One of the hands-down coolest things to do in Richmond, Virginia in the summer is the reenactment of the Second Virginia Convention at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, during which Patrick Henry delivered the famous line, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” These guys are essentially trying to decide whether assembling a militia among the colonists to protect themselves from the occupying British soldiers would be considered treason. Patrick Henry and his supporters point out that England had already betrayed its responsibilities as a governing power, and forming a militia would be a reasonable response to their actions, but the loyalists in the crowd demur, saying, “we should play it safe, we shouldn’t do anything more to anger them, we don’t want to start something, and besides, their occupation isn’t really that bad.”
Three weeks later, the first shots of the Revolution are fired, and history changes forever.
One of the strengths of John Wesley’s theology is something described by Albert Outler as “third alternative theologizing,” which is how Outler described and understood Wesley’s refusal to accept a binary oppositional choice as his only options. Rather than arriving at a compromise, where no one wins and everyone is left unsatisfied, this is a way of encouraging all parties to look at a conflict in a new way such that a new solution arises: the third alternative.
This makes a lot of sense in context, and one of Wesley’s own theological tenets serves as a great example. In the time of the Oxford Methodist movement, there was a doctrinal dispute between the Calvinists and others. At that time doctrine, rather than the faith of the people or the movements of the church, where what mattered among the educated classes in England, and so this doctrinal dispute was a major division within the church at large. The question soon faced the Methodists: where would they stand on this issue?
Last night, I had the opportunity to present my graduate research to the campus and the Nashville community through a lecture recital. I feel so blessed by the support of family and friends, and the ministries with which I’m involved, and I loved being able to share what I’ve been studying. I wanted to share a summary of my research here, because I have several friends and church families that aren’t in Nashville and couldn’t be there. Through this research process, I’ve come to a broader understanding of the role of music in worship, its ability to connect the spirit to the theological truths of the church, and its power to facilitate a more profound experience of the fundamental tenets of Christian faith.
In my job search process, one of the standard questions is to articulate my theology of worship and my view on the role of music in worship. It’s made me think more closely about my heritage in the United Methodist Church, and my affinity for the UMC’s music tradition, and how that’s shaped the musician I’ve become.
I’ve been working my way through a fabulous book, Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology. One chapter in particular, a discussion by David J. R. S. Moseley of “Music as Witness in the Theology of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” has fundamentally altered my entire perspective of how music can witness to scripture, which is why I’m drawn to share it with you.
Some of you may know of the theologies of Barth and Bonhoeffer, two of the most significant figures in twentieth-century theology, and of their explicit understanding of music as a responsive form of “witness” that links worldly existence with its ground in God’s reconciling self-revelation in Christ. Barth understood this through the concept of “parables”, and Bonhoeffer understood this as “polyphony.” In this essay, Moseley explores how these two musical theologies can resonate with each other and with the modern-day church.
Today, I want to explore two related questions about Christian music:
For the Christian, what is the difference between “christian” music and everything else, and should it have any bearing on what we listen to?
My parents had a favorite saying when I was growing up, you’ve probably heard it before: “Garbage in, garbage out.” What you fill yourself with shapes what comes out. It’s a colloquial version of Philippians 4:8:
From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.
Okay, you might be saying to yourself. Then clearly, I should be listening to Christian radio and absorbing only Christian media, because that’s what’s holy, just, and pure in our culture today.
It’s about that time of Lent… when our enthusiasm for our chosen Lenten practices is beginning to wane, and Easter seems still so far away. I’m finding that I need some reminding about why the church observes Lent as we do, creating 40 days of preparation, repentance, and reflection through personal abstention and sacrifice.
Shane Claiborne had a great blog post at the beginning of Lent this year, and it refreshed my Lenten spirit this morning.
“What’s the difference between a flute and a stick in the mud?” our priest asked on Sunday. He then went on, “The stick in the mud is full of itself. The flute has been emptied of itself so it can make music.”
If we expect God to do anything in our lives, we need to be like the flute, empty and ready for God to make music in our lives. If we’re like the stick, full of ourselves, where is the room for God?
I attended a wonderful lecture last week on campus, given by Dr. Melanie Ross of Yale University. She spoke about the many different perspectives of worship in the modern church, and she focused on the ways we cling to our personal preferences of style, worship order, music, even where we sit on Sunday mornings. She provoked us to think about these and the other things in our lives that we cling to, and asked us if, after everything we “can’t live without” is spoken for, there was any room left for God in our worship, or in our lives.