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Monday, August 17, 2009 

“This Stuff Is Depressing!”

First the back-story…

I just got around to retuning my digital converter box last week. I was trying to get the local PBS station which I haven’t been able to pick up since the country went from an analog to a digital signal for over the air TV. (No, I don’t have cable or satellite, only the freebie signal picked up by a pair of good old fashiony rabbit ears.) I knew that all us cheapskates who get our TV for free (I am cheap, just ask anybody who knows me) were supposed to reset our converter boxes right after the switch but I had simply put the task off.

While I’m still not able to pick up my local PBS signal, I was a bit surprised that I picked a new and previously unknown to me and all channel called ION. I’m really enjoying one or two of the ION stations with the sailing lifestyle program Attitudes and Latitudes being my favorite. (I’m big fan of being out on the water and it doesn't seem to matter if it’s sailing, kayaking or even a fishing trip!) But not all the channels are my cup of tea, like for instance the ION Worship channel.

The Worship channel is basically what you’d expect from Americanized Christianity. There’s lots of talk of God with precious little discussion of either Jesus, what exactly it is that Jesus did for us at the cross, or what He does for us right now through the means of grace, that is to say; the preached Word and administered Sacraments. I have wonder if the producers for these programs have Jesus stuffed in a back room somewhere next to the first aid kit and right under the sign saying “If you use something make sure you return it; somebody else may need to use it after you, signed: management ”. Is it so hard to even mention his name? Apparently, yes it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect a discussion of the Heidelberg Disputation or Chemnitz’s Loci Theologici. To be honest there are very few churches Lutheran or otherwise where in-depth studies and discussions are common place. It’s sad but it’s true.

I do find myself watching ION’s Worship channel every now and then though to see what some of my more evangelical friends, whether they are reformed or Calvinist, view as worship. I’ve found that a good many of these same friends use the term worship interchangeably with sanctified living, good works, and even daily devotionals. Worship, for many, is not necessarily synonymous with what goes on in church on a Sunday morning although it is sometimes included, albeit rarely, in that context. Occasionally worship in the Americanized Christian lexicon can mean just listening to songs that are playing on contemporary Christian music radio stations and there are a lot of these songs on ION Worship’s playlist.

Okey-dokey, that’s the back-story.

I was listening to ION Worship’s Hymns of Hope program over the weekend when my missus wandered into the living room with a puzzled look on her face and asked “What the heck are you listening to?” I responded I didn’t know which of the four lines was the title and was watching strictly for curiosities’ sake.

Her next remark was priceless; “Well, this stuff is depressing! I stopped listening to country music when it all got to be this depressing.”

She had a point. The song was not unlike a pop hit where the singer tries his best to be all emotional and sensitive through a singing style reminiscent of something close to the grunge style of music in the nineties. There is no doubt that it does indeed take a good bit of talent to sing as if you just had a root canal without the benefit of anesthesia. I guess the question I’m thinking is; should songs sung in worship need to sound this way to express hope.

To be fair, the historic church has always sung hymns that had a somewhat somber tone during penitential seasons like Lent but the focus of those hymns is always Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross. These wonderful hymns are filled with sung confessions of Christ atoning work is a far cry from songs that can’t even so mention our Lord much less his salvific work.

Now maybe the performer was indeed grief-stricken having only four lines to sing before he had to repeat the chorus five or six times. It stuck me as odd that the chorus was the majority of the song. I know I’d get a little bummed out if I had to perform such a repetitive composition.

And the kicker alluded to above; there wasn’t a single mention of God, Jesus, or Holy Ghost. There wasn’t even a mention of a generic deity that is included sometimes in prayers so as to be all ecumenical and not offend. Who the heck wants to sing a song that doesn’t mention God or Jesus and call it worship. How in the world do you sing a song on a program called Hymns of Hope without giving a reason for the hope we have in Christ Jesus?

Where is the hope without Jesus? Answer, there isn’t and maybe that’s the reason the performer sounded a bit depressed.

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It really is depressing.

And what is up with everybody waving their arms in the air?

What does that do?

Or is it the 'everyone else is doing it' kinda of thing?

Yuk. Depressing, indeed.

Steve: it would be nice to think that anyone worshiping with their hands in the air is expressing their conviction that worshiping God involves primarily receiving his grace and blessings with the empty hands of faith.

But from my experience and understanding, what it really is meant to signify 99% of the time is the idea that worship means surrendering more and more of yourself, giving it all to God, etc. This is loosely based on the Romans 12:1-2 about being living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual act of worship, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is also where the use of the word "worship" has come to drift further and further away from a focus on Sunday morning Divine Service, and more into the realm of vocation, good works, the inner life. While Lutherans don't deny that worship of God flows throughout the whole life of the Christian, this other concept of worship derives more from an understanding that what happens on Sunday morning is us doing good things for God and telling us how we feel about him. Also involved is the pietistic thought that a lot of the people who come to church on Sunday are a bunch of hypocrites who don't *really* love God with their whole selves, so real worship means living the transformed life throughout the week.

This notion of perpetual surrender has a very dark side. There is very little talk of a real, open confession of sins in these circles. To prove to yourself that you really have faith and are a real, genuine Christian, you have to believe that you're more sanctified than your less holy neighbors. A lot of the devotional materials emphasize, "What do you need to give up to God this week? What aren't you surrendering to him?" If you get a steady diet of this, you'll end up having to find more and more piddly little details to "sacrifice" to God in the name of doing more good works without really admitting that you're that bad of a sinner (i.e., surrendering your appreciation of Diet Coke to God; giving up your cluttered desk tendencies to God). There's merit to giving certain things up and recognizing idols, but like I said: if this is what you're getting *all* the time, then a horrid form of pietistic self-righteousness is right around the corner. And you're not even allowed to admit that you never really *do* "surrender all."

“Also involved is the pietistic thought that a lot of the people who come to church on Sunday are a bunch of hypocrites who don't *really* love God with their whole selves”
Kelly, Oh yeah! I’ve heard this from evangelical friends who express concern that I just don’t love Jesus as much as I should (or them) because my “worship” on a Sunday morning looks too Roman Catholic and therefore doesn't look “spirit filled”. I’ve more than once tried to explain that God’s salvific gifts given to us on a Sunday morning are not so subjective but rather are real because our Lord says they are real but I might as well have talking to myself.
Thanks a bunch for your insight.

Good stuff! Thanks Kelly! Thanks Frank!

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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