Hymns, songs and immature amusement

It’s taken me nearly a week to get round to this – partly because it needed some thought and partly because I’ve had other pressing blogging concerns (well, Black Swan and Friday Fun). Last week Rach tagged me in a post relating to a meme that’s been doing the (Christian) rounds on the subject of ‘Contemporary Christian Music’ praise songs.

The meme is as follows:

Please try to name ONE (I know, there are so many to choose from) CCM praise song that you find unbearable and at least 2-3 reasons why, pointing to specific lyrics if you must.

Ahhh, Christian worship songs – a topic on which I could pontificate forever, probably owing to my Methodist roots. People should know that Methodists are more obsessed by the words and tunes of hymns/songs than any other denomination or group – they know the names of tunes for hymns as well as at least 3 possible alternatives, not to mention enjoying a cappella hymn singing at their annual conference. [Most talked about Methodist news item of the last 5 years? The new hymn collection. Most responded to national Methodist consultation ever? The new hymn collection.] I’m not going to directly answer the meme because I don’t like to be restricted in my ramblings and it made me think of a few other related tangents…

My first reaction was that there are plenty of recent songs that I dislike intensely, but often this is more due to the music than the lyrics. Take Tim Hughes & Nick Herbert’s Jesus Saves, a rock anthem of a worship song that is beloved by the electric guitar toting members of my church’s worship band (possibly because Nick’s our worship leader). It’s impossible to sing as a woman (we’ve devised a happy compromise with an acceptable harmony on the chorus that’s basically an ‘ahhhh’) and has been described on more than one occasion as a song in which wannabe rock stars can go to town. The lyrics are ok, there’s nothing to get wound up about – it’s really just the music that infuriates me.

Actually, over the last few days I’ve made a list of songs I don’t like and now I come to look at the lyrics I’ve realised that they’re not so bad. Take I Stand Amazed, for example, whose words were actually written in 1905 and then brought back by Chris Tomlin. I’ve loathed this song for ages, but reading the words they actually tell quite a story and bring some old skool hymn style into the 21st century (though I do have issues with a song including the word ‘marvellous’). What I can’t stand is the dirge of a tune that accompanies it – harsh I know, but true.

Thing is, the way people react to music – any kind of music – is deeply personal and you’re never going to please everybody. I just wish modern day worship song writers weren’t so male dominated, then we’d have more songs that women could actually sing comfortably, rather than moving across 3 octaves during the duration of one song. Oh, and one other thing, could worship leaders think a little more carefully about the words they use and the order in which they use them?

Christian teenagers can be strange beings and often have a rather odd sense of humour, finding mirth in things that to a casual observer wouldn’t be amusing in the slightest (or simply an indication of a warped/dirty mind). To be honest, if you’re a child of the manse or vicarage, you’ve got to be able to derive some humour from the world of church – and so we have the tradition of ‘amusing’ moments in worship songs…

When I was a teen, our youth fellowship had a worship slot each week where we could shout out requests – usually in the form of the relevant number from Songs of Fellowship (volume 1, that’s how old I am). Without fail you could expect the following to crop up:
SOF 27 – As the Deer [To be sung: “As the deer PANTS for the water…”]
SOF 73 – Come on and Celebrate [“…sellotape, sellotape, sellotape and string…”]
SOF 370 – Lord, you put a tongue into my mouth [We never actually sang this – in fact I’ve never heard it – but our minister’s son requested it, without fail, every single week and every single week his Dad would turn to the relevant page before he realised what it was.]

By the time we got to more modern songs (i.e. when the worship group discovered Matt Redman) we were then blessed with the chortle-fest that is Heart of Worship. In fact, talking about this with my student small group last week, I simply had to mention ‘inappropriate worship songs’ and the first verse of this song was immediately recited. For the non-Christians, or non-Matt Redman fans amongst you, the song opens with:

“When the music fades, All is stripped away, And I simply come”
Honestly, don’t people realise how teenagers’ minds work??! Or perhaps they truly believe that once in church and engaged in worship, peoples’ minds are on a higher plain and thus such things are no longer amusing. 
But to be honest, I’m grateful for all the hymn/song writers out there. I can’t compose for toffee so am happy that others churn out songs I enjoy singing on a regular basis. Also, just in case this post find its way to Nick (respected worship leader and leader of my cluster), please don’t be offended that I dislike Jesus Saves so much – to balance it out, Keep the Faith is one of my favourites… 

What women write

It seems that there is a rule within the British Christian blogosphere that every couple of years someone must realise just how few ‘UK Female Christian bloggers’ there are. In November 2008, a post by Dave Bish highlighted the issue in comparison with a top 10 of UK Christian bloggers that was devoid of women – it got picked up by Tall Skinny Kiwi and thus I came to write about it.

Today I completely randomly stumbled upon further discussion of this subject. Another list of top UK Christian bloggers has been compiled (or rather ‘ones to watch’), this time by the Church Mouse, which yet again is male dominated. In response, Lesley decided to share her own favourite British female Christian bloggers and invited readers to do the same, all the while asking why there are so few women who write religious blogs? The question was taken up by Hannah at some length – all of which contributed to me pondering the situation on my way home.

Last time this came up, I made the point that while I am most definitely a Christian, it’s not the main topic of this blog. There’s no way I can be classified as a ‘religious’ blog because quite frankly, I spend far too much time writing about cupcakes, the gym, men and my yearly ambitions. Having said that, I suspect that it wouldn’t take long for a reader to realise that I have a faith and that it’s very important to me. Admittedly, most of my church-related posts are also rather tongue in cheek and cover topics like sex in sermons and visiting dogs, so are rather less theological in nature, but it’s important to keep things in perspective!

Also, I work for a major denomination that has strict social media guidelines – so I deliberately don’t write about my work, my research or random things that cross my desk. I don’t want to be their spokesperson, partly because I now belong to a different denomination. I could write a heck of a lot about why people aged 25-40 aren’t in church or why they belong to the churches they do, but quite frankly, I spend hours and hours doing that in the office and really, it would get boring for readers very quickly, so I don’t.

Similarly, I don’t tweet about work (except goings on in the office), so it amuses me that a lot of Methodist tweeters have followed me. As of today, I also made it onto someone’s list of ‘twurchy types’ (ecumenical) – comedy, especially when I realised I’ve tweeted about my faith all of 3 times in the last month and one of those was to do with praying for a specific bus to turn up and another was about a dog at church. Hmmmm, maybe I should be more true to my faith?

But enough about me, what about women in general – where are they? Are women still inhibited from coming forward because of the lack of equality in some areas of the church? Are they fearful of causing confrontation and creating debate? Do they have higher priorities than blogging? Is it simply that many, like me, choose to write about a whole host of subjects, rather than just their faith and theology?

You know what, I don’t particularly enjoy overly theological blogs. I read a lot of British blogs written by Christian women – several of them are friends, others are friends of friends, some are people doing things I’m in awe of/aspire to – but the vast majority of them are about their lives, not theology. Take Carla Harding for example, (someone off the list from 2 years ago) – although she works for 24/7 Prayer and tells amazing stories of things she hears about through work, she also reviews books & films and generally writes about her life – much more interesting (to me) than constant theological reflection.

I’m certainly not affected by any feeling of inequality in the church (a benefit of having an ordained mother and attending a militantly feminist CofE girls’ school), but that’s not to say the same isn’t true of others. Women in dog collars would have to be careful about what they write about because of their role in the church and community, which might prevent them from being particularly controversial. In my case, I don’t actually enjoy writing controversially, because I don’t like getting disagreeable comments – though this is probably tied up with my need to be liked! Maybe a lot of women prefer to be liked than disliked? Are women also less inclined to self-publicise, meaning that their blogs get circulated less? Are women possibly intimidated by the highly successful male authored British Christian blogs out there?

One other thought that struck me is that the church in the UK is rather divided. Is it difficult for women to cross denominational/theological divides? Are there circles of more evangelical (gosh I hate that word, but I couldn’t think what else to use) female bloggers that are all but hidden from more liberal (and I also hate that categorisation) bloggers?

Interestingly, this is not an issue in America. I read (quite randomly) a ton of blogs written by female Mormons (not realising any of them were Mormon when I started) and there really is quite a network within that church of women bloggers. (In fact, outside of religious bloggers, there’s the whole BlogHer network which though international, is still American dominated and shows the diversity of female bloggers.) Is it simply the case that blogging hasn’t been promoted as a tool for self-expression within the British church?

There are a lot of questions and not many answers. This particular female Christian blogger isn’t likely to change any time soon (well, not this side of September anyway), but I’d love to encourage others to take up the cause as well as finding some more female Christian bloggers that might be hiding under a stone somewhere.

A proverb for every occasion

I’m still persisting with the Bible in one year. It’s a challenge to remember it and not infrequently I end up doing three or four day’s reading in one sitting.

The OT has been surprisingly accessible, I’ve quite enjoyed the story of the Exodus (although the rituals, genealogy lists and laws have got a bit much) – currently the Israelites are on the cusp of entering the promised land. Similarly, most of the NT readings have been fine, because they too tell a story.

What I have struggled with (to my surprise) is Proverbs. I ended up reading the final 11 chapters in one go last night (this blog was my motivation in the end). It’s so hard to read something that’s essentially a list of statements.

However, I enjoyed it a lot more once I’d made it my mission to collate some of the more bizarre advice:

16:7 “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, than a fattened calf with hatred.”

18:8 “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

20:1 “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”

20:5 “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters,but a man of understanding draws them out.”

25:16 “If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit.”

26:15-16 “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; restraining her is like restraining the windor grasping oil with the hand.”

Also, I am particularly pleased that the book of Proverbs has gifted us the word ‘sluggard’. Who would want to be without it? It appears 14 times in 31 chapters, my favourite example being:

26:14 “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.”

However, I’m sensing this probably isn’t exactly the spiritual enlightenment I intended to derive from this particular mission!

Something for Sunday

Without Ceasing – as found on Lisa’s blog this morning

and this is how we pray
backs nestled into the hammock
faces turned toward the stars
the warm air lifts against us and we are quiet, quiet
as you, god, speak to us
about how big you are

and this is how we pray
sitting on the leaf strewn ground
peering across the pattern of sun and shade
the clear pool under the giant fig
where the monitor lizard slips through the water
and we whisper our worshipful thanks again and again

and this is how we pray
standing in the kitchen
speaking out the worries in our minds
telling this perfect parent god
just how small our faith feels
while seeing how sweetly ludicrous
our doubts must appear

and this is how we pray
curled into our duvets
safely tucked in on this wind blown night
thoughts far from here
with our friends who sit in vigil
waiting for a precious life to pass
maybe even tonight

and this is how we pray
with longing
and with hope
with stress
and with joy
with daring
and with simple words

I realise this is a slight departure from usual, but I’m pursuing different directions…

Had been thinking about doing a Sunday “faith” theme, but I don’t want to make it look like faith is just for Sundays, because it definitely isn’t. So anyway, there maybe a bit more depth to my blogging from time to time. In the meantime, if you’re interested, head to Abidemi’s blog for some reflections on prayer.

To make up for the blasphemy…

It may have seemed slightly blasphemous of my last post to refer to ALW as “The Lord”, forgive me. To make up for it, I’m posting for the 2nd time in an hour because this is too good to leave for later!

I just found this clip on another blog and had to share it…

It doesn’t usually get much better than 70’s worship songs – except when it’s 70’s worship songs that sound uncannily like The Specials, yet look like the Osmonds/a Mormon convention. Very, very random. I especially like the Mountie reference at 1:53.

And with that, I’m off to bed as it’s past my new 11pm laptop curfew…