Saturday, September 11, 2010

Varieties of singing, but the same song.

I spent the past 24 hours in retreat at Camp Wapo with fifty other Children Youth & Family Ministry concentratees.  There are some really amazing people in this program, so many who share my dreams and hopes for the church, and who have incredible passion for ministry.

Something odd stuck with me:  All the music used for worship was praise music.

My worship music background is thus:

I grew up Episcopalian, and sang every hymn for a hymnal.  I had no idea what praise music was until I went to Teens Encounter Christ as a fourteen year old.  There we sang what I understood to be "camp songs" - "Thy Word," "Radical God," "Humble Thyself," etc.  We used an overhead projector and transparencies to show the words.  I accepted this as a functionality of "camp music" - hymnals would have been clunky and prohibited the cheesy actions that accompanied half the songs.

At sixteen, I began attending an Assemblies of God youth group, while still attending Episcopal church on Sunday mornings.  At the AoG worship, they used a praise band and Powerpoint.  I'd never seen this before, but I accepted it, and became used to the "praise and worship" style - although I never adjusted to seeing fifty-year-old men with their hands raised in praise, their beer guts showing underneath their tee shirts.

At St. Olaf, we always used a hymnal in worship - first the green LBW, then the cranberry ELW in my senior year.  I danced as David danced when I walked into the renovated chapel senior year, on the day of Reformation, and brand new red hymnals graced the shining wood of the new pews.  If we sang without a hymnal, we sang from a bulletin with printed hymns, or from well-worn copies of Holden Evening Prayer.  As a newly minted Lutheran, I accepted this as the Lutheran norm.

In contrast, Selah Worship on Sunday nights was always done with Powerpoint and always done with a praise band.  I accepted this, and assumed that the theology behind Selah was similar to Assemblies of God.  Since there was no preaching, I was unconcerned about the theology.

I loved Selah as much as I loved Boe.  I had no desire to integrate them, and did not think that they should be:  Lutheran music was hymnal music, and non-denomination music was praise music.

This dichotomy went unchallenged as Kristi and I searched for a church after college, when we visited several Lutheran churches in the area.  We sang from hymnals, almost always the new ELW.  We do so at LCCR, where we finally found our home.

In chapel at Luther these past two weeks, we have sung from the hymnal.  They have a projector, but we have never used it.  Why should I question this?  It's Lutheran, isn't it?
But this weekend, we sang without a hymnal.  We were led by guitarists, and either by Powerpoint or by lining.

But we sang praise songs.

And it seemed that all those around me knew them.

This puzzles me, and I wish that I had grown up Lutheran so that I could parse it against the background of a Lutheran childhood.  I am no longer sure of "normal" Lutheran music.  Kim (another CYFer) explained that her church has two services, contemporary and traditional, and that praise music is used at the contemporary and hymnal-based at the traditional.  This I do not understand fully either.

And I find praise music difficult sometimes.  I do not like the lack of notation; if I have never heard the song before (which was often the case this weekend) I struggle to sing.  I do not like the keys:  some songs are incomprehensibly unsingable.  I do not always like the inherent theology.  And I love hymns that have stood the test of time.  Yet I long sometimes for the Selah of my youth, when the songs ran through me like cool water, and visions of the saints in glory touched the room.

I wonder if there are students at Luther who do not go to chapel because we use the hymnal, and they want "contemporary" music.  And I wonder if there are students who do not like congregational singing in general. 

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