Prodigals…

I uploaded a couple of old liturgies on Twelvebaskets the other day, which is a great collection of worship resources for those of you on the look out for material to use in services and house gatherings.

I came across an old piece that I wrote from one of our Greenbelt worship events, entitled ‘Prodigals’, and thought it worth re-posting;

Prodigals, coming home

A liturgy for one voice with congregational response, examining our relationship with our Father God.

 

Our fathering arises from human brokenness

And so is easily broken

We are your prodigals, coming home

Our fathering arises in a place where we struggle for power and control

And so it can become oppressive

Or even abusive

We are your prodigals, coming home

Our fathering finds the limits of our patience, our tolerance and our finances

It can be conditional

And we can be easily angered

We are your prodigals, coming home

Our fathering can be decayed by divorce and marital disharmony

It can become distant and removed

We are your prodigals, coming home

Our fathering can be stolen by death, leaving us in desperate grief

And terribly alone

We are your prodigals, coming home

Yet even we, who are so human

Know how to love

It is shaped within us

Waiting

We know how to give the best for our children

We do not give a stone when they ask for bread

Or a razor blade

When they ask for a plastic toy

Or a used syringe

When they ask for expensive shoes

How much more…

How much more will we encounter

When we meet you-

Heavenly father?

We are your prodigals, coming home

 

There is no Father

Unless there is also a son

Or a daughter

We were made for relationship

All of us- with no exceptions

Every one of God’s children

From the star pupil,

To the remedial

Poorly clothed

Last-to-be-picked

Back-of-the-classroom loser

Who becomes the favourite

The Chosen One

The last-

Now made first

There is no Father

Without us

 

The sons and daughters-

The beloved

Of the most high God

Worship music remix 1- introduction…

This is the first of a series of post on worship music. My current working titles for he others include ‘Authenticity/Creativity’, ‘Transcendence’ , ‘Songs of community’ and ‘What is so special about singing anyway?’- hopefully these will emerge over the next few weeks. But in the meantime, here is a bit about my own journey, in which I have to acknowledge some rather negative aspects to my experience…

I have written before about my own previous encounters with worship music- the practice of which has been extremely important to me.

I started out singing in a church choir. I had a high pure voice as a boy, and sang solos in church. I learned to play piano, and church organ- earning some pocket money playing at weddings and funerals.

Later we discovered simple choruses- and during the late 70’s and early 80’s I started playing guitar. We played simple songs such as ‘We have come into this house’ and ‘Freely’, and were indebted to the songs of the ‘Fisherfolk’, whose music became the soundtrack to the Charismatic revival that swept through the Church of England. I still feel a strange nostalgia for the simplicity and ‘wholesomeness’ I remember from this time- and the music was a huge part of this.

I then spent 15 years as part of a large independent church in the north of England- in which my major contribution was musical. I eventually became the leader of the music team. We made a journey through all the waves of new church music that emerged- at first it was all sourced via new songbooks- which would come out every now and then- but later the machine that poured out songs  (mostly from America) used many different portals- books, CD’s and increasingly, the internet. Vineyard soft rock worship was something we constantly imitated- although the shiny happy Hillsongs worship always left me a bit cold.

Following a move to Scotland, I continued to lead worship- now in a small Baptist church. Through connections there, I also became slightly itinerant- leading worship in the USA, Europe and for some different events in Scotland.

Then I stopped.

I found it increasingly difficult to sustain any kind of passion for this kind of worship. It had become so formulaic and anchored within a narrow world view- based on  set of core assumptions that were all-dominant even if rarely spoken. I was increasingly finding myself at odds with these assumptions, which were grounded in a particular American Evangelicalism.

Then there was the place of this kind of worship at the centre of all of our services. At first, worship music was all about FREEDOM- it was the means by which we escaped ritualistic liturgy and ‘made room for the Spirit.’ Except the longer we did this, the more liturgical and rigid we became. The formula went something like this-

Open service with a time of ‘praise’- 

Upbeat high energy praise songs. However, there were (and presumably still are) far fewer exuberant praise songs than quieter ones, so we tended to do the same 10-15 or so over and over, after which typically the kids will leave for Sunday School, and we hear notices.

Time of ‘worship’

We then have more singing- quieter songs now which worship leaders try to theme slightly, with a nod towards the coming sermon. In my experience, we often talked about worship being about a much broader thing than just music, but in practice other artistic forms of collective worship had little part in our services. The odd bit of drama, or music/power points. Possibly a bit of dance. The job of the worship leader here is to generate some intensity and expectancy as we prepared to hear the preaching of Gods word- mainly by singing songs.

The sermon

Teaching within this tradition is of paramount importance. We talk of being ‘fed’ by this teaching, and skillful preachers were the top of the tree in terms of status. The very best preaching has this goal of creating a climax- you could call it a spiritual/emotional crisis- during which the congregation is expected to ‘make a response’. This might mean coming forward for prayer for healing and deliverance. The public nature of these crises is valued as some kind of statement before man and God, but I have long wondered whether it might also serve the purpose of measurable ‘success’ of the peaching.

And while all this happens, the music has a vital role again- ecstatic, emotional love songs to Jesus. Matching/creating/heightening the emotion of the event. A benign manipulation of our emotions in the name of Jesus.

The sending out

The last part of the service was about commissioning the congregation to go out into the world, changed by their encounter with God in the service. Songs tend to be more martial, triumphalist and perhaps more hymn-like.

All of this can be energising and vibrant- it can also be very ego-centric for those of us on the stage.

That is not to say that all this has no value- but I think we greatly exaggerated it. People were challenged and even changed in these services, but most were not- they were just caught up in the weekly merry go round. I once heard these services described as like a weekly wedding with the same couple getting married each time. And me, the wedding singer.

About 5 years ago I decided that I could do it this no more. The ‘crisis point’ of services seemed to me increasingly to be manufactured and divorced from the reality of the lives of the people present. At worst it became a religious show- a pep-me-up for the dwindling faithful. The particular context I was part of did not make this easier as there was also a surface dishonesty about levels of conflict and political in fighting.

There were other reasons why I walked away- firstly, theological ones. I found myself adventuring into new ideas, questioning and rediscovering aspects of my faith- and the Evangelical assumptions of many of the songs I had previously used became very difficult to sing. They tended to be strange quasi-erotic love songs to Jesus, or triumphalist war songs for the army of God. They use the Bible as source material- but only parts of the Bible that come pre-packaged by Evangelical assumptions.

And they tend to be American, arising from the cult of the super worship leader- a strange cool guy (mostly male) who has an expensive guitar. His music only finds wider release if he is marketable, and hopefully photogenic. Then the music goes into a highly profitable (but not necessarily prophetable) machine, which spews out visuals, CD’s and sheet music for the whole band. All worship leaders have their favourite super worship leader. We aspire to be like them, and to make music that is a second rate version of their music.

Secondly, I was discovering other forms of worship that I could connect to in a different way- both older forms of worship (from a contemplative tradition) and also new forms of ‘alternative worship’, which had more in common with performance art that with praise and worship as I had used to understand it.

I am a few years down the line now though- and have been involved in many a prayer room, curated worship space or wilderness meditation event. These experiences are very precious to me, in my on going attempts to reach towards God, and to offer my worship.

But I still love to sing. Gatherings with friends still often involve getting out some of the range of instruments our family have accumulated. And within my community (Aoradh) we still sing when we gather from time to time. What I have however, are a set of open questions that I am still working through-

  • Where are the songs of lament, of thanksgiving, of hope, of brokenness, of joy, of doubt, that fit this new context?
  • What songs are counter cultural- challenging the idolatry of the consumer driven unsustainable way of life our churches are embedded within?
  • This new context- what songs might collectively release us towards a different kind of mission? Encourage us to seek after justice, truth, beauty- and when we find it, to sustain it?
  • If these songs are the cultural carriers of our theology- then what of our faith do we want to celebrate? How do we move towards songs that are more open, less reductionistic, more comfortable with mystery and less concerned with the promulgation of fake certainty?
  • Where are the songs of community- not of individuality- all of that personalised spirituality from the God of success?
  • Are there different kinds of songs needed for small community contexts?
  • Why do we need to sing the songs of the machine- how can we encourage local expressions emerging out of community?
  • What of the old is still usable? From the 1560s or the 1960s?
  • I long for poetry- deep and honest lyrics. I am sick of the same old sacred rhymes- grace/face, love/above, sing/bring. We can do so much better.
  • I long for music that carries emotion, not just a steady tune. Where are the solo instruments, and the complex rhythms and harmonies? I am so tired of soft rock.
  • Is all this just because I am looking for something new, something trendy? Am I overreacting?
So, the journey continues- think I will go and get my guitar…

The father who walks with the Son and the Spirit…

I have taken a day off work today- the sun is shining, and I need a day at home after a really busy couple of weeks.

Greenbelt festival is looming!

Aoradh are going to be doing a few worship things again- participating in a day long worship event along with Sanctus 1 and Safespace. I just checked the GB website and see we are not mentioned as participants! How rude.

As part of the worship, we are providing a great big loom, into which people will be encouraged to weave in the names of their community- here is the loom frame in front of our house-

We are also doing a couple of liturgies- one around communion, with a really lovely piece that Audrey wrote, and another based on the Community of God- the Trinity, with our bit focussing on the Father.

If you are at Greenbelt this year, it would be great to see you- we will be in the New Forms cafe for most of the day on Saturday…

I pulled out an old piece of writing I did thinking about fatherhood, and have been doing some work on it. Here are a couple of sections I am playing with-

We were made for relationship.

.

All of us- with no exceptions

Every one of God’s children

.

From the star pupil,

To the remedial

Poorly clothed

Last-to-be-picked

Back-of-the-classroom loser

.

Who becomes the favourite

The Chosen One

The last-

Now made first

.

Beloved

Of the most high God

ABBA

.

Abba is not a word of examination

It demands no achievements

And sets no unreachable goals

.

Abba is not a word of judgement

It has no laws to uphold

And carries no truncheons

.

Abba is not a word of profit

It knows no sensible spending limits

And demands no collateral

.

Abba is not an ineffectual word

It answers to no committees

And has no obligations

.

Abba is not a word of power

It has no foot soldiers

And demands no blind obedience

.

Abba is not an absent word

It has no shoddy rented spaces

And evicts no tenants

.

Abba is an open word

Open doored

Open armed

And open hearted

.

It is a word that invites us home.