Our enemy is not format but following along

Yesterday I attended what’s known at Floris church as the “11:00 service.” It’s the more traditional service, with more traditional hymns, more traditional liturgy. You get it. However, it is held in a sanctuary that holds 800 or more people that is equipped with large screens, sound booth and video capability. In other words, it’s traditional in a contemporary sort of way.

I don’t normally attend this service. I usually come at 9:15. To what’s known as the “contemporary service.” They have a band and play Christian popular music interspersed with the liturgy, children’s singing, prayer, offering, sermon – the usual stuff. The big screens seem totally normal there, with sound checks and the rest. I see the words on the screen, have heard the songs and can sing along with the tunes. Something in me already knows them.

But yesterday I felt the tug of discomfort, because I was reading/singing a traditional hymn from the large screen and I didn’t know the tune, exactly, or the pacing or the pitches. And so, I followed along. This bothered me. Worship shouldn’t feel like following along.

This made me think of a comment my daughter made when she came to worship with me in this sanctuary after growing up in worship in another one. One where they didn’t have screens and where the hymns were in hymnals where we read the music and the words and, best we could, raised our voices in praise. She said to me, “Mom, singing the hymns from the hymn book, that’s where I learned to read music.”

So in 11:00 worship I wondered about this. When we read from our screens are we simply following along? How will we learn to read… the music. My daughter learned to hear what she saw. Associate sounds with notes on a page. Tap rhythms and understand phrasing from symbols on that page. And then she could hear it for herself, even when she didn’t see it. She could even create it.

Somehow, when you mix genres, try to overlay the contemporary atop the traditional, there is a disconnect. I’m not sure we’re even aware of it. Because we don’t know when something we’re meant to feel, meant to experience or meant to learn isn’t there. Until someone else looks with fresh eyes and an old-soul perspective and says so.

This has me pondering:

  • hard copy or e-book
  • in person or online
  • tangible or imagined
  • turn the page or swipe the screen
  • annotate or click and type

I’m having this debate with myself while considering where I learned to create my “music” which, for me, is my words. Surely it was in the margins of a page, where I scribbled a thought or a response or an idea. Where I interacted with imaginary people, historical characters and pundits of my own age. We had a conversation and they never knew it. But I did. And little did I know, this conversation was changing me.

Today, when I read an e-book I am excited (sort of) when I come across a passage that has been highlighted 184 times. Aha, my community agrees this is a “good” one. But then I start wondering, should I highlight? Or is there something wrong with me if I didn’t choose to highlight this. Or, worst of all, what’s wrong with people that they highlighted that!?

Oh, we are getting additional information via this new digital format. People are reading. And they’re thinking. And they’re speaking up in broader and broader forums. But are they creating something new and valuable in the conversation? Or are they just following along.

Because what I know from my daughter is: in worship she discovered a creative place for herself. Something she could take with her and apply elsewhere in her life, something of beauty and wisdom and growth and community. Something that others now receive and give thanks for.

And isn’t this what worship should be? A place we engage the Almighty, and He, us. And in the interaction we are changed. We become the composers of our very own music, authors of our very own story, painters of our very own masterpiece. We learn how to interpret the signs of our life and play them beautifully.

I am convinced it’s in all of us. It was in me, when I never even knew it. And I have all those great authors to thank for it. People who didn’t just keep their thoughts to themselves but shared them.

Of course, now we have got ‘word processors’ that can write as fast we think and networks that can share our thoughts infinitely faster. I admit I like that. A contemporary approach to the traditional. Has possibilities.


About wlebolt

Life comes at you fast. I like to catch it and toss it back. Or toss it up to see where it lands. I do my best thinking when I'm moving. And my best writing when I am tapping my foot to a beat no one else hears. Kinesthetic to the core.

Posted on November 19, 2012, in Sermon Response and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with your assessment on the overlay of contemporary to traditional services at church and have felt the same abandonment in singing words to songs with which I am not familiar! I plan to pass this along to leaders at the church I’m currently attending. Thanks Wendy!

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