Tag Archive | Worship

Reinventing Advent

I’m taking a much-needed break from novel writing to muse about the holiday season.

Last night, we lit our Advent candle.  My husband has adapted the liturgy for use at home with our kids.  Every night, we say a blessing, light the candle, read Scripture, and recite the Lord’s Prayer.  We had the chance to talk a little about what the Bible verses mean.  It’s exciting to see the kids processing what they read, trying to understand with their hearts the deeper truths hidden in the familiar stories.

I have to admit, this is the one season when I truly miss traditional church liturgy.  The church we currently attend doesn’t do that sort of thing.  Normally, I don’t mind.  But when Advent rolls around, I find myself longing for the days of attending a church with stained glass windows and a pastor who wears robes.  I yearn for the beauty of the old Christmas hymns, sung by a choir with organ accompaniment.

If I’m honest with myself (and I do try to be honest, if nothing else), I know I wouldn’t want all that pomp and ceremony all year.  Most of the time, even though I do like traditional hymns, I enjoy the praise band more (especially when they’re playing an updated version of a familiar hymn).  I like worshiping in a building where neither the music nor the message is overshadowed by pretty architecture.

But then comes Advent, and I miss it.

Which is why I enjoyed our family celebration last night.  It had just the right amount of scripted recitation without feeling like we were just going through the motions.  We are celebrating the joyous occasion of the birth of our Lord, but it is also solemn and holy.  For that fifteen minutes each night, we are honoring the Lord with our words and actions.

How are you celebrating the season?

Bad Hymns

Lest anyone get the impression that I am pro-hymns and anti-praise and worship, this one is for you.

I do like hymns.  There are many great classics.  But that doesn’t mean they are all good, any more than all praise and worship music is bad.  (I do, in fact, like lots of praise music.)  I mentioned in my last post on worship music that I dislike the hymn “Blessed Assurance.”  For whatever reason, it rubs me the wrong way.  Still, it’s not the worst in the category of Awful Hymns.

There was a period of time, just before praise choruses became popular, when people wrote hymns that were supposed to speak to the modern consciousness.  We discovered one of these gems when my husband and I were college students.  We had chapel services in the main sanctuary of the church at the edge of campus.  I believe it was one of our friends who instructed us to open to that particular hymn.  Here, for your entertainment, are the lyrics of the first verse:

God of concrete, God of steel,
God of piston and of wheel,
God of pylon, God of steam,
God of girder and of beam,
God of atom, God of mine,
All the world of power is thine!

I don’t know whether “pylon” is a reference to the support structure or the orange traffic cone.  You can read the rest of the words to God of Concrete, God of Steel here.

The other noteworthy hymn, more recent, is Earth and All Stars, which can be found here.  This one contains brilliant lyrics about “loud rushing planets” (?), “loud humming cellos” (??) and “loud boiling test tubes” (???).

While those are, in my opinion, the two Worst Hymns Ever Written, they are not the only bad apples in the bunch:

-Onward Christian Soldiers.  I have never liked this one.  It just sounds so militaristic/nationalistic.  Add on the ho-hum tune and the fact that I will forever associate it with the last Little House on the Prairie movie, and you have a recipe for a bad hymn.

-On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.  Actually, I like this hymn, kind of, but one of the churches I attended used to sing it almost every week.

-Were You There.  Dull, repetitive, and nonsensical.  Of course I wasn’t there!  Stop asking!

-Count Your Blessings.  Actually, there is nothing wrong with counting your blessings.  But I usually remember Who provided said blessings, offering praise and thanks, rather than just making a list of all the great things I have.  Also, the tune of this one is just so…skippy.  It reminds me of a commercial jingle.

What are your least favorite hymns?

When Worship is All About Me

I really hate this song.

And what, you may ask, is wrong with it?  This song embodies the self-centered way in which we have come to worship.  The word “I” appears 27 times in the lyrics, not counting repeats of the chorus.  The song is also repetitive, dull, and selfish.  The phrase “You are mine” in reference to Jesus makes me cringe every time.  This song lacks any form of humility whatsoever.

It’s not that I have anything against songs that speak about our relationship to our Creator.  The problem is when the song seems to turn things around so that I become the focus instead of God.  Increasingly, praise and worship music falls flat.  The lyrics are often what I call “pseudopoetic,”  meaning they have metaphors that (I think) are supposed to sound brilliant but just end up coming across as nonsense.  They repeat the same few lines endlessly.  The tunes range from nearly impossible to follow to utterly boring.  Like the song above, they draw the attention back to me, me, me–I’m saved, chosen, blessed (the implication being you’re not).

I’m not saying that old-fashioned hymns are the answer.  (Although I do think it’s pretty telling that some songwriters are either putting old hymns in new settings or are putting music to the Psalms.)  After all, hymns contain language we retired decades ago and may not be relevant for understanding God now.  But we definitely need to move away from the garbage that is cluttering up our worship.  We need real songs that actually draw us toward God Himself; we need songs that cry out what’s really inside us–the full range of human emotion and experience; we need music that makes us want to be part of God’s plan for the world.

Songwriters, here’s my challenge to you: Go out there and create something, a new way to praise our God!