Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sometimes It's Easier to Worship at a U2 Concert Than At Church....

At least for me, it is. Last week, I got to see my all-time favorite band, U2, live in concert for the very first time. About halfway through the show I realized I was talking to God and worshipping in a way that I rarely experience at church services. I wondered why this was. I started thinking about the U2 lyrics that mean the most to me, that really speak to my soul and then some of the lyrics to the most popular worship songs. It hit me. A lot of U2's lyrics are words that I actually CAN say to God, whereas a lot of worship lyrics are words that I WANT to be able to say to God. While most worship songs are true, they sometimes feel dishonest.

Let me explain.

When we sing the words to
"I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," a popular worship song, it doesn't so much express what I want to say to God, but what I want to want to say. I want to want to sing of His love forever, but if I am being honest, I really want to sing about it for ten minutes and then I want to hang out with my husband/son/friends, eat a sandwich, read a book, watch some TV, take a nap and so forth. Or consider some of the lyrics to "Better is One Day:"

One thing I ask
And I would seek
To see Your beauty
To find you in the place
Your Glory dwells

OK. Yes, I think the deepest part of me longs for this (or wants to long for this), but it's not the ONE thing I ask, or even ask the most. I am often asking for God to fix my problems, to calm my fears, to provide financially, for health, long life, the well-being of my loved ones, a lasting marriage, deeper friendships, forgiveness for the retarded things I do on a daily basis, etc.

Or how about the lyrics "I will delight in the law of the Lord, I will meditate day and night.."

Again, I want to want this. But if I am being honest, I don't delight in the law of Lord very often, especially if we are talking OT law, since I don't "get" a lot of it, let alone delight in it. And my humanness doesn't much delight in loving my neighbor as myself (because that requires quite a bit of sacrifice), loving my enemies, esteeming others higher than myself, telling the truth, denying myself, or the call to be humble, forgiving, generous, gracious, compassionate, and kind. And I certainly don't want to meditate on such things day and night, though I want to want it.

The disconnect also has something to do with the language of many worship songs. The language and imagery tends to be so far removed from our everyday vernacular (whether it be true or not) renders some songs difficult to mean, imagine, or fully grasp (Think of phrases like blessed be your name, let your glory manifest, I lift your name on high...) But mostly, it's the emphasis on rejoicing, faith, certainty, and triumph while virtually abandoning the reality of doubt, struggle, pain, sorrow, and failure. Both are important to worship and our experience with God. So emphasizing the warm, fuzzy part of faith while ignoring the complex, difficult parts creates a feeling of hollow, surface-y, and incomplete worship for an "easy" faith that does not accurately reflect the overall human experience of faith in God and the very "uneasy" process of dying to oneself and wrestling with the mysteries of God.

This is where U2, for me, captures this duality in graspable, meaningful language. I can proclaim my unwavering faith while admitting I haven't "arrived" in "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I can pledge my whole being to God and His guidance in "Yahweh," while at the same time expressing how difficult the process is and how far I am from it. I can vent my frustrations while still giving way to trust in God through "Peace on Earth," "Crumbs From Your Table," and "Where the Streets Have No Name." I can commit to persevering with God though there are struggles, disappointments, and hurt through "Walk On." I can marvel at the wonder of the Holy Spirit through "Mysterious Ways." I can adore the many facets of God's greatest gift through "Grace." I could go on. But the main point is that all these songs find their hope, peace, faith, and rejoicing in God, while remaining in the context of the muck and mire of our messy, complicated human existence. And just maybe it means more to God to say the things we can say versus saying what we "should" say.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of worship songs that I love, deeply love, but I often feel there is something missing from the ENTIRETY of our musical worship experience, whether it be the over-spiritualized language that is so far removed from how we actually speak and think, the lack of creativity to tell the story of God or express our devotion to God in new ways, or the lack of holistic expressions between joy and sorrow, faith and doubt, found and seeking, wonder and wondering, victory and failure, and surrender and struggle. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from U2 to enrich our musical expressions of worship.


Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

As is often the case when our minds meet, Tia Lynn, I agree and disagree with you.

Even a cursory glance at Psalms illustrates your point. David wrote songs that both expressed his deep faith and nagging doubts. His devotion to God's truth and his anger at the injustice of the world around him. Where was God in the midst of all of it? That was often David's question. And he was called a man aftr God's own heart.

On the other hand, I believe that one of the primary reasons we worship is to get outside of ourselves, to remind ourselves that there is a God who is oerfect in love, beauty, and holiness- and still He bothers to care for us in our frail and sinful state. On that level, worship is not supposed to be about us at all. In that way, the traditional worship songs serve a purpose as well.

Tia Lynn said...

Oh I totally agree about reminding ourselves about God's perfection, beauty and holiness and it not being about us.I would never want to "leave that out" or anything. I was more referring to songs that make it sound "easy" all the time, not the actual adoration of God aspects. Sometimes I want to put it in terms that are more authentic to our actual vernacular, because though it's not about us, it's an act of devotion/adoration FROM us, so the language should reflect that. But that will be different for every person. My only point here was the need for MORE in our worship expressions, not less. :)

Jasmine said...

Wow, I'm writing a paper for seminary about this very thing and I wish I could quote your blog in it!!
Thanks for this!

Tia Lynn said...

haha, thanks Jasmine. Yes, a blog quote is not going to hold as much as weight as say a famous theologian..LOL But glad you enjoyed. :)

dave said...

you have don it again, Tia.

You ARE a famous theologian in my book!


Graham said...

You have put this much more succinctly than I could.

In one sense U2 'saved' my life/faith in the 90s- worship songs were singing certainties (you have doubts? Just sing a little louder....)...U2 were singing laments intertwined with joy and were voicing questions.

I felt that in the community I was part of it was like 'You have doubts...don't we all- lets praise'..U2 led me into the Psalms etc.

But I still 'want to want' to sing songs of praise...yet U2 are more frequently where I'm at....


E. A. Harvey said...

I wholeheartedly agree! I have long been frustrated with modern worship songs because they fail to capture what I really want to say to the Lord, or talk about Jesus like he's my boyfriend, or they paint the Christian experience as cupcakes and rainbows.

And I too went to my first U2 concert in October! It was amazing. "Walk On" definitely helps my heart worship. So does The Edge's melodic guitar riffs. =)

Anonymous said...

Such an honest post, and I totally get it.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Joyful Melody said...

I will agree that worship songs in many churches in America sound somewhat "flowery," or even idealistic. While I was in my undergrad one of my professors was talking about church growth. He said that he visited a very large church once, and asked the pastor there how they grew the church so large. The pastor did not hesitate to answer, "That's simple. We never play any music that is in a minor key."

To hear it spoken so plainly nauseated me. Even so...

There are worship songs that come from that more honest perspective, too. Songs like Hungry, "Broken I come to you for Your arms are open wide. I am weary but I know Your touch restores my life." Nothing untrue there, for most. If you've entered into the act of worship then you are "coming to God," even though it is quite evident that you're worn out, frustrated, etc. Or songs like the Heart of Worship, "Though I'm weak and poor, all I have is Yours, every single breath," Can be rephrased as, "I am really not feeling this and I am really tired but I'm making a choice to trust God with it." Or "Blessed be your Name," (aka sometimes life is great, but sometimes I really have no idea what's going on, but I know You're God and I'm going to cling to that." Or "You Never Let Go," saying, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death."

I don't know, just a thought. Not that you cannot worship at a U2 concert, because obviously you can worship God wherever you want. But that worship at church does not always have to be "dishonest," persay.

When I was leading worship, I liked to start off with the songs that were more of "this is where I am right now," and lead into songs that were more joyful. Not that everyone (or even most people) can deal with all their spiritual baggage from that weak or that season of their life in one worship service. But it simulates the process, much like Psalm 77. Asaph goes on for 9 verses about what a horrid state he's in, and then says, "To this I will appeal, the years of the right hand of the Most High," and spends the rest of the Psalm praising God for how He has been there for Israel.

Many of the songs I mentioned above are frequently played songs, and even the songs that are more describing where we WANT to want to be can be just what we need to develop that meaningful worship experience. When I was dealing with everything that was going through my mind and heart after our miscarriage (not that I have ceased, it is still very much an ongoing process), songs about God's faithfulness and choosing to trust in the midst of struggle, as well as the songs that simply praised God and expressed joy, were ALL songs that "cut me to the quick," bringing me very easily to a place of both worship and petition. And I have just as easily had those moments at a Switchfoot concert, on the subway, even going to see Anna Nalick in concert (and she only has one song whose lyrics sound even remotely like any of the myriad songs U2 has done that cry out to God.

All that to say, I do not think a worship experience needs relegated to dependence on the quality, style, tone, or even lyrics of a song, necessarily. But that it is more dependent on our heart and how willing we are to be vulnerable in a particular place and time. Could it be that you finding it easier to worship at a U2 concert has more to do with what feels like home to you than the lyrics of "worship music?"

Just a thought...

Tia Lynn said...

Very well said. I would never want to go the other extreme and banish songs of pure praise, joy, and devotion. I would just like to see more of a mix represented. I do love alot of traditional worship songs as well. :)