Friday, March 13, 2009

What's wrong with the songs we sing?

For many in the west church life in the 80s and 90s was marred by what is often called the 'worship wars.' Clashes between generations over what was appropriate content for worship in church, usually, but not necessarily, between those who wanted to sing traditional hymns and those who wanted guitars and 'choruses'. By and large I think these days people have realised how destructive such behaviour is and take a more relaxed attitude towards things, almost anything goes... And if you don't like it go down the road to another church that does it your way.

But here is a complaint from academic John Stackhouse about a certain contemporary Christian songwriter's worship songs.

Two of his points I think are perhaps nit picking: the lack of rhyming and the mixing of metaphors. In contemporary song rhyme is not essential and even many of the great hymn writers of yesteryear were not shy of forcing the odd rhyme from two words that really didn't. More to the point Hebrew poetry (the Psalms) didn't rhyme at all but used parallelism instead. And again, although it may be bad English to mix your metaphors it was something many of the biblical writers seemed to enjoy doing.

But, I do think he has a point that often songs are 'put out there' long before they are finished. Rather than being crafted carefully and patiently and critically. They are merely thought of, written down, recorded on a CD, and sent round the world, long before any process of biblical, theological, and communal reflection can take place. I wonder if this comes from a misplaced assumption that if something is Spirit inspired that there should be no further work done on it. However even that most Spirit-inspired work of art, the Bible, shows signs of careful editing and organisation. The Spirit does not give us inspiration in order to deny us the act of creation, but to stir us to it. Or maybe it just comes from laziness, after all most people are quite happy to buy the CD and sing the song because although the lyrics are half finished, the production, packaging, and marketing are absolutely first rate!

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