Songs That Drive You Mad

Very funny post at Stuff Christians Like regarding overdone and maddening worship songs (via Think Christian). Much as many the tunes to many traditional hymns leave me trying to stay awake or reaching out for the Prozac, and much as their words mean I need a concordance (maybe not so bad a thing), it set me off thinking about some of the daft lyrics and actions associated with worship songs and choruses. I’m not touching on the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ phenomenon, but here are some easy targets:

Actions: I don’t want to be treated like I’m in Sunday School. So having to run on the spot or wave my arms during ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower’ – no thanks. Nor the down to my knees and up in the air during ‘Lord, I lift your name on high’- if I want a Mexican wave, I’ll go to a sporting event. Besides, I’ve heard too many worship leaders play the intro to that song just like Steve Miller’s ‘The Joker’. One day, I’m going to hear someone singing in worship, ‘Some call me the space cowboy’. It might be me.

And please, no having to put my hands together and flap them like a bird during ‘The power of your love’, when it comes to the line about ‘I’ll fly like an eagle’. My five-year-old and three-year-old do this. I’m forty-eight.

Words: Where do I begin? Much as I like Delirious?, I can’t get my head around the imagery at the beginning of ‘I could sing of your love forever’. ‘Over the mountains and the sea, your river runs with love for me’ – just tell me how a river can run over the sea. Can’t say I’ve ever seen it. And I’m no dancer, so ‘Oh, I feel like dancing’ – well, actually, no. God bless you if you do. Just don’t ask me as one friend did once whether the Lord has released me in dance. Sorry, I’m an introvert; I know that’s a sin, and I’m getting help. (Not really.)

Or there’s plain biblical sloppiness. Pride of place goes here to Robin Mark’s ‘Days of Elijah’. ‘These are the days of your servant David, rebuilding a temple of praise’. Well, David may have been ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’, but God forbade him to build the temple, because he was a man of blood. Solomon got the gig.

Then there are songs where biblical material is taken over without translation to our culture. If we just quote the Authorised Version or an obscure bit of the Old Testament, that will be deep. Step forward that old favourite, ‘Pierce my ear’ (or ‘Lacerate my nose’, as a friend dubbed it).

Plus there are the ones where a little more thought could have been given to their writing. Ishmael had an old song about God giving us various body parts to use for his praise. Nice idea, apart from the thought that we might look like multiple amputees without God’s help, and I just would never have picked ‘Lord you put a tongue in my mouth’ with teenagers.

I write this, aware that it’s all too easy to score points and get some cheap laughs. I also know that just as in any other period of history, we are in an editing process, and not all the drivel will survive. But the phenomenon of nonsense in worship is a serious issue. Why do worship leaders and publishers let this stuff through? Once, I challenged a worship leader about this, and he said, ‘I just choose something because it works.’ Works in what sense? Sounds good, or fits into a ‘set’, like a gig, I’d suggest.

So – I invite you to post comments about the songs you think need more attention or terminal care, and why. But I’d be just as interested to have a conversation about the reasons for this, and how we might respond (apart from not choosing the stuff).

Technorati Tags: , ,

14 comments

  1. dave,

    have you read “And now let’s move into a time of nonsense: why worship songs are failing the church” by Nick Page.

    Makes some very good points (likely to upset a lot of people too).

    Like

  2. Chris Tomlin has a song called “Indescribable” – the chorus uses these words…

    Indescribable, Uncontainable,
    You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
    You are amazing God.
    All powerful, Untameable,
    Awestruck we fall to our knees and we humbly proclaim,
    You are amazing God.

    Webster’s dictionary defines “indescribable” as “Incapable of being described.”

    So what I don’t get is…how can a song in one line call God “indescribable” and then proceed to spend the rest of the song describing God? God is not indescribable – we describe him all of the time. So describable – you are amazing God!

    Like

  3. Thanks, Nate – rather like Matt Redman writing, ‘O my words could not tell, not even in part, of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart.’ I take the spirit of what he means, but if words cannot tell even in part, why use them? Sounds like had a problem getting the right rhyme.

    Like

  4. Some interesting thoughts here and while I am six years older than you I don’t mind the odd bit of hand waving or whatever.
    There are lots of hymns/songs that do have rather strange lyrics and some with dirge like tunes that do not carry the words very well and yes the theology might not always be too good but I always think that worship music is very subjective – some like one style some like another but it doesn’t necessarily mean that iether is right or wrong.
    I remember around 26 years ago going to a guild meeting where the subject was ‘Lost in Wonder Love and Praise’ and the man referred
    to one of the hymn books of the day as ‘Sounds of flushing waters’ which seemed a little unfair to me especially as we still had the old Methodist Hymn Book in use and as a fairly young man I quite liked the book he was being critical of.

    Like

  5. Fat Prophet, I think you’re right about subjectivity. Personal taste plays a rôle in musical and lyrical styles. There are issues beyond those of what is being communicated, though.

    And in another sense, I’m not averse to the odd bit of hand-waving: I am, after all, theologically and experientially a charismatic – just a quiet one, which gives me (or others) some problems in some circles. Perhaps what I might have made more clear is a concern about the element of compulsion – whether actions are expected, or very definitely not expected.

    Also, with some of the songs mentioned in the ‘Actions’ section of the post, I think it’s a concern about marking the difference between childlikeness and childishness. I don’t mind performing actions for what are children’s songs, and helping the kids feel fully part of the worship as equal partners. I have some concerns, though, in thoroughly adult settings, with an expectation that we’re all going to behave like children. I wonder whether it betrays an underlying immaturity, and even a desire not to mature and face adult issues. Then again, there may be a much more innocent explanation.

    Like

  6. Dave
    What about ‘just having fun’ worshipping? Sometimes it can be extremely liberating in a week of exhausting adultness.I went to a quiet day and was offered a walk along a muddy path and thought at first I wouldn’t go. Then thought “why not?” I got plastered in mud and laughed a lot. It did me good. Can we have fun in worship. Is fun in worship biblical? I guess we are all different about what constitutes fun too.

    Like

  7. Hi Mandy,

    Great to hear from you. I have no problem with fun (despite my predilection for miserable music, as you may remember!). I think there’s a difference between fun and nonsense. There’s also an issue about people of one personality type forcing their style on others, and that cuts both ways. Extraverts force introverts to conform, and vice versa.

    Like

  8. I am concerned about the attitudes towards praise songs. I hate being told that none of:

    – bad theology
    – lack inclusive language
    – banal lyrics
    – unexciting music

    matter because it is a “praise/worship song”.

    Why can’t I worship with good theology, inclusive language, lyrics that make my spine tingle (for the right reasons) and music that really sets my feet tapping? If fact how dare anyone suggest that anything else is adequate.

    Saying something is for praise or worship should not mean it can be rubbish – quite the opposite in fact.

    It is also important to note that none of these requirements mean that praise songs can’t be fun. I am just as strongly against worship that is not fun – just that so often everything else gets droppe3d in order for it to be fun.

    Like

  9. Dave W, ~C,

    Thanks for your comments. In contrast to what I’m saying, my old college friend David Flavell had an article in the latest magazine from Methodist Evangelicals Together, which is typically provocative about worship. He points out it’s a myth that early Methodist worship was all of the highest poetical standards. Early Methodists sang doggerel too, but a sifting process has taken place over the years so that we are now only left with the better material from those days. This, of course, is demonstrably true. However, in an age of faster communication, I believe we may be able to make quicker decisions about some of the worship material that is patently theologically poor. Other issues, such as musical style and taste will be far more subjective (however much some people want to lobby for the innate superiority of their favourite musical forms). To that end, I believe that in our day, the editing process, as practised by publishers, worship leaders, ministers, preachers, Christian trend-setters and so on, could have dealt with some of these songs if we really were serious about worshipping in spirit and in truth.

    Like

  10. Hi
    Having sung from the Methodist Hymn book for a while (great songs in there too and some strange ones) and moved onto Songs of Fellowship Books 1-4 / Source etc. as well -It seems to me that variety is the stuff of life. I never ceased to be amazed at how God uses all sorts of things – me included. I suppose not limiting him is important by whatever lyrics or style of music we use or choose. Personally, I don’t often get the chance for ‘fun’ in worship – sorry that others are fed up with it – please tell me where to visit! Great to hear others comments. Thanks.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s