Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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thoughts about isolation in worship and music

I have the worst migraine in history! October is "migraine month" as a general rule; and this is the only severe migraine I have had. That's probably a minor miracle. I have lost a lot of sleep lately, not eaten very well, bordered on having another infection, been in some bad acoustical environments, and endured the changing of the season; and I have had only one migraine. I really should not complain. My cats are here in my bedroom, I have the door closed, and I have lots of pillows while I study. I have slept too many hours to count during the last 36 hours. It's time to be working ... or at least reflecting. Maybe doing something rewarding will take my mind off this while the pain meds hopefully kick in since the Imitrex did nothing.

I realize, while reading through the recent entries, that I did not write about my reaction to the passage in the Willimon book that upset me. Maybe it's well that I didn't write about it at the time. I have additional things to write now that provide a better perspective.

The passage is from p. 81. It says:

My sense is that pastors will need to expend more of their pastoral energies, in a rootless, mobile society, pondering the requirements for truly Christian koinonia. On Sunday, those elements of worship, those rituals that help unite us, are to be emphasized. Those that fragment and isolate believers from one another are to be avoided. Individual glasses of wine at Communion, individual bits of bread, individual worshipers in silent meditation, solos rather than congregational hymns, are all questionable acts of communal worship in the light of this koinonia principle. Indeed, private meditation is best on other days, in other services of worship.
Sunday is a day to get together, and the pastor, as the leader of worship, bears primary responsibility for gathering the church.

The church is a community gathered around the story of God in Jesus Christ as recounted in Scripture. The pastor bears the chief burden of lifting up that story to the church on a weekly basis, to "open the Scriptures" to those who, in baptism, are called to align their lives to this story. We will say more about this crucial pastoral task in our reflection upon the pastor as interpreter of Scripture and the pastor as preacher. For now, let us note that the normative scriptural encounter for the church is in Sunday worship. Think of the church as primarily a place where we are taught to read in away that is Christian. Christian reading of Scripture ought to be communal, public, in the context of those who prepare for the challenges of faithful reading by confession of sin, by forgiveness, by praise, and by daring to read in common with fellow Christians, including the saints down through the ages. All of this is necessary for the arduous task of listening to God's Word in a world where we are taught to submit to no other word than that which is contemporary (literally, "with the times") and self-derived.

I had a very emotional reaction when I read this. Much of it was driven by my experiences in chapel this semester. I never realized how isolated I felt in church over the years until now! The feelings of isolation are extremely painful now, whereas in the past they came only at particular moments. After church, people stood around and chatted, often for as long as an hour. The conversations did not last so long individually; but often when one was finished, another began. I, having no one to talk with, was required to wait patiently by my mother's side until she was ready to leave. Other children and youth wandered around; but I was not allowed to do so. The perception was likely that I could not navigate well in a crowded setting--my parents were not well educated about what they should expect of me in terms of getting around at specific ages, and the result was that they tended to keep me close at hand unless they knew that I was being "chaperoned." This, unfortunately, led me to behave as if I was much less capable than I truly was for many years. It disabled me much more than I should have been disabled; and it isolated me at church.

I have always experienced intense anger whenever people passed the offering plate over me instead of handing it to me to pass along. In fact, I experience the same feelings in classrooms when I am not included in the passing of handouts. It is as if I don't exist. Whether or not I put anything in, whether or not I actually take a handout, I still want to be included in the goings-on. The rest of the people in the congregation sometimes pass the plate without putting anything in. They aren't skipped over in the passing simply because they have no coins in their hands! I wasn't skipped because I had no money in my hand--and sometimes I was skipped when I did have money in my hand! I was skipped because I didn't see the plate coming and didn't reach out to take it. I developed a habit of sitting forward and trying to turn my head often enough to determine which side the plate was coming from. Sometimes I saw it, but if my head was turned in the opposite direction, I was passed as usual. I felt too awkward asking, "Please tell me when the plate is coming." Shouldn't it be obvious that I'd like to do what everyone else is doing? Did people think I wouldn't know what to do with the plate?

I don't remember feeling isolated by not being able to sing hymns. I remember feeling excited when I occasionally knew one; but most of the time I didn't, and I just enjoyed listening to the harmony around me. We had some wonderful singers in our church, and I loved to hear them sing! Eventually, I learned a few choruses and joined in when I could. My feelings were probably tempered by the fact that I was active in performing solos, duets, etc. Every few weeks, I got a break from being a non-participant in the service... And when I started writing music, I had a place to sing. In time, this led to invitations to sing at other events and church services. Without those opportunities, my music ministry would never have developed. In fact, I probably would never have begun writing songs at all: for the person who first encouraged me only came into contact with me because he was a songwriter who played the guitar and needed a pianist who could play by ear for one of his solos. Had we employed Willimon's strategy, I would have remained a non-participant; and my ministry gift would have remained dormant. I had intended to write about these things separately, but I see now that they cannot be separated. They are interlinked pieces of my life. Music is the thing that first helped my faith to take root. It is the thing that gave me strength during the darkest days of my life emotionally. It is one of the primary tools of my ministry over the years. And it is the one thing that can isolate me from the community of believers, simply because I cannot read the words and notes on a page or screen. Music has been transformed from an auditory to a visual medium. And without music, I am not only isolated from the community but disabled from worship. Someone once suggested that I just substitute the word "Jesus" for all the notes. What an insult! That isn't worship at all! I might as well sing "watermelon" and call it worship! If such a thing is worship, then why do we quarrel so much over the use of hymns and choruses? No wonder I experience so much anger about it!

In John Aukerman's class, we had a brief discussion about the use of hymns vs. choruses. The author of one of our texts is clearly in favor of hymns and seems to believe that the use of choruses limit the discussion of matters of faith to the realm of experience rather than theological text. I bristle when I read things like this, remembering how many "choruses" are lifted straight from biblical text and how many hymns are based on the writer's experience. Speaking as a songwriter, the issue isn't about the length of the song. It is about the depth. Some things are best said briefly. I won't argue that there is a lot of bad music used in churches; but it isn't all choruses and it isn't all new. If we limit ourselves to the old because we fear that the new won't be theologically sound, we have already excluded young people from dialogue and instead made them captive to our "truth" as if they have nothing to offer. I'm glad that my church was never like this! My theology may have needed a bit of work, but at least I had the room to grow!


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