Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Music as pastoral care and building the community of faith

The battle over worship in this congregation started in 1967 when _________________ played a guitar in worship. The war has gone on ever since.

That was a statement of an elder member of a congregation I served as an interim when I asked about the stories related to conflict over worship. One might call it the Thirty Years' War. The "Worship Wars" don't have the acrimony they once did even five years ago. I never understood the approach of the Worship Wars in "Mainline" Protestantism. Arguing over preferences produces no clarity, no mission, no deeper connection with the Divine.

I am not a worship scholar. I wouldn't even call myself gifted in worship methodology or theology. But I ponder the effects of music on my soul and my longing for God, desiring healing and wholeness, and where I see Christ. I have to provide the musical connection with God for myself, because the church for 30 years has been more interested in arguing about style preferences than offering to build my relationship with God and others in their spiritual growth. Recently I've been thinking less about my musical preferences and HOW I am connected to God and others by a particular song.

1. The role of testimony. Preachers and other deliverers of the Gospel can appropriately share their personal stories about the activity of God in their lives. I find meaning in that connection--why can't it be done with music? Case in point--a pastoral care song for me is from Melody Gardot's Who Will Comfort Me. The song is good in and of itself, but it means even more in light of Melody's own path of healing. Gardot faced brutal injuries and the healing setbacks and triumphs in her life come out in this particular song. Testimony brings out a tradition of the Psalms. Sometimes lament, sometimes victory. Sometimes confidence in God's presence, sometimes longing questions and frustration. Who will comfort me?

2. Songs of confession and songs of intercession. Years ago I had numerous opportunities to preach for the St. Dysmas prison congregation in the South Dakota State Penitentiary. I had some great conversations with the worship band. Though they loved playing worship music and praise songs, the jam sessions revealed more about their walk with God. What saddened me was that they thought their jams had no place in the worship service. One band member and I had a discussion around Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster." The song provided an entry point for this young man's story, his crimes and sins, his incarceration, and his relationship with God. I always thought it was a good song, though not a favorite. The song is now a favorite because it is an opportunity for me to pray for this young man--for healing, for forgiveness, for a newness of life each day, and a new start when he gets out of prison.

Unfortunately, my work with the Worship Wars of the past 30 or so years has been more about addressing conflict and congregational dynamics. In this season of my life, I hope for articulation of music as pastoral care and faith community building.

Excuse me--while I commute home tonight and listen to tunes from my iPhone, I will be in a place of worship. Through Christ, creation (music) and relationship--God heals.

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