Wednesday, 22 February 2012

James K. A. Smith's Open Letter to Praise Bands

I like James K.A. Smith.  His, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to church is a lot better informed and a lot more clearly expressed than most books on Christianity and Postmodernism/ity.  (I guess at this point a thank you to Sean the Baptist for introducing me to Smith is in order.)  You can follow Smith's musings over at forsclavigera

Recently he's published an open letter to praise bands.  If you accept his premises about the nature of Christian worship, and I'm inclined to, then his conclusions are spot on.  And yet .. I can't help wondering if there isn't just a small sprinkling of the crusty old reactionary in his musings. 

 As the grains of sand in my personal egg timer of life fling themselves with ever increasing abandon into the lower section of the hour glass I have to be alert to the awakening of my own inner crusty.  A big part of me longs for the more anarchic days of charismatic worship, the have-a-go days of the solo guitarist worship leader who actually gave you a chance to join in. But is this yet more evidence of my legendary wisdom and common sense or a worrying lapse into old gittery?  It would make me really happy if you took a look at Smith's letter and let me know what you think.


David Bunce said...

I think my problems when reading through it are with point three - it seems to give an underdeveloped account of the body in worship. We worship as embodied beings, not simply audiably, and therefore I think leading worship has to be a bodily thing (and therefore clearly visible), not simply something that creates a noise somewhere in the room.

Likewise, I think the comment in point three about long riffs is missing the value of music itself as touching something unique in the human psyche - otherwise, surely we would just be worshipping with poetry. I think any half-way serious reflection on the relationship between music, human beings and spirituality needs to take into account its ability to reach and touch areas of lived reality that no other art form can do. That given, I think the worry that people instantly become passive the moment that they close their mouths and stop singing is an invalid one - and if it is valid, maybe it provokes a more serious question about whether Christianity has downplayed the artistic to an extent whereby it is seen as a second-rate form of God-talk.

Andy Goodliff said...

David, I agree Christianity has played down artistic ... not sure if a lot of the new contemporary worship stuff is really art ...

Glen, I pretty much agree with Smith's three points, I think when you say it though you can come across as out-of-touch ... I think it is in part because we over-indulge in the praise band style of worship

Stephen Lingwood said...

I think the comments can be applied to other styles of music. American Unitarian Universalist churches I have visited often have very talented musicians, even if they are on the "Classic FM" end of the dial. Music is performed that is certainly very good, but it oftened seemed to me it was done with little theological and spiritual reflection or sense of the dynamics of worship. At my old church we only had three hymns and two pieces of perforamce music - I'd much prefer to swap at least one of those performance pieces wirh another hymn.

Anything that tends towards performance and discourages congregational singing needs to be treated with a lot of caution, I'd say.

Unknown said...

I agree with the article. It's the sort of thing that John L Bell would say, and draws, I think, on the insights of a certain tradition of singing. Natural Voice Practitioners and some strands of folk music see music as something inappropriately professionalised in our culture.

The same can be said of music in churches, not just praise bands, but organs, choirs and electronic 'hymnals'.

Stuart Jenkins