on with the show?

I’ve let this one sit for a couple of weeks to let the comments come in, but it looks like it’s quiescent, so it’s time for me to pile on.

Should Worship Be Entertaining? by Debra Dean Murphy, in Sojourners Magazine’s God’s Politics blog.

The executive summary is this: the author, who teaches religion at West Virginia Wesleyan College, makes an eloquent argument for worship that sounds, to my ear, pretty monastic. The worship she describes seems closely related to Quaker meetings, or Buddhist sitting meditation, or Benedictine offices. Quiet, ritualized, and not much connected with the rest of the world as it is today. That’s an important refuge, for some.

The commenters seem largely dissatisfied with the implications that this is the only way to worship, and that worship that includes anything from current culture is inherently suspect and unworthy.

It was not always thus. Martin Luther used a drinking song for “A Mighty Fortress” — “why should the devil have all the good music?”, he asked.

I do understand the concept of worship as setting an ideal and attempting to approach it. And I understand how ritual connects the worshiper to the faith community and all those who have performed it before. Those things are important and must be continued.

On the other hand, I find a lot of the things that go on in a traditionally structured worship to be filler material, slightly comforting by virtue of familiarity, but without much spiritual depth beyond that ritual connection to the past. I had lunch today with someone who finds those (Catholic, in this case) rituals deeply moving. I find them, often, tedious.

Some people (like me) do not want their religious practice to be set apart from the rest of their lives, but rather to be continuous with it. I want to experience the transcendental through the joy and ecstasy of music, rather than the rote repetition of a hymn that doesn’t move me to any emotion deeper than recognition.

And this, I believe, is why we have — why we must have! — different styles of worship. The important thing is not the repetition itself, but that the music (words, etc) engage congregants on an intellectual and emotional level. For some, the repetition is enough to do that; for others, it merely postpones the parts that are engaging.

“Sometimes I’m right, but I can be wrong. My own beliefs are in my song. … Different strokes for different folks”.

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About liberalreligiongetsloud

Contemporary Music and Worship Director (retired), First Unitarian, Albuquerque NM
This entry was posted in contemporary worship. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to on with the show?

  1. dagny says:

    I appreciate what you are saying here. For better or worse, part of what creates a “mega-church” (IF that is a benchmark of successful worship — the pews are packed and congregants, hands raised, appear to be in spiritual ecstasy; and I’m not saying that’s the goal…plus, they are clearly growing), is the “show” — carefully crafted and professionally driven, contemporary music, video and production. It’s naive to ignore that one layer of the “church” game is marketing. WIthout the bottom line, churches cannot survive. Likewise, without some genuine sprituality and intent, I think churches also fade away. People who are church-shopping are looking, no doubt, to be spiritually fed, but I also think they are looking to be entertained; a wide variety of service styles and music is certainly one way to do that.

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