Worship and Song
Insights The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary
Wall • McNeill • Jones • Hall • Thompson Robinson • Schwarz • Wiginton • Todd • White
The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary Fall 2019
Editor: David F. White Editorial Board: Carolyn Helsel, David Johnson, and Randal Whittington The Faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Margaret Aymer Gregory L. Cuéllar Bridgett Green William Greenway David H. Jensen David W. Johnson Bobbi Kaye Jones Carolyn B. Helsel Philip Browning Helsel Paul K. Hooker
Timothy D. Lincoln Jennifer L. Lord Suzie Park Cynthia L. Rigby Asante U. Todd Eric Wall Theodore J. Wardlaw David F. White Melissa Wiginton
Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary
is published two times each year by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. e-mail: email@example.com Web site: austinseminary.edu Entered as non-profit class bulk mail at Austin, Texas, under Permit No. 2473. POSTMASTER: Address service requested. Send to Insights, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. © Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Printing runs are limited. Permission to copy articles from Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary for educational purposes may be given by the editor upon receipt of a written request. The past six issues of Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary are available on our website: AustinSeminary.edu/Insights. Some previous issues are available on microfilm through University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (16 mm microfilm, 105 mm microfiche, and article copies are available). Insights is indexed in Religion Index One: Periodicals, Index to Book Reviews in Religion, Religion Indexes: RIO/RIT/IBRR 1975- on CD-ROM, Religious & Theological Abstracts, url:www.rtabstracts.org & email:firstname.lastname@example.org, and the ATA Religion Database on CD-ROM, published by the American Theological Library Association, 300 S. Wacker Dr., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60606-6701; telephone: 312-454-5100; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.atla.com; ISSN 10560548.
COVER: “Rehearsal” by Beauford Delaney (1901–1979), ©1952, oil on canvas, 36 1/8" x 30 1/8”
signed; Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY. Detail of “Rehearsal” in black and white appears on page 3.
Theodore J. Wardlaw
Worship and Song 3
With Voices United: Singing (and other Music) in the Church by Eric Wall
The Church Birthed in Song
An Interview with Eric Wall
Hiding in Plain Sight: A Reflection on Leading Worship by Tony McNeill
Joining Hands Around the Table by Ann Laird Jones
Pastorsâ€™ Panel Monica Hall, Karen Thompson, Josh Robinson, Vikki Schwarz
29 Required Reading The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, by Willie J. Jennings, reviewed by Asante Todd; Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World by Gil Rendle, reviewed by Melissa Wiginton
33 Christianity & Culture The Contested Status of Truth by David F. White
he church in Atlanta that I served for almost twelve years before coming to Austin Seminary worships in a beautiful and active “urban cathedral” in deep downtown, directly across the street from the Georgia Capitol building. One of my favorite spaces there was its stone gothic chapel attached to its sanctuary building. That chapel, roughly the same size as Shelton Chapel here at the Seminary, has a series of beautiful stained-glass windows that tell the story of the faith. One window, my favorite, sits in a recessed transept near the chancel and overlooks the organ console. One of the panels in the window features St. Cecilia, the patroness saint of musicians. Another panel features St. Augustine of Hippo, an early theologian who had a huge influence on John Calvin and ongoing heirs to the Reformed tradition. Augustine, a fan of the power of singing, once said, “The one who sings, prays twice”—hence his appearance in that chapel’s music window. Eric Wall, the Seminary’s assistant professor of sacred music and dean of the chapel, explores the many dimensions of singing in his lead article of this issue of Insights. Singing, as he notes, is everywhere in the Bible, and it works with words until words and music “expand one another in partnership.” Singing is a mystery, is an act of memory, is risky, has elements of both the individual and collective responses, and involves so much more. Tony McNeill, director of choral activities at Clinton College and worship consultant at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, explores what it means to be a worship leader “hiding in plain sight.” Dealing once with the necessity, thanks to a church’s liturgical architecture, of having to lead from the space’s back instead of its front, Tony discovered and now reflects upon the gift of “getting out of the way and modeling a posture of leading worship from ‘behind and under’ versus ‘in front and over.’” Ann Laird Jones, an accomplished potter, dwells in her article not so much on singing, as on the act of gathering around the Table for communion. Over against the ethos of our often pulpit-dominated liturgies, Ann Jones argues for an intersection between arts and the Word that enables us to experience the presence of God in every part of the worshipping space—even a non-verbal presence. “Anamnesis at Table is never static,” she says. “It is movement and life and gesture and longing and realized presence of God with us.” Sometimes that involves something as simple and as silent as touch. Also ahead in this issue are reflections from pastors Monica Hall, Karen Thompson, Josh Robinson, and Vikki Schwarz regarding the role and theology of music in the life of the church. And one last grateful note: this is the last issue of Insights presided over by Dr. David White. David has given this responsibility his typically thorough and faithful attention, and we are grateful to him for this work. We will welcome Dr. Bill Greenway’s editorship in the Spring issue of Insights. Thank you, David! Welcome, Bill! Read, enjoy, and reflect upon the mystery of “praying twice” in the various postures through which we worship! Theodore J. Wardlaw, President 2
With Voices United:
Singing (and other Music) in the Church Eric Wall Voices Arising
here is a brief but remarkable orchestral work by early twentieth-century American composer Charles Ives: At Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose. It is a sound portrait of an event in Ives’ memory: the May 7, 1915, sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania. More precisely, it is a portrait of the commuters at a train station who hear the news of the sinking; more precisely still, it is not strictly an orchestral piece because it begins with singing. Over a mysterious, troubled orchestral murmur, we hear a unison chorus singing the ancient Te Deum chant:
We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee.
The music goes on to recall Ives’ own experience at the train station, when the mourning crowd heard a nearby organ grinder begins playing a hymn tune, “In the
Eric Wall is assistant professor of sacred music and dean of the chapel at Austin Seminary; he also serves as the conference center musician at Montreat Conference Center. Wall is a frequent contributor to Call to Worship and provides music and planning leadership for denominational conferences and gatherings across the country. He is a member of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and the American Guild of Organists.
Worship and Song Sweet By-and-By.” The crowd began singing, a swelling chorus diminished only by the arriving train and the dispersing people. In the orchestra, we hear evocations of the crowd’s mounting distress in clotted instrumental textures and harmonies, until at the wrenching pinnacle we hear the hymn tune ringing out in the brass, an anguished howl. Despite actual voices at the beginning (“We praise thee, O God”), Ives chooses not to portray the hymn-singing moment so literally. Does the absence of voices at this point conjure the silenced voices of the ocean tragedy? The hymn’s meaning here is less about its words and more about history, memory, and sweetness turned sorrowful. There are two hymns in this work; one is voiced (Te Deum) and one is unvoiced (By-and-By), yet both sing. Singing brings meaning. “What do you mean, meaning?” asked Leonard Bernstein in his book, The Joy of Music. In an imagined conversation, a Lyric Poet is waxing on how drive-by hills “are pure Beethoven.” Bernstein deconstructs, even dismantles, the metaphor. Music’s meaning, he argues, is not in metaphor or “translation,” as though music’s meaning were extra-musical. Music’s meaning is inherent to itself, in the notes themselves: their sounds, patterns, and interplay. He speaks of the jeux de notes: the game of notes. He does not deny other kinds of reactions to music or extra-musical associations; he just won’t mistake them for the inherent meanings in music itself—meanings which reside in music’s being music. Music’s existence in sound may sweep various things into its cluster of meaning. Words and notes work separately but also as partners; memory, history, occasion, and purpose are at work also. Think of any song you really love: you may be able to hum the tune or say the words, but it is hard to isolate either one. It may even be difficult just to think of the song. Our mind’s ear may hear it silently, but the urge to bring the song to life, if only to hum or mouth words, is hard to resist. Part of the life of songs is in their singing. Singing is everywhere in the Bible. Psalms command new songs and envision all of creation singing—humans, hills, trees, fields, waters. Paul exhorts and encourages: “with gratitude in your hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Miriam, Hannah, Mary, Zechariah, angels, the whole company of heaven around the throne: all leave speech behind and rise to songfulness. Instruments are called for and sounded. Part of what this tells us is that our own voices matter; we participate in creation’s chorus. It assures us that we can sing, because our voices are God’s gift. In his book The Singing Thing, John Bell asks, “Why do we sing?” and gives a list of answers that begin with a short one: “Because we can.” If so much can contribute to the meanings in song, why does Bernstein call special attention to music’s inherent meaning as music? I think it is not to wave away non-musical realities that come to be embedded in our musical experience, but to help us to be aware of music as itself. Art cannot bring its gifts without rising to its own fullness, and those gifts are less about words or cognition and more about inner landscapes, psychological-emotional mapping, a hyper-real sense of transcendence. There are two moments (among many) in the Bible that touch on the heights and depths that words do not reach. One is Psalm 19: “There is no speech, nor are 4
Wall there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (vv. 3-4). Another is Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” This is a theological reality at work when a congregation sings, overlapping with and yet distinct from a song’s textual claims. A song’s words may be “about something” (story, prophecy, exhortation, thanksgiving, doctrine); its music is also about something, doing its own work, partnered but still whole. It is not so much that music is making words “better,” as if the words were incomplete (in fact, some words are better if music leaves them alone). It is more that words and music expand one another in partnership. A song in the singing expands even more, because singing is itself theological: a holy act. Breath and voice are incarnational; community is knit together in singing; songs help the community remember the past and imagine a future. It is important to remember these multiple dimensions to the church’s song so that we don’t choose songs without thinking about singing, nor ask songs only to do their work “ahead of time.” A song might be chosen two weeks or two months in advance because its words give textual assent to something else—scripture or sermon, for instance. Word-wise, the song works. A song’s instrumental accompaniment may be meticulously rehearsed in advance. (As an organist, I know the delight of finding the right harmony and sounds; bands or praise teams will create song arrangements, assembling what works in their hands and voices.) But these pre-worship aspects to a song—why it’s chosen, how it’s practiced—are still waiting for the church to sing. We make certain things ready in advance of worship, and we ready ourselves for what may happen when the assembly takes hold of those things. Organist John Ferguson once advised song-leaders, “If you set the wrong tempo, the congregation will correct it when they come in.” Song-leaders (organists, guitarists, and others) work to let songs happen as singing. It is why, as an organist, I use the term “hymn playing” sparingly. It can seem backwards, as though the hymn-moment were a playing event rather than a singing event. It is a good thing to have different reasons for choosing and singing songs. Sometimes we start with text, to resonate with season, sermon, or sacrament. Sometimes we start with music, sensing that a song’s expressive flavor is needed in the balance of a service. Sometimes we start with people’s need to sing. These are all theological aspects of singing in worship, and whatever the entry point, we are eventually led to the singing moment, where these aspects converge. It is like entering the same room through different doors and still arriving in a common space. Perhaps you have had an experience of singing in worship when the words were the right ones, or it was led with musical skill, but it didn’t gel as you sang it. You were tagging along behind a textual idea or alongside a musical rendition, without quite being joined to either. Maybe the song was so busy describing the Eucharist that the actual meal was obscured. Maybe the song pushed you around emotionally, instructing your feelings rather than inviting your presence. Maybe the organ or the band was too loud and you couldn’t hear yourself or those around you. 5
Worship and Song Perhaps you also have had a different experience of singing in worship: when words, music, moment, breath, sound, accompaniment, and your own soul all converged and released your voice and others’. Maybe your own voice faltered and the voices around you carried you along. Something transcendent happened, when song and singers were so fully themselves that something else shone through. This is the work and the paradox of presiding and participating in worship: we rise into a fullness that makes us transparent so that something else is visible or audible.
Past, Present, Future In the Eucharist, the present meal we share remembers Jesus’ meal with disciples. This is the worship mystery known as anamnesis: active remembrance, a past event entered as a present reality through ritual action. We know how memory draws close in photos, scents, places. And as for music—well, “they’re playing our song.” We know the heart-song, the music that marks the life passage or holiday or moment when some transcendence or revelation is so vivid, so present, so clear, that the past leaps forward to join the present. Much is alive with the sound of music. Wells are deep and songs are buckets. What a song recalls, re-opens, or re-tells may be joy, wound, grief, nostalgia, gratitude, and much else, woven among notes no less than words, elusive yet tangible. This may at times be nearly unbearable—so much power, so great a sense of reality. A song’s “concert” may be strangely disconcerting. Songs in worship may be acts of memory, recalling and making present the community’s story, moments in faith formation, saints who went before us. They are part of how we participate in sacraments. Songs may be on the thin side of theology word-wise, yet music and singing allow us to “have church.” Sometimes the writers of music are considered creators and singers-players as re-creators, distinguishing past creation/original intent from present rendering. It is exegesis: What is in this text? What was embedded, intended, or assumed when this text came to be? Who would have first uttered and heard this and under what conditions and by what means? In classical music, for example, this can be a very definite kind of memory act, where a basic premise is asking what the composer meant and attending to textual fidelity: the notes, dynamics, tempo, and instrumental sound called for by the composer. That fidelity is intended to bring the work to life, and it does—at least an instance of the work. Jazz musicians might exegete differently, asking not only where has this tune been but also where could this tune go. The tune (which is a “text”) is an ever-present reality which the musician seeks to fulfill rather than define. The here-and-now of improvisation is an act of memory and of imagination. These examples are broad-brush painting, of course; across many genres of music, the creator/re-creator/co-creator questions are nuanced and varied. Musicians (and in the church’s worship, “musicians” includes every voice in the congregation) seek to bring something to life, rooted in the past yet happening now. As in preaching, which lives in the conversation between textual exegesis, the preacher’s textual encounter, and the community’s life, music’s life is found in this then-now 6
Wall exchange. It is a diaspora of time: a past-present-future community in which God’s gifts of sound, memory, and meaning all sing in life-giving chorus. Prolepsis is another mystic ritual moment, in which the future is enacted as though present. Singing in worship also summons the future: hymns and songs are signposts not just of how things were or are, but also of how they might be. The songwriter, at the moment or in the process of creation, says (in effect), What if? Those who sing say the same thing: What if? What if we made these sounds, uttered these words, offered this vision, cast this net? What if God’s future were like this? A hymn text by Mary Louise Bringle begins: Sing a new world into being, sound a bold and hopeful theme. Find a tune for silent yearnings, lend your voice and dare to dream. Dream a church where all who worship find their lives and loves belong. Sing a new world into being, sing as Christ inspires your song.1 African American spirituals often inhabit this space, where the future may be imagined but is not imaginary, where what is to come is also ecstatically present and unquestionably real. Music composed presumes a future in sound. In 1992, conductor Robert Shaw rehearsed Hector Berlioz’s Requiem for a Carnegie Hall workshop, achieving in rehearsal and performance an extraordinary unanimity of singing, playing, intention, and spirit (the workshop documentary can be heard and seen on YouTube). Written in 1837 for a first performance at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris, the music ranges from apocalyptic thunder (four brass bands surround the audience) to hushed and ineffable mystery. It is a composer’s interpretation of a liturgical text’s vision. Shaw, in a post-concert interview, spoke about the performance and the chorus, “Everybody in the group has a right to feel that Berlioz wrote the Requiem for this performance in Carnegie Hall—or at least that he wrote it with the faith that there would be performances like this, which is almost the same thing.”
Different Songs, Different Gifts Because singing in worship is bringing things into being, different kinds of song enable different things to happen. In the “Music and the Church” class here at Austin Seminary, we explore different forms of song—which really means different ways of singing. A hymn in three stanzas—in which we sing one stanza, pause for a good breath, then start over for stanza two, then pause again before stanza three—is one kind of singing experience. A Taizé chorus, such as “Jesus, Remember Me,” is short and may be repeated twenty to thirty times—a different experience. Both take place in time; both have cumulative power; but they are different. The first asks us not to miss any words; the second allows us to step in and out of the singing as we need. The first (in the “chapters” of its stanzas) invites us to move through the parts of a story; the second (in its repeated few words) invites us to move through a worship space while singing. The first may start firmly; the second may gradually take shape. Both experiences are different; both bring gifts. Still other song forms bring other gifts: the dialogue of a cantor and congregation, the extended flow and
Worship and Song cumulative journey of a song set; the liturgical responses we sing that affirm and deepen our prayers. Similarly, a song supported by the organ is different from a song supported by the piano or the guitar or the drum. All are different from a song supported by no instruments at all. What is required is an imaginative permission, allowing for the possibility that all of these ways of singing bring gifts and can bless us. Traditional, contemporary, worship wars, worship styles—these are real yet in many ways tired. Is music dividing a community by taste or knitting it together through gifts? When someone makes a claim that the organ is more appropriate than guitar, they’re (intentionally or not) making a theological argument, claiming (in effect), “God sounds like this but not like that.” If it isn’t a theological argument, then it’s about personal preference or community habit, and those are far shakier and certainly more tribal. This is not to dismiss the ways that music captivates us—whether it is lofty, beautiful, peppy, fun—or the musical sounds we naturally enjoy—instruments, styles, even volume. It is to say that even though it captivates us as music, it is answerable to a community whose main work is theological, not musical. Are we willing to sing other songs and hear other sounds for the sake of the gospel community? Jesus called disciples together because of their differences, not because of shared tastes or prior friendship. Of course, it is not always easy to sing new songs. It is not always easy even to sing.
Risk and Trust Singing is risky. There are any number of ways (literal or figural) we don’t trust our own voices. The higher our confidence as singers, the less we might think about this, but singing can be a vulnerable thing. It is personal, and not just because it sounds depths and joys within us. Singing can make us feel exposed, as though it were a physical attribute for others to observe. Sometimes people are told early in life to sing quietly—or not to sing at all—and that can fundamentally shape their narratives of their own voices. The more “professional” music in the church is, the more this narrative can be reinforced. This is not to speak against the faithful work of rehearsals, the stewardship of gifts, the wonder of beauty, or the dedication of professionals; I say this as a professional musician myself. It is to say that rehearsed music offered for others to hear may unwittingly create a “standard” that people feel is hard to live up to vocally. Church musicians hear this frequently; people are quick to say, “You don’t want to hear my voice.” We may fear being vocally inadequate or uneasy with a certain emotional expressiveness. We may have no experience looking up songs in a hymnbook or singing in group. It makes the community crucial: singing requires hospitality, kindness, encouragement, patience. We sometimes need new and welcoming narratives that allow us to love our own voices. It is not a musical standard, asking who sings well. It is a gospel standard, asking who needs inviting. Congregational song is also a matter of trust, which enables us to risk: • Trusting our voices: As noted, this is not always easy, but trusting our own voices as well as the voices of those around us is an act of gratitude to God, 8
Wall who not only creates our voices but asks for them as well. • Trusting the song-leader: This works in two ways. Congregations look to their leaders for cues, and there is an instinctive trust that develops when a congregation realizes that they are in loving hands, that their voices are invited, that they have time to breathe, that songs move at singing tempos, that instruments support them rather than assault them. It is also necessary for the song-leader to trust the people—to trust that they will sing, to trust the moments of breathing, to trust that the people are there. • Trusting songs: Songs are reliable. It is why, for example, folk-songs endure—they succeed in people’s voices. We trust familiar songs; if we choose one that “they know,” we tend to have confidence. Teaching and learning new songs needs trust also—the trust that the song will reveal itself and lend itself to our voices. • Trusting God: This was the core of Martin Luther’s theology of music— music as the gift of God. Can we trust that God will bring a blessing in our songs and through our voices?
Other Music Some prayers in worship are said by the congregation; others are said by individuals; all are corporate prayer. If the sermon and the rest of liturgy are all “one text,” a single multi-voiced ritual drama, then worship’s music is likewise: multi-voiced yet integrated. The congregation is at the center; other music adorns and deepens. We participate by singing and hearing. Besides the primary choir—the congregation— there may be praise teams, choirs, handbells, drum circles, organists, pianists, and abundant musical gifts among youth, children, and adults. Labels come all too easily to mind: big church/small church, high church/low church, traditional/contemporary. There is more common and fertile ground if we understand congregational song as an anchor and give ourselves permission to trust the gifts of different musical possibilities—a festival of song with an assortment of musical relationships. There is even “other music” in non-musical moments. Silence is musical. Musicians know that silence is active; we attend to it just as much as to sounding notes. Silence is not a pause in worship nor a neutral space; it is intentional, expressive. If prayer happens in silence, then silence needs time—time that is in rhythm with other elements of the service. There is tempo in the pacing of worship; transitions have rhythm. There can even be a kind of “loudness” in too many words, no matter the volume of speech, or a clutter and clatter of too many ideas without enough breathing room. This is not to reduce worship to the terms of music. Musical or non-musical, all of worship is offering prayers, stewarding mysteries, and telling stories, and these occur in an arena of beauty, wonder, and the heights and depths that share at times the stuff of art. The Joy of Music sits on a table just inside my office door. There are other music books in the office, as well as books about the church, theology, and the Bible, but this one always seems to end up in the same spot: the first book you see when en9
Worship and Song tering and the last you see when leaving. It was in the same place in a former North Carolina office and is the same copy I purchased around 1980, as a kid being pulled into music’s world. It is falling apart from decades of reading and re-reading—an anamnestic book of fascination and formation. Perhaps it is the book’s title, which, along with the now-frail pages, is about certain ways the world makes sense. Music, for a musician, is an inner, whole world. Does the musician fulfill that wholeness or surrender some of it when making music in worship? I think the musician does both; fulfillment and surrender are part of the life of faith. In Hanover Square, Ives seeks to capture something of a day when the world didn’t make sense, when singing might restore some meaning. In hearing it, we might think we hear anonymous voices, but they are really something like the chorus in Greek drama, telling part of a story or articulating the audience-community’s reaction to it. This past spring, fires raged in African American churches in Louisiana and at a cathedral in Paris. Joy and lament both burn in our communities, and song again arises, like the Ave Marias chanted in Parisian streets—sweet and sorrowing. The communal experience of music is a strange mystery: individual response, but also “the collective”—the common act of breath, rhythm, sound, word. In a competition-mad and binary-obsessed culture that thrills to like/dislike and have winners/losers, singing in worship makes a community with no winners or losers, no achievement at another’s expense. It is the final stanza of a 1902 hymn by Julia Cory: With voices united, our praises we offer, and gladly our song of thanksgiving we raise. With you, Lord, beside us, your strong arm will guide us. To you, our great Redeemer, forever be praise! v NOTE 1. Mary Louise Bringle, “Sing a New World Into Being,” in In Wind and Wonder (Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 2007), 122-123.
Interview Eric Wall
The Church Birthed in Song Eric, many of us have intuited the importance of music, but I think you have beautifully articulated its significance in this piece. I wanted to begin by asking about an idea that emerges in the first page of your piece. You say that singing brings “meaning.” For many people, especially in the western world, we think of meaning as something that we process cognitively. Can you clarify the idea that music carries meaning? Singing brings meaning that often transcends what is cognitive. In worship, we often select songs because the words match other words in the liturgy or in the sermon or some other action we’re going to do. We evaluate its rightness cognitively. For instance, when we look at a song on paper and say, “Oh, stanza three goes with verse two of that Bible passage,” we run the risk of bypassing what actually happens when the thing is being sung. There is meaning happening when the group of people actually make the music, hear the music, take part in it, and are taken up into it. Alice Parker, choral arranger, always says the song on the page is waiting to be born. There’s a created time to music that can only happen from here to there, and you can’t shortchange that; you can’t fast forward and you can’t excise and you can’t speed sing it. You must sing it in time. What that means is that a quick readthrough or play-through of a song ahead of time, in a planning process, is not the same thing as what happens when the song comes to life in sound and voices. Do you know of John Thornburg in Dallas? He’s a Methodist pastor and hymn writer and he has this amazing hymn on music: “A Child, Most Eager to Belong.” It goes: A child most eager to belong Observed an elder lost in song. She asked a timeless thing, Please tell me now, why do we sing? In the second stanza, the elder answers: Because we can, the elder said. To know that we’re alive, not dead, To feel that God is near, To free us from the things we fear. 11
Worship and Song And the third stanza has a great last line: A song unites us with our past, Reminds us of the truths that last, And now the most profound, God’s love is working in the sound. Something holy is at work in the paint, in the architecture, in the sound, in the form. I love the way you speak expansively about the significance of song. It’s not just this little thing on paper that has words and notes to it, but it is song as it’s performed, as it’s performed by community, as it evokes memory, as it promises the future. You know, as you’re talking, I was reminded of Henri de Lubac, Catholic theologian of the early 20th century, who famously said that “It is not simply the case that the church performs liturgy. It is the case that the church is born in liturgy.” Wow, that’s a great. There’s certainly something about song, and all the ways we sing, that has to do with the church’s ongoing rebirth. It seems true that the community has a kind of rebirth when it sings together in worship. Any time people sing there’s a kind of us-ness that is created all over again. So, how would you articulate the distinctive excellence involved in congregational singing? I’m thinking of Craig Dykstra’s work on Christian practices. For example, when we practice hospitality, when we show hospitality to strangers, it’s aimed in a certain way toward caring for people in need, but it also cultivates certain skills and fosters certain sensibilities in us, it opens us to God and neighbor. Dykstra says that every Christian practice comes with its own kind of excellence. As I hear you talk, you are reframing the kind of excellence that is called for in worship singing as something more than the quality or sophistication of the sound produced. There’s a short essay by C.S. Lewis on church music. He says, “Everything depends on the intent.” And he uses the example of a choir singing in worship. “The choir may be singing with musical excellence,” but also, “that should not be taken to mean that anything especially spiritual is automatically happening.” He said, “The excellence proves ‘keenness,” and that “the absence of keenness would prove that people lacked the right spirit. Its presence does not prove that they have it.” And Erik Routley, the British hymnologist of the 20th century said, “We don’t want people to say, ‘What a good choir they’ve got.’ We want them to say, ‘What a good God they’ve got.’” You want it to be fully vibrant and to get out of the way at the same time. If you’ve ever been to a Sacred Harp shape-note singing, it has nothing to do with performance in the sense of what the singing sounds like to the listener. Because it’s amazing—an out of the bowels of the earth kind of sound. But what 12
In the sixth of the Narnia books, the children come to a place called the Wood between the Worlds, where every time you dive into a pool, you come out in a whole other world. That’s what songs of worship are. They’re all these pools of water, and the time together in worship, the liturgical space, is that wood. —Eric Wall
it’s about is the doing. In our worship life, it’s not about refinement of a product alone. It’s about finding a space for people to be able to engage with that song as an event—so that the song isn’t just going past them and they’re kind of riding alongside it. Excellence in congregational singing would have to do with subtle aspects of participation and how a congregation is awakened to wonder. Having participated in worship that you’ve led over the past few years, I have observed other marks of excellence. As you lead worship, music does several things. Good worship music is inviting. It is crafted—songs well played, tunes well chosen. They entice us. Worship music take us places; it makes demands of us. It is not only meant for easy consumption but invites us to something new. Also, it seems, what worship demands is that we open ourselves to it. It’s not so much that we’re mastering this piece as much as we are in some sense mastered by it. Yes! Worship music should be inviting, even demanding sometimes, but not impossibly so. Somebody told me once, “We never know really what Eric’s going to throw at us, but we’ve learned to trust that we’re going be able to grab hold of it.” I want to assume that people are curious and want to move beyond where they are—their
Worship and Song hearts, minds, souls. Worship music does not allow us to remain static; it invites us somewhere. And I assume that God will be at work in this, that the Spirit will bless this, that this is not just our song—God is going to be at work in this as we join our voices. Are there other marks of excellence? I think worship leaders must remain open to wonder and our own surprise. I don’t think we get to choose definitively where God shows up in the songs of worship. I can think of songs, like some worship choruses, that I would never have thought of doing in worship until I did them at a youth conference in Montreat. And now those songs are irrevocably associated in my head with the sound of 800 teenagers singing them. And it’s just incredible. And now that’s part of what the song means. I’m now committed to the fact that God uses those, because I’ve been in the place where it seemed as obvious as I could discern that God was using them. I remember at First Presbyterian in Asheville one time, we sang ”Near to the Heart of God,” that old gospel hymn, its words many would ordinarily consider a little homely and limited. But as we rehearsed a choir member said, dusting this old thing off, “I had church singing it.” Which had not so much to do with the words on their own, but with something else at work at the same time, something that could not be anticipated only in its “artistic quality” or “sophistication.” I’ve also learned by watching you over these recent years; you do not allow worship music to be “flattened”—ordinary or expected. Although we may repeat some songs at various points of the year, you almost always make them “strange” for us. I mean, sometimes maybe you arrange the choir around the room and we’ll hear the voices differently, or you will lead us in call and response; or you place songs in various places in the liturgy—even in the middle of sermons; maybe you will have a different instrumentation; I’ve seen you explain a song, putting it in historical context. But every time I sing, even the same song, it is a new experience of wonder. There’s a new kind of curiosity that’s evoked because of how you make the song strange. I think that is part of the excellence. Even when we weren’t expecting to be surprised or even if we were determined not to be surprised, something works in spite of us. Sometimes in class I use the icon as an illustration of the work of songs and singing. The idea of the icon is not, “Oh, that’s a beautiful picture.” Instead, the icon pulls you into itself, and there’s much more behind it and much more within us finding ourselves in that place than just looking at. It’s like in the sixth of the Narnia books, when the children come to a place called the Wood between the Worlds, where every time you dive into a pool, you come out in a whole other world. The children can feel the trees growing. They can feel the life pulsing and throbbing and active. And that’s what songs of worship are. They’re all these pools of water, and the time together in worship, the liturgical space, is that wood. 14
Interview All the songs are potentially icons. But they can become idols. Church music can reflect back to us a static sense of our identity or pride or only our own comfort, the things that we’re familiar with or like. I tell my class, “When talking about worship music we’re not using the words ‘like’ and ‘dislike.’” Let’s ask deeper questions. What happens when we do this? What is unlocked when we do this? What is released when we do this? What happens to us when we do this? And what happens to my feelings about my neighbor or about the community or about the world when I’ve sung this song? Or when I’ve given myself to this sound? Does excellence point to the future in some way? One way you can think about excellence is when you come away saying, “I’m not really sure what—something happened in that, and now I am different. And that makes me curious of what’s going to happen the next time we’re together and sing.” But I guess that even beyond any notion of excellence, the first and last question is whether a song helps us to pray or have some encounter with the holy. As Christians, it seems we’re caught in this tension—on one hand we can never perfectly speak of God, but neither are we permitted to not speak. So, we’re always imperfectly showing up, singing, speaking, opening ourselves, and, at times, surprisingly encountering God. Our delight is never perfectly satisfied, so we are compelled to come back to try again to say and sing what must be said. v
Hiding in Plain Sight:
A Reflection on Leading Worship Tony McNeill
arrived at Christ Lutheran Church in downtown Baltimore about an hour and a half prior to the start of the first evening worship service. Upon entering the space, I immediately noticed it did not agree with my original plan for the service. The piano was placed in the back of the room, making it a perceived challenge for me to lead as usual. I noticed the piano was on a dolly that allowed it to be moved. Very slowly and carefully, I pushed the piano down the center aisle to the middle of the chapel, only to find the aisle was not wide enough to turn the piano in a way that would allow me to play and lead facing the congregation. I slowly and carefully pushed the piano back up the aisle to the back of the chapel and around to the right side of the space, only to find one of the large columns blocking my view of the congregation. I panicked in that moment, feeling there was no way the evening service could go on without me being seen by the congregants. I slowly and carefully pushed the piano back to its original location and sat in a cloud of frustration and disappointment. After about three minutes, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the architectural intentionality of the space. There was a theology of worship speaking in the way the room was designed. I failed to hear it or see it. The volume of my preferred way of leadership was turned up so loud I missed the opportunity to hear (and see) what the room was already saying. The placement of the choir chairs, the piano, and the organ in back became a sobering reminder of a theological and practical premise that worship in this space was not about me being able to see people or them see me. It was about being more deeply aimed at getting the congregation to see God. The room invited me into an experience of being visibly hidden and grafted into the
Tony McNeill is director of choral activities at Clinton College and pro-
gram director in the Melva W. Costen Institute of Worship, Preaching, and Sacred Arts at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. He previously served as director of worship and the arts at Atlantaâ€™s Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. His research interests include leadership and performance practices of congregational song in black churches and connections between worship, ethics, and justice.
McNeill fabric of the liturgy already at work in the design of the room. I acquiesced. I had no other alternative but to trust the Spirit and the room to do their work. They would be the worship leaders. My job was to facilitate the work of worship already at play even before the congregation arrived. At the appropriate time, the chapel was full of clergy, community activists, and leaders of non-profit organizations who assembled in Baltimore for a week-long intensive as part of a certificate program in community organizing. A few moments before worship began, I humbly admitted the self-inflicted challenges I encountered preparing for the service. It was in the moment of describing what transpired before their arrival that my apology evolved into a revelation. I saw clearly my role as a worship leader was not to lead from in front or over, but to lead from behind and under. The need to be seen and be in control created a theological, artistic, and practical tension to the worship-revelation already at work in the architecture. I used those few moments to provoke the leaders present to transfer the worship theology of the room into their own work. At the center of building and nurturing ecologies of justice is the on-going commitment of locating the witness of the community from within the community, not in a single person or select group of people. I am reminded of an article I read years ago in a church production magazine focused on characteristics of a good audio technician. One of the metrics used to assess the effectiveness of a quality sound tech was the congregation’s ability to forget that the sound tech is present. That is to say, if the continuity of worship is seamless (even with unexpected hiccups that often happen), we lose sight of the engineer who ensures that result. Just as good sound engineers work hard to make people forget they are there, we too, must consistently reflect about how we can get out of the way and model a posture of leading worship from “behind and under” versus “in front and over.” Even though many of us may stand in front to preside behind a podium or a music stand facing the congregation or a rehearsed choir, are there more helpful ways we can “hide”? Not hide with the intent to diminish our self-worth or role, but hide with our intentional choice of words, gesture, tone of our voices, eye contact, and how we place and posture our bodies so that the congregation can be invited into a divine dialogue with God’s presence. Sometimes we can hide by simply taking two steps back from the microphone once the congregational hymn or praise chorus begins or reaches a point where the congregation no longer depends on the vocal leader. We can also hide by simply giving the downbeat at the beginning of the hymn or praise chorus and letting go of our perfectly rehearsed conducting pattern and allowing the internal rhythm of the corporate body to conduct itself. Our willingness to search for ways to release musical and liturgical authority back to the congregation is the central purpose of our call as worship leaders. It is a time-consuming obligation we often neglect for the sake of the pursuit of artistic excellence and sometimes personal gratification. Effective leadership in corporate worship should equip the gathered community to do the collective work that it cannot do on its own. In a sense, corporate 17
Worship and Song worship becomes a journey the worship leaders, musicians, choir members, and other creative ministries have already travelled. We lead the â€œtourâ€? from the front of the line. But when the line starts to move, we subtly find ourselves alongside or behind, encouraging the body to pursue the discovery of the spoken and sung texts in ways that are unique and revelatory for them collectively and individually. v
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Joining Hands Around the Table
Ann Laird Jones
hat image, this Table, and who shall gather? And why is it that this Table surrounded by this community of faith is the key visual idea where arts and theology find a point of intersection? And how is it that this Table yields an image that brings into focus the very real presence of God, in the midst of life’s current twists and drifts? And what is it about this Table that calls us to notice more than anywhere else who is there and who we have left out/abandoned/walked by? And why is it that at this Table we are called to the action of anamnesis, of remembering in a way that the scene is actually redrawn and refigured with an eye on the present? And how is it here at this Table that form and function coexist, image and imagination live in harmony, texts are embodied and meaning embraced? Defying cognitive explanation, something changes in the tactile engagement at this Table: hands touch hands, hands lift up the chalice, hands holding the chalice are held for a brief interlude by the hands of those receiving it, and, most of all, we find ourselves in the presence of the real and efficacious presence of Christ, reaching out his hands to hold ours. The act of gathering around the Table for communion, both physically and symbolically, is the critical moment to examine this intersection between arts and theology. In our quest to discern deeper ways of “knowing” the mystery of God with us, here is the moment when avenues to grace—invisible and visible—collide, as a kaleidoscope of color and light. It is my belief that for too long we have attempted to contain the act of theology behind the pulpit, misinterpreting “Word” for human voice delivering both questions and answers, perpetually constricted by language which can never fully fathom the mystery and presence of God. The intersection between arts and theology allows new theological depth, as Word/Logos is perceived
Ann Laird Jones is an artist and a minister member of St. Andrew Pres-
bytery. In addition to serving churches in and Baton Rouge, Raleigh, Jacksonville, and Mississippi, she serves as director of the Arts Ministries at Montreat Conference Center. She integrates her calling as artist/theologian by creating pottery and arts ministries in churches throughout the year.
Worship and Song in every part of the worshipping space. This non-verbal intersection allows us to move beyond the limitations of our singular, cognitive understanding into a participatory realm of grace where all are invited to gather. As a potter, I am keenly aware of the integral connection between my hands and my work, and of my dependence on the hands and strength of others. Recently the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) invited Joseph D.L. OLeary to design a logo for their upcoming Claytopia conference in Minneapolis. Joe asked Joshua Green, executive director of NCECA, and Candice Finn for some background on concepts (collectivity, collaboration, diversity, evolution, change, the hand) and visual elements and principals (color, transparency)1 for this gathering of potters from around the world. The result was a brilliant logo, where hands and pots dance together around the collaborative circle they form, emitting every color of the rainbow, generating loving energy in every direction. There is energy moving inward and outward. The circle is never broken. The hands are gathered and touching in resounding joy. As I consider the intersection between arts and theology—and imagine hands gathered around the communion table as the moment of this intersection—the Claytopia logo expresses what I cannot begin to say in words.
In January 2009, I taught a class at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary called “Clay Forms: Restorative Table Justice,” focused on using integration of arts and theology through pottery liturgical vessels to deepen our understanding of sacramental theology, particularly as we considered exclusion issues at Table. As we created clay liturgical vessels we considered: 1. Shaping the Vessel: Form and Function 2. Remembering the Vessel: Altering and Rebuilding 3. Restoring the Vessel: Transformation for Justice During our time together we transformed the area beneath the chapel into a studio. We made chalices, pitchers, and patens. We looked at Byzantine chalice forms and studied the St. Bogorodica Perivlepta painting of the Last Supper. We imagined John Calvin as a potter, and how he, were he with us now, would certain20
Jones ly have not left us stuck in image/idolatry battles but helped us understand how imagination goes hand in hand with Imago Dei. We discussed Catherine Kapikian’s revelatory idea of participatory aesthetics in the church, and fell in love with the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who walks outside each day and is attentive to whatever nature puts in his hands. We went out every weekend to different churches and communities, taking clay, wheels, and slab rollers, working with our hands in clay, alongside Guatemalan global partners, or children without families, or adults without shelter. As the final glaze kilns filled with liturgical ware were being loaded, an ice storm hit Louisville and power was out for weeks. My mother and I finished loading by candlelight. My love of these liturgical vessels was not new. For years I found myself caught up in a love affair with the chalice form, studying endlessly about this particular form, and how the very history of the church at Table could be told through this evolving form. In the early church the form was a large bowl, capable of holding wine and water enough for all who gathered to share. Over time the cup was gradually withdrawn from the laity. The choir screen dividing priest from congregation gets higher; cup gets smaller, stem gets taller, elevating the cup holding the blood of Christ. Meanwhile the knob becomes larger, often showing faces of bishops and patrons. But in our time chalice forms are changing. We seem to have moved away from fancy bejeweled silver and gold chalices with decorated knobs, to simpler pottery forms with larger cups to hold more wine, for more people gathered at Table. The focus is less on matter, but on form that conveys real function. Indeed, the theology of Table has shifted back in time in many ways to the expressed desires of the early church. Around this Table we gather together as one body to reach out for God, to utter our thanks, and express our deep hunger for God’s presence, touching hands as chalice is shared and the presence of Christ lifted up. Bard Thompson writes of the need to redefine the action at Table through a reimagining of anamnesis during the Eucharistic prayer: … This strange Greek word … has nowhere been more expounded and extruded than in Dom Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy. Certainly he is correct in saying that the term is not comprehended by our words “memorial” and “remembrance.” Having been shaped by modern patterns of thought, those words connote a bygone event, now quite remote, with which we have a historical sort of communion by our willful acts of memory and devotion. By anamnesis, however, the early church meant nothing less than “re-calling” or “re-presentation” of the passion of Christ so that … it becomes here and now operative by its effects in the communicants.2 In other words, rather than “performing” ancient ritual and watching someone going through the motions on our behalf, the action at the Table is visually active and present in this moment. The past is brought into the conversation, and memory is sustained, but now made efficacious by the real presence of Christ in the present context of this gathered community, with these hands embracing the risen Christ together as an action happens now, in this moment, with an eye on where we are going, together. 21
Worship and Song In AD 215 Hippolytus wrote down the words to the liturgy the church had been using most frequently. His prayer deepens our understanding of what it means to gather at Table together as we experience and are actually liberated by/through Christ’s suffering, a “knowing” that happens in the present moment because we are joined with him at Table. Anamnesis is not what has happened in the past, but that corporate “knowing” that allows for both memory and hope, in the shared experience at Table together. In this prayer we experience Christ joining our hands, holding us close to him, and gathering us into his presence: … It is he who, fulfilling your will and acquiring for you a holy people, extended his hands in suffering, in order to liberate from sufferings those who believe in you.3 Catherine Kapikian is founder and director emerita of Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and author of Art in the Service of the Sacred and Through the Christian Year: An Illustrated Guide. She is a working artist, a theologian, and has completed hundreds of large installations around the globe. On January 29, 2019, Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) invited Kapikian to write about her current work called “The Last Supper,” which she is creating for and with the Wesley Theological Seminary community to be installed as a huge new visual addition to the Refectory. Using the Fibonacci mathematical principle of expansion without termination, Kapikian was able to take Leonardo da Vinci’s vision of the Last Supper and offer visible focus to the invisible moment of realized transformation during this final meal around Table together. Below you will see a detail of the 7-foot mock up made for the initial presentation to the seminary community. She made more than 1,000 drawings of hands as she prepared the design, which will eventually span the entirety of the 42foot length of the refectory soffit. Through the artistic rendering of Jesus and his disciples, particularly their hands, one moment in time conveys the history of all creation, in present tense, with past and future tenses in every shadow; with love and betrayal, profession and denial held up before us, and everything given motion through the gesturing hands. Anamnesis at Table is never static. It is movement and life and gesture and longing and realized presence of God with us. It is that mo-
Center portion of 1/6 scale model of Cahterine Kapikian’s “Last Supper” at Wesley Seminary
Jones ment when our hands touch. Following are some of Kapikian’s own remarks about the project, taken from the blog post she wrote for CIVA: … My design for this work was inspired by two overarching concepts: the first was a desire to reference Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” because I believe it enables us to be stewards of a masterwork of Christian culture— a tradition in which all of us are a part; the second was that I was intrigued by the idea of utilizing the Fibonacci mathematical principle of expansion without termination. Besides its relevant theological implications, it beckoned as a suggestive organizational structure for handling design complexities … The emanating lines from Christ suggest this principle in one way and the vertical relief forms suggest it in another. I regard da Vinci’s gesturing of the disciples’ hands as brilliant, so I decided to pick up on this motif in my rendering. I emphasized the hands by denoting them with different colors, and I bracketed the Last Supper image with a pair of hands lifting the cup and a pair of hands lifting the bread. … Strong value contrasts, visual transparencies, and nuanced intensities of colors conspire suggestively to capture the glory of the Last Supper as well as image a requirement for human flourishing.4 The focus in Kapikian’s Last Supper is the interaction between Jesus and his disciples around the Table, exemplified through the gesturing, moving hands. These hands express all sorts of emotions, including fear, anxiety, anger, love, and joy, not to mention the desire we all know to keep Jesus here with us, to make this moment last forever. For Kapikian bringing the meal around Table into the context of a refectory was essential, drawing together another very beloved community gathered for a different kind of daily bread. Her re-imagined installation, made by this community, in the physical space of this community, and now visible from every part of the refectory by this community, keeps us visually mindful of the fact that when we gather around the table together, Christ is always present. Christ always reaches out his hands to us in complete love. Christ always opens his hands and touches ours, as we share the cup of grace, and as we break bread together. Catherine Kapikian is the radical voice and guiding mentor in my life. Her influence is profound, as, in this instance, she brings the invisible moment of Table transformation into gigantic, beautiful, visible form, and invites us in. Teddy Abrams, musician, composer, conductor, and musical director of the Louisville Orchestra and the Britt Festival Orchestra, is a bold visionary of interdisciplinary collaborations. He consistently breaks down boundaries between orchestra and audience, gathering everyone together through the power of music. Recently the Louisville Orchestra ended their season with a magnificent composition called The Song of the River, twelve poems along with an Introduction and an Epilogue, all words and music written by Abrams. The piece is a 35-minute song cycle for soprano and full orchestra, “inspired by several intersecting contemporary and historical themes, primarily the symmetry between the future of our global 23
Worship and Song environment and the Norse mythological concept of ‘Ragnarök,’ the long-foretold end of days in which the world is submerged in water.”5 With Teddy Abrams’ permission I close with these words from Canto The Song of the River, imagining a world and a Table of grace where all are welcome, where memory celebrates the present, where the invisible is made real and visible, where hands clasp the very hand of God, where the image of God’s creation is one beloved Body, embraced and empowered by hands joined together. Canto VI: “Pleasures” There seems to be no end To the delights of the senses Offered freely and without a reason If you think about it Sometimes the sights or sounds The tastes or smells Are overwhelming and it hurts To endure this secret knowledge All forms of expression Falling short of the truth And leading to worn paths To seek an equally secret art Which might offer a taste Of that taste, a vision of that sight, An echo of that sound That haunts your memory Maybe it will touch something ancient and true And we will not be apart.6 v NOTES 1. Joshua Green, NCECA Executive Director, email correspondence 2. Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Collins World: Cleveland and New York, 1961), 17. 3. “The Anaphora of Hippolytus of Rome,” The Apostolic Tradition, Hippolytus, AD215. (www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Historical/hippolytus.htm) 4. CIVA.org/civablog/on-installing-the-last-supper/ January 29, 2019, Used here with permission of the artist, Catherine Kapikian, and CIVA’s Executive Director, Dr. Lawan Glasscock. 5. Teddy Abrams, Louisville Orchestra program notes, “Audience: Program Guide for the Performing Arts,” (The Audience Group, Inc., Louisville, KY: May, 2019) 19. 6. Teddy Abrams, “Canto VI,” The Song of the River (premiered May 10 and 11, 2019, with the Louisville Orchestra), used by permission from the author.
We asked religious leaders for their reflections on ministry in light of this issue’s lead article. Here is what they told us.
What role does music play in the life of your congregation? Monica Hall (MDiv’08), Pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Ogden, Utah Music hems in our collective congregational imagination each Sunday within the presence of God. We couple the memory of our faith ancestors and their trials and liberation with our own dogged hope in the midst of desperation. In song, our hope is tethered to theirs. Music unifies congregations to sing about thanksgiving, but it also makes room for us to sing about difficult things as well. When we sing “Why Do Nations Rage Together,” we are confronted by a text which presents our collective rage. Then we ask who God is in the midst of it. Our congregation is aware of this truth. This particular hymn is not our favorite, but, the truth we sing together shapes us in our vision of repairing the world while at present, the nations rage. Rev. Karen Thompson (MDiv’07), Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Austin, Texas Like those present on the first Pentecost, we are the faithful from everywhere, gathered together in one place. Our congregation of 300 is 90% LGBTQ, and the majority of us have come together at MCC Austin after being cast out by other churches. Thus roughly a third of us are formerly Southern Baptist, a third Catholic, and a third mainline Protestant. Music is probably our greatest unifier after communion. We have no common creed, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status that draws us together. Through our music, which encompasses everything from traditional hymns to praise and worship to Beyoncé to Broadway, we draw closer to Christ and thereby to one another. In making eclectic music choices, we offer everyone something familiar from their former traditions—something they can bring with them after they’re forced to leave so much behind. Josh Robinson, Pastor, Hope Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas Our sanctuary is unique in that, during a time when the trend was to design worship spaces around sound systems, ours is a “live” space, best for unplugged offerings, that enhances unamplified music. We strive to ensure our musical offerings are accessible for all worship participants by using a broad variety of blended music. To that end, for Sunday morning worship, we rarely select hymns or choral pieces in 25
Worship and Song foreign languages. Further, by printing the text of the choral pieces in the bulletin, we hope the words will help lead participants in prayer. Vikki Schwarz (MAMP’19), Music Director, Berkeley United Methodist Church, Austin, Texas I am always astonished, and I am always grateful, that God can be and is present through music in the liturgy of prelude, three hymns, offertory, doxology, special music, and postlude. As a music director, I have been fortunate to work with several pastors who plan sermon themes in advance. This has allowed us to offer a unified message each week in all the words we offer. The hymns and anthems enrich the growing theological understandings of those attending. Because of this, there is a rich variety of music presented over the course of time—traditional, global, new hymns, Taizé, etc.—so that we are always aware of the larger voice of the worldwide church, are comforted and challenged, placated and provoked, and always praising, praying, reflecting, and sending renewed hearts out to serve the world. How do you incorporate music into your pastoral work? Josh Robinson Songs are like scents; like when you catch a whiff of something and it triggers a certain, ingrained memory or emotion. One of my practices is to invite members to create a playlist for me of songs according to certain themes, and sometimes, I make playlists for them. Here are a few theme prompts I’ve given to congregants: • If you could only share three songs with me that best capture the essence of who you are, what would they be? • Which five songs best articulate, for you, the essence of the Christian faith or God’s love? • At the reception of your memorial service, which songs would you want played for the comfort of the attendees? When members send me their selections, I purchase the songs, create a playlist, and listen to/study them multiple times. I find the playlist exercise helps them to focus their attention on what they believe or enables them to express thoughts/ emotions that otherwise escape them. Vikki Schwarz As a composer, I have written anthems, hymns, and liturgical pieces that either meet the need of particular church themes and/or special days. Often my compositional work is in collaboration with others, so that I am constantly growing beyond my own understanding of faith and learning to craft words and music that embrace the larger realization of the community of faith. Creating texts is a calling that holds great responsibility; I am ever more aware of both the joy and the seriousness 26
Pastors’ Panel of writing words that are placed into the mouths of others to sing. As a pastoral art, this means paying close attention to what God may be speaking, to the needs of the church, the needs of the musicians, and my own personal experience of faith. Monica Hall Pastoral work is such a big arena. It seems to incorporate everything from making a meal for someone, with Todd Rundgren “Love is the Answer” blasting in the background, to singing old hymns for the greatest generation as the life support is removed and the last breaths are drawn. It is also writing children’s music for Christmas Eve service and teaching students about “oikos” while we do energizers to Kirk Franklin. It even includes composing and commissioning a song for the interfaith community to center together on a common mission of justice. For me, like the blood in my veins, music pulsates throughout my pastoral work each and every day. Karen Thompson Every July we offer a Bible on Broadway series that doesn’t just select a few numbers from Broadway shows but rather is built on the themes and music of the various shows. I didn’t originally have the same enthusiasm for a “show tune” sermon series that I do now. It’s not that I don’t like musicals; it’s just that ordinarily I’d rather read a book. When it comes to sermons and sermon illustrations, I’m much more confident in my ability to work prose into my preaching than songs. What is your theology of music? Karen Thompson If I am faithfully seeking the Word that God would have me bring to the people, then God will put not only words in my mouth, but also a song in my heart. Put another way, I am only fooling myself if I think that I—or any other preacher— “brings” the message on any given day. God brings us the message by moving in and through us. God can speak through me, or you, or a burning bush, or a whirlwind ... or a show tune. God desires our whole selves in worship, not just our reverence or our solemnity or our intellect. God desires our sense of humor, our creativity, our awe, our comfort, our discomfort, our imagination—all the wonderful pieces that make us wholly human. When we offer all of who we are to God in our worship, I believe the results of that synthesis are pleasing to our Creator. Vikki Schwarz Although my theology of music is still forming as I grow and live as a composer and musician, I understand music as a part of the order and beauty of God’s good creation; a great gift of God, a means of grace which is experienced in innumer27
Worship and Song able and often inexpressible ways. God has created each of us as musical beings, the rhythmic pulse of our hearts, the varying tempos of our breaths, the form of our lives, and so on. The physical gift of our breath being used to sing is how many of us first experience music and is often the manner in which we are directed to praise God, both in community and personally. Because of this, it is often said that our voices are the primary instrument for praising God and that instruments are secondary, meant to guide the singing of people in worship. However, I believe that instruments of every kind are equally efficacious as the voice; all music making in worship is blessed and honored by God. Josh Robinson I believe the Holy Spirit uses music as a medium to propel God’s people from a place of complicity, despair, or alienation to empowerment, courage, and fellowship. The Holy Spirit also uses music as a tool of expression when words fail to capture the truth of our emotions. When we are stunted from articulating our praise of God, love for neighbor, anger at life, lament in grief, or joy in vocation, through music, the Holy Spirit harmonizes, chants, shouts, consoles, or celebrates for us. My theology of music is rooted in the emotional expressions from the Book of Psalms. This collection of prayers, protests, and praises elevates the verity of the human experience in relation to God and others. Readers are encouraged to be real before God, and, in humility, to trust God. It is in the vulnerability of these psalms that I am best able to understand God’s love during the trials of life and then move toward hope. In them, I find validation of my contemporary experience, whatever the day may bring. Through them, I am able to resonate with God in prayer. From them, my life is reformed as a vessel of grace. Monica Hall Proclamation, at times, is at its strongest in the collective experience of music. Preachers, beware! In Beyonce’s “Homecoming,” we go to church. An entire venue is filled with thousands of people singing the same words, to the same beat, with the same hope and passion, unified in everything. When melody and text are accompanied by marching feet and clapping hands, it becomes an organism of its own; an organism born for transformation, an incarnational organism. v
Required Reading Books recommended by the Austin Seminary faculty Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in A Changing World by Gil Rendle. Rowman & Littlefield (2018); 304
money, influence) as in the past, they assume they do not have enough to address their mission; that is, the mission is dependent on their resources. They live a functional atheism, not trusting that the Spirit is afoot inviting them to join in, and not moving forward. • Assumptions embedded in structure and process: The reward system for clergy, which depends on the people who may need to change, breeds oversensitivity to fear when courage is needed. Overreliance on democratic institutional decision-making processes effectively silences the small number of people inside, and the voices outside, who may be bearers of life-giving truth. • Assumptions about how leadership is formed: Churches rely on the standard practice in which, baldly stated, seminary provides content and denomination provides certification. Rendle contends this is not adequate for leaders to learn to be agile and adaptive for the people and mission fields in which they will serve. Leaders, Rendle argues, are lured away from the discomfort of new ways by distorting qualities seen as goods. The temptation of nostalgia invites us to a one-sided story of past strength and certainty, keeps us doing what worked before, even though times are different, and helps us avoid the embarrassment of asking new questions to which we do not know the answers. The temptation of Christian empathy leads us to relieve individual’s feelings at the expense of the mission of the whole. The temptation of tiredness as virtue—believing if we are tired, we must be heroic sacrificial leaders—means that tiredness becomes proxy for doing what needs to be done. The good news is that we are creatures capable of learning. Each chapter includes sophisticated gestures toward responses to the misguidance of the assumption or
pages, $25. Reviewed by Melissa Wiginton, Research Professor of Methodist Studies
dd another book about church leadership to the tippling tower on your desk. But read this one. Rendle’s kind but firm voice offers analysis and wisdom without easy answers. This is a relief. As Gil Rendle teaches, the conditions of this age call for learning rather than solutions. Rendle approaches his reader as a long-committed supporter of the institutional church. He cannot be dismissed as a malcontent or an outsider. “The established institutional church cannot now thrive on the good leadership it currently has,” he writes, not to denigrate current leaders but rather to be forcefully clear that the future is not a continuity of the past. The world has changed. Yet our mental models of leadership reside in the aberrant numerical and financial success and cultural power of the institutional church of the midtwentieth century. Things have changed, but, in spite of ourselves, many if not most of us cling to the ways of the past. Rendle gives us the gift of unearthing the temptations and assumptions that hold us to ways of the past. His is no facile list. To understand what inhibits church leaders from new ways, he draws from the best thinkers across disciplines of philosophy, natural science, design theory, sociology, leadership, and human and professional development. He names four tacit assumptions which must be challenged: • Assumptions about change: It is not, in fact, linear, progressive, and sequential but instant, disruptive, and networked. • Assumptions about enough: Because churches do not have as much (people,
Required Reading temptation under scrutiny. Some of the directions he looks require more robust theological critique and development than he offers, such as his pointing toward the work of Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile. Readers in systems other than the United Methodist Church will have to do some translation in the sections focused on structure and process. But overall his work is that of an excellent teacher who expands the boundaries of the learners’ knowing and imbues them with the courage to take the next risky step. Rendle uses “quiet” to name the courage to know what to be afraid of and what not to be afraid of and to be fully present to the future coming toward us, a courage different from the John Wayne notion of being afraid but “saddling up and doing it anyway.” Indeed, the call to quiet courage is the theme song of this book. It is music that excites, energizes, and sings hope. Unless you are looking for tips, tricks, and techniques, move this book to the top of the pile.
of Immanuel Kant and the eighteenthcentury Age of Enlightenment, Jennings explores the emergence of race discourse in Renaissance times, considering figures like fifteenth-century Portuguese royal chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara (14101474) and Spanish missionary Jose de Acosta (1540-1600). Even before Immanuel Kant’s problematic interpretation of Christ, then, Jennings finds seeds of the West’s “racial imagination” as early as the fifteenth century—and within the discourse of theology itself as opposed to philosophy. Jennings’s genealogical work aims to disrupt the Western Christian world’s “diseased social imagination” and its thwarted patterns of intimacy. To date, the West has been unable to grasp either the true logic of Christian theology or the logic of indigenous thought. Instead, the West has tried to control (and misrepresent) dark bodies. “I argue here,” says Jennings, “that Christianity in the Western world lives and moves within a diseased social imagination … theology lacks the ability to see the profound connections between an embrace by very different people in the chapel and theological meditations articulated in the classroom, between connecting to the earth, to strangers, and to the possibilities of identities formed and reformed precisely in and through such actions” (149-154). Jennings’ Christian Imagination uses the delicate tools of genealogy to unearth the roots of this diseased social imagination. According to Jennings, Christian faith has provided the conditions for the possibility of modern race discourse. This was accomplished as theology took on certain contours and features, especially the doctrine of theological isolationism wherein God’s impassible, providential care stands in for communal care. In this diseased theological isolationism, God creates the world “ex nihilo” (creation out of/from nothing), and owns all of creation. This diseased hermeneutic of providence as divine ownership “enables an insularly economic reading of the New World …
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, by Willie J. Jennings. New Haven: Yale University Press (May 17, 2011, 2017), 384 pages, $27.50. Reviewed by Asante Todd, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics
heologian Willie J. Jennings engages the discourse of public theology by way of genealogy in his The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy reminds us that genealogy may be broken down into two parts: part historical reconstruction of the way certain concepts have come to have the shape they do, and part “rational reconstruction” or story about the function they serve, which may or may not correspond to our historical evolutionary account. If J. Kameron Carter’s genealogy in Race: A Theological Account (2008) reaches back to the times
Required Reading [such that] God had prepared the Spanish and this New World for their intercourse … God is responsible for colonial desire” (92-3). The colonial moment also involved a revolution in christology, as the doctrines of participatio Christi and imitatio Christi were lost to the emerging hegemony of a racial optic. Thus, the christological tradition became docetic in the thinking of persons like sixteenth-century Spanish Jesuit missionary Jose de Acosta. Christ’s materiality and full humanity were denied, and now humanity and creation are gauged according to a racial calculus. Africans thus became trapped in the West’s diseased social imagination, and were subjected to Western colonial desire, replete with violence. Simultaneously, the West interprets this colonial desire and violence within a Christian narrative that evacuates modern colonialism of any sense of wrongdoing. Yet, this theological isolationism is a sign of the West’s displaced and distorted vision of creation. The West’s “white-to-black” order of existence signifies much more than the beginnings of racial formation. For Jennings, the modern racial order of existence also signifies that the West wrestles with a fundamental theological displacement and distortion. Thus, African American public theology, and theological discourse in general, must imagine reality beyond the modern hermeneutic of ex nihilo, impassible, divine providence. To transcend the modern, diseased hermeneutics of providence, Jennings argues for a new cultural politics of intimacy framed by a theological narrative of “divine disruption.” For Jennings, we come to know God through the biblical story of Israel. It is a story of divine grace and divine election, but also a story that disrupts supercessionist logic. In Israel’s story, we see a people struggle to emerge “beyond the agonist vision of ethnic destiny” as it encounters the presence of the living God. God disrupts Israel’s narrative, and brings into judgment and submission the claim that land (of Egypt) has upon Israel’s being. God also disrupts Israel’s link to land, challenging the identity formed in their places of
bondage. In so doing, the diseased logic of supersessionism breaks down. “[T] he distinction between the elect and nonelect,” Jennings says, “between those of Israel and those not of Israel, is not easily discerned in the Scripture … All those who entered Israel’s land entered the space of God’s claim.” In the person of Jesus Christ, God’s divine disruption is again brought to Israel. Jesus’ election breaks open Israel’s story, challenging notions of election that occur by way of birth, family, and lineage. Jesus has the power to release people from social hierarchies, and he demands that those in the land of Israel choose a new household with God. The story of Jesus (being driven into the wilderness and resisting temptation) also offers hope that humankind might resist temptations to power, security, and isolation. “The narrative draws us into the awful condition of our collective weakness, yet the wilderness struggle and victory anticipates a possibility: a people joined to the body of Jesus who can overcome the temptations of evil” (250-280). The work of the Holy Spirit signals God’s new reality of relationship and communion, where life is lived in submersion and submission to another’s cultural realities. This is the hermeneutic of divine disruption. Thus framed within a hermeneutic of divine disruption, Jennings’ new cultural politics of intimacy resists supersessionism and forges cross-cultural networks of kinship. In taking account of the spatial implications of life with Jesus and the actions of the Holy Spirit, Jennings argues that God desires to create social spaces of communion and intimacy in the world. We can see this in Acts 10, where Peter encounters God’s new reality of God’s intimacy with all nations. “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:27-29) … “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right and acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). God desires for people to join together to constitute spaces of kinship
Required Reading and fellowship, and this is accomplished as such spaces disrupt people’s settled narratives of identity. These divine disruptions facilitate a new cultural politic whereby our cultural distinctions are undermined, and where peoples are “transformed from two to one,” effecting a rebirth of peoplehood. For Jennings, this new cultural politic of intimacy alters the shape of supersessionism. Supersessionism is not extinguished altogether. Instead, supersessionism shifts from the model of “Israel replaced by the church” to “one form of Torah drawn inside another, one form of divine word drawn inside another form—that is, the word made flesh.” For Jennings, Torah still accomplishes its central purpose, namely, the formation of a new humanity. It does this whether it is in its original form or transformed into
the living word of God in Jesus Christ. Jennings’ new cultural politic of intimacy provides the framework for the possibility of renewed sociopolitical and artisticliterary spaces, as it calls into question the racial calculus of modernity (272). Jennings’ The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race soars at heights rare in contemporary scholarly discourse, and this only after rich excavation of grounded historical facts. Certainly, the text will push discourses forward for years to come. Indeed, the brilliance of The Christian Imagination can only be enhanced with more attention to matters of public policy and social practice. What are the implications of a “hermeneutics of disruption” and the cultural politic of intimacy for our world today? v
Christianity & Culture
The Contested Status of Truth David F. White
n 1946 Luis Borges related a fable in which a great empire created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the empire itself. When the empire crumbled, all that was left was the map. Later, in 1981, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard observed that we now live “in the map”; people now spend their lives ensuring their place in the representation while the reality it once depicted is crumbling away from disuse. Baudrillard theorizes several distinct phases in this “abstraction” from the real: 1. In the pre-modern period, representation is clearly an artificial place marker for the real item—as signs and symbols grope toward this reality. 2. In modernity the distinctions between representation and reality break down due to the proliferation of mass-reproducible copies of items, turning them into commodities. The commodity’s ability to imitate reality threatens to replace the authority of the original version. 3. In postmodernity of Late Capitalism, the simulacrum precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. There is only the simulation, and originality becomes a totally meaningless concept. Baudrillard calls
David White is the C. Ellis and Nancy Gribble Nelson Professor of Chris-
tian Education at Austin Seminary. He is the author of several books including Dreamcare: A Theology of Youth, Spirit, and Vocation (Cascade, 2013). He has garnered several grants, including a $1.2 million grant from Lily Endowment Inc. to create a project on youth discipleship, and he serves on the advisory board for Yale Divinity School’s Theology of Joy and the Good Life project.
Christianity & Culture this “precession.” The truth of Baudrillard’s theory is growing more evident in today’s culture as fictional representations—copies of copies of the real—are rapidly replacing the real in our experience. For example, commercial media—print, television, internet—have successfully blurred the lines between those things we need in order to live and those things we “need” because of the seduction by commercial images. Think, for example, of automobile advertisements that no longer reference practical needs of mere transportation, but instead sell their wares by means of some intangible spiritual yearning—such as panache or class; truck ads sell a version of muscular masculinity. Wealth, for the very rich, no longer serves practical needs of survival or flourishing, but instead serves as a marker of status meaningful only compared with other elites. Urban and suburban lifestyles obscure such things as food production, petroleum dependency and carbon emissions, exploited labor sources. Dependence upon digital technology and social media replace face-to-face physical and aesthetic relationships with real people and the real world. In these examples and so many others, we have replaced the real with its representation such that the real vanishes as meaningless. Rather, what counts now as the real is our relationship with the representation, the simulacra. Baudrillard’s theory of the precession of representation, its dominance in our cultural era, also applies to our political climate. At one time, until fairly recently, our country’s politics served a practical function—to elaborate practical approaches for solving specific problems. For most of our country’s history it was common for voters to switch back and forth across party lines throughout their lives, because new historical moments call for different solutions. Today, however, partisan politics have become identity markers, representations of some memory or idea. In the lead-up to the 2014 midterm election, the Pew Research Center released a report detailing partisan polarization: over a quarter of Democrats considered Republicans a threat to the national well-being, matched by 36 percent of GOP supporters who thought the same of their Democratic peers. The report also found that more than nine-tenths of each party’s supporters considered themselves firmly entrenched in the ideology of their party. The parties have become, as the Pew Center described them, silos of ideology. This metaphor is telling: our politics function as both monolith and container. In many cases, as Baudrillard submits, the images and symbols evoked by our parties do not represent a lived reality so much as create one. Republicans no longer care if, say, legalizing abortion actually lowers its rate; or if building a “wall” along our southern border is projected to have only minimal effectiveness; or if aggressive rhetoric about foreign policy, involvement with NATO and the UN, or trade policy is only minimally effective, if at all. What matters more is the tough, exceptionalist, isolationistic identity it fosters. Democrats no longer care if global trade policies have left millions of the industrial working class, once its base, without jobs or training; or if excessive regulations hinder the spark of entrepreneurship that would allow many to escape poverty; or if our drones have killed hundreds of Afghani civilians; or if legislative and executive leaders have been far too cozy with 34
White Wall Street lobbyists. What matters most is the identity, the image, to be seen as open and sensitive to diverse others—opposite of that boorish other party. Ironically, our two parties have become but caricatures, unable to think critically about their own party or appreciatively about the other. We are more invested in our party’s “image” than in the reality of its policy, whether it serves the common good. We raise our children, marry our spouses, affiliate with work colleagues, and spurn our neighbors, based solely on party loyalty. White House press releases take more care to weave a narrative fitting with the representation it seeks to project than to tell the truth—because the truth no longer matters. According to Baudrillard’s analysis, what matters is the representation—which now creates its own reality. Baudrillard’s analysis raises many questions: about the status of truth and reality; about the role of truth-telling; the true nature of nation-state politics. While all of these questions are important, what should be of primary urgency is reclaiming the real—the really real from its reductionistic representation. Unfortunately, partisan politics has learned to win races by painting the world in binary representations—as heroes and villains—but has not learned to serve the common good. Too often, the Christian church has participated in this blood sport—demonizing the other side while valorizing our (whichever) side. The question that haunts us is, “What is beneath the totalizing map we have created of ourselves and others— what is real?” While the problem of reductionist representation is a very postmodern phenomenon, it is not entirely a new thing. In fact, Jesus seemed to continually interrupt such representations. Recall, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan in which a man was beaten and left for dead, ignored and abandoned by religious folks, but taken and cared for by the dreaded Samaritan. In Jesus’ day, these were hardened identities whose character was assumed—religious folks were seen to be the source of goodness while Samaritans were the source of evil. Jesus was well aware of the establishment of these binary categories seen to represent a map of the real. Yet, his point was not to highlight a duel between two different ideologies. Instead, in this parable and many others he challenged his followers to see—by means of compassion—what is beneath the expected, into the unseen pain and goodness of the unexpected. In fact, this has been the inner logic of the Christian tradition from the start. In Christian worship, we are no longer Jews or Greeks, Pharisees or Samaritans, Democrats or Republicans; we are those who join our voices in prayers of forgiveness and pardon, praise and communion. Our singing forces us to know that our voices need the voices of others; we pass the peace to give and receive amnesty for our sins; our lives are shaped by the reading of common texts and proclamation of God’s Word. Beyond the walls of the sanctuary, prayer opens us to God’s heart and the wounds of the world; keeping Sabbath opens for us the good gifts of God’s creation—more than commodities; showing hospitality to strangers reveals to us our own interdependence on God’s providence and the generosity of others; giving testimony reveals to us and our hearers how God is present in the fabric of our mundane lives. In these and other Christian practices the real is revealed to us—not as flattened into representational form, but alive with God’s 35
Christianity & Culture mystery and beauty. Perhaps the resources of our culture—organized around the priority of spectacle and commodity and power—have been exhausted. So long as the church only knows how to participate in these exhausted cultural forms we will remain in decline, even as our culture remains at war. In reality, these forms of representation are vulnerable on their own terms; they cannot deliver the flourishing they claim. They cannot foster a culture of gratitude, appreciation, delight, and joy. They can only foster a culture of hatred, suspicion, and fear. The Christian movement, especially as embodied in the social forms of the church, holds the potential to awaken us from the spell of representation, to the goodness of God and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. It can only do this if it remembers its practices—of worship, prayer, service, hospitality, Sabbath, forgiveness, and seeking justice. Only through the friction of these practices are we awakened to what lies beyond our egos and idols. v
Coming in the Spring 2020 Issue: Professor David Jensen on Theological Education for Public Leadership 36
THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY Theodore J. Wardlaw, President
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The Fall 2019 issue of Insights: Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary features an essay by Professor Eric Wall, assistant professor of sacred...
Published on Oct 29, 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Insights: Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary features an essay by Professor Eric Wall, assistant professor of sacred...