Music in Worship 7/28/13

As I said, Matthew and I had a wonderful time at the Summer Music Institute up at Drew University. The timing was just right for us to think about the music at St. Luke and it was the perfect place to do it. The leaders of the workshops were really smart, putting together just the kind of music and liturgy that I would like us to work with at St Luke.

Philippians 4:8-9   Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
July 28, 2013

Music in Worship:       Praise vs. Performance

Do you all know the comedian Lily Tomlin?  She was in a wonderful one woman show back in the early 90’s called “Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” The main character was a bag lady by the name of Trudy. Trudy is a little crazy.  She says, “I made some studies, and reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. I can take it in small doses, but as a lifestyle, I found it too confining. It was just too needful; it expected me to be there for it all the time, and with all I have to do–I had to let something go.”
Trudy is a character. She wears her wig inside out to keep the good side clean. Trudy talks to these little aliens from outer space – her little space chums. Her hat umbrella acts as an antennae so she can hear them. At the end of the play, Trudy comes to the edge of the stage and talks directly to the audience in her raspy voice.
“Hey, what’s this?” She finds a note in her pocket. ”It’s a letter from my little space chums. Let me just read it to you.””Dear Trudy, thanks for making our time on earth so jam-packed and fun-filled. We have orders now to go to a higher bio-vibrational plane. Just want you to know that the best thing that happened to us on earth was the goose bump experience”
She says to the audience, “Did I tell you about that? I took them to see a play. They were at the back of the theatre standing there in the dark. All of a sudden one of ‘em tugs my sleeve.” “Look, Trudy,” he said. “Yeah, goose bumps,” I said. “You definitely got goose bumps.
You really like the play that much?” They said it wasn’t the play that gave ‘em goose bumps.
It was the audience. I forgot to tell them to watch the play – they’d been watching the audience!
All those strangers sitting there in the dark – laughing and crying about the same things -
that just knocked them out. “So, they’re taking goose bumps home with ‘em – Goose bumps.
I thought about that scene over and over this week as I participated in worship up at Drew, because I kept having a lump in my throat and goosebumps.  We tend to call the goose bump experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. The leaders of the workshop said (in my own paraphrase) that to reach young people through the church today we have to allow for goose bumps.
They suggested that the church needs to understand technology – because that’s young people’s world – we need to have vibrant music, and liturgy that involves young people and helps all of us in our goose bump experiences. That what young people are saying when they say, “I’m spiritual not religious” – that they distrust institutions and particularly the institutional church, but that they are open to being moved by the Spirit.  Naturally, they’re open to goose bumps.
Did anybody else have any goose bump experience here this morning? I found myself at the workshop this week often moved to tears by the music, the community and the closeness of God’s love in and through that community.  I feel it here on a regular basis as well. – more and more.
So let me give an answer to the question I’ve been raising the last couple of weeks about the difference between worship and performance.  As we move to expand the types of music we have here and the style of our worship, we are finding that there is more applause and it makes some of us  a little uncomfortable.  I spoke last week about how I grew up in a church where you were told to be quiet in church. “Enter in silence, leave with joy.”
It was a lovely sentiment.  If we are not silent in church, if we respond and applaud and say, “Amen” it can sort of feel like we’re at a show, a performance instead of in church. So I want to clarify that worship is a performance.  Not all performances are worship, but real worship is a performance. It’s a performance that is inspired by the Spirit, a performance that invokes the Spirit, a performance that experiences the Spirit. In other words, it is in which the audience become the actors, we all participate in a goose bump experience that allows all of us together to notice the presence of God in our lives, to praise God, to sing to God, to live into the Spirit in our lives.
Some people, when they feel that goose bump experience, raise their arms in praise and acceptance of the Spirit.  Some of us find that really embarrassing.  We would be reluctant to be so demonstrative. I found myself so moved this week, that I allowed myself to have my hands in a position of acceptance. That happens to me here these days too.  You might try it if you are not too embarrassed.
Finally, I want to say that the worship of God, while it may lead to goose bump experiences, is not just about how we feel, whether we like the music, whether we feel good, whether everybody is nice to each other. The worship of God leads us to know that we are accepted and that we can accept others.
That might not always be the most comfortable of feelings as we encounter people like Trudy, the bag lady in real life. It’s not always as safe as it is in here, and even here, we are challenging people with an openness to a wide variety of people. It might not always be comfortable – here or in the world.
In this celebration of God’s love and power, God gives us the nudge we need to reach beyond our comfort zone, to take those goose bump experiences and allow them to nudge us to reach out beyond our circle of friends, our circle of comfort, to try loving God’s people, to try saying it, to try expressing that love – which Christ has first offered to us.
As Paul says, “Put into practice what you learned from Christ, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into God’s most excellent harmonies.”  This is God’s good news.

3012 When Words Alone Cannot Express