Here’s a note that I received from a former youth group member at my church and my response. I thought it might be helpful for other folks to read – or to add any more comments in response to the student’s questions.
…The reason I am messaging you is because I have a question about leading worship services in many languages. I am a part of Resident’s Life this year in my dorm and am the leader of my team of 12 students, one to represent each floor in my dorm. We are in the process of planning an all-dorm worship night which we have done a few of in the past, but this time we are trying to incorporate diversity of languages in singing and in scripture reading, and praying styles. My question for you is how do you do this authentically and in a way that represents real cultures, people, and languages that are members of the community in a way that makes them feel included but also runs logistically smooth to an extent? I don’t want this to be something we just do because we “should” but because it is a real way to be inclusive of the (somewhat) diverse community that we live in- majority white with Spanish and Korean languages being the two other most represented. My team who is leading and in charge of this event is majority white and we are struggling with wanting to incorporate this form of appreciation for diversity in worship and not wanting to overstep or lead something in a way that would be offensive or divisive. If you have any thoughts for me they would be greatly appreciated. I know this sort of thing is extremely difficult and can easily fail but the Lord has put it on my heart to try to incorporate these conversation topics into our efforts to build community in a dorm that is focused on living for Christ and growing in unity and love for one another. Thank you for taking the time to read all of this and please let me know what you think, Thanks so much…
Thanks for writing and I find it encouraging that you are even asking these questions – you would be surprised how many people just crash into cultural walls without any sensitivity. I would encourage you and maybe your team to check out these videos made by InterVarsity that kind of address the whole idea of diverse worship in a very winsome manner. http://mem.intervarsity.org/mem/diverseworship
The next step would be to get some of the “non-white” folks in the conversation with you so that you are able to ask them for input. This is not just “tokenism” – it’s about relationship and giving away control. Tokenism happens when an all white leadership plans the songs and then asked a non-white person to sing with the team as a “token” of diversity. Reconciliation is about sharing the space and sharing the power. Is there a Hispanic or Korean campus group that you can connected with? Are there any local congregations from these cultures that you can connect with and ask to learn from? These are big steps, but a little step is to maybe just take the song We Fall Down by Chris Tomlin and sing it in several languages – just to affirm that these languages are part of the community.
You are right to not want to overtly offend, but there will be people who are offended (especially from the white mainstream) and there’s kind of no way to avoid that. The kingdom of God breaks down walls of division and that’s going to bother people who take comfort in their own safe spaces. There’s also a good chance you might offend some one who’s not white (maybe they think you are exploiting their culture). That’s to be expected as well. Trust in the Holy Spirit to break down relational barriers through healing worship and not in your ability to plan your way around conflict (speaking from experience).
And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord ), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord , “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord , was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
2 Chronicles 5:11-14 ESV
In my personal life, I am coming out of a long period of several years of foster care. We are still foster parents, but our current case is moving toward another adoption in a way that has taken a lot of the pressure off. We have also been struggling pretty intensely with being parents of kids from hard places. That struggle has forced me to become a student of trauma, child development, brain chemistry, and more in order to embrace this struggle as the new normal. Graciously, God has blessed us in this trial and He has also blessed me as a songwriter and performer with a number of songs that come from the context of this authentic kingdom journey.
As we come out of this time, I’ve realized that there’s something that was lost along the way that I long to recapture. What I lost was intimacy with the muse of music. I have been playing all this time and doing my job faithfully for the church, but in all the time taken up with the struggle, I’ve not been delighting in and soaking up music as much as I once did. I have decided recently to begin to “court the muse” again in order to restore that joy of performing music that I had. Here’s a list (listicle) of things that I’ve been trying to do to court the muse.
- Buying music
- Practicing daily
This is actually hard to do in the world of parenting. I find that I feel guilty about spending the money as well as the time it takes to chose a purchase. Wading through everything that could possibly be purchased on Amazon or iTunes is daunting. It’s not the same to stream music for me. Spotify, Pandora and YouTube are handy but buying a recording involves more commitment for me to take the time to focus on the recording and really digest it. Lately, I’ve been trying to buy a new CD once a month.
This has been much harder of course. I’ve also struggled with feelings of guilt that I am being selfish to spend time practicing anything that is not worship songs. However, this guilt is not from the Holy Spirit. Besides, I’ve realized that I waste MUCH more time on social networks and TV that is not productive in the least. So, I am reading, doing scales, playing tunes, transcribing, and all the other things that I learned in college make you a better player. This has been DEEPLY therapeutic and joyful for me. My brain, my emotions, and my body almost buzz with delight after practicing for even just 20 minutes.
A natural outcome of buying new music, but it also takes effort. My car has a 6 CD player and I have kept it loaded with good stuff all the time. I can’t listen to music at home (there’s too much kid and dog noise to even attempt it). But in my car, I crank it up and let it soak in. Again, it’s handy to have a device that plays 10,000 songs on shuffle, but it’s also helpful to focus my listening to one CD and letting every track play instead of skipping to the “singles.” I’ve found that this kind of deeply listening allows me to hear things every time a track repeats that I hadn’t noticed before. Just this morning, I was listening to a song and I noticed that the drummer would leave out the last 8th note in the measure on the high hat every 4 measures. It might be my 20th or 30th time listening to the track.
This requires students obviously. I have a couple of students right now who are starting their journey with the guitar. It’s so exciting to introduce them to music and joy of performing together. Giving them just a few notes that they can play, all of a sudden they are musicians having their first experience with the muse. It’s a rush! Challenging them to work on getting past their technical and cognitive barriers reflects back on me to do the same and to not be content with letting my playing become plateaued.
I love books! Don’t you? Why do we look at our phones or whatever for hours and hours? Books are so much more satisfying. Reading about music has been a good stimulation for wanting to play more. Even just reading good stories or learning about history has the effect on me of wanting to connect with the muse and respond to these ideas with producing something instead of just being a consumer.
In all of this, I want to acknowledge though I’m using the Greek term “muse,” what I mean is that aspect of the Maker that I reflect when I make music. He created the physics of the universe that makes music possible. His word even says that HE sings over me to quiet me with His love. That is what I want to tap into and become intimate with again. The Maker – the WORD – is the muse and I don’t have to strive after Him because he has courted me into a relationship in which music is one of the amazing ways that I can be close with Him and to know His love and joy more deeply.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
I deeply appreciate these videos created by InterVarsity’s video production crew, twentyonehundred . They have re-framed the conversation about worship styles to emphasis something that I’ve always believed – that worship should be diverse in style out of love and mutual submission that looks a lot like sharing a meal together.
These clips could function as a good conversation starter for a team of musicians, pastors, youth leaders, etc who are exploring the idea of diverse worship. It’s also a breath of fresh air in a time when the church is having hard and painful conversations about race and ethnicity. Brothers and sisters in Christ do need to have hard conversations, but they need to happen in the context of relationships that are fueled by gospel-based hospitality.
Back in my day, we had to bootleg Jaime Aebersold tracks from the school library.
Yesterday, we hid the afternoon doldrums and so I went to turn on some music. I turned on this video, and all of my kids froze and watched this mariachi group in rapt attention. This is music performance in it’s truest and most vibrant form. It completely captivated us.
Assuming that I know everything about music, my wife asked me what the names of these instruments are. I confess I had to look it up. I suppose that I need to add a “vihuela” to my wish list.
I heard a TED talk or something that said that if you have a personal goal then the last thing you should do is to tell someone about it. The reason they gave was that the act of telling someone your goal gives your brain the same warm fuzzies that you get from actually accomplishing the goal. As a result, New Year’s resolutions never work because once you share them, then you loose the internal motivation to get them done. That being said, I want to share one of my resolutions in the hopes that this post will sabotage the whole thing.
My resolution is to practice my guitar more and with more purpose. As a professional musician, I play the guitar all the time but I’ve not really practiced in any focused way since college. Here’s the general plan that I’ve come up with to practice about 30 minutes, 4 times a week.
Monday – Reading practice
Tuesday – Transcription
Thursday – Tunes and Repertoire
Friday – Scales & Technique
I started last week by reading through the lessons in William Levitt’s Method Book 1. I’m transcribing Charlie Christian’s solo from Seven Come Eleven. For tunes last week, I worked on memorizing the head to “Seven Come Eleven” and “Freddie The Freeloader.” Then for scales I pulled out a textbook from college, Jerry Bergonzi’s book on Pentatonics.
If you are a jazz player or any other kind of pro for that matter, this might seem pretty light, but I’m just trying to wade back into this so cut me some slack.
Gee, it felt good to share that with you. Now, where’s my phone? I need to go back to playing Subway Surfers.