Part 4 | Songs for the Forgotten
By Dave Yauk
What about the affections…
Recently, I found myself sipping beer and carrying on conversation with some good Christian blokes around a table at a local restaurant. We were philosophizing over the state of singing in the church, and talking about how the church has grown too “happy.” On a typical Sunday morning, a Western church goer puts on a shine to their shoes and smile, and goes to a amped up church, singing about the peppiness of faith and practice. Don’t get me wrong, even though happiness and joy are different things, I’m o.k. with the church having its own brand of happy every once and while. However, popping songs like worship pills of “happy,” seems to stink of unauthentic denial. An overall happy approach denies what real life is really like and how deep affections are truly formed.
Shameless plug: This drove my network, Garden City, to record an album looking at some of the “darker Psalms,”–the laments (sorrow and grieving) and imprecatory (justice) psalms. The album is called The Songs of the Forgotten. The heart was to be able to give away this album FREE to the church to help those who are hurting, grieving, lost, and caught in despair, bitterness and even rage—whether their feelings be toward God or even injustice shown to them in their own life. These “darker” Psalms are largely lost in our day of “happy singing,” but many feel they are needed to give people a language in how to process and speak to God in their darkest moments.
Enough for our plug of our new album . Seriously though, its free, go download it!
What’s your view of the good life…
The truth is, what our singing really starts to reflect is our vision of what James K.A. Smith calls the good life. He explains that the good life is “an implicit picture of what human flourishing looks like.” Through our singing, we try and pull a fake heaven down into earth and convince ourselves that life is all positive thinking and emotional joy, when in reality the Bible is very honest about the fact that “real life” in this present evil age, and heavy rich experience is just not like this. Even Jesus, in his perfect, fully God, fully man state here on earth, experienced the full tones of human emotion. He wept, he laughed, he got angry, he got tired etc.
The Spirit filled life of the believer on earth is one that is fraught with all kinds of tension and release. Faith is shaped by a fire that yields gold! This is the image God uses for the Christian life. God sets us aflame with his training, and brings us to our knees in lament, only that we may feel the weight of our sin and dross fall off our shoulders, and thus stand up to rejoice. This means that we must reconsider what our singing is saying about how we view “the good life.” Is our singing fully capturing, preparing, shaping, forming, and readying our people to express their heart in response to God through all of life’s valleys and mountain tops?
Singing for the Good life…
Songs are thus important in tone and sound. Sound has a brilliant way of capturing the movement of people’s emotions. If you simply ask someone what kind of song they listen to when they feel angry (rap), blue (blues), relaxed (jazz and folk), worshipful (classical), fun (pop and hip-hop), and lively (techno), you’ll soon see this is true. Songs are as important in discipling and shaping our emotions as they are in shaping our beliefs. We need a smorgasbord of styles, louds and softs, wordy and brief, bright and dim to help reveal to us the depth of emotion that is inside of us. Good song choices should acknowledge that we are human, and we need to be fully represented in all our depths of feeling.
The Psalter, God’s Song book in the Bible, (which has been largely lost in most contexts today) is full of songs that cover the whole range of human emotion. Don’t believe me? Feel free to explore all the Songs God includes in his Top 150 List: Laments (sorrow, questioning, doubt), Penitential (confessing) and Imprecatory (praying for judgment and calamity), Thanksgiving (Todah) Psalms, Salvation History, Songs of Trust, Hymns and Doxology, Liturgical Covenant Songs, Royal (Kingly) Enthronement Psalms, Songs of Zion (Kingdom), Temple Liturgies, Wisdom, and Torah Psalms (Law and Word). Not only do the Psalms help us wade through the FULL dynamic of human experience, but they teach us and require us to Praise (external expressive action) and Worship (internal contemplative act of adoration) God in the midst of everything.
In my Song Selection Rubric, you’ll see how I work my way through a song canon as I plan singing in a particular church. I judge every song in relationship to all the others as to whether I am fully embracing the tonal ethic of the Psalms in the songs choices, as well as balancing what it means biblically to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
We must ask ourselves, are our song choices nourishing us, our families, and our churches with a full and nutritious diet of melody and emotion?