Who is worship actually for??

So the question was asked – as follows:

How do you balance professionalism in music in worship but still be inclusive?

Great question. Important question. Here is what one of the most highly-regarded gospel choral directors working in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church had to say about this:

I’m going to throw in another perspective. The ministry in the Old Testament temple – the Levite ministry – shows us the way; when it comes to the worship service, you need to use experienced people who know what they are doing. Other services/programmes can incorporate musicians who are developing, but worship is an offering being presented to God, so we need to make sure it’s a presentable offering – not an offering in the making.

In the temple, students and teachers alike performed their services, so it wasn’t just the ‘graduates’ but the ‘undergraduates’ – but as they were students, they were being trained in the system, and no doubt were given things to do according to where in the system they were. If it was playing a cymbal, or carrying the cymbal case, (I’m just guessing here, so please do not take this as authoritative) until such time as they graduated, I am sure there was some organised way of taking them through the system. The underlying point here is that they were chosen for a specific purpose, and had to qualify for that role.

Conclusion: have an organised way of incorporating appropriate musicians for worship. Musicians not suited should not be given a responsibility for the worship, but can be included in other areas of church music life which [does not specifically involve worship services].

[note: some may say ‘it’s all worship’, but that is not the case. Again, the Old Testament shows this most clearly, as it is talking about a theocratic system. Within Jewish life there were ceremonies, temple services, and festivals. The Levite role was concerned with a specific aspect; in that system ladies were not allowed to perform certain roles (that was then, not now!); it’s possibly for that reason why tambourines, normally played by women, were not typically found in the temple services; however on occasions of celebration, such as Miriam / Deborah, the ladies led out; and there is the basis of my point: there are many parts of our Christian experience as SDA’s : Sabbath School, AYS, evangelism, etc…, but when it comes to the worship service; that which is being offered to God as an offering – it requires those who are called for that purpose.]

The sanctuary was not set up like a church. Your Bible / SDA Commentary will have diagrams of the sanctuary, and you will note that it is not set up as seats facing one way, and those leading out facing the other. The choir did not face the people; the choir faced the altar! Why? It was about worship, not performance.

The current set up we have (please set me on the right track if I am mistaken – I do love learning!!) is based on the idea of ‘teaching’. You can see how the buildings are big, ornate, and where does the priest/vicar/preacher stand? Facing the congregation, and very often above the congregation – which suggested the congregation – the laity was lower than the priesthood, (maybe it was so they could be seen by shorter people, but we know enough about Christianity’s history to know that priests were [often] seen as ‘rulers’).

The New testament churches were house groups – very practical, people oriented.

We have an expression in our churches where we talk about ‘up there’ or ‘at the front’; strangely enough (I say this in jest) the pulpit is seen to be the ‘front of the church’, yet the ‘front entrance’ is the opposite end of the pulpit. Just a throwaway comment – don’t take it too seriously.

So we have this mentality of the worship service being those ‘up there, at the front’; we watch/listen to them pray; we watch them sing – we give our approval by soft amen, loud amen, very loud ” A – MEN!!’ or applause; sometimes on the rare occasion ‘standing ovation’; they sing a ‘special’ item (let me say it in proper church talk, they ‘render a special’). We introduce the preacher, and give his/her list of credentials, a short biog about them!

So it all becomes performance, and not worship. Hence, we then want to ‘give people a chance to perform’ to include them in the service, because we are very much ‘performance minded’. We may even say ‘didn’t she do well’ after the performance? And we call this worship to God.

I am not advocating a cold church where people don’t encourage; that’s not my point; my point is based on the original comment which said ‘music is worship’ and not just ‘music in church’. My encouragement to us all is that we encourage a move to worship which dispenses with introductions of items and human beings, congratulations of human beings, and is just God focused – all about lavishing God with praise, and not sharing it with any other human being.

Use the Sabbath School – which is a more workshop/creative programme; AYS, which again is more free;, and other programmes to help develop and encourage talent, and when people are ready to have this awesome, even life/death responsibility of leading people to worship God. (Life/Death statement may seem a bit extreme, but Israelites were led into worship …. of a golden calf!) A worship leader has a frightening responsibility!

At some point there will be a follow-up to that post, but for a number of regular and not-so-regular readers of this blog, there is some serious thinking to be done…


Does worship have a race problem?

This short post comes from Craig Borlase, the editor of Mission Worship magazine. As ever, it is here to stimulate thought (and more)…

There are times in life when each of us feels as though we are standing on solid ground. We know what we think and we know how the world works. We might not have filled in every blank space on the map, but we’re confident with what we’ve inked in already.

The day I interviewed Noel Robinson was not one of those days.

We were talking about the contrast between his experiences as a black man leading worship and mine as a white man participating in it. Within a few seconds it was obvious that my map of the world of worship was entirely out of date.

As Noel described his experiences I was left struggling for words. From the thinly-veiled hostility he had experienced from a delegate at a major Christian conference to my own fumbling explanation of why race was a minority issue, it was clear that we need to ask ourselves this vital – if awkward – question.

So, let’s ask it again: does worship have a race problem?

What if the answer to the question of a race problem in worship is ‘yes’?

And while you’re here, let’s ask a few follow-ons:

What does it mean if it does?

What if the answer to the question of a race problem in worship is ‘yes’?

Does that mean that we have failed? Does it mean that we ought to pack up and go home? Are we wandering into Amos 5 territory, priding ourselves on the quality of our worship while all the time ignoring the injustice within it? (and, yes, I do think that in this contect race is a justice-related issue).

Or does it matter less than we think? Is the act of acknowledging that we have a problem enough in itself to start the process of change? Is that all it takes to put it right, or are there other steps to be taken?

Or perhaps you think this needs to be taken in context. Is race just another in a long list of things the world of worship struggles with – like gender, age and style?

Or maybe – just maybe – you think the whole thing is getting blown out of proportion?

What do you guys think?

Einstein v. the Professor

The following ‘historical narrative’ was posted on facebook recently. It was not the first time I had read it, but this time I thought I would capture it for posterity on my own blog. I am unable to verify the actual historical reliability of this account, but the ideas themselves are well worth considering – whatever your take on the origins of life.

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?

Student : Absolutely, sir.

Professor : Is GOD good ?

Student : Sure.

Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

Student : Yes.

Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

(Student was silent.)

Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Is satan good ?

Student : No.

Professor: Where does satan come from ?

Student : From … GOD …

Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

Student : Yes.

Professor: So who created evil ?

(Student did not answer.)

Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, who created them ?

(Student had no answer.)

Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

Student : No, sir.

Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

Student : No , sir.

Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student : Yes.

Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.

Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Professor: Yes.

Student : And is there such a thing as cold?

Professor: Yes.

Student : No, sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)

Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

(The class was in uproar.)

Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

(The class broke out into laughter. )

Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.


By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.

Another lesson from the secular world

There is a WikiHow article entitled, “How to Live a Long Life.” Here is no. 9 from that list:

Write a gratitude list. When you write a gratitude list, you will feel much better about yourself and you won’t think about what you don’t have. When you focus on what you have now, you attract more good things into your life. You will live longer because gratitude makes you feel happy.


The secular world has developed an affinity for the concept of ‘servant leadership.’ But where on earth does such a model come from? And who was the ultimate ‘servant leader?’

The secular world has also developed an affinity for the idea of ‘trust’ – which we could even call ‘faith’ if we were so inclined. While faith can play a part in most religions, we know how important it is to Christian faith (Hebrews 11:6).

There is an axiom: “cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” Where it came from, I don’t know. I first heard a preacher say it. But this is the thing. I have been a conservative, Bible-believing, Sabbath-keeping Christian for my entire adult life – and in that time I have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with many people who believe in completely opposite directions to myself. And you know something? Many of my secular associates and friends are more consistently grateful to a Something or Someone or even a God they do not know and have never met than many of my Christian brethren (of both sexes, multiple ethnicities and equally multiple denominations).

While it is true that this ‘point’ above is in fact worded in a very utilitarian way – i.e. one is encouraged to be grateful for what one has now as an effective means of getting more, there are many folk who would deny Christ but still accept that one would need to be grateful on its own terms for what they have, regardless of their prospects of increase. But here’s the thing: genuine gratitude can only be manifested through praise, and when God is the one being praised, that is no longer mere praise. That is WORSHIP!

If we want to be true worshippers of God, then we need to be as consistently grateful as possible – or else we simply cannot praise God and retain any integrity whatsoever.

So this is your moment: how truly emotively grateful are you for what you have? If you were to take the advice of Psalm 46:10 and use the quiet to ask yourself in the presence of the Lord how much you really value Him for who His is as well as what He does and what he gives – would you find transparent gratitude? Or would your heart reveal what you would never want anyone to find out about – friend or foe?

Originally published on another blog; click here for the link.

Some interesting ideas about hearing music…

This post has as its primary content a ‘white paper’ from a guy called Dyske Suematsu. As I have discovered that a majority of post-readers here at the theomusicology blog do not follow-through on hyperlinks, I am putting his thoughts directly inside this post.

Yes, there are all sorts of things which may make you raise your eyebrows – but stick with him, he may just say one or two things which make you think about the cultural poetics of hearing music itself. And that is only a good thing! Do feel free to comment below!


Why Americans Don’t Like Jazz

by Dyske Suematsu  •  September 17, 2003

The current market share of Jazz in America is mere 3 percent. That includes all the great ones like John Coltrane and the terrible ones like Kenny G (OK, this is just my own opinion). There are many organizations and individuals like Wynton Marsalis who are tirelessly trying to revive the genre, but it does not seem to be working. Why is this? Is there some sort of bad chemistry between the American culture and Jazz? As ironic as it may be, I happen to believe so.

One day, I was talking to my wife about the TV commercial for eBay where a chubby lady sings and dances to an appropriated version of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. The lyrics were entirely re-written, and “my way” was transformed into “eBay”. I told her that they did a good job in adapting the original song. Then she said: “Ah, that’s why I like it so much!” She actually did not realize that it was adapted from Sinatra’s song.

My wife and I have always known how differently we listen to music. I tend to entirely ignore lyrics, while she tends to entirely ignore music. We are the two opposite ends of the spectrum in this sense, and it appears that my wife’s side is more common. Many of my friends think that I have a peculiar, or plain bad, taste for music. Whenever I say I like this song or that song, they look at me like I am crazy. Then they go on to explain why it is bad, and I realize that they are referring to the lyrics, not to the music. I then pay attention to the lyrics for the first time, and realize that they are right. The opposite happens often too where many of my friends love a particular song, and I can’t understand what’s good about it until I pay attention to the lyrics.

The eBay example is an extreme case where my wife could not recognize the original once the lyrics were swapped. To her, if you change the lyrics, it is an entirely different song. It is the other way around for me; in most cases, I would not notice any change in the lyrics. The eBay song was an exception; I only noticed it because it is a famous song used for a TV commercial.

I believe my wife’s way of listening to music is typically American, and my way of listening to music, typically Japanese. If you don’t speak English, any songs written in English are instrumental music. Singers turn into just another musical instrument. These days, no matter where you live, you cannot get away from the dominance of the American music. This means that most non-English speakers grow up listening to a lot of instrumental music. In Japan, I would say, it constitutes about half of what people listen to. When they are listening to Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Britney Spears, they have very little understanding of what their songs are about. In this sense, their ears are trained to listen to and enjoy instrumental music, which explains why Jazz is still so popular in Japan.

To be able to enjoy instrumental music, you must be able to appreciate abstract art, and that requires a certain amount of effort. Just mindlessly drinking wine, for instance, would not make you a wine connoisseur. Mindlessly looking at colors (which we all do every day) would not make you a color expert either. Great art demands much more from the audience than the popular art does.

In this sense, the American ears are getting lazier and lazier. It wasn’t so long ago that most people knew how to play a musical instrument or two. Now the vast majority of Americans couldn’t tell the difference between a saxophone and a trumpet. Thanks partially to music videos, music is now a form of visual art. The American culture is so visually dominant that a piece of music without visuals cannot command full attention of the audience. For Americans, music is a background element, a mere side dish to be served with the main course. If they are forced to listen to a piece of instrumental music without any visuals, they don’t know what to do with their eyes, much like the way a nervous speaker standing in front of a large audience struggles to figure out what to do with his hands. Eventually something visual that has nothing to do with the music grabs their attention and the music is push to the background.

If you have written your own music, you have probably experienced this before: You play it for your friends to get their opinions. For about 10 seconds, everyone is silent. After 20 seconds, their eyes start to wander around. After 30 seconds, someone says something, which triggers everyone else to speak up. After 40 seconds, no one is actually listening to your music. I grew up sitting in front of the stereo with my father, closing our eyes, listening only to what came out of the speakers. This would go on for an hour or two as if we were watching a movie. It wasn’t just me; many of my friends did the same. Who does that anymore? In today’s living rooms, stereos are treated as accessories to television sets.

Visual dominancy isn’t the only problem. The bigger problem is the dominance of our thought. Most Americans do not know what to do with abstraction in general. To be able to fully appreciate abstraction, you must be able to turn off your thought, or at least be able to put your thought into the background. This is not as easy as it might seem. In modern art museums, most people’s minds are dominated by thoughts like: “Even I could do this.” Or, “Why is this in a museum?” Or, “This looks like my bed sheet.” Etc.. They are unable to let the abstraction affect their emotions directly; their experience must be filtered through interpretations. In a way, this is a defense mechanism. It is a way to deal with fears like, “If I admit that I don’t understand this, I’ll look unsophisticated.” This type of fear fills their minds with noise, and they become unable to see, hear, or taste.

This is why songs with lyrics in your own language and paintings with recognizable objects are easier for most people to appreciate. They give their minds something to do. It is like holding a pen in your hand when you are speaking in front of a large audience; you become less nervous because your hands have something to do.

Aesthetically, the paintings of Mark Rothko and those of Monet are quite similar, but the former is utterly unacceptable for many people even though they consider the latter to be a master. The difference is that in Monet’s paintings, you can still see things represented in them: rivers, trees, mountains, houses, and so forth. The audience interprets these objects, and projects their own beautiful memories onto the paintings, which makes the whole process much easier. In Mark Rothko’s paintings, there is nothing they can mentally grab on to. What you see is what you get; there is nothing to interpret. So, the audience is left without a pen to hold on to.

The same happens to instrumental music. If there are no lyrics, that is, if there is nothing for the minds to interpret, projecting of any emotional values becomes rather difficult. As soon as the lyrics speak of love, sex, racism, evil corporations, loneliness, cops, etc., all sorts of emotions swell up. Jazz to most people is like a color on a wall; unless you hung something on it, they don’t even notice it.

This rather unfortunate trend in the American culture seems to be irreversible. The popularity of Rap music seems to be a clear sign of this trend. I can appreciate Rap music for what it is, and I see nothing wrong with it, but it does not promote the full development of musical ears. If the song has any musical substance, it can be played on a piano alone (without a singer or any other instruments), and we would still enjoy it. The lack of musical substance becomes clearly visible if you would take many of today’s popular songs, and play them on a piano alone. Many of them would utilize hardly more than a few keys. Perhaps this trend would promote the appreciation of poetry, but it certainly would not promote the appreciation of music as an abstract form of art.

If we were to reverse this trend, we would need to make a conscious effort in promoting the abstract aspect of music. For instance, play more instrumental music in schools or teach how to play an instrument instead of how to sing. We could go as far as to teach kids in school instrumental music only, because their musical exposure outside of school would be dominated by non-instrumental music anyway. It would be a good way to balance things out.

This problem extends far beyond the American disinterest for Jazz; it is a problem for music in general. The dominance of words and visuals in the American culture has lead people to believe that listening to Rap or watching music videos is the full extent of what music has to offer. If this goes on, they’ll be missing a huge chunk of what life has to offer.


For the original link, click here.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free

The song “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” was written by Billy Taylor in 1954 and became one of the most popular songs of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and ’60s. Nina Simone covered the song on her 1967 album ‘Silk and Soul’ and is probably the best known version though this tune has been covered and recorded by over twenty major artists. The tune is also well known as the theme music for BBC1’s Film programe (something I used to wait up to listen to every week JUST to hear that song extract) and, I understand, also used over the opening and closing credits for the film Ghosts of Mississippi (which I have not seen). As a schoolboy, playing this piece was one of my favourite party tricks…

Here are the words:

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
say ’em loud, say ’em clear
for the whole round world to hear.

I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart
remove all the bars that keep us apart
I wish you could know what it means to be me
Then you’d see and agree
that every man should be free.

I wish I could give all I’m longing to give
I wish I could live like I’m longing to live
I wish that I could do all the things that I can do
though I’m way overdue I’d be starting anew.

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky
how sweet it would be if I found I could fly
Oh I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea
and I’d sing cos I’d know that
and I’d sing cos I’d know that
and I’d sing cos I’d know that
I’d know how it feels to be free
I’d know how it feels to be free
I’d know how it feels to be free

So, this is definitely a gospel-influenced song – and one of my party tricks as a schoolboy was to play this song for my non-Christian friends. If one did not know the words, one might be tempted to think that this WAS a gospel song!
There is a similar situation to the song,”We Shall Overcome.”
There is a huge amount of room for a typically lengthy post that we seem to do here at the theomusically blog that takes us back into the history of Negro spirituals (now better referred to as ‘African-American spirituals, in case you did not know!!) and their origins in the antebellum South. We can also discuss the theological ramifications that emerge through some of the twentieth-century theories that have emerged concerning the true spiritual significance of these spirituals. We could talk about the fact that black gospel music’s founding father lived hand in glove with secular music throughout his career, and so the fact that a secular song about freedom has strong gospel music stylings is absolutely inevitable, and what that says about the appropriation of spiritual elements for secular artistic purposes in general.
But this morning I have been seriously wondering why more Christians who say that they are ‘free’ live such limited and desultory lives. Some think that their lives are rich and positive, but they have learnt their Christian life practice from their brethren, who may themselves never have actually experienced true spiritual freedom, but because the way their limited Christian understanding has worked for them, and because in so many cases the external fabric of a Christian lifestyle is more positive than what they had before, they think that what they have is freedom…
And for many conservative, Bible-believing Christian, there is such a huge emphasis to avoid certain elements of Christian life practice that are associated with ‘charismatic’ Christianity (etc), the benchmark for spiritual freedom becomes a set of (often unwritten) rules by which one’s standing in the community will be maintained. So the benchmark for spiritual freedom is not the personhood of God working in human life (the natural) through the Holy Spirit – even if this is claimed. It is whatever man-made criteria they use what whatever church you find yourself at where that’s how things roll.
Praise God, not all churches are in this quagmire. But too many are. Too many.
After a week of observing some deeply saddening church politics at very close quarters, I am more convinced than ever that the pursuit of true holiness is more lonely than most Christians will ever understand. Our first priority for true freedom is not the approval of others – it is the approval of God, who does not work like human beings – something which we know, but then abuse. How can we pray to God while abusing the very grace that allows us to still be alive and breathing?!
This morning/afternoon, as I see what ‘freedom’ has cost some people, I am renewed in my conviction that the only freedom that matters is that which the Holy Spirit gives.

2 Corinthians 3:17

New International Version (NIV)
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
How badly do you want to be free today? And are you ready to give up everything for a freedom that no human being can ever take away? How do you think Paul was able to be denied his physical and legal freedom and still write ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice?” (Philippians 4:4) If you have accepted Jesus, are you looking to Him as the Author and Finisher of your faith, or have you been distracted by trying to keep up with your friends in church?
And if you have so far rejected Christianity because of what you don’t admire in the Christians you have encountered so far in your life – what are you rejecting? The external flaws of persons whom for all you know may never have met Jesus for themselves? Or the only truth that can set a person free forever – which you would never know if you did not choose to investigate it for yourself?

Is Controlled Worship Keeping Churches from Fulfilling the Great Commission?

‘Controlled Worship?’ Surely a contradiction in terms…!!!

Yes, it is. But at the same time, no, it really isn’t. Not in practical terms – i.e. how many worshipping communities organise themselves. This blog post has beaten me to the punch on a subject on which I have some very strong views, and so why not re-post this for others to read? The subject matter could not be more relevant, and the timing more appropriate. While I work on the next post on prayer, this can provide something for all of us to chew on…

Is Controlled Worship Keeping Churches from Fulfilling the Great Commission?.