Sunday, April 19, 2009

not for ease or worldly pleasure

Granted, this may not be a very creative or imaginative post, but I have loved this song and the song writer. About her poem, Fanny Crosby said this:

"Toward the close of a day in the year 1874 I was sitting in my room thinking of the nearness of God through Christ as the constant companion of my pilgrim journey, when my heart burst out with the words."

Thou my everlasting Portion, more than friend or life to me,
All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee.
Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee,
All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee.

Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be;
Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee.
Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee,
Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee.

Lead me through the vale of shadow, bear me o'er life's fitful sea;
Then the gate of life eternal may I enter, Lord, with Thee.
Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee.
Then the gate of life eternal may I enter, Lord, with Thee.

Words by Fanny J. Crosby
Tune by Silas J. Vail

May it be so.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


It’s comical how often I utter this phrase in my public school elementary music classroom. Silence is something with which we’re just not comfortable as a society. I think it’s a problem of failing to engage with the present; with our current reality. It is at this point that our problem with silence meets with a similar problem of stillness. We live sedentary lifestyles, but cannot be still. We have little meaningful conversation, but cannot be silent. Most of the things children in our society find to engage themselves with is mindless drivel and repetition created to merely fill the space. I confess I remember well the times during my childhood where I could waste away hours upon hours with computer sports games (baseball, of course, was the chief culprit). After the sorts of activities lose their novelty and become rote and repetitive, our senses lose their place in time.

As adults, we have similar problems (although I’m sure there are some among us for whom video games are the chief culprit). We fidget and flail and don’t get anything productive done. Our minds never stray from all the items on our “to-do” lists. The discipline of silence becomes quite essential at this point if we are to be fully engaged people. We need to be able to fully engage in our present moment if we are to have a genuine encounter with the Creator.
Because churches so frequently seek to provide entertainment – pure sensory stimulation – the discipline of silence in corporate worship is a lost art among members of the Body. In fact, sound amplification is continually increased to make up for the dulling of our senses and our need to turn up the assault. It seems appropriate that, since true corporate worship encompasses the entire range of human existence, it is imperative that our services feature the “loudest” of louds and the “softest” of softs. Silence offers congregants the opportunity to place themselves squarely in the middle of the present moment and prepare to meet the King. We must be willing to sacrifice the space in a jam packed order of worship. Neither “contemporary” nor “traditional” corporate settings are without fault in this matter, though contemporary setting presents its own special problems that easily conflict with the presence disciplined, prayerful silence (which, perhaps, I will discuss at a later time).

I appreciate the comments of A. Daniel Frankforter in his book, Stones For Bread: A Critique of Contemporary Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), regarding the unfortunate lack of silence in our contemporary Christian situation:

Clergy are reluctant to let silence blossom within their service plans for fear that
their congregations will become bored. When worship is conceived primarily as a
clerical performance and, therefore, an entertainment, silences seem out of place. They
have limited uses in entertainment. Silence interrupts a show’s flow and makes its
audience nervous. It suggests that a performer’s concentration has lapsed or that his
timing is off. On the other hand, when worship is truly a communal activity, silence
feels comfortable. It functions as a sacrament (pg 170).

May we all know the grace of God that can be known through palate-cleansing, prayerful silence.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

get rid of the hymnals, and the Bibles too, while you're at it

I was recently listening to a church service led by an evangelical preacher who was busy preaching reliance on the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. Of course, such a reliance on Scripture is a key tenet, even a qualification of evangelicalism, and I have sat through countless sermons and classes in which this tenet has been driven home.

This time, while listening to the entire service, I was dumbfounded by the absence of Scripture. The songs made reference to Scriptural truths and solid theology. The pastor even alluded to some passages as proof-texts, but nowhere was there any extended (beyond a partial verse) dissemination of Biblical text.

As I have stated before elsewhere, my belief is that an act cannot be worshipful unless it is a response to God's self-revelation, which to us is given through Scripture. If this is true, how can there be an act of corporate worship when the community of believers has received none of God's self-revelation to which they can respond? I was reminded of a project I undertook in a graduate theology class. The assignment was to attend worship services at three different venues. My services of choice were an evangelical Christian service, a mainline Lutheran service, and a Catholic service. I remember writing at the time about the lack of actual Biblical text in the evangelical service while the other two, non-evangelical services made liberal (pardon the word choice) use of Scripture, including extended Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel readings.

How ironic. Throughout my entire evangelical upbringing, which weekly included two Sunday services and one on Wednesday, I only remember a handful of times when extended Biblical readings were given, and the ones that stick in my memory were used in a novel, even jovial manner, usually regarding the evangelical disconnect with Old Testament law. There was certainly extended singing (though not always an extensive program of songs). There was often drama. Even church announcements were loquaciously given. No - pith was seemingly only employed when it was time to open God's inspired and infallible Word.

Now, an absence of Scripture reading does not mean worship did not occur on an individual level, but corporate worship is something different; it is a ceremonial time for the body of Christ to be corporately present. Let's not forget such a basic element.



Once upon a time, way back in grad school (MA 2007), I did a great deal of writing on the subject of church music and theology of worship. My goal here is to kick myself back into gear. Beyond that, we shall see how this plays out.