Monday, April 20, 2009

Inclusive/Discerning, Probing

I am working my way through Frank Burch Brown, Inclusive Yet Discerning: navigating worship artfully. (I always include subtitles; is this just obsessive-compulsive? I think it's just a way to communicate the theme of a book, to people who are perhaps not likely to go out and read it.) Because I have so many reading assignments/projects going at one time, this one has been limited to reading at lunch or when alone in the coffee shop. That generally means a chapter (or less) per sitting, which is a very good way for me to absorb a thoughtful book like this.

Probing. That's the word. Brown is stretching this "poster child for traditional worship" to consider how inclusive I am willing to become. At the same time he is confirming my natural caution ... and giving me a nifty label for that caution: now I am being discerning, not just cautious or stuck! But ah, no, he won't let me stay there, either. The call to be discernment is really probing. This will take some time to synthesize, as my reading whip-saws me through questions, issues, history and contemporary issues.

I don't like to suggest that I know where I will land at the end of the book. It is apparent that the purpose of the book is to build a discernment mechanism that will keep me from "landing" any place in particular. That is, keep me from saying "now we've arrived." Inclusive, discerning, and probing.

From the last chapter I finished, in which Brown visits John Calvin's take on music in and outside the church: I return, therefore, to the Calvinist principle that, however rich the resources of secular music - and after several centuries now of intense cultivation, they have become far richer than Calvin ever imagined - the church must be attentive to values that enable at least some music to lift us worshipfully into the presence of God and the angels. To ignore the different powers of music in this regard is as myopic as ignoring the different uses and powers of architecture, and of language itself. Thus the church must be discerning as it searches for music that, in the larger culture, gives voice to human feelings and transformative beauty, with or without words, and in a way that can likewise be enjoyed in God, and offered up to God. (pp 112-113) As to those last 2 phrases, "enjoyed in God" refers to what Calvin called secular music; and I believe music "offered up to God" is explicitly religious music outside the church (p 105).

The quoted paragraph probes all sorts of ways. Chief among them, for me now, is the question of "who is our church music for?" What is its role or function? Does it lift us "into the presence of God and the angels," or is it more humbly designed to build up and encourage those who sing and listen? If merely the latter, then perhaps I really do need to be more inclusive. If I argue for the former, is it only to defend an aesthetic that I am more comfortable with? Understanding the issue, and answering the question, will certainly help in any discussion of "what music is worthy" in worship. [And I should mention here that the discussion in this chapter is indeed about the music qua music, and not about the content/words.] I am not the independent Baptist from the church where I made my Christian commitment. Nor am I high church Anglican. This book reminds me of the challenges of navigating music's role somewhere in the middle. Or, as I feel today, somewhere in the muddle.

No comments: