Monday, April 06, 2009

Praise Music and Palm Sunday

After my last post, my wife asked me to say more about my idea that doubt and faith are more closely related than certainty and faith. I've been intending to do just that, but it's a big enough job to have caused a bottleneck in my blogging. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, I've got something else to say. It's still related to my previous post. In that post, I was trying to put my finger on what I don't like about the praise music that's so prevalent in non-liturgical churches. I said, this music "tends to begin with, 'Let's all stand and sing praise to our mighty God,' and stays there."

As I was on my way to church yesterday, it occurred to me that the emotional tone of this music is perfect for Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, coming in the middle of the great penitential season of Lent as it does, is a bit tricky to get right. It's too obvious that the praise and hosanna of Palm Sunday is hollow. And that's exactly how I feel about traditional praise music.

Praise music is overflowing with "God is great" and "we offer our full devotion" and so on, and I know as I sing it that it just isn't true, BUT it's perfect for Palm Sunday. It helps me play my part in the annual drama. So for me, the perfect Palm Sunday worship service would be filled with praise music of this nature, interrupted only by a strong sermon reminding me that I can't really back it up and a good send-off into holy week.

I know I'm coming across as very down on praise music, and I don't mean to. There's an awful lot of good to it. For one thing, the introduction of contemporary musical forms into the worship setting is fantastic. This music also helps a lot of people connect with and find expression for the difficult emotions of praise and worship. But it can't hold the weight of the full expression of the Christian life.

What the Church desperately needs right now is talented musicians with a strong sense of the emotions of the liturgy and the flow of the liturgical year. I know there out there. I pray that we will find their work.


Chris Duckworth said...

I heard a sappy 80's love ballad the other day on the radio (which is why I rarely listen to music on the radio) and I thought to myself - if I change the lyrics to "I love you Jesus," I'd have a Contemporary Christian hit! I really think that most Contemporary Christian music is thin lyrics (usually about my love for God, or vapid slogans about God's might) joined with bad music. I've heard some stuff which is not as bad, but that been the exception rather than the norm.

Andy said...

You're definitely onto something with the 80's love ballads. It's a mystery to me how the most trite praise song can be made worse when "polished" for Christian radio, and even the best doesn't usually manage to make the transition and still sound inspiring. My wife and I were talking about this yesterday, and she mentioned the 80's sound. I said I thought it was more like muzak.

Rachel said...

haha, I've heard things like that before.

You kind of lost me, though, at "But it can't hold the weight of the full expression of the Christian life." because it implies, then, that traditional music is the only thing that CAN hold that weight.

I don't think that's accurate. You got me back at the end with your comment about talented musicians. Maybe it currently *doesn't*, but it could. And I'm sure it WILL, at some point. Maybe even now, we just don't hear what we want/need to. I don't know.

But I do think it's unfair to doubt the sincerity of those in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and to doubt my own sincerity in singing "Hosanna". I mean it, I do. But I'm human, and I'm flawed, and I do awful, sinful things anyway. But I can still worship happily sometimes, right?

Andy said...

Well, it's not really so much that I doubt their sincerity (I don't doubt the sincerity of the people who write praise music either). It's just that I know that within a week most of those people will either be shouting "crucify him" or denying that they know him. To me that's what Palm Sunday is about. We're singing "Hosanna" and we mean it (or at least want to mean it), but we know that we can't back it up.

I don't really want to stand in the way of anyone for whom this type of worship works. I'm just saying that for me it OFTEN feels hollow.

Anyway, I think you got the main gist of what I was saying. I don't mean to say that only traditional music can hold the weight of Christian life. Heaven help us if that were true.

I just don't want us to be satisfied with less than the best we can do. The way things are today is like having Psalm 150 and throwing out the rest of the psalter. (Yes, I know that's an absurd overstatement.)

Pastor Joelle said...

The problem I have with so called "praise music" (as though an old gem like "Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation" is NOT a praise song) is that most of it is all about me and how much I love Jesus and God --some of it to the point that it's like Jesus is my boyfriend or something which creeps me out. What I love about the old hymns is that they are about what God has done. Because if it's all about me feeling all goopy about God, well what happens when I'm not feeling goopy?

Andy said...

"well what happens when I'm not feeling goopy?"

Exactly! And I'm usually not feeling goopy, so that's a big problem for me.

I have to say though, a few years ago on Easter Sunday we sang a "praise song" called "Say It Loud" and there's a line in there that says, "Tell the world what God has done." I'd sang it dozens of times, but for some reason that morning, thinking about the significance of Easter as I was, I was flooded with emotion that brought me to tears as I realized what God had done on Easter. It's the most emotional moment I've ever had in church.

Robert said...

Interesting blog about our church music--with which I agree, at least to some extent. But it was your introduction that caught my eye, about the connection between faith and doubt. It brought to mind a comment by Joni Eareckson Tada: "Thank you, Lord, for the faith to doubt." (Something to chew on there!) I think she meant, "Thank you Lord that I can trust You to listen to all my confusion and doubt, and not reject me because of it."