I’ve spent the last few days in Buffalo, NY, a curious city. I am here for the Christian Musician Summit, which provides a pretty great service to musicians, techs, and pastors in the form of training and sessions led by some of the leading voices in the church at large. A great cross section of people looking to learn how to better lead people into worship and to cultivate their own skills in music and songwriting. There were some truly fantastic session and I could see people being inspired and edified.
While many of the attendees were in session, I had the opportunity to chat with a good friend about the nature of “worship”. In the Church, as much as we say that worship is not music, we continue to reinforce that it is. We have worship teams, worship training, worship nights, worship concerts, worship conferences, worship books, etc. I don’t think anyone would disagree that worship is NOT just music, but we, by our vocabulary and our actions belie that.
When the Bible speaks of worship, it speaks of bowing down to the King.
This Holy Week, I was stuck by this phrase “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.”
We are always looking forward to the next thing. Especially when we are in some form of discomfort or suffering. “If I can just hang on a bit longer, the finances will come in,” or “If I can just make it to the end of the week, everything will be better.”
As a youth I grew up around almond orchards. During the early winter after harvest the pruning would begin. My brothers and I had the enviable job (read: NOT-enviable) of pulling the cut branches into the center of the rows so that a brush rake could buck it and take it to a pile where it would eventually burn.
As mentioned in the previous post, we live in a church culture that doesn’t like to talk about or identify with brokenness. If the way into the Kingdom is through brokenness, and it is, then our reluctance to embrace brokenness has two results, as it pertains to creatives.
One, we have nothing to write about. Our art is not a representation of truth, but rather a representation of pieces of truth. It is a partial picture of the good news of the Kingdom.
Two, we have not demonstrated to a dying world how to enter the Kingdom of life.
Many of us have grown up in a culture where brokenness is pushed aside, and never examined. The result is that we live in a world that is Plasticine, it’s not real. It lacks truth.
Brokenness is a place we try to avoid. To our human understanding, brokenness is that dark pit that bubbles with heartache and pain. Brokenness is hell on earth.
So we avoid it. We don’t talk about it. We pretend we don’t have any of it. We hide our brokenness from others who are hiding their brokenness. And we create a cycle. Its not long before newcomers into the fold learn to hide their brokenness too. It might be our great universal art in the church–talking around, over, under, but never directly at our brokenness.
The biggest problem with all this, is that the door to our salvation sits wide open across the threshold of brokenness. We come to Jesus with our brokenness, there is no other way to come to Him. We recognize that we have made a mess of our lives by trying to run it ourselves. We see that His way is the better way, that His Kingdom is freedom from the broken places.
Went to see Augustines at The High Watt this past weekend. It was easily one of the best shows I have been to. Ever. It had all the hallmarks of a good show. Great banter and audience engagement, great music, on the fly set tailoring based on the audience, off the mic acoustic songs, up on the bar acoustic songs, etc. But none of these are why it hit the high spots. The key reason it was a great show was brokenness.
Brokenness. Billy McCarthy is a broken man. And he knows it. But his brokenness is tinged with hope and expectation. Being broken is not the end, its the beginning. Its a place to move on from, not to wallow in.
Mediocrity. This should be a word that generates in the Christian shivers of disgust. But as it is, we dont feel one way or another about it. Jesus said he will spit out mediocrity, or lukewarmness. Is there any mediocrity about God? Is there anything that He does just enough to get by?
Imagine that scenario. A mediocre God. A God that doesnt care one way or another about things. Imagine going to heaven and asking God the question you have been dying (quite literally in this scenario) to know. And in response God says “Eh, either way, I was always kinda on the fence on that one.” Words I doubt very strongly you’d hear. I have a suspicion that though God may be behind the “what came first, chicken or egg” riddle, he’s not behind “six to one, half a dozen to the other.”
I just had the opportunity to spend some time in New Orleans for work. The hotel we were at was right on Rue Bourbon, right in the middle of the French Quarter “action”. New Orleans strikes me as a conflicted city. The question struck me while I was there:
Who is more guilty, the city that caters to a debauchers, or the people who flock to a city to live out their debaucheries?
The answer, to me is that we all individually have to answer to the Creator of history for our own actions. The people who visit the city, and those that run the city. As a tangential note to the discussion, after Katrina, New Orleans did have a clean slate from which to rebuild their image, but they chose to pursue the same course.
What struck me most about the trip is that New Orleans represents the conflict that each of us as artists must face. It is a picture of the war for our souls that rages in our flesh. Of all the places I’ve been in the last couple years, and the list is extensive, no city compares to New Orleans in the abundance of “gifts”.
We discussed a bit about the quality or lack thereof of many Christian products. But another major reason is market economics. The main outlet for Christian products of any kind is the Christian bookstore. A nd these are commercial enterprises. They are consumer supported, fed by distributors who are distributing content for the publishers/labels/studios. Most Christian “art” will be supplied through this commercial enterprise.
I am sure that the owners of these knowledge boutiques feel that they are providing a great service to the body of Christ. Where else can you go to get the “oil of gladness” that anointed Jesus but HolyMart Booksellers (I kid you not, I dont need the Holy Spirit to give me gladness, I can buy it in a store). We live in a post information age. Information is everywhere and the downfall is that we know more about things than ever before but act on less knowledge than ever. I suppose this means we never really know what we know. When asked, Jesus said that the sum of all the law, all the books in the world is this “Love God, love your neighbor.” I imagine that if we just did this, we wouldnt need Christian books at all.
Dont get me wrong, I love books. Love them. Can’t get enough of them. But if they do not produce fruit, or just serve to puff me up (as knowledge can do) then they are worthless.