January 30, 2011

Someone Is Singing

Over the course of my lifetime (as brief as that may be, comparatively) I've witnessed countless debates concerning which "style" of worship is “better,” about which genre-like praise wins.

Is it "contemporary" worship? Should we set up a drum kit, plug in an electric guitar and a soundboard? Or maybe "traditional" music truly reigns supreme over the rest—it became a "tradition" because those who raised us (even those who raised the ones who raised them) decided that it did the best job, right?

As I've gotten older, though, I’m beginning to think that praise actually is not a competition. I simply cannot bring myself to believe that the human pursuit of glorifying our God is some sort of competition or contest, where the winning team gets more love or gratitude from God after the curtain finally goes down. 

First of all, God owes thanks to no one, much less in varying degrees. And His already-perfect love for each of us doesn't fluctuate depending on the songs we sing, just like it isn’t dependent on anything we do (or don't do). Thank the Lord for that, though, because each and every one of us would be forever condemned if we were left to our lone devices.

Instead, I’ve begun to think of worship, of sincere glorification of our God, as an art (maybe even the art).

One of art's most defining characteristics is that different human beings can relate to it. If a work of art is heartfelt and passionate then it will be relevant and meaningful to the artist. Moreover, when something like art is truly relevant to a soul, then other similar souls will respond alike. To me, that’s what it means when a work of art is truthfully “artful.”

That said, will every single form of art be considered “artful” by everyone? No, of course not— but those distinctions, those differing tastes (and the communities that evolve from them), make the realm of art that much more beautiful, bringing complement and contrast to the arrangement of flowers that we collectively offer to God.

                Who am I to think that I have perfected the art of praise? It is arrogant for me to claim, or even think, that a particular style of music is the penultimate end in the growth of human worship. It just seems wrong for me to sing along with my favorite praise songs and make the decision that the humane worship of the divine Creator has reached its personal zenith, that there is no room left for change or development.

I'm not trying to say that churches should exclusively play either traditional hymns or rock music. I mean, our Biblical forefathers didn’t have electric guitars or microphones— just like they didn’t have organs or choir tiers. 

It just sounds off to me, to tell someone that they ought to imitate my art, that their form of art isn’t “good” enough— especially when no human being (with only one exception) will ever be good enough.
Maybe how the songs are being sung doesn’t matter as much as we think.
Maybe what actually matters is that someone is singing them.


January 24, 2011

Check-Out Counter Candy

It's amazing how the smallest occurrences, the briefest of experiences or situations, can clearly illustrate truth in a way that we would never have thought of on our own...

I was standing at the check-out line in a thoroughly non-local grocery store (AKA: Wal-Mart). Everyone can relate to this. There was a woman and her two small children at the front of the line, and (you guessed it) they were making "the scene."

The smallest child tugged insistently at his mother's skirt, pointing with his quiet eyes and loud mouth at the rows of gleaming candy bars lining the customary check-out altar to sugar and sweets. His screams were awkward and piercing, the kind of notes where my adrenaline starts to edge in, because it sounds like there's violence being committed nearby.

Meanwhile, the poor woman's other child was being far too quiet, as he began not-so-subtly snagging candy bars from the lower shelves. I thought his efforts were pretty humorous (as did some of the other people waiting in the line); but his mother didn't agree with us at all, as she yanked each and every one of the prizes from her child's reluctant fingers. However, her conversation was primarily directed at the first child, as his demonstrations were far more... boisterous.

"Jerry... Sweetie, it isn't healthy for you to eat candy all the time... Jerry, you cannot have that. Jerry, stop yelling... Jerry, please quit screaming... Ralph! I can physically see you taking those!"

I was tremendously impressed, though, because the mother kept her voice and demeanor calm, her manner controlled, her head level, despite how frustrating the situation understandably was for her. I don't really expect to see that from parents in public who have a child locked in the throes of a truly epic tantrum war.

After it had finally dissolved (both children disappointed), I started to mull over what had just happened. I finally checked out with my items and exited the store. Then, as I took my first steps across the parking lot, I noticed the same mother, now kneeling beside the smaller (louder) child. The kid's cheeks were a ruddy red- instead of more protests, though, I heard (even at that distance) his tiny voice tearfully apologizing to his "mommy."

I felt a kinship with that child, immediately, as a very difficult and all too obvious truth struck me upside my temple:

I am the screaming kid at the check-out counter.

Not literally, obviously (that'd be awkward)- I mean on a bigger scale than that of a particular moment or experience. Throughout my life, I have constantly berated God for not being "good" to me, for not truly having my interests at His heart, for not knowing what was actually best for me. Like a child, screaming for a candy bar from the check-out counter, I have begged for "good" things to happen to me, demanded that my circumstances suddenly improve, forever feeling that all of my suffering and pain would dissolve away if I could just get that candy bar. I've even tried subterfuge, attempting to steal the candy when it isn't given to me- but it always seems that He keeps me from doing that, as well.

If I am the child, then God is the parent- but He isn't losing His head over my immature protests, and He doesn't concern Himself with what others around us might be thinking about the situation. Instead, He wisely takes every one of the candies that I'm trying to shove in my pockets and puts them back on the shelf, calmly telling me that it isn't healthy to have a diet of only chocolate and sweets. He's perfectly right, too. My poor little teeth would have rotted straight out if He'd given me every sweet I've begged for over the years- I would be far beyond spoiled, naive and ignorant of the truth in this life that I've been given.

That isn't to say that I've learned my lesson, though... But I think I'm beginning to realize that I never will, that I never even can. I'll probably always think that I know what's "best" for me, just like that kid saw no reason that he shouldn't be eating candy all the time. But his mother knew better than him, and God knows better than me... That said, though, the gap between a parent and small child is nothing when compared to the unimaginable chasm laying between the humane and the divine (in terms of respective wisdom, knowledge, and experience).

All I can do is apologize to Him, the tears chasing down my cheeks, when I finally realize (and will actually admit) that I was wrong.

Time and time and time and time and time again.

But I can feel my heart cringe, maybe even break, every time I do repent of my nature. Even as I utter the words- no matter how earnest my apologies, no matter how fervent my tears, no matter how convicted my heart- I know that I will find myself at another candy counter, sooner or later...

And one of the most tragic truths that I have had to learn is this:

I will do it again.