Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sing to the Lord, Sing out a New Song (Psalm 96)

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song
(Joe Raposo)

As a child, had you asked me what my favourite part of church was I likely would have said: “the singing”. It was also my favourite part of camp, and school (yes we actually learned to sing when I went to school “back in the day”). I liked to sing songs I had known for years. I liked to learn new songs, some of which then became part of my musical repertoire and some which faded away. I liked, and still like, to sing.

There are many reasons why we sing. But a big part is that our very core is musical. All cultures in all times have had music. And why do we sing in church? Well, in part because church is part of life and we are intrinsically musical beings. But also because Scripture calls us to sing – the words “sing or song or praise” occur over 370 times in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Obviously there is more to our church music than “we’ve always done it that way”.

There is something special about singing. Music has long been known as an art form that touches us far deeper than the spoken word does. When we sing our joy or our praise or our grief or our lament then we express our feeling far stronger than in reciting prayers, no matter how beautifully written the prayer. And of course one of the blessings of congregational song is that it is a shared act. Church worship is one of the few places left in our culture where music is participatory and not a performance.

And of course because music touches us so deeply it is a prime cause for disagreements. Remember all those diatribes against Rock & Roll over the years? Ever notice that each generation argues with their parents over what makes for “good” music? Have you ever asked “why can’t we just all listen to/sing the good old familiar songs”? Communities can either be drawn together or pulled apart by songs.

In the end we can’t just sing the “good old familiar songs”. They have their place but we need to make room for the new. One of the gifts music gives us is that it speaks to the realities (happy and sad, good and bad) of our lives. As the world changes we need new music to talk about new realities. Sometimes it does this prophetically – as a teen I remember a song called Video killed the Radio Star that came out just as MTV was launched and turned out to be eerily accurate.

In the life of faith we need the hymns of our ancestors to link us to them. But we also need the new hymns written today and tomorrow to stretch us forward. But whatever we choose to sing we need to sing, sing a song. La-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la.

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