It has been awhile since I posted on my Mennonite adventures. Partly cause we have just been going and enjoying it, also partly cause not much has gone on warranting my thoughts. Its just been good. Last sunday though I had an experience that made me wonder about how we communicate to new people and how traditions change.
Let me start by providing a few disclaimers (always a good sign). 1) I love a variety of musical experiences and do not need it always suit my needs. 2) I appreciate the influence and wisdom of older folks. 3) I am not a total iconoclast.
What happened, and what regularly happens, was that the music leader got up, announced the page in the hymnal (one of three) and proceeded to explain a vast and confusing series of instructions for the proper singing of the song. Her instruction included many terms and ideas I am not familiar with and my wife and I looked at each other and shrugged. We were completely lost and spent most of the song just humming along (which is fine with me). However, from the get go we felt like we didn’t have a part in the song. We didn’t know the lingo, the notations, the form. Hell, I don’t even know if I am a bass, tenor, alto…what have you. I could safely say my wife doesn’t know. I could also safely say that most of my friends don’t have a clue either.
Regularly the music leader gets up and announces a special meter, or notation. They call out for the tenors to note some special thingamajogger on the whatsit and we just laugh and shrug.
Ultimately, it is not an issue but regularly the style of worship makes me feel like I am an outsider looking in. And while I embrace the old way and the tradition, I also want to be a part. More often than not we just sit and listen, and I must say it sounds beautiful. But in my opinion and quick mental survey of friends, a vast minority have any choral training and very few read music. This is a major shift in generations but is a real difference. I would love to know how many folks in the church under the age of 35 or 40, read music and understand the musical notation. Maybe the Mennonite subculture has an increased rate of musical literacy. But from my non-mennonite upbringing, and my circle of friends…we have none.
The issue is this….Why do we do it that way? Is it for the sake of tradition? Or is the real and best way? Would our worship lack if we didn’t do it? Does it matter if we hit the right notes?
I believe that sometimes, and I am not pointing the finger at my church, we do things just because thats how we do them. I also think that sometimes we get caught up in the feeling that we have to do it correctly, rather than just take pleasure in doing it. Worship is supposed to be a joyful noise unto the Lord. It doesn’t say it has to be a correctly sung tone, just a joyful noise.
What other traditions do we have that keep people feeling off guard and not able to participate? What language do we assume? Are we too focused on singing right and leaving folks out?
Again…my goal is not for every one to sing off key or to sing like me. And maybe I am reacting from my love of punk rock, Bob Dylan, atonal, modernism but there is beauty in the imperfect. I have been moved by songs in the mosh pit more than the pew. I have been touched by the imperfect vocals of punk bands and hardcore more than most perfect choirs. Its real, its joyful and its from the heart.