Concentrating on worship (Preface B)

Preface, Part B:  personal leadership aspects, and prioritization of the vertical

Worship has for many years been a special area of calling for me.  Its significance in my life may be seen in my literary and musical outputs, in my print and audio libraries, and in my experiences.wpid-img_20150905_131041_265.jpg

Starting in my teens at the Cedars Church in Wilmington, DE, and continuing with opportunities at Camp Manatawny, Harding University, and beyond, I was[1] a worship leader.  The most regular, significant worship leading opportunities came in three related venues:

  • Cedars congregational assemblies, youth group devotionals, and retreats
  • Sr. High II week hymn sings at Camp Manatawny, 1998-2001
  • LIGHTS vocal band performances

Certainly not always, but often, I felt I was effective in those roles, bearing kingdom fruit.

For the last ten years, though, I have had only a few opportunities[2] to lead others in worship.  My own private worship veins have simultaneously been developing a severe case of sclerosis (which begs a chicken-egg question).  Wondering some days whether I still have something to offer, I feel somewhat like a dying man trying to do something worthwhile, to set things straight before things change more drastically.

Please don’t mistake the import of the above paragraph for me as an individual:  the words you just read were not at all easy to type.  They have undergone no material change since I first typed them.  In other words, I wish I could look back and moderate the words, realizing I had been dramatic in overstating the case, but I can’t do that honestly.  The words above speak truth wrestled from my wincing soul.  What I am attempting to do here is to process things deeply held and experienced . . . all the while realizing that I am not living as a devoted, worshipping being at this juncture.

In this blog series, I will revisit some concepts, some vocabulary, some texts, and some quotations and sayings, in order to refine my philosophy and practice—and in order to try once again to do something for the sake of God’s reign in human hearts, in spite of my own lack.

While worship is related to human life and to the horizontal connecting of humans one to another, it is the vertical expression of humble adoration and homage to the Lord that appears prioritized—both in scripture and in self-evident existential reality.

To the first point:  Jesus said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Mark 12, ISV).

Hebrews 13:15-16 appears to echo this prioritization.

And to the second point, a quotation:

Any explanation of why men worship should probably begin with the simple idea that they just do, that they are made to worship.  It appears undeniably true that one of the hardest jobs which could be undertaken would be to find either on the contemporary scene or in the archeological records of antiquity any race or civilization devoid of worship. . . .  This homage-paying has often been from those who deny that they do worship; but be their object of reverence God or gods, crocodiles or cows, man himself, money or science, all men, with but few exceptions, worship something.   In his book Ascent to Zion, S. Arthur Devan says, “. . .  Worship remains, because the impulse to worship is elemental and universal.”

– Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., “The Objectives of Worship,” from Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God, © 1969 Firm Foundation

Next:  philosophical and scholarly aspects of this current worship pursuit


[1] I struggled with the tense here.  “Was”?  “Have been”?  “Once functioned as”?  This type of question transcends the grammatical for me.

[2] Perhaps more responsibility for the last decade falls to me, i.e., I could have made a few more opportunities.

Musical outlets

poetrymusicA couple of decades ago, friends in the East would sometimes comment, in the context of Lights (an a cappella octet with which I was deeply involved for nearly a decade) that it must be great for me to have an “outlet for my music.”

Music is indeed a large part of life for me.  This prefatory sentence alone is probably sufficient to set the stage for whatever musically themed posts appear in coming days/weeks/months.

In the course of my blog’st’ry (blog history), I’ve written relatively little of depth about music, rather referring to it mostly tangentially.  (I have written here & there about worship music or other music for the Christian assembly — subtopics that represent a relatively small piece of the music pie for me.)

Maybe it’s time to delve more deeply into this thing that has played such a major part in shaping my life (thanks to the Lord who provided for it).  I’ll still regularly draw lines from musical to spiritual topics, but the musical jumping-off points might be a little more deeply musician-y at times.  After all, this is the area of my greatest formal education, so it makes sense that musical experience and insight might help to shed light on other things.  Today’s topic is fairly general:  musical creativity and outlets for it.

Those folks in the DE/NJ/PA “tri-state area” were right about the significance of the Lights vocal group and the musical opportunities it provided:  although my congregational schema offered only narrow avenues, with Lights I had a place to use some additional gifts.  So, with and for that group, I wrote, I arranged, I corresponded, I collaborated with Scott and the whole group, I directed, I planned, and I sang.  The creation of music — mostly, arrangements that were tailored for those particular singers — was the most personally fulfilling of those activities, and I did a lot of creating.  There were always multiple projects and revisions in the hopper.

During that time, I was also somewhat active in conducting, and playing horn with, community music ensembles — namely, the First State Symphonic Band, the Newark Symphony Orchestra, the Newark Community Band, and the Cecil County Choral Society.  Other outlets included compiling and editing three different songbook supplements for my congregation.  With some committee buy-in, I inserted a few of my original songs into those supplements — a decision some might have viewed askance, but I never heard any negative comments first-hand, and it was, regardless, an “outlet.”

A particularly exciting time period saw me composing and arranging for the teenage group I worked with closely.  Several teenagers’ poems became songs that their own group later sang, and that whole experience was nigh unto spiritually enthralling.  I was being used for good.

One of the discouragements I face these days is the lack of such meaningful outlets.  Frankly, I’ve tired of singing and of vocal groups.  (I don’t watch any of the singing competition shows, and “Glee” makes me retch for more than one reason.)  But there is a part of me that harks¹ back wistfully to those days of pouring so much spiritual, mental, and technological energy into creating Christian music.

During our New York sojourn, I had significant outlets, and even some new ones as part of my work life.  These opportunities led to hours upon hours spent in service of an institution and its programs.  I arranged, I composed, I re-composed, and I transcribed.  Transcribing is, at its core, moving music from one medium to another, and I did that according to the strong mix of student talents available then.  One student performed a piano piece, various small instrumental groups performed chamber works, horn students worked through my etude book, and my large ensembles performed a couple of compositions (including Faces of Foster and Bounce) and several transcriptions (including chorales from Harding’s Chi Sigma Alpha, Schubert, Great Songs of the Church No. 2 with Supplement, and Beethoven) and a re-transcription of three well-known movements of the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition.  Flute and cello, by the way, make gloriously sonorous, supportive sounds to accompany “Instruments of Your Peace.”  Most of those transcription activities were very fulfilling; I felt energized by the creation, rehearsal, and performance aspects, to varying degrees.

In the church-congregation sphere in western NY — for reasons of distance, philosophy, and opinions — musical outlets were not really open, so I eventually redirected energies toward our small group/house church, but there wasn’t all that much place for creativity in the worship/music area there, either.  Looking back, my composition of Christian songs has virtually dried up since living moving from Kansas in 2004, and I find little use anywhere for arrangements or songs that I’ve written, although I make an average of maybe $50 a year in CCLI income.

It is with some of this history in mind that I share the following song, which, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, is probably the best original music (given its topic and genre) that I’ve produced in 4-5 years.  Thinking back to my teen years, I wrote songs for at least four girlfriends.  The song below, in clear contrast, was written in tribute to a very neurotic, tiny dog owned by our dear, generous friend, Martha P.  The dog really appeared to go into a depression every time Martha left the room.  Katie, by the way, had no middle name.  I tried to bolster her self-confidence by providing her with three.

Enjoy the song.  I have zero concerns over copyright with this!  Maybe the last line will help you a little, as it helps me, in a light-hearted way.

Katie's Song

 


¹ Yup, it’s “harks back,” not “hearkens back.”  “Hearken” means “listen.”

 

Voices: Lights j-card

I wrote these introductory words many moons ago for the “J-card” insert for a Lights album that was studio-recorded and produced on cassette.  I recently happened on them and thought I would share them here.

Come To Me (W & M by Brian Casey.  © 1995 ENCOUNTER Music)

Gentle Jesus’ posture toward us is more than your basic, churchy “invitation” or “altar call.”  For one thing, He invites those oppressed & repressed by legalism’s obsessions to understand His priorities.  It’s an inviting message of grace, of relief from man-made, back-breaking burdens.  The Pharisees (and those around them) needed to hear the words of Matthew 11:28-30.  Maybe you do, too?

Thank you again, Gary Collier, for the ever-timely thoughts expressed in The Forgotten Treasure.  I deeply appreciate you for inspiring more than this song.

Editor’s Note:  Gary has placed a link to a recording of this song on one of his websites.  It may be accessed here.

He’ll Do Whatever It Takes  (W & M by Dan Dean.  © 1994 Dawn Treader Music.  Arr. Casey    Used by permission.)

Understanding and internalizing grace is so much more than knowing about grace.  What’s required for me to be right with Him?  More than I can ever do … that’s for sure.  No matter who I’ve been or how far I’ve run, His love will run farther.  His passionate desire for me is more than I deserve.  And as I truly look to Him, I see Him doing whatever it takes to get me back where I belong.

(This song was dedicated in love to someone I knew at the time — someone who had slipped away and who was having trouble coming back.)

Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (1)

Introduced by a well-meaning young believer to some of David Crowder’s thoughts, I was recently reminded of how common the “whole-life worship” idea is.  It has been assumed and/or advanced by countless Christian songwriters and authors, and is pervasive—not only in pop Christian culture, but also in some more reputable, and perhaps dated, Christian writers.  A 1990 work of J.I. Packer, and his reference to Puritan interpretation, is referred to in this clearly well-intended, although overstated and often misstated, sermon transcript that I found in a quick search.

Another example:  Mike Root’s Spilt Grape Juice, a 1993 look at the assembly, is one I believed to have traveled the no-worship, all-horizontal path.  I never read it, but here, a reviewer differs with Root “on the subject of Godward, vertical praise being abrogated in the New Testament.”  The reviewer acknowledges that “Worship in all of life” is Root’s mantra and demurs, as I would.

It’s not as though whole-life worship is a bad idea, in essence, but two aspects cause me to take exception to its ramifications.  First, speaking from a pragmatic, realistic point of view, the notion of giving oneself wholly to God at every moment is, at best, captivating but unattainable.  I’m reminded of a most respected brother who, in a Christian musical enterprise in which we shared, was reluctant to arrange the Avalon song “Testify To Love” that used over-the-top expressions such as “with every breath I take I will testify to love.”  (Later, he politely gave in to filial pressure and did arrange it, but that’s beside the point.)  These kinds of thoughts call us higher; on the other hand, they can depress us even as they expound on lofty, unattainable ideals.

For every women’s conference that encourages sisters to look at all the dishes and consider that each one washed is an act of worship … for every Promise Keepers “totally sold out” and “go all out for God (and your wife and kids)” event … for every youth function that has featured speakers encouraging youth to do every single thing for the glory of God, we could find 99 believers who’ve been inspired and then have nearly expired trying to live up to all that.  Again, it’s a great idea, and one to which God seems to want us to aspire (but not to attain fully)—or else Rom. 12:1-2 and Col. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 10:31, etc., wouldn’t have been scribed.  Essentially the “everything for God’s glory” as a raison d’etre is a high, worthy calling, but it is ultimately frustrating for us sinners, and it does not quite touch the actual idea of worship.

While I believe that (vertical) worship must not be confined to the assembly but, rather, should surface regularly—i.e., on all days of the week in the heart and voice of the Christian—considering every deed to be Christian worship is neither logically warranted nor helpful.  This idea has the potential to leave many in its idealistic wake, and it also obscures the meaning of certain passages such as Romans 12:1.  For more, please check yesterday’s post and the one before that, and …

Please continue with me tomorrow.