Category Archives: music

Worship Wars : The Show must (not) go on

I’ve been reading Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out without Dumbing Down : A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time and want to use it as a spring board to do some ‘verbal processing’ about the way we facilitate worship in our church services.  ‘Worship’ is not just ‘singing songs’ and so this is a much bigger picture.  However, as a musician charged with the task of leading sung worship in the context of leading the whole church service, music and singing will play a big part in how I look at this issue.

Just so you know.

I haven’t yet made it to the end of Marva’s book – its not quite the easy read of Now let’s move into a time of nonsense by Nick Page – but if I don’t start to write about it, I’ll give up!  My general impressions thus far are somewhat muddled.

I heard Marva Dawn give some seminars once in Belfast a few years back and was mightily impressed and challenged by what she had to say.  I also have several friends I respect who respect her greatly.  So I guess that off the bat, I was expecting to feel the same about this book.  I have to admit, though, I can’t help feeling sometimes that she’s just a little bit grumpy and cynical when it comes to what she thinks and says about the state of things.  She’s particularly NOT fond of all things technological (tv, internet, popular culture…) and constantly points the finger in that direction for everything that is wrong with the church (I’m slightly overstating for sake of argument).  In saying that, her observations and conclusions are often right on the money and she draws some ‘prophetic'(?) conclusions about the consequences these things have on individuals and therefore church communities and their practices or lack thereof.

So my starting point is that – to outline some of the consequences she highlights of our modern culture on church culture…

1. Television etc bombarding us with so much information about so many different people/places/issues that we are rendered impotent – being overwhelmed then diminishes our ability and motivation to act on what we see and hear.  This therefore impacts how we view the world in general and then, of course, faith – its easy to listen to sermons, enjoy the information but do nothing with it.  This has a knock-on effect with our ability/motivation to think critically about the information we are presented with which in turn impacts the foundations of how people learn and grow in faith, or not as the case may be.

2. Loss of intimacy skills due to internet etc – so we try to whip up this feeling of intimacy in sung worship.  “Lacking sincere intimacy in congregational fellowship we often put false pressue on worship to produce feelings of intimacy” p28 “Now a great number of people know they need community and do not know how to create it authentically.” p33

3. Playing up to the culture of entertainment.

This is the one I’d like to focus on just now…

I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to ‘up front’ things.  In the context of a church service, I like things to run smoothly, be clear so as not to distract people from the ‘journey’ of a service.  But I’ve long been uncomfortable with church events that run so smoothly and are lit so spectacularly and with music practiced so down to the last ‘millimeter’ of sound that people feel like they’re attending a concert rather than participating in corporate worship.

In different chapters in her book (eg 4,6,7), Marva Dawn, talks about how what we do in a worship service models and forms the character of the people participating (and therefore impacting the ‘culture’ of the community).  On this point of worship services like concerts, or “Entertainment Evangelism” as she calls it, she says this :

 “If people are saved by a spectacular Christ, will they find him in the fumbling of their own devotional life or in the humble services of local parishes where pastors and organists make mistakes?” p50

When we create perfection and ‘slick’ worship times, what picture are we painting of the daily Christian life?  What expectations are we engendering of what it looks like to follow Jesus when there are no guitar solos, no fancy lighting and no spine-tingling cymbals and only busy traffic, a flickering computer screen or a baby crying?

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God’s Extravagant Beauty

I’ve been reading Surprised By Hope by Tom Wright with a friend recently.  If I ever get round to it, I’ll share some reflections from it.  But, that book and some other chats and ruminations have encouraged me muchly to rediscover and re-revel in some of the ways in which God has made this whole creation something incredibly extravagantly beautiful.

The following video is of a heart-breakingly beautiful piece of music on an instrument I’ve always wanted to play… And all the better as it is performed by my heart-breakingly beautiful friend

Hypnosis (you’ll have to download it in order to watch – worth every single 78MB)

Enjoy, friends…

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I’m not angry… Just disappointed.

Not many people know this, but I used to play the double bass.

Now, when I say I used to ‘play’ the double bass, really I mean I used to get lessons on the double bass.  These things are very different.  But seriously, give a nine year old an instrument twice their height and tell them rather than taking that instrument home to practice that they have to forgo their school breaktime to practice instead and you tell me how successful that will be…?

But that’s not the point.

The point is, I didn’t practice.  And when I didn’t practice it meant that the old lessons with Mrs Coleslaw didn’t go very well.  Then when I went to high school and took lessons with Mrs Basher, those didn’t go very well either.  Both ladies were grumpy and frowny and frankly terrifying.  To this day I’m not sure if it is a requirement for double bass teachers to be able to shout at ear-splitting levels and to wither your liver with one look…  Their shouting and looking – as terrifying as it was – weren’t the most dreaded response to my inability to match the notes on the score to finger-positioning and lack of practice.  The phrase I dreaded most in response to my eyes-down confession of 5 minutes practice a week was “I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”


Even now it sends shudders down my spine and plants anvils in my gut!

Undoubtedly you have your own experience of these kind of traumatic guilt-inducing childhood memories?  Or perhaps it was just me.  But anyway…

In the last couple of years in listening to Darrell Johnson teaching the gospel of John I have been interested in the concept of ‘zoe’ the Greek word for life of the spiritual kind rather than ‘bios’ as life in the biological kind of way.  C.S Lewis also talks about it in ‘Mere Christianity’.  I won’t try and explain it all here, but suffice to say that it made me think think along the lines of Jesus saying that he came that we might have ‘life (zoe) in all its fullness’ and that therefore all the things we turn to apart from him (ie sin) steals zoe from us.

For me, this perspective on sin helps me understand that it is not that God is some sort of cosmic spoilt child who, because he didn’t get his way, wreaks havoc in his judgement on our sin.  But that rather, God wants us to know and live the life he had always intended for us so sent Jesus to do the whole life-death-resurrection-ascension thing so we can be free from sin and death and hell.

SO… by trusting in Jesus I am sorted and that life (zoe) is mine.  Except… I’m not very good at practising.  I still muck around with my sin mud pies: holding on to grudges, serving myself over others, discontent and grumbling…

If I am talking to someone who says something similar of themselves, I feel that in that context the way forward is not to preach fear tactics; not to tell the person that those sins make God angry and that he punishes and disciplines them.  My tactics would be to point out that those things steal true life from us, that they ruin ‘shalom’ and why would we want anything to do with them? to encourage them that true life and beauty dwells in following the way God says to go. ‘Whoever lays down his life for me and for the gospel will find it!’  God wants so much more for us than that!

Except… Somewhere in all of this I suddenly got the feeling that the trajectory of all this could lead to that same feeling from my childhood neglect of the double bass.  I mean, can you imagine…? Standing before the judgement throne of the infinite creator of all things seen and unseen, realising in full the absolute and utter idiocy and ugliness and emptiness of all those things you mucked around with in your earthly life, clinging to and claiming the name of Jesus and the voice of the Almighty booms those dreaded words:

“I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”

I’m sure there are many smarter people out there who can punch holes all over that and who can identify what my issues and misunderstandings are.  To clarify – that’s not really how I believe God will react when we finally get to the point of hanging out forever, I’m more just trying to work out why I was reminded of the Mrs Coleslaw and Basher when thinking about this stuff the other day.  So please feel free to help!

But it also took me back to some pub theology about right and wrong as verbally-processed from this soapbox.  Does our obsession about right/wrong behaviour mean that we miss a bigger picture?  Does our measuring of our sinful/righteous responses to life’s circumstances mean that we’re trying to ‘keep a balance’ when life with God (zoe) isn’t anywhere near a set of scales?!?

Eugh… I just don’t know!  What do you think?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15


Just read something this morning that is interesting in regards to this stuff.  The author pointed out that in leading someone in prayer to come to know Jesus, we only lead them in repenting of sin and not renouncing sin.  This reduces ‘sin’ to our thoughts and actions as opposed to an all-encompassing force which enslaves and destroys… Helpful perhaps?

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“You’ll be back” he said, as they walked around the Cathedral.

Old church buildings always made her want to sing, to raise the smallest note and listen as it grew wings and soared up to the rafters.  She could never quite get up the guts to do it.

“Can you imagine this place filled with a whole bunch of people singing worship to God?  How amazing would that be?!”   Constant chatter an outpouring of a hyper-active sense of imagination and well-placed zeal.  He was a dreamer, a visionary, an artist…

And he had been right.  She was back.

This time, though, as she walked towards the front he stayed behind, filling another’s memory, dreaming other dreams – he had undoubtably forgotten those words, possibly completely oblivious to their accuracy.   Yet here she was again with unbidden tears pouring significance into the echoes of before.

“You’ll be back,” he said.

And she was.

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As much as I hate to say it…

… this is a GREAT song.

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A new love interest

ITV 3 has begun to show The Wonder Years every evening beginning at 7pm.  I remember watching some of it when I was wee – probably the first time it was aired on British tv.  It was okay, I mean – it wasn’t quite Neighbours or The Cosby Show, or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air…

What was I thinking?!?  Life, love, laughter… And a great theme tune to boot!  This show is GREAT!  Watch it!

The Wonder Years


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When I read in the Gospel of John that “Jesus wept” I always thought of weeping as a soft, delicate thing: tears sliding silently down his cheeks.  But a few nights ago, I wept.  The only apt word: “wept”.  Wracking sobs, moaning, nose streaming, tears flooding…  I wept from loneliness, from fear and from doubt.  I questioned the validity of my faith, the truth of my ‘gifts’, the character of my God.


Tonight, on the way home from sharing in God’s truth with my home church I wept for different reasons.  For fullness, for love, for hope…  Because I know that He is True.  And that He calls me precious.


They’ll try to take you and steal your heart

They’ll try to make you something you aren’t

You can be swept like sand on a beach, but not out of reach:

Don’t let them drag you down – hold on.


Know that you’re precious

Know that you’re precious

Know that you’re precious

So precious…

(martyn joseph, ‘precious’)


Filed under church, fear, grace, hope, love, music