Thursday, March 12, 2009

Excellence and joy

One of my recent posts drew a greater than usual number of comments, and we spent a brief moment discussing it at the recent Worship & Music committee meeting. I mention it because it exemplifies the purpose of this blog: to spark discussion and feedback. Thanks to the joy of Google Analytics, I know that our readership has been steady, so if you're reading this I encourage you to join in and leave a message anytime!

Another thing I loved about the earlier discussion was that we ranged from classic Lutheran hymns, Bach, and Mendelssohn, all the way up to Duke Ellington and country-western music. I'd say a rough consensus was that we do need a variety of styles in church, all done well and balanced over time. We can't sing your favorite, though, if you never tell us what it is.

Church music is about more than just who composed it, and my philosophy is to strive for excellence and joy in the presentation of any music. If the musicians don't feel confident joy about what they're singing, how could the congregation?

Joy, you might be asking - during Lent?!? Yes! We are in a season where a part of our soul should be giddy with anticipation of the greatest news ever received. The climax of the Gospel story is near (and Gospel means "good news," after all).

Rather than prattle on in my own feeble attempt to explain my musical philosophy of Christian joy, I'll leave it to you to hear it in my music, as well as in this quote from Gene Robinson's autobiographical work In the Eye of the Storm:
"If we acted as if we truly believed the message of Incarnation...if we believed that human flesh was an appropriate and honorable abode for God and for ourselves...if we saw our souls and bodies as a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God...then people would be beating down the doors of our churches to find out what makes our lives so joyful, our relationships so full of mutual respect, and our outreach to the world so central to who we are."


  1. I would agree, that we need variety in church music; however, we also need to be mindful of what kinds of music are appropriate to worship. Joseph Cardinal Ratziner (Pope Benedict XVI) makes the point in his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy", "Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has standards, and that standard is the Logos (p. 151)." Later he states, "The cosmic character of liturgical music stands in opposition to the two tendencies of the modern age that we have described: music as pure subjectivity, music as the expression of mere will. We sing with the angels. But this cosmic character is grounded ultimately in the ordering of all Christian worship to 'logos' (p. 155)."

    The reality of the Incarnation of the Logos leads us to seek the highest and the best for what we do in worship, not just what "feels" good, but what is good. For ultimately, true Christian joy is not a feeling, but a living in harmony with the Logos of God that is expressed in worship and in our lives.

  2. Does this mean that the Whoopi Goldberg/Sister Act school of music is always inappropriate during worship? Do a liturgical text, a well-performed song, and a goal of ministry outweigh the fact that some would consider the music itself inappropriate? Besides, much of "Christian rock" fails the test of having an appropriate (Lutheran) text. Even some of the ELW hymns ("Shine, Jesus, Shine") are barely singable by a congregation.

    You all know that I love my Bach, but I know his music doesn't speak to everyone today. Sussing out the standards of music and balancing them with the goal of ministry represent an ongoing theological, musical, and ethical challenge for everyone involved in worship. That's why the discussion is so important!