Vulgar Worship

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It’s been a few years since the whole “sloppy wet kiss” debate began happening. Most churches have safely landed on the phrase “unforeseen kiss” as opposed to the original “sloppy wet kiss.” To them, “unforeseen kiss” seems less vulgar (even though by using the phrase “unforeseen kiss,” I get the image of a surprise and I don’t like surprises). Churches want to sing “How He Loves” without the image of messiness as portrayed in the original version of the song.

This piece is not meant to bring up the whole debate again. There’s no use beating a dead horse. I use it as a reference because it shows a greater truth about modern worship music in the evangelical church: we don’t like vulgar worship.

The word vulgar was originally used to describe the language of common people. Today, it is generally used to describe something lacking good taste or referring to coarse and rude language. When I use the word, I’m talking about the language of common people.

Modern worship seems plagued by “Stepford Wife” theology. We say to people that even in the darkest of moments, they should still praise God. To, basically, put on a mask and sing words to God that you don’t mean. In doing this, we have robbed songs and hearts of authenticity. In the evangelical church, songs are sung each week that deal with God’s love, Christ’s love, God’s power and strength, grace, etc. Anytime we deal with dark themes, the song will inevitably redeem that darkness. It is uncomfortable for us to sing songs that do not resolve. But the Psalms seem to paint a completely different picture. For instance:

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! – Psalm 137

I love this psalm. It portrays such depth and anguish. Even when they talk about rejoicing, we shudder at the thought of babies being smashed against rocks.
Psalm 22 is another psalm that is dark and yet still manages to worship God. It aptly describes the feelings of the author:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
And then is able to worship God in those feelings:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
I am not advocating that our songs become morbid and depressing. I am advocating, however, that songs begin to echo the feelings of the common people. This is one of the things that I love about the Episcopal church. It is able to capture all of these emotions in one service through liturgy. There is nothing more humbling and beautiful than to say “Lord, have mercy” over and over.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s grace because I feel like I have abused it and have lost the privilege to sing those words.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s strength because I do not see it in the atrocities happening around me.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing at all. I just want to sit in silence and repeat, “Lord, have mercy.”
Evangelical services carry with them a component of happiness. We want people leaving feeling energized and ready to take on the world. But as I have been rereading the Psalms, I see something different being sung.
I understand that worship isn’t about me and that it is about God. But you cannot say that all of these forced songs of happiness are about God. They are about us feeling better. They are about us escaping troubles. They are about us trying to assimilate the people into thinking/feeling the same way about God.
If worship is truly about God, then one will understand that there are several different words that need to be said. Not just words that point to happiness and satisfaction. Words that point to discord, words that point to anger, words that point to sin, words that point to abandonment, etc. These words need to be said because they are all part of the human experience with God.
Through these vulgar words, we will discover the greatness of God.
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God Must Really Hate Our Worship

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I told myself that I would never write about worship. It is a topic that never seems to start a dialogue – just arguments. People can handle bad theology, bad doctrine, and bad practices — but worship? If you discuss worship, be prepared for people to roll up their sleeves and throw a punch. However, recently, I read an article in a local newsletter. The article disturbed me for 2 reasons: 1.) It was from the “Wittenburg Door,” which is a Christian satirical publication. 2.) The person who commented on the satirical piece took it as truth and argued in favor of what satire was trying to put an end to.

I cannot reprint the article, due to copyright infringement (of which this newsletter most likely violated), but what I can do is accurately summarize it.

The article was about how worship leaders should not talk. It satirically pointed fun at how we have such “strict” requirements for preachers but not for worship leaders. It said that worship leaders should sing and nothing else. They are not theologians nor are they teachers — but their music can teach, just not the musician. It was a rather humorous piece when looked at as satire.

Unfortunately, the preacher who commentated on the article did not view it as satire. In fact, he viewed it as truth. He agreed that musicians should not talk and that they are just there to sing – nothing else.

Obviously, musicians have to be some form of theologians. Some churches expect preachers to lead worship. So if musicians are not theologians, does that mean that theologians are not musicians? These are insights that are to be gained from this satirical piece.

This is the mindset of many rural Illinois churches. They don’t have a problem with worship as long as there is a piano, an organ, and all 9 verses of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” But the moment you take away a verse, or the organ, you’re in deep water.

I’m really tired of the worship wars. It’s a never ending battle in the traditional evangelical church. The older generation thinks that God hates the younger generation’s worship. And the younger generation thinks that God is tired of the older generation’s worship. We argue about these nonessential things. What we truly should be focusing on is obviously God. However, we focus instead on the guitar that is playing, the drums that are banging, and the bass guitarist that is jumping.

I remember a phone call I made to an individual in the church. They had been writing comments on the back of their attendance cards (I’ve been thinking about publishing some of these comments…). So I decided to give him a call to see how we could somehow meet in the middle on old and new worship. Long story short, it did not go well. He told me that I was robbing people of worship. I stopped him there and told him that people decided in their hearts that they would not worship. This was a bad move because it ended up causing him to get even more angry and involved him telling me how I didn’t respect my elders.

This is the kind of thing that I see in the rural Christian churches in Illinois. It upsets me beyond belief. When I lead worship, I see the angry stares and the tightened lips. God must really hate our worship. It’s the only explanation for why I see so much anger in the faces of the people I’m leading in worship.

I hesitated writing this piece because of the content. We will always argue old versus new. It will always be an argument. It will never end. The people who want to walk down the middle of the road (like myself) will never fully satisfy either party. And the middle should not be an option — for it is an option that is only made available because we are too scared of ticking off either side.

What I can say is this: God must really hate our worship. Because instead of worshiping Him, we complain about a song — whether that be a hymn or a new song (I have heard both complain). The older generation wants hymns because that is what they grew up singing. The younger generation wants new songs because they’re more exciting. Both sides will not be pleased. Ever. Therefore, God must really hate our worship. The younger generation tells themselves that this will bring more people in the church (even though worship is consistently proven to have little effect on why a non Christian would attend a church). The older generation tells themselves that the hymns are more theologically sound (even though looking through the lyrics of “I’ll Fly Away,” “When We All Get to Heaven,” and “In the Garden” prove that they are not more theologically sound). Both sides tells themselves things to support why they want what they want.

You can sense the worship division in the church. Both sides must get over themselves. No more waiting for the older generation to die off and no more waiting for the younger generation to come to their senses. Books have been written and will continue to be written (and will sell quite well) but none will solve the problem – for the problem is inside all of us. That’s what has to be fixed. Not the service. Us. There, I saved you from paying $400 to go to a worship conference.

God has to hate our worship. Look at the hatred that both sides display to one another during church — doesn’t that taint our worship?Image