Retraction – or – Do you worship like a Sex Pistol or a Megadeth?

If you know me at all you probably know that on numerous occasions I have vehemently denounced what might be termed ‘comentemporary praise and worship’ music.

The funny thing is that I used to religiously attend an all-singing/prayer Sunday evening service known as ‘catacombs’ when I was a student at Gordon College.  This service was basically an hour straight of these ‘contemporary praise and worship’ choruses.  I went every Sunday night for three years.  Three years.  Then one Sunday I snapped.  It just hit me that every single song was terrible.  They were simplistic, sappy, self-centered blather.  So I walked out and I never went back.

I think part of what turned me off to praise music was the fact that I could actually sing it well and play it on the guitar.  I’m not a great singer or a great guitar player.  Yet I’d find myself harmonizing and belting out the notes with little effort.  Once, a girl even complimented me on my voice after the service.  I basically thought, ‘If I can sing this stuff, it must be terrible’.

Another issue was the lyrics.  They were like magnet poetry.  The words were all just given to you in a box and all you had to do was rearrange them to make a new song.  Lots of times they didn’t even rhyme.  I chafed at the perpetual apology of ‘I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship’ who’s second line repented ‘I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it.’  First of all, any writing teacher will tell you never to use the word ‘thing’ in an essay, let alone a piece of poetry.  Second, this vagueness leaves the audience to assign their own sins to the ‘thing’ and have to come up with some new hypocrisy to swap in week after week.

Another lyrical issue is the fact that sometimes it is hard to tell whether the songs are about God or some romantic liaison.   I remember standing next to my friend Grant in church one Sunday morning and the lyrics, “Have your way inside of me” were projected on the screen.  I remember being horribly ashamed at the sexual connotation I assigned to the line… until Grant leaned over to me and whispered, ‘Dude, that line is really sketchy.’

And so I wrote off praise music altogether.  Until this past Sunday.

I was at Dane St. Church and there was this adorable little emo-praise band leading worship – a talented bunch who rocked the house in a way that made me uncomfortable on behalf of the more elderly and infirm among us.

“You might not know a lot of these songs,” the lead singer said. ‘No kidding,’ I thought. “But they’re really easy to learn,” he went on.  And they were.  I found that I could easily sing all the notes and even anticipate where the melody was going, even on the first run-through.  By the third chorus I knew it as well as ‘This Little Light of Mine’.

That’s when the virtue of praise music finally hit me.

For years, I have been an avid punk rock fan.  Yet metal has never appealed to me.  Indeed, both metal and punk tout counter-culturalism and rebellion, but fandom in these genres is mutually exclusive.  You just can’t like metal and punk.

Now I’ve thought this over and even wrote a paper about it for a college course.  The appeal of punk is that there is no real distinction between audience and performer.  At most underground punk shows, the band plays on a very short stage or actually on the floor, among the crowd. The songs are incredibly simple.

So simple in fact that metalists often sneer at punk-rockers.  Metal is meant to be showy and flashy, as well as loud and abrasive.  Metal bands ask not only to be identified with, but to be worshipped for their amazing chops, licks and time signatures.  You might commonly hear the phrase ‘gods of metal’.  You would never hear about a ‘god of punk’.

Now I attend an Episcopal Church where we sing wildly difficult tunes in odd time signatures; notes just all over the bars. And I love it.  I love the technical challenge of it.  I love that the lyrics are poetry I couldn’t even hope to aspire to writing.  I love that the notes push me to the top of my limited register.  And the organ postludes?  Holy Mackeral!  They actually sound like metal sometimes with these horrific minor chords and sixteenth-notes flying all over the place.  And talk about loud. That pipe organ wails.

And praise music is just the opposite of all this.  It’s simple both to play and sing.  It’s easily accessible to the masses.  Even the most vocally challenged among us can sing most praise songs reasonably well.  The lyrics don’t contain any talk of ‘bulwarks’ or ‘ebenezers’, opting instead for simple words of hope and praise that can be shared by everyone in the crowd.

I realized on Sunday that all these years I’ve been contradicting myself.  Why is it that I love the Metal of worship music, while I love the Punk of rock ‘n roll?

It’s because I am a snob.  Admittedly, when I hear the sorry crooning of a tone-deaf man or woman I think like the disciples did, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”  Now I’m not a great singer, but not being able to sing would be one of the worst punishments I can imagine.  Singing is probably the only thing I enjoy and still do well during Sunday worship services.  So I cling to it.  I have an attitude about it – a highfalutin, holier than thou attitude.

So I’m sorry.  I can’t say I’ll become a fan of ‘contemporary praise and worship’ based on this revelation.  But I apologize for my negative attitude and I will try to respect it from now on as a way for people to come together for a common cause, with a common attitude and a common ability to achieve a common good.

Just… work on the lyrics. Deal?

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i challenge you to write some lyrics for “worship” songs. you’re one of the best writers i know and i think you may be surprised…put it to some simple melody…and woah la…you might be the next major worship song writer for Hill Song or something… =)

    • I’ve thought about it. So far I’ve never felt right about it. Always afraid I would be treating it more like a business and not something I was truly passionate about. When it comes to music my focus has always been on getting heard, making my thoughts known. It’s difficult to write something that’s meant for people to share. Maybe now that I’ve had this revelation though…

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