Pastor's Blog

"I am astonished at the foolish music written in these times. It is false and wrong and no longer does anyone pay attention to what our beloved old masters wrote about composition. ... I have often walked out of the church since I could no longer listen to that mountain yodeling."

This was from a discussion between two professional musicians about the “new” church music.

In 1651.

Church music seems to have always had a way of generating emotional fireworks.  In the years that I have served as pastor, Mountain View has experienced two “splits”, and both times issues surrounding music were involved.

I have found musicians to be emotionally-oriented temperamental people.  They communicate emotions through the performance of music and music speaks to them.  Musically-oriented people feel quite strongly about music in all its fine details.  Music is very important to them.

Most of the conflicts I have observed (or navigated) regarding “church music” involved people serious about music getting impatient with those who weren’t -- or people who didn’t understand music misunderstanding or misinterpreting those who did. 

I am not a musician, but I was exposed to a lot of music as a kid.  My dad’s taste in music was broad:  Beethoven, Herb Alpert, the Swingle Singers, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, the Kingston Trio, Dion & the Belmonts, the Platters, the Landmark Baptist Quartet, the Hopper Brothers and Connie, the New Christy Minstrels, Chuck Berry, and Georg Friedrich Handel.  I think the only thing we didn’t listen to was opera – and I got a little of that from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

In my parents’ home, music wasn’t taken seriously.  It was for fun.  And music was fun if it was cool.  Singing parts sounded cool – whether it was a rock ballad or a church hymn – and my dad taught us to hear and sing parts.  It sounded cool when we sang together as a family in the car.  And it was fun.  But I never learned to read music, and never saw a need to.  I didn’t take it that seriously.  It wasn't supposed to be work.  It was supposed to be fun.

As an adult, I still like cool music, but I can live without it.  I tend to use music as a distraction.  When I run, I listen to music to distract me from pain and discomfort.  When I study, I use orchestral music (my secretary says it sounds like a funeral home!) as white noise to block out any voices or conversations so that I can focus my attention.  When I drive I don’t listen to music;  I listen to talk radio.

And I don't want to fail to say that I loathe musicals.  Though I found “The Greatest Showman” acceptable.  The music in it was pretty cool.

And I don’t listen to Christian music – contemporary or otherwise.  Except at church.  Music just doesn’t play that big a role in my life.  It doesn’t play that much of a role in my spiritual life.
My approach to Christian spirituality is on the rational “Spockian” end of the spectrum, and Spock couldn't care less about Bach or rock.

I have wrestled for years with how to shepherd people who are different from me – people to whom music is crucial.  Maybe even the central thing in their practice of the faith.
I would prefer that they perceive things the "right way" -- the way I do -- that emotions are secondary and that a rational understanding of truth is what matters. 
Music doesn't matter.
Emotions don't matter.

But then I am haunted by the thought:  “How would you like it if they insisted that you learn to perceive things the way they do?”   And I find myself in the place of trying to appreciate, love, work with – and serve -- people who are quite different from me;  people to whom music is an indispensable part of life – of their spiritual life.  I must try to understand them without really understanding them.

I’m getting better at it, I think.  But I haven’t always been successful in that venture . . .

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