Music with Meaning

singing-in-the-carWhen do we utter words least true about our convictions, beliefs and attitudes if not during song? Often our words declared to melody lack scrutiny and we are not held accountable to them. In song the most unfaithful partner is permitted to declare themselves the most devoted lover; the timid observer morphs into an outraged blasphemer; for a few moments we become the very company we would never keep and others pledge allegiance to a belief they would never truly hold.

 

But of course we can say that the inverse is also true. It is when the music plays that our most private thoughts and intimate emotions are released, often revealing a fuller explanation to not only the hearer but ourselves. What we could never put into words suddenly flows freely off the tongue and takes on new and fresh meaning.

I doubt I need to persuade anyone about the power of music, especially in the church context. For it is under many steeples that our leaders have carefully structured the presentation and selection of music, knowing that it has often be used as a tool, a manipulator, to bring about superficial following and devotion. But how should we incorporate music? While we are all aware of its power I think most of us are also aware of its necessity; that we should not, simply out of fear, go without it.

An older person commented on a song we sang in church just the other day, talking about how difficult it is to sing these ‘new’ songs. ‘On the contrary’ I said, ‘many of the modern songs are repetitive and easy to sing in comparison to the range and melody line of some of the hymns.’ As with all our senses, we have preferences to certain tastes, smells and sounds. But these preferences do not come from no-where. They have been molded and influenced by experience.

Music Old vs NewTo quote a favorite writer of mine, F.W Boreham, “And thus music revives, as nothing else can do, the tender grace of a day that is dead…There is a sublime virtue in anything that brings us into vital touch with the glorious past.” When we are transported back into a time that was wonderful we cannot help but sing the song with gladness and joy. Even when we are reminded of times of sadness it allows us to sing with deeper meaning and reflection. It is our ability to feel and be driven by unexplainable emotion that connects us to music, for it is the music that pulls on these strings that are so seldom awakened throughout our tedious routine of life.

When we read the songs in Scripture indeed we are meant to reflect back on some past event and remember with emotion filled praise. Think of Moses & Mariam’s song in Exodus 15 “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea”; David’s Psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts”; the song of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1, praising God for what he has done for his people. We are to remember and be moved to praise. But not only to look back and praise, longing for a past experience to be repeated, but to look forward in great expectation of what is to come. This is what sets songs of worship apart from ordinary music.

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” C.S Lewis

St Augustine rightly treated music with caution. Aware of its power he wrestled with the balance of the moving melody and lyrical content, determined to always uphold the latter. He described himself as having ‘grievously sinned’ when being ‘more moved by the singing rather than the thing that is sung’.  But is it not also true that some words are sung with inappropriate melody? Moving music is not something we should altogether avoid but rather use appropriately. I have often read the words of the Psalms and hymns and been so moved by them, only to hear them sung and feel indifferent and removed. The mood should match the message and when it does I don’t think we should be afraid.

The fact that we are called to sing and not simply to recite tells me that there is an appropriate emotion expected from us as worshippers which we seldom experience or express without song. So while we are to be careful of extravagant emotions we should likewise be warned not to suppress those that are necessary – for we should not only sing as the expression of our minds’ understanding for then we could simply speak, but in song our souls should praise and our spirits rejoice!

Reflections: The Starved Space of Improvement

reading in coffee

I discovered a lovely little place the other day while walking the many little streets of my neighborhood. Most of the attention usually falls, quite naturally, to the bustling street with broad pavements and many windows to peep into. But here, on the small narrow road, only 2 blocks long, I found a place which quickly sheltered me from the gusty winds which had suddenly picked up. I was delighted straight away as I entered to see how quaintly this old house had been transformed into the very place any young lady such as I might want to explore. And as the air stilled as I stepped inside I was welcomed by Clair de Lune, a very familiar friend who I had spent much time with growing up behind the ivories, and the homely smell of fresh bread, curry spices and the aroma most captivating to me – coffee on the brew (but there was no judgment present as might be in the thoughts of my acquaintances as they read).

I found so much delight in these simple sights, sounds and smells with the result that my imagination and creativity was immediately illuminated.  It seems antonymous but it is practically inseparable how the imagination is accelerated when the mind is calm; how we often chase after those peaceful moments of reflection. And so as I took a seat in solitude I began to read my new yet dusty pocket edition of F.W. Boreham’s Mushrooms on the Moor. I have taken to his writing quite incessantly and obsessively and at the expense of other authors on my shelf. I was fortunate enough to come across his essays when an old friend cleared out a ton of books of which I was able to sort through and pick and choose from. But on this gusty day, hidden inside, I began to reflect on why I was so attracted to his writings in particular.

If there is a quality so desirable and admirable about a person, text, melody or art, should we not investigate as to why? Often I find myself and hear others saying ‘I just like it’ or ‘I just enjoy it’. But what is it about it that we just love to like and enjoy? Today it seems the culture to simply embrace who you are without question, leaving a starved space for self-improvement; “I am like I am just because, so I like what I like just because I like it.” But if we were intentional about discovering why we like what we like, we could also intentionally implement what we find in our own expressions.

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I must clarify however, that none of this is intended to produce imitations, but rather the intent is to notice the good things, the likable attributes, the admirable qualities in others, ask yourself why they are so, and begin the process yourself. I think when one does that it will become clear that often the thing most captivating is not the act itself but rather the attitude and goal behind it which is expressed in the act. And consequently one might find oneself in a very different place at the end of the road from where they started. Indeed for myself instead of meditating on the refined expressions of others, and more specifically the unavoidable truths revealed in Boreham’s daily reflections, I ended up meditating on my own ability to conclude truth from my daily experiences. While it may have begun with external observation and analysis, the end result was a deeper searching inside of me to ensure I possessed those more captivating qualities, attitudes and attributes.

In conclusion, if I wish to be an effective youth worker the answer is not to necessarily mimic others I’ve seen be effective, but to ensure I have those elementary attitudes of love and concern for people which produce effective relationships. If I desire to be a good speaker and teacher I first need to ensure I have the heart and passion to dispense valuable truth, life-saving and life-transforming truth. And if I want to be a better communicator of truth I need to value it myself and search hard for it in every area of my life; not only in between pages but in between my every breath.

The Workings out of Women’s Work

WomenAtWorkGiven my genetic makeup and consequently the fact that I wear makeup, I am in the position once again where I am required to address my thoughts and beliefs regarding women in ministry. Just the other day I was in the regular weekly meeting with our senior pastor discussing ministry, difficulties and general feedback when, at the end of the hour, I was asked the question. For the ignorant among us, the question when speaking to a woman who is in, or wants to go into, ministry is, “what do you think the woman’s role is in the church?”

Over the years I have been encouraged on more than one occasion with regards to my teaching ability, and I have also cherished and thoroughly enjoyed the moments I have spent teaching and explaining ideas – particularly the Scriptures. New acquaintances generally assume I want to work with little children, but when during my college years I declared that I am not in the Children’s stream but the Pastoral stream of Theological training I was met with the raised eyebrow, concerned stares and the occasional, “…Oh!” I assume many think I want to pastor a church, impose feminist views on the congregation and achieve world domination. Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not at all what I’m looking for. I simply love teaching, I love explaining, and I love to see others cherish and understand the Word of God.

However, my pastor was right; as a woman I need to be able to give an answer to the question. Men might have all sorts of ideas and views, and at times they have the liberty simply to say, “It’s difficult and I’m still working out what I think exactly and where to draw the lines”. This would not be a satisfactory answer from a woman though, because it directly affects the way she lives and ministers now. Before the woman can do anything she must ask the question.

There are many passages of Scripture I could turn to however, I think 1 Timothy 2 speaks most clearly on the issue; and when I say clearly I mean most directly addressing men and women in the church without focusing mainly on the roles of husbands and wives. “But…but…Paul is a male chauvinist and is just asserting his culturally impaired views”. No, Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope (1 Tim 1:1); the reason Paul is writing at all is to preserve the doctrine and witness of the church and, Paul grounds his reasoning in universal and timeless truth since creation (1 Tim 2:13-14). Stott suggests that we use ‘cultural transposition’ at this point, and in many ways that is a helpful way of looking at the text, however it still places the reader in the judgment seat deciding what to file and what to put through the shredder.

Now obviously women are allowed to speak, since we have vocal chords and do the whole talking-thing way better than most men do. But the setting, situation, context in which women speak is the issue at hand. Women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4) and there are instances in which women are permitted to exercise their gifts in the appropriate way (1 Cor 11:5; Joel 2:28-29); but it is at the corporate church gathering that the shepherding, rebuking, correcting and teaching is to be done by a man.

For many women the problem comes down to desiring the position and headship of the man, but this was even considered at the very beginning where part of the curse was that Eve would desire her husbands’ authority, and man would often abuse it (Gen 3:16). This is a hard verse for me to hear because yes, my own heart’s desire does often drag me to the steps of treason, but as women we often become too caught up in the roles we can’t play that we ignore and neglect those key areas that only we can fill.

women and cakeFor women: Women’s ministry in many churches has been reduced to tea parties and gossip sessions. It’s our job to teach, instruct and model godliness to other women. Being women teaching women means we can connect and teach on a level that no man could attain. We can teach women gospel truth, deep theological gems, and fulfill our God given role, and even eat cake at the same time. If we neglect this role, there is no other man who is going to step in the gap. This is our baby and we need to take responsibility. It is my own conviction that when women do minister in a more corporate setting that it never questions the leadership of the elders or assumes authority over the pastor; it must always be done in a spirit of humility and submission.

For men: Encourage women to get involved in women’s ministry. Just because women cannot hold the role of pastor and shepherd does not mean that every other door must be closed. Women have great potential if only they were taken seriously. I think in many cases the topic of women in ministry has become an issue simply because women are restricted from exercising their gifts at all. How many pastors do most churches employ before they see the need for a women’s worker?

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