"If the God you believe in as an idea doesn’t start showing up in what happens to you in your own life, you have as much cause for concern as if the God you don’t believe in as an idea does start showing up. It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling." ~ Frederick Buechner

19 August 2010

"Modernizing" Hymns

Nich and I attended our penultimate young adults' Bible study last night. The final song we sang during worship was "Take My Life and Let It Be," which would have been wonderful except there was this little chorus stuck in there that went:

I am Yours, set apart for You
I am Yours, hungry for Your truth
Take my life, You are all I live for
I am Yours

I feel like this is happening more and more.

And I don't like it.

Inherently, I have nothing against contemporary choruses. In fact, I think they're getting somewhat better as far as poetic worship is concerned. I find that many of the ones we sing in church these days are nowhere near as repetitive and lacking in theological depth as their predecessors have been. Of course, there are still the ones that should be thrown out with the bath water, but don't get me started on those, or we'll be here for a while.

However, I do have a problem with people taking a hymn and slapping an insignificant "chorus" into it in the name of "modernization". Part of what I find so fulfilling about singing a hymn is the rich history behind the song, the welling of the music, and the pure poetry of the lyrics. When you go and stick in something like the four lines above, it does a great disservice to the original lyricist and detracts from the original wholeness of the hymn.

It turns me off.

It distracts me.

It's like having a chocolate chip cookie and finding that one of the chips is really a fly.

Other than the distinct differences between hymns and modern worship choruses, which really ought to be kept in separate categories of worship music, there are a couple other reasons why this soiling of hymns bothers me. First of all, I think it is extremely presumptuous of modern worship leaders - who are not all poets and lyricists themselves - to take another person's art and taint it with their less-than-comparable contribution. It would be as though I painted a red earring on the Mona Lisa's left earlobe. Minor detail, but definitely a noticeable detraction from the original work.

Secondly, I think this "modernization" of hymns points to a far greater problem, which is the consumerist mentality that is quickly pervading our western church. I recently read an acquaintance's Facebook update that went something like this: "I'm praying that God leads us to a new church home soon. I need the security. I love many things about (name of church), but we feel that for this season in our lives, we need a new church home. Just not sure where yet. It's hard. I just want to get settled again and start being fed regularly. I hate shopping churches. We were trying to look and still be a part of our current church, but that isn't working out well."

Nich and I had many discussions about this "shopping for churches" mentality a couple years back when a family from our church - much like this acquaintance of mine - decided that they weren't getting what they "needed" from our church, that the teaching wasn't "challenging" enough, and that they "needed" a new church "home." They were quite vocal about it, and once they made their decision, although claiming a high level of respect for our church and the staff, they continually made comparisons each time they would see members of our church, voicing their opinions about how much "happier" they were at their new church.

Obviously, there are some things that are necessary in a, for lack of a better term, good church, such as sound, Biblical teaching, a sense of solid community, and outward ministry to name a few. However, in order to make a church truly "home," as in any family, it's partly on each member's shoulders to pull their weight, to use the gifts God has given to serve the community. It means lovingly and graciously living in the family and putting our personal preferences behind the people with whom God has called us to live in communion.

At the top of the personal preferences list is worship music. Why do we waste so much time debating the songs with which we use to worship our Sovereign Lord? If we are truly honest with ourselves, it's not so much about worshiping God as it is about the drum beat, the bass line, whether an organ can be involved or not. My church went through a shift a year or two ago where the adult Sunday morning service was combined with the separate youth morning service, because the elders and pastors felt that we were two separate churches (which we really were). You would not believe the amount of hullabaloo raised over this, especially regarding the worship music. Mind you, it's not as though the adults sang hymns. The difference was as minor as a few years' separation between when songs came out and how loud they were.

So because of the fuss, during which there was an awakening to the fact that "Oh! We have 'elderly people' who enjoy hymns in our church!", we now sing a strange mix of contemporary choruses, super-contemporary teen-friendly songs, and "modernized" hymns.

My question is, if our goal is to please the masses, then why does it feel like those of us whose hearts worship best with the hymns of old compromise the most? No one is tampering with the choruses. Why must the hymns be modernized? Could it be because we, like many, many western churches, are catering to the younger generation and forgetting that part of what makes our faith so beautiful is the rich history behind us and the legacy of those who have gone before us?*

I realize that there are a lot of thoughts here, and in my head, they're all linked. :~) But now I'm hungry and a pregnant woman's gotta eat, so I'm not going to take any more time on this. I'll leave you with this: If you're going to comment, do it respectfully, and if you're going to be sarcastic in any way, please leave well enough alone.


*I really do like our current church, and Nich and I have been, and will continue to be, heavily invested in serving with and through it. But like any church, it is not perfect. I don't think making an acknowledgment of that is wrong or unloving, nor do I feel as though I have been unkind of disrespectful in anyway through the course of this entry. If you feel otherwise, I apologize.

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