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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Tyranny of Theme Part 2

Why is it that church musicians listen to Radiohead and say they are inspired and moved yet pick a Nickleback song for the weekend?

I want people to engage and have a deeper level of listening. When we explain art away, we open the door to passive interaction—the lowest level of listening.

When there is an unidentified noise in your home, you seek it out with due diligence. Where is it coming from? What does it mean? Is something broke? Am I in danger? Once you identify it, you deal with it. But, if someone says, “oh, that’s just the wind blowing the tree against the house” you stop listening. You “hear” it, but you don’t listen to it anymore.

When we explain art away and live under the tyranny of theme—especially obvious theme . . .

No one asks questions. They don’t need to.

No one arrives at their own conclusions about their own lives. We tell them what to think.

No one is bothered. We tell them it’s okay.

No one is convicted. There’s no element of surprise.

Often, people will ask me why we “use” certain songs at the Winds. But, I don’t think in terms of “using” art. At least not in the sense these folks are thinking of when they ask the question.

I certainly don’t think of music as something we “use” to get to the “real message” (sermon).

Music isn’t “used” to round out 60 minutes and offer something other than a talking head.

Music isn’t simply used to communicate one theme at Westwinds.

Our music, like everything we do on the weekend is about aggregates and gateways. Sure, we aren’t completely random. We pray. We think things through. We pick the right song for the right moment. But, we aren’t mono-thematic.

What I really, really, REALLY want to see happen is for the people who are in charge of music selections at their churches to look past obvious theme. I want to see us not be afraid of the world of metaphor, tension, concurrent subject matter, emotional and physiological response, and avant-garde.

So, instead of asking your network of music people if they know a good song about “money” because your pastor is doing a sermon on “tithing,” (which will garner obvious and overdone suggestions like Pink Floyd—Money, The Beatles—Money (That’s What I Want), and Calloway—I Wanna Be Rich) let’s think for a change.

If you are stuck in the theme mode, at least think about deeper layers of themes. A theme like “tithing” gives you a plethora of places to go from comfort, to sacrifice, to commitment, to mission, to obedience, to state of the heart, to lifestyle, to choices, to fear, etc.

OR . . . OR . . . don’t do a song at all!

OR . . . do a song that isn’t tied to the theme at all.

OR . . . do a song that is pertinent for other things your church or the world is experiencing.

OR . . . do a song because it is a good song and it needs to be heard.

One of the greatest things that ever happened to the church over the last few years was Willow Creek’s influence on music and the arts in the context of the Sunday gathering. But it is that very thing, that theme mindset, which “special song” approach, which sometimes keeps us hamstrung from being creative.

It makes us predictable.

So, we are left to search the internet for themes, ask our friends what worked for them, go to an old book like The Source, or post a frantic request to Twitter because our pastor is speaking on Homosexuality and we can only think of Queen songs.

(P.S. Scott Dyer, author of The Source, is a friend and a good man. The Source has been a huge impact and excellent resource for many. Sometimes, a book like this is exactly what the doctor ordered. But, it is not the only way to approach music selection and I’m sure Scott would agree)

So, church musicians, I dare you to break the mold.

Listen to the radio. Listen to the new iTunes releases. Pull up the playlist of the college station.

When a song grabs you, ask why.

If it makes you cry, you should probably share it. Soon. Because.

If it makes you smile, buy the chart.

If it bothers you, put it on the calendar.

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