Thursday, October 04, 2007

Paying attention to what we sing

Just back from a conference on charity management called Aiming 4 Excellence. It was the usual mixed bag. Some sessions were wonderful - Suzi Leather of the Charity Commission, Jim Saker (a man I used to be a youth group with at Knighton Free) and Alan Storkey were particularly outstanding.

The worship was a bit tedious, however. I'm growing increasingly tired of 'worship' that consists of singing a string of songs that tell God what he's like. Now, don't get me wrong, I think there is a place for praising and magnifying the name of God, calling to mind his attributes and remembering with gratitude all he's done for us. But a run of songs that tell God he's awesome in language that recalls a teenager describing a video game doesn't do much for me, I'm afraid.

I was listening to Editors new album on the way up, a collection of laments describing life on planet earth in pithy and telling one-liners. I found it interesting to compare and contrast the worship at the conference with the tracks on An End has a Start. Isn't there a reason why two thirds of psalms are laments, why Ecclesiastes, Job and Lamentations play such a crucial part in the Jewish liturgical calendar?

Surely the reason is this: our talking to God ought to be as much about life down here as it is about him up there. Surely, we are called to articulate the pain and bewilderment of human beings in the presence of God - as Abraham did, as the Psalms do, As Paul suggests we do in Romans 8. Surely our gatherings are meant to be a dialogue between us and God where he hears our pain and reminds that he shares it and is at work bringing to fruition his great work of redemption which is about more than me having my sins forgiven.

The irony is that the congregation at the conference were directors and trustees of charities working with some of the poorest people in some of the hardest places in our land. At the very least we should have been inviting the almighty to hear again the cry of the oppressed and hearing his cracked voice respond in the Spirit groaning in his groaning people immersed in a groaning creation (to borrow Paul's language from Romans 8).

Where are the song writers, writing liturgical music that puts some of the pain of our communities into words that we can sing in our gatherings? They must be out there.


Anonymous said...

Not quite a lament articulating the pain of the world, but a song lamenting from God's perspective. It is getting on a bit now but I still find it powerful.

1 Look around you, can you see?
Times are troubled, people grieve.
See the violence, feel the hardness;
all my people, weep with me.
Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison.
Kyrie, eleison.

2 Walk among them, I'll go with you.
Reach out to them with my hands.
Suffer with me, and together
we will serve them, help them stand.

3 Forgive us, Father; hear our prayer.
We'll walk with you anywhere,
through your suff'ring, with forgiveness,
take your life into the world.

Jodi Page Clark (born 1941)
© 1976 Celebration/admin. by

Anonymous said...

I so agree with you! Some of the words even appear to be bordering on meaningless!! Some of the "old" songs are full of meaning - I trace the rainbow through the rain - I've been trying to get people to think about what they're singing. Sadly some seem just to want to sing without much thought. Hope you're well. Give our love to Linda. Margaret

Anonymous said...

Hi. Might be worth checking out Godfrey Birtill at (navigate to song list on the menu to see the lyrics). We sing some of his songs at church and you may find they hit the spot for what you are looking for.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog cause i was looking for the lyrics of Kyrie Eleison. How funny! Great thoughts and very sure you have heard of Andy Flanagan....he doesn't write many tunes nowadays but he has a wonderful way of worshiping how it is through the realities of life.
May God continue going with you as you travel.

Anonymous said...

oh and Mumford and sons!