"I just wanted to sing. I didn't want to be sung to."

| | Comments (4)

Julie R. Neidlinger writes of a Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Living Powerpoint:

And therein lies another problem: we were not a congregation, but an audience. We were performed to by a bunch of talented musicians and a music pastor and a pastor who had planned the service to a T, with few glitches, all quite lovely. I looked around at the rest of the people, and everyone seemed to be really into it.

Except me, because I am an alien.

The start of the service should have served as a warning. The music pastor took his place behind the keyboard and as a non-Christmas chorus flashed on the screen, he told us he was going to teach us a new chorus.

Teach us a new chorus. During the Christmas Eve service.

I got up and walked out of the sanctuary. I was absolutely angry, because it just bothers me so much and I couldn't even say why. I waited outside in the hallway, pretending to read a bulletin board, while a few other choruses that had little, if any, Christmas connection were sung. A few parishioners came in and out of the sanctuary, but I avoided eye contact for fear they would attempt to share the four spiritual laws with me, assuming I was a pagan visiting family for Christmas and was unable to sit through the service.

If Julie's an alien, so am I. I remember being just as disturbed some years ago at a Christmas eve service. We were visiting out-of-town family and went to worship at a megachurch I call the Bobble Barn. (That's the way they say "Bible" in those parts.) I walked out, too.

Two things really got to me. At the beginning of the service, the music pastor told the parents not to correct their kids' behavior because, after all, it was Christmas eve. It struck me as the same sort of idolatry of the family to which evangelicalism is prone, the idea that Christianity is all about happy marriages and well-adjusted children (never mind all that gross stuff about God's wrath and a perfectly holy God-man offering himself as a bloody sacrifice to satisfy that wrath). The music pastor's admonition reflects a world-view in which Christmas is a holiday for children -- "tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow" -- not a day of rejoicing for all the redeemed.

And then, through most of the service, the house lights were down, and there was a spotlight on the music pastor. It was as if we were at his concert, and he was graciously allowing us to sing along. What was missing was any sense that we were assembled there corporately (as a body) to offer praise and adoration to the Word Made Flesh. A pagan wouldn't have had any trouble sitting through the service -- there wasn't anything that would have offended a pagan in this comfy, cozy, cardigan-clad Christmas concert.

Julie's essay is a re-run from a year ago, brought back because it articulated the feelings of many readers, all of whom no doubt wondered if they were aliens, too. I found myself nodding in agreement, especially when she comes to the issue of emotional manipulation:

I fear that evangelical denominations are desensitizing their own parishioners with this constant manipulation, to the point that their hearts are no longer moved by the simpleness of the Gospel, as well the complexity and wonder of the Gospel. They need a minor chord progression in the background before they know the presence of God, or appreciate something He's done.

The Bible says to let our yes be yes, and our no be no. It doesn't say anything about a violin in the background.

Julie plans to post an update, revisiting the ideas she was trying to get across in this entry. I'll look forward to that.


W. Author Profile Page said:

You two are getting waaaaaaaay too worked up about this.

Didn't it occur to you that the impact of the Bible's words might be *heightened* by musical accompaniment? Example: "Jesus, I don't want to die alone" doesn't look like much on the page. But when Johnny Cash sings it with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers as the backing band, it hits like an emotional piledriver. (The song is "Spiritual," in case you're wondering.)

Music is one of God's greatest gifts to us, and I don't have a problem with a preacher using it to augment the word. The preacher probably thinks his musical ability is a gift from God and is using it accordingly.

Of course, if the preacher's songs and performance stink, that's another matter.

It's OK to like singing with others in a church congregation. But I don't sing well, and I don't get a lot of joy from it. I feel much closer to God listening to performers, like the Blind Boys of Alabama, Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples, who know how to do it.

If it bothers you that bad, go to a different church. Lord knows there are plenty of them out there.

Joseph Wallis said:

hey, speaking of Powerpoint....lets not forget about www.easyworship.com!

automated worship brought to you by your very own local Tulsans!

Fr. Bryan said:

At the heart of Neidlinger's comments are some important questions that Christians need to ask ourselves from time to time: "What does it mean to worship God?". "What is 'church'?". "Who is 'church'?". "Why do we go to church?". The answers to this questions will go beyond our individual taste in music.

manasclerk Author Profile Page said:

Our own Church of Powerpoint solved this problem in the traditionally American Reformed style: we didn't have a Christmas Eve service. If Christmas hadn't fallen on a Sunday, we probably wouldn't have had a service then either. Which meant that we had lots of visitors since every other "family-friendly" church had closed so that people could "spend time with their families." I'll be "spending time" eternally with another "family" so I would rather be with them.

Personally, I would have prefered an old-fashioned Christmas, one in which we drink until we can barely stand and then tear through town threatening to burn down the houses of rich people unless they give with the "figgy pudding" and other valuables. A sort of forced redistribution of wealth by drunken mob. Ah, the old-fashioned American Christmas of my forefathers!

And congrats on your latest fluid-leaking bundle of joy!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 26, 2005 5:50 PM.

Urban Review - St. Louis visits Tulsa was the previous entry in this blog.

is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]