“And he’s hearing stories of laughter

And happy ever after.

He knows there’s many rooms in his Father’s house

And he’s spolit by choice”

From “Stories” by Eden Burning

So songs, like books, can contain stories.  Songs can convey parts of our life’s story.  Songs have the ability to take our thoughts back to a certain point in time – to remind us of how we once thought or felt.

Here are three short stories of when some of the ideas explored in this blog first struck home with me.

Firstly, when did I first make a connection with the importance of the words contained within the songs we sing in church?  I clearly remember being stood in a musty church hall building in Forfar aged six or seven at the end of  an evening of Boys Brigade.  Why do I remember that?  I vividly recall being troubled at singing “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want”.  I remember deliberately not singing the line, because I thought to myself, “but, I DO want and need Him”.  It heartens me to think there was a little, quiet, objector of conscience beginning to take shape even back then.  The reality is, however, that I simply misunderstood the words of a hymn and, in fact, the words of scripture. 

Secondly, at aged eight I first discovered pop music.  I distinctly remember hearing the lyrics, “Makes me proud, so proud of you – I see innocence shining through” and getting that warm and fuzzy sensation.  I remember thinking that maybe God as a Father was in some way proud of me when I made a conscious decision to do the right thing.  The lyrics weren’t from a hymn book, but from Adam & The Ants’ “Dog Eat Dog”. 

Thirdly, when also probably aged seven or eight, I learned the story behind the song “Silent Night”.  A church pastor had written a song especially for a Christmas service only to discover that the church organ wasn’t working.  In a brave move, which was outwith church tradition, he decided to still incorporate the song into the Christmas service.  He used the only instrument available to him – a guitar.  That was unheard of at the time.  I remember recognising that this was something counter-cultural and yet something done with sensitivity because he believed the song conveyed something meaningful.  It didn’t seem that radical to me.  It actually made perfect sense.

So, three short stories.

Here’s three short questions:

Have we caused misunderstanding to those outside of or on the fringes of church through the language we use in songs or in trying to describe or explain Scripture?

Can “non-church” or “non-Christian” songs connect with us and convey truth every bit as much, or even more than, some of the songs we usually sing in church?

Do we as collections of people known as church need to be more counter-cultural today or do we place too much emphasis on “being relevant” at the expense of truth?

Let’s get a conversation going by clicking on the part that states how many comments I have at the start of this post.


10 Responses to “Stories”

  1. 1 duncanmcf August 7, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Er, yes, yes, yes and no. Does that count as converation?

    The 2nd question is highly interesting, as it is effectively saying that Christians don’t have a monopoly on truth. Which we know to be true, but how often we fail to recognise this. So what if there’s truth in some Islamic song? Can we sing to that?

    I think on the 3rd question, the question is not whether “we need to be relevant”, but how do we provide songs that allow the singers to sing authentically, consistent with their own experience (look at the psalms for example). To me the question is what does it mean to sing/worship authentically – whether a psalm, hymn, spiritual song, or some other piece of music (or poetry or writing or painting etc etc)? And I would suggest that as generations and cultures change, that music has to change with it.

  2. 2 bringonthejoy August 7, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Question 3 – yes, it’s kind of like ‘church culture’ is almost a culture apart, and so we end up wearing another kind of identity-hat when we’re there, saying, doing and just being different in terms of how we communicate and express ourselves. But then, taking MBC as an example, the range of micro-cultures across the people who come along will be very diverse. So how do we sing corporately in a way which reflects that sort of cultural diversity and allows individuals to retain their own authenticity? (Answers on a postcard…)
    Relevance + truth. I would humbly suggest that truth is always relevant ( and I know I’m being cheeky and bodyswerving the point!).
    Ultimately relevance is about identifying who you are communicating to, perhaps. So maybe truth only gets compromised when you extend the ‘relevance’ net too broadly and end up with a wooly old jumble of stuff that’s trying so hard to connect with such a wide range of people the actual meaning is lost.
    Ramble, ramble, I’ll stop now.

  3. 3 thestatethatiamin August 7, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I reckon that society by and large thinks church is irrelevant to everyday life, to daily decisions, to economics, to law and order, education, the environment, etc. Many in the office I work in make comments about their childhood experiences of church and it rarely put things in a good light. I think this is beginning to drive us personally to desire to demonstrate the relevance of our faith and, more than that, the fact that we can’t imagine how we could possibly function without it.

    I love Don Miller’s idea of setting up a confessional boothe on a Uni campus so that the Christians could confess the sins and shortcomings of the church to anyone who would care to listen. We could all learn from that.

    Our society here in Scotland is so fragemented – our congregations so diverse. We find identity in a huge array of props. I love the fact that that one day every nation, tribe and tongue will bow before the throne of God, albeit that is a pretty scary thought when I think about the state I am often in…I once heard Steve Chalke describe that as referring to every sub-culture or people group. That means everyone from the CEO to the office junior, from the politician to the homeless, from the doctors to the junkies, from the architects to the goths, from the Americans to the Afghanistans and Iraqis and all of us inbetween.

    I think for many of us it is as if we too are realising the shame of parts of church history. It seems to me as if a huge institution is waking up from a deep slumber and little by little is being raised back from the dead. I think many of us are learning what it is to be a follower of Jesus rather than a member of a particular denomination. Like Paul, I think we are beginning to view so many of our credentials as nothing, utter rubbish, compared to knowing Christ and embracing His restoration of people and planet. Bring it on!

  4. 4 brunettekoala August 7, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    I think part of the reason people in the past have failed to recognise God in ‘church’ is because ‘church’ tried to institutionalise God. And in some ways succeeded. What is needed is to be counter-cultural and get back to basics. Jesus may talk in riddles sometimes, but in essence ‘the truth’ was pretty simple.

    One of the things that did (and still does) fascinate me when I first became a Christian was the story behind songs. I loved the imagery and the depth. Are we losing that a little for fear of not being ‘relevant’…? I don’t think it’s wrong to have these songs which talk about scripture, but let’s be approachable if people have questions…are we ready to explain deeper what the song is all about? I had so many questions which the guys at City and my uni CU were so lovely in answering…why do we stand up to sing? Why do we always follow the same structure? Why do we do communion? Why does someone get up and speak? How should we be praying in church? Why don’t we pray for healing when someone is sick? Why do we sing songs when we don’t mean them? Why don’t we dance in church?…

    Equally, it really, really wound me up when a speaker used a ‘bible story’ to explain a point in their sermon…e.g. ‘we see this in the story of Jonah that we all know…’ Me and my friend (neither of us grew up in church) would be sitting there going ‘No, we don’t know. Who the heck are you talking about? What’s the story? We now don’t understand what you’re trying to teach us!!’

  5. 5 thestatethatiamin August 8, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Totally…as our particular congregation finds the seats being increasingly filled with new folks we need to be careful to avoid jargon and assumptions of understanding. Maybe we need to discover some new church traditions whilst not throwing out that which is helpful simply for the sake of change, relevance or modernity?

  6. 6 duncanmcf August 8, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    @BK truth is always relevant? not necessarily. Relevance would suggest appropriate use. Truth is always true, it may not always be relevant. E.g. i may choose certain songs to remind you that 99 nuclear missiles will kill you and everyone else, but I may not always want to make that point. e.g. if I’m on date night….

    @TSTIAI I’m looking forward to your thts on communion on this regard, and rediscovering the essence of that.

    @BK I take your point on counter cultural but I’d say this isn’t a goal in itself. After all, imagine if the culture totally changed to follow Jesus, would we still want to be counter cultural?

    @TSTIAI why not introduce story more into worship? whether it’s story of the ancients, story of our community, story of our city, story from the bible? There must be creative ways to share this – e.g. poetry, short stories etc, art etc

  7. 7 brunettekoala August 8, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a goal as in, I don’t think it’s good idea to take current culture and do the opposite for the sake of being counter cultural. But to be following Jesus is to be authentic and it will be counter cultural…I don’t think we’ll be getting to a stage where culture will totally change to follow Jesus.

  8. 8 brunettekoala August 8, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    PS – Where did I say the truth was always relevant? Confuzzled.

  9. 9 duncanmcf August 9, 2008 at 7:05 am

    @BK apologies that should have been @BOTJ
    “Relevance + truth. I would humbly suggest that truth is always relevant ( and I know I’m being cheeky and bodyswerving the point!).”

  10. 10 bringonthejoy August 10, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Hey Duncan you’re getting all post-modern on us. Truth is always relevant to the human condition – does that work?! Individual truths may not be relevant to specific contexts, I’ll give you that. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t there, or that they aren’t applicable. I was kind of assuming from the context of TSTIAI’s questions that we were talking about a particular range of truths and how they are expressed. Apologies for not being precise!
    By the way how did I end up with an emoticon in my other comment? I didn’t put it there….

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