14 March 2012

the subversive song

In his excellent volume, Spirituality according to Paul, Rodney Reeves enters into the notion of worship as subversive in a chapter on the church's "Common Bonds" (110-127).  In the introduction to the material of this passage he says, "Sometimes I wonder, 'Why are we doing this?  Compared to everyday experiences, this is a rather odd thing to do'" (112).

What he is talking about?  Singing.  More specifically, the act of singing together as a weekly event in the life of the church congregation.  And, yes, if we are honest with ourselves and accurate in describing our societal context, it is a rather odd thing to do.  Especially if we are claiming that our message and our work are meant to change the world.

What countless cultures throughout the ages have known is that singing is an act of subversion.  It binds together hope, ideology, heritage, history, theology - and even a stark challenge to the way things are in the present.  Rich Mullins defines music as "the finest thing I have ever found," and it does indeed have a quality that is unlike any other in the universe.  The power of song can bring together so many elements of our lives, and that is why people of faith hold this rather odd activity so dearly.

But what happens when the song remains in the sanctuary?  Indeed, I think that many evangelicals are taken back by the notion of the subversive song because it is too seldom taken out of the sanctuary.  When our songs fail to leave the church building (i.e., they do not form an integral part of our daily lives), they no longer act as a challenge (or threat) to the powers that are around us.  The songs we sing have power when they are accurate expressions of what is central to who we are as kingdom people.

A. W. Tozer taught us that we are not ready for worship on Sunday if we are not worshipping throughout every other day of the week.  In some sense, this now might move in reverse: our Sunday worship must break out from the four walls in which we come together and flood into the streets.  The gospel is a challenge to evil, but only if we work to establish God's justice and righteousness.  Our songs help encapsulate such hopes, dreams and desires so that they might resonate in our hearts and spirits.

We come into the sanctuary to hear the song and to learn the song.  But then we must take it and teach it to the nations, line by line, verse by verse, knowing full well that it will spell out the failure of that which now asserts its own authority.  There is subversion to the powers that be when we sing the songs of Zion in a strange and foreign land.

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