It seems that a truce has been called in the so-called worship wars. Or at least I seem to hear a lot less about such wars raging in the church today.
Perhaps this lull in the fighting is because the church in the West has finally realized it has more important questions to answer than whether we go traditional or contemporary in our musical worship. Or perhaps (a less promising possibility!) the silence on these questions reflects the fact that each has decided to go his or her own way – the contemporary worshippers and the traditional worshippers have simply parted company, so there’s nothing left to fight over.
Whatever the case case, I’m not intending to open a new front in these old battles. However, there is one suggestion I would like to make, no matter where we may have settled on the question of worship style. My simple suggestion is that we remain open and attentive to the worship styles and content that come to us from the global church.
This isn’t to say that such attention is utterly lacking in our congregations. Some local churches are more than aware of the ways that our worship can be enriched by the melodies and rhythms and themes of global Christianity. But I also know of plenty of worshipping communities (blended, contemporary, traditional) where the diversity of the worldwide church never finds expression in music. Continue reading
This week I was listening to CBC radio one the afternoon, and the program was Shift with Tom Allen. Tom was at his witty and conversational best that afternoon. As you may know, Shift is the CBC program that makes the transition from classical music in the first part of the day to rock or independent pop music late in the afternoon. So at the beginning of the program you are likely to hear movements from a Beethoven symphony or violin concerto by Bartok. But by the end of the program you are likely to hear R.E.M. or Arcade Fire or Sarah Harmer.
And when I was listening to Shift toward the end of the program, Tom Allen introduced a song by telling a story about about visiting friends of his who own a guesthouse in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. These friends had a problem with bears in the spring, when the bears would come out of hibernation and would be hungry and on the prowl for food. The bears would show up around the guesthouse, trying to get into the garbage, scrounging for food. And so his friends had to chase away the bears – scare them off on a regular basis. One morning that he was there, and there was a bear out near the garbage area, they asked Tom if he wanted to give a try at scaring the bear away. And so he agreed – he went out on the porch and started shouting at the bear, yelling at that bear to get away. The bear didn’t even look up – this screaming city boy wasn’t going to startle a bear enough to send it running. Sort of like us with our raccoons, I suppose – you yell at them, and they just kind of look up at you like, “What’s your problem?”
But at that point, the woman who owned the guesthouse with her husband took over. She took a can of tomatoes with her, threw it at the bear, and shouted at the bear with an intensity and volume that Tom Allen just could not muster. And when the bear saw the tomatoes fly, and heard this woman deploying her vocal cords, it took off running. Continue reading
It appears that “doubt is the new black.” Or, that uncertainty is “in.’ This is so particularly in Christian circles.
This sentiment is everywhere on the web these days – in blog posts, in Facebook postings, in tweets, and also on the more established Christian publishing sites. Doubt has displaced dogma. We are supposed to be wary of those who are certain of their faith. We are supposed to be suspicious of those who claim to know the truth. We are all supposed to bask in the glorious uncertainty of everything, because there’s nothing more annoying (or dangerous for that matter – be very afraid!) than someone who presumes to express confidence in faith.
We are all just muddling through. Don’t you dare presume or suggest otherwise!
Now it seems to me that there is something profoundly disingenuous in many of these writings that celebrate doubt. In many instances this celebration of uncertainty seems to be nothing but a trojan horse, under guise of which writers simply want to establish a new dogmatism. It’s not that they doubt. It’s that they want YOU to doubt what THEY want you to doubt. So doubt is only celebrated to the extent that it might help to change your mind – mostly to abandon traditional elements of faith. Continue reading
A piece I originally intended to submit to the Presbyterian Record, but then decided not to. For what it’s worth…
Quid pro quo. You do something for me and I’ll do something for you. It’s an eminently reasonable formula, and I’d like to propose just such an exchange. I’ll get to the details in a moment, but let me give you the headline version first. Here it is: If you’ll stop pretending to be a Christian, I will, too. Quid pro quo.
Yes, this bargain is as dramatic as it sounds, and I may be out of my depth in proposing it – yet I think I’m operating from faithful logic.
As you are no doubt aware, perhaps even from regular perusal of the Presbyterian Record, theologians and social historians have been announcing, celebrating and bemoaning (sometimes all at the same time) the decline of Christendom for a few decades now. There is much evidence for this decline. As pollster Nik Nanos has recently informed us, only 22 percent of Canadians aged 15-29 say that religion is highly important to them. In addition, the percentage of those who claim ‘no religious affiliation’ continues to climb nationwide, with residents of my own province of Quebec being least likely to see faith as important to their lives. We hardly need reminding that it’s a bear market for Christianity. Continue reading
I am among you as one who serves.
In abstract – in general, we can get our heads around this idea. Sure, Jesus is one who serves. Jesus washes feet. Jesus touches the leper. Jesus heals a sick child. Jesus provides food for the hungry crowd. In the abstract – in general we can get our heads around this idea.
Many of you will be familiar with Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper – and if not familiar with the novel itself, you will be familiar with one of the many television programs or movies or stage plays that have retold that classic tale. Two young men, through a chance encounter, discover that they look almost impossibly alike – yet they come from dramatically different worlds. The one is a prince, heir to the throne and to great power and wealth. The other lives in poverty, among the poorest of the poor. The look-alikes as you will recall, decide to exchange places for a time – and as that wonderful little phrase goes, hijinks ensue. Each is more than a little lost in the other’s world. Each takes more than a few days to find his bearing in a world that functions according to a different set of rules. The pauper doesn’t know which fork to use at a royal dinner. The prince doesn’t know how to respond to the violence or injustice to which he is treated.