The most radical thing that churches do these days is not their social justice programs, their housing for the homeless, or even their political lobbying. It’s their singing.
Have you noticed that the younger generations don’t sing? Oh, they’re never without music. They have music -- or at least what they consider music -- pumped into their ears constantly by their Bluetooth earbuds. They have audio systems in their cars that can rattle windows a block away.
But they don’t sing along. They kinda grunt and twitch along.
They don’t even know what to sing, unless a loudspeaker provides leadership.
I sat around a blazing campfire in a mountain resort, a couple of summers ago. Many of the group were half my age, cheerfully toasting marshmallows, passing bags of snacks, staring into the embers. Someone started singing campfire songs. Only the older folks joined in.
Increasingly, I think that singing is a counter-cultural phenomenon. And it happens mostly in churches.
A way to build community
It’s just my personal view, but I don’t think we sing so that the sound of our praise can go up to God. I think we sing to build community. By singing, we do something together -- something that we enjoy, something that we don’t have to vote on, something that doesn’t require us to defend our views.
Lindy Thompson, who manages Tennessee United Methodists for Inclusion, recognizes why she goes to church. She put her feelings into a poem (excerpts reproduced here by permission: lindythompson.net)
I go to sing.
It’s the willingness to stand if you are able,
the common agreement on page number,
the voluntary sharing of songbooks with people on your row --
but most of all,
it’s the collective in-breath before the first sound is made,
the collective drawing upon the grace of God,
the collective, if inadvertent, admission
that we are all human,
all in need of the sustaining air, freely dispensed,
all in need of each other to get the key right and not sound discordant –-
it’s the hidden life-celebration
in the act of making a joyful noise,
We don’t even have to sound that good.
Singing together still brings home
the we-ness of worship,
the not-alone-ness of life in God,
thebest of all we have to offer each other.
I love her line, “the collective in-breath before the first sound…” Meditation commonly encourages us to focus on our breathing, to breathe deeply. Singing requires a whole congregation, whether twelve people or twelve hundred, to breathe in unison -- all drawing a breath at the end of each line, all exhaling together as we sing the next line.
When we sing, whatever our belief or theology, we
live and breathe it today,
drawing in the grace of God,
voicing out our need and hope and gratitude and longing.
When we are singing, I can feel the better world coming,
and if I get to be a part of it, you do too . . .
so sing with me,
and we’ll make our way down that blessed road together,
than we ever thought
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I knew that writing about my aging dog would bring forth your empathetic responses!
Dawne Taylor wrote, “Hi Jim -- loved your column about your Chessie who has lost her hearing. I too have an aging dog -- soon to be 15. She too has lost her hearing -- beginning with the doorbell, then the garage door, and now just about everything. And I too have asked the same kind of questions about her ability to lip read, etc.
“In spite of her age and hearing infirmity, I love her more than ever. Her walks are a daily special, and she acts like a puppy running ahead of me. But if she’s off-leash, slight problem when she can’t be called back!Yes she sleeps more than she did, and yes she snores, but as she sits here looking at me now because it is ‘walk time,’ the bond and love between us is deep.”
Marg Tribe also shared her experience: “We have recently realized that our 13½ year old Australian shepherd, Sydney, is completely deaf. She hears nothing, but does sense vibrations like footsteps and clapping. She does not respond to calling or whistling, and where before she would have moved, it is very easy to open a door into her, or bump into her accidentally. We try not to sneak up on her. And she too suffers from arthritis.
“Her brother and littermate, Sammy, died last May. She has spent the months since his passing looking lost and confused, staring balefully through the fence, panting and pacing. Before I knew she was deaf, I thought it was grief, and Sydney was missing her brother. Now I am wondering if it is the fact that she cannot hear. Or both. As well as some cognitive decline. And I am asking the same question you are about how a dog's brain deals with deafness, and aging, but as well, I am asking do they feel grief? For how long? Can she still be missing Sammy, as I am, all these months later? I believe that she is.
“It is a bittersweet time with our old pup. Like you, we are doing our best to keep her happy and well as long as we can. And she is yet another reminder of our own mortality.
James Russell picked up on my own sense of aging: “I find that I am, like you and your dog (and I suspect, most other life-forms) an evolving being. And evolution is not a forward-and-up process, so much as grappling the present with the tools of a fading past to move towards an uncertain future. Sometimes optimistic, sometimes not; sometimes conscious, sometimes … absorbed in the process? It may be a dog’s life, but what’s an old dog to do?”
So did Bob Rollwagen: “As we age, we each seem to get smaller in many different ways. All of our learned and natural skills seem to follow this path. I would suggest that they all reside in our mind. I feel like I have some kind of dementia and am slowly losing all. While this will make it harder, I hope the last to go is my sense of humour and love of family. I had a dog and she had some similar issues but even at the end, she seemed to smile and appreciate the care and circumstance.”
Tom Watson had insights into disabilities: “A friend who was born with limited vision and by the time he was six years old was totally blind. He's now in his early 70s. He concurs with your friend Rich that he'd rather be blind than deaf. A very intelligent man, he reads voluminously. Being blind has never held him back from anything. A few weeks back, he lent me a movie called ‘Black’—a Bollywood movie about a girl who was born both deaf and blind (I cannot begin to imagine how challenging that might be). It's a very touching movie, one of the best I have seen in recent times.”
Finally Darcy Banerd offered some tips: “You mentioned your Chesapeake was losing its hearing. I am guessing that over time it will also lose a lot of its sight.”
Darcy recommended teaching dogs hand signals as well as vocal commands: “It will help her feel better that you are still communicating. Dogs also have an incredible sense of smell. It's important now to teach him/her to use their sense of smell. For example the path to go outside --spray along the borders and down the steps. Soon she will associate the scent with where to travel. A spritzer perhaps with a little bit of lemon scent, or the scent of orange and water to indicate dinner is served. Just spritz in the air. Whatever you use, it will help eventually. If sight does go, she will not feel lost. You will also feel good for being pro-active.”
The chapel at the seminary where my father was principal for 30 years had a stained-glass window of Holman Hunt’s famous painting of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. Perhaps that memory influenced this paraphrase of Psalm 36.
5 Your door is always open, God.
You stand at your door, and welcome all who come to it.
6 Entry to your home is not limited to your friends, your associates, your social class.
You extend your welcome to everyone and everything:
Beggars and outcasts, oppressors and victims,
People who have handicaps and drifters who huddle under bridges and in culverts.
From the rats cowering in their sewers to the birds soaring among the clouds--
You make them all welcome in your home.
7 All of creation is your household, God.
All can live together in harmony under your roof.
8 In your kitchens they are fed;
In your living room, they are entertained and uplifted.
9 For you are life itself.
10 Continue to give us life, O Lord.
Show us how to live in harmony in your home.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet