Wednesday, March 23, 2005

WORSHIP WARS: Modern v. Old School

Okay, so I am writing twice in a month, hoping to get back on track to doing this at least once a week. We'll see what happens. Today, I am going to take up the topic I hinted at two entries back. There is a conflict I get involved in on a regular basis in my work with Anchored Music Ministries. We in Christendom call it: "The Worship Wars." And it is all too common around the world. In Italy, where my friends have asked us to teach at pastors' conferences about the importance of traditional church music and liturgy and maintaining recognition of the ties to the past. In Brazil and Africa, where churches fight between either being all contemporary music or all traditional, and even refuse to use most musical styles common to their own culture. And in America, where churches sometimes resort to dividing their congregations in two for two distinctive services because both sides cannot agree on how they want to do worship.

Wherever and however it occurs, it saddens me, and I believe it grieves the heart of God. And it is very much CULTURE CLASHING. The heart of the matter, sadly, is failure of people to have generosity of spirit toward one another. And in Christians who claim to follow Christ and model their lives after Him, this is very destructive and, quite frankly, unacceptable. But the battle rages on. We all want to fly in worship. We all want to achieve the high that allows us to feel God's presence most distinctly and fills us with His Spirit so we feel like we can fly. We all want it. The problem is, we all think we should have it every moment and anything that interferes we want outta there! Wouldn't it be great if there was a worship service for a congregation where everyone achieved that high at least at some point throughout the gathering? To me, that is the ideal, but without generosity of spirit it will never happen.

Contemporary music fans can't stand to be bored by the classics, even though there are rich lyrics full of well presented and deep theology. They can't get past the "Thees" and "Thous" and musical style. They see connection between it and their daily lives either, so how can it help them live a life of following Christ in that world? Traditional fans can't stand the contemporary music which is often symplistic and repetitive. They can't stand that it ties to the world outside, either. After all, the church is supposed to be not of this world, isn't it? And it is only complicated in countries like Ghana and Brazil where there is a rich cultural history of musical styles and development deeply connected to people's communities and daily lives, but the church -- both contemporary and traditional -- doesn't use it because they are afraid it has too many sinful connotations with secular life. Even worse, sometimes they think the styles themselves are sinful instead of recognizing it was how they were used that was the real issue.

So here we are, in the midst of a war. And it is frustrating and painful, especially for those who try to bridge the gap like myself and my Board members. At the church where two of us served in that past (and one still does) the pastor thought contemporary music was anything 1960s and beyond and he liked the old stuff. But what the congregation craved was clearly the more modern stuff. He just didn't get it. At the church where I now serve with another Board member, the senior pastor is an old traditional Southern preacher and he likes things tight and traditional. He doesn't connect his own style to contemporary music. My feeling is that we are often so handtied by time limitations and his last minute planning style that we don't get the time to develop really good material. We need to search out the stuff that is well written and has a certain lyrical complexity to more readily match his style and approach. Then I think it would bother him less, but reality intrudes.

This is an issue on which we have gone back and forth many times. My Board member and the pastor are often at complete odds about it and deeply frustrated with one another. I try and surf the middle, which is like walking a tightrope with no balance. But anyway, my head is above water. What saddens me is the pastor really longs to grow the church and give people a deeper experience and the Music Director, my Board member, is immensely talented and he brings such high quality even working under challenging circumstances with limited prep time that if they would just compromise and work together just a little bit more, things could be incredible! It would also help a congregation of upper middle class to wealthy Angl0-Saxons more readily apply their faith to their daily living and business activities, and they need it. I know, I grew up in that world. The challenges of the poort are different from the challenges of the rich, but that doesn't make them any less challenging. Sometimes it is harder to surrender when you have it all.

In any case, this culture clashing really gets in the way of relationships and successful worship in a big way and it is sad. Because truthfully all sides seem to be genuinely seeking a deeper faith experience and communion with God. And they lose out in that because of the Worship Wars. I will think more on this and write more about it later, but it is something to pray about for sure. And it definately fits the topic at hand -- CULTURE CLASHING.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Linguistic curiosities

Hey! Okay, so I don't know that very many people read this enough to miss it, but my last post was well over a month ago! How terrible of me! I never did write about the other issue I was going to bring up, but I will try and post on that next week. Life has just been busy! BUT I will write about an experience I had with my girlfriend Bianca, who is Brazilian, the other night.

In America we have a silly version of the Birthday song that goes like this:


Okay, so Bianca was asking me what I said to a friend of mine about her. Jokingly, I said: "I tell him you look like a monkey, and you smell like a monkey, but I like monkeys, so it's perfect." I thought this was so ridiculous as to be amusing, but Bianca was kind of concerned. She said: "But I am not a monkey. And this person doesn't know me." We had some more discussion. Finally, it came out: In Brazil, the term "Monkey" is used this way in the same way people use the term "nigger" in the U.S. Okay, forgive me for using this deplorable word here. But these kinds of misunderstandings happen a lot crossculturally, so I thought it would be useful to examine it a little here, as it is very on topic for this blog.

So in Brazil, black people are called "monkeys" and it is very degrading. She said she knew that I knew she was not black and so she did not take offense, but she did not want me to joke like that around Brazilians because I might make a lot of trouble for myself. And she would appreciate if I not call her that because, even though she knew I was joking and meant no insult, culturally it is not a good thing to hear said about you. No problem. I, of course, apologized, and we moved on. And of course, Bianca missed the joke. I later explained about the birthday song. But she had not heard that in her time living in Miami, Florida. So the humorousness kinda bombed. Oh well. I hate when that happens. But see this is one way I make trouble for myself in Africa and in other places.

I remember doing a similar thing with a friend in Ghana once and people got upset that I was insulting him. They apparently have heard Africans called "monkeys" by whites in a degrading sense. Funny how I forgot all about that until now. BUT truthfully, because I simply adore Bianca, and she knows it, and we have a very playful relationship, I doubt I would have thought anything of it anyway. I would have thought she might get the culture reference and said it. So I am lucky she is patient and forgiving enough to allow me the error, but this kind of error is very important for those of us working cross culturally to note and try and not repeat.

Another example is when we were in Ghana and one of those street vendors so common in Third World countries kept bothering us to buy his wares. I made a sound and ran my finger across my throat to say "silence." A lot of people do this in the U.S. in my experience. Well, he looked very shocked and walked away and told friends and they all stared at me horrified. When I explained to my Ghanaian friend and hostess, she laughed and told me I had just threatened to cut his throat, so he probably thought I was an evil spirit now -- the scarey juju man, Bryan Thomas, bane to innocent Ghanaian street vendors. She and my companions found this quite amusing. I was horrified. That certainly is not the reputation I want in Ghana.

In Brazil the sign we often use for "ok" of the first finger curled back to the thumb with other fingers extended is the same as flipping the bird (middle finger alone extended) in the U.S. My first two trips to Brazil I really struggled to remember that, as sign language was an easy way around the language barrier. I did this several times without thinking. Luckily my Christian friends in Brazil were not only gracious but aware of the American use of this, so they did not take offense. But anyway linguistic curiosities, whether verbal or body language, do matter in this type of work. Please write of any other incidents or issues you have discovered, so we all can learn from them.

Be blessed!