogant -- as to believe that only
in the last 2% of that time did they figure out how to do emotions.
But when they present vocal music, they don't use their own qualified musicians, they play a CD sound track. I call it "plastic music." This leads me to ask, What's the point?
Who are they singing for, God? Or for the entertainment of the congregation? As entertainers, they have a long way to go to compete with the vocal track on that same CD. But we don't go to church to be entertained, do we? What's the point?
I read the Psalms, one per day. With a few adjustments for 31-day months, this fills out exactly five months. Today was the end of the cycle, Psalm 150 on June 30. It's a wonderful psalm of praise to God. Three churches ago they had a Sunday School song that set this to very colorful music, with instrumental runs and trills to accentuate the various instruments in the psalm. The point of music in the church is to praise God. The singers praise God. The instrumentalists praise God. We get to hear them praise God, but they are doing it for God more than for us, right?
But the plastic music, is that for God? God already heard that particular recording -- in the recording studio. It cannot be for our entertainment, because that's not what church is about, is it? Why can't the singers use local talent (when it is available, as it is in this church) to accompany their praise? Then two people, not just the soloist, get to praise God.
We live in a plastic, throw-away society. Plastic is chintzy, cheap.
What we do for God should be better than that.