Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Whatsoever Singing

Our primary place of worship for the better part of a decade has been a house church.  It's not a choice; it's a geographical necessity. Everything works differently in a house church. Everything we do is by a factor of 10 or 15 people not by a factor of 100 or 500 people which changes things! I've been thinking a lot about one of those things - singing.  I think its a metaphor.  

In our little house church my decidedly non-musical husband has been our primary song -leader.  Mostly its been because he's been our only, or eldest brother. To compound the problem we sing songs from two different cultures and in two different languages. We have never managed anything like 4 part harmony.  We often mangle songs that call for a boy's part and a girl's part.  Within our little church have been these amazing sisters with wonderful voices soaring up into the soprano heights.  We once had a sister who asked for the same song every Sunday for a year.  No exaggeration. We've had sisters and brothers who could not keep the rhythm.  I used to sit by one of them and tap the rhythm onto her knee so that she wouldn't dash ahead leading us off into a race to the end. One person off time doesn't seem to bad till you realize it's one-tenth of the church! Can you imagine what "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" sounds like in time and a half?  I can!

Where's the metaphor you might ask?  Our church singing is a spacious metaphor for unity.  My husband leads and we all follow.  Some of us follow in full rich voice suitable for a cathedral choir, but we don't complain about the clunkers.  Others of us find that our lower voices or higher voices don't fit in quite as well with this song or that, but considering others more important than ourselves we still sing along.  Some of us are monolingual and stumble along with the lyrics in the other language but we try because we want to follow the golden rule.  Several of our girls are far more musical and far more talented, and they still follow instead of lead.  With smiles they help and encourage their less competent brothers.  We may be tiny but we are a fully functioning model of an imperfect church organized according to God's perfect plan. 

This year as we visited the US we visited a number of different churches and I got lots more metaphor to chew on. We worshiped with a very large church done in the community church style. The singing was as contemporary as it was professional.  An enthusiastic young worship-leader led the procession of the praise team on and off the stage where they sang in perfect harmony.  I am sorry to say that for whatever reason the singing itself was lack-luster.  All I could hear were the people with the mikes subsuming the congregation.  I'm not saying it was wrong.  I just missed my off-key brother and my off-tempo sister who are real people that I love not performers on a stage.  The metaphor disappeared in the perfection of the song.

We also worshiped with my grandmother's tiny aging church. The worship there is "traditional" in the sense of hardback song books and pew bibles but intimate and casual in a way that many a contemporary church would envy.  The songs were old-fashioned in word and tune, the voices were broken with age and the volume far from filled the little building.  But I could hear all the individual voices raised together to something more than themselves.  My metaphor came back into focus.  

I am not one to say that little churches, house churches or mega-churches are the only way to go. I don't care if you sing " A Mighty Fortress is our God" or "In Christ Alone." I will not be firing a weapon in the worship wars. But I do believe that worship is participatory and that church is participatory too. 

In fact, as I consider it more closely, I see that this isn't a metaphor at all.  It's an outworking.  For the good or the ill, every congregation is made of people.  When you take them one by one they are a motley crew.  They make us uncomfortable and are frequently annoying and off-key.  Whether we are talking about singing or some other collective activity, all those personalities, backgrounds, cultures and ideas have to somehow flow.  They have to follow imperfect leaders.  They have to worship in a way that pleases God and works in their time and place.  They have to disagree agreeably.  Because they are all one body.

The work of congregational singing teaches its own lesson.  Church is the only place where some of these lessons can be worked out.  We don't get to love Jesus and leave the church.  Even in something as simple as singing we are learning what it means to be a part of God's kingdom. It's cacophonous lesson indeed.


No comments:

Post a Comment