Singing in Minor Key

Friday, November 30, 2018

My husband sometimes plays a silly frustratingly annoying game whereby he takes a song and sings it in minor key. He leaves the last line of the song in the discordant tones, and let me tell you, it feels like they echo throughout the entire room. It's haunting. It's unsettling. And, much to Aaron's glee, there's a rush to fill the uncomfortable, ensuing silence with the song re-sung in major key.

Minor key is uncomfortable. There's a reason why it's associated with funeral dirges. And The Rolling Stones (sorry, Stones fans). And it's because of this discomfort that we tend to shy away from them.

We are a culture of comfort; we ironically go to get lengths so as to avoid feeling even remotely uneasy. Call someone up on the phone to ask a question? Pass. Break from routine and sit in a new spot in a class or meeting? Pass. Go to the store across the street to purchase something instead of ordering through Amazon Prime? Pass.
Being honest and vulnerable with God, ourselves, and others about where we are spiritually? Pass, pass, pass.

It's no wonder, then, that the songs we sing in church are mostly praise and thanksgiving. We like the feel-good songs that proclaim wonder and awe for the wonderful things that God has done. We like the choruses that remember God's love and faithfulness. And while these are important and necessary components of worship, they should not be the sum of our entire liturgical practice. This is actually contrary to what we see in the whole witness of Scripture. As OT scholar Brueggemann says, "A church that goes on singing 'happy songs' in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does."*

The wisdom literature is full of poems and songs that are set in minor key. In fact, laments are the most common form of song in the book of Psalms, comprising over 40% of the psalms. In contrast, our worship tends to be reflective of the following [slightly dated, but nevertheless relevant] chart:
Psalm 44 is a prime example of singing in minor key. It accuses God of deserting his people even though they were faithful in keeping God's covenant. "Awake, Lord," it says. "Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?"

Can you imagine going to church and singing worship song like this that expressed doubt, pain, and despair? Yet, this psalm was a prescribed text of prayer for the Jewish people. They rightly understood that worship needs to recognize hurt, no matter how vulnerable or uncomfortable it may make us feel.

Our worship has lost touch with reality if we cannot express our pain and suffering.

Our full worship of God cannot be succinctly summarized by songs in major key; we also need to sit in our feelings of loss, doubt, hopelessness, and complaint and express these to God. 

And it is only when we express the sum of our entire human experience that we can move from lament to praise, from despair to trust.

When we do this, worship becomes uncomfortable because it is a paradox. Yet, by merging both the major and the minor key chords together, our worship can reach a whole new level of meaning and intimacy with God.

Sometimes we follow God with absolute devotion and we feel betrayed when we are not rewarded accordingly. We need to sing about our hurt AND our resolve to stay committed. 

Sometimes the situations in our lives are not immediately (or ever) resolved. We need to sing about our confusion AND our trust.

Sometimes we wonder whether God really hears us. We need to sing about our doubt AND our gratitude.

In our worship, let's get uncomfortable. Let's be honest and vulnerable. Let's start singing in minor key.

* Breuggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms. Augsburg Old Testament Studies. Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1984. 52.

White Christian Nationalism: A Case Study on Revelation

Monday, November 5, 2018

An illustration from my series that re-imagines constellations as scenes from Revelation. This one is Auriga as the throne room scene from Rev. 4-5.
Just when I thought I had finished my series on Revelation, I'm reminded again this week about why it's so important that we read and study what God has to say to his people through this powerful work of resistance literature.

John's words, while written to and for the early Christians living in the shadow of the Roman regime, continue to speak us today about how to pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of heaven instead of to the kingdoms of this world.

Last week, I stumbled across this study According to recent data, by somewhere around 2045 it's predicted that the white race will no longer be the majority race. When polled about whether they saw this as a positive or negative thing, 54% of white evangelicals claimed that more diversity was a threat to our American culture and values.

With the strong emphasis on immigration this political season and all the anti-migrant language that's thrown around in Christian circles, I suppose that I shouldn't be too terribly surprised by these statistics. Yet, I'm heart-broken and sick to my stomach. My mind keeps returning over and over again to the picture of heaven that John paints in Revelation 7:9:

You see, God's kingdom is not predominantly white. It's not even predominantly American.

 In other words, if we as Christians don't want to live with and among those who look different than we do, then we are really going to hate heaven.

When we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," we're in some ways praying for this diverse vision of heaven to be manifested on this broken earth. As believers, we want the realities of heaven to be the reality here on this earth. But, if the statistics in that study are any indication, we're not praying this prayer. We're praying a very different prayer. We have a vision of heaven, where people from every nation, tribe, people, and language live together, but then we prefer to live out the exact opposite on this earth.

In place of the diverse beauty of God's Kingdom, our anxiety about our racial identity propels us toward a white Christian nationalism. We prefer the singular color to the mosaic.

What's happening right now is what John warned the early Christians about in the book of Revelation. We've exchanged our allegiance to the Lamb for an allegiance to (white) America. Instead of declaring "Kingdom First," we're declaring "(White) America First." And as John warns his listeners, God's kingdom is often counter to the kingdoms of this world.

We as white Americans like being the ones in charge. We love to dominate as the majority culture. We equate these white American values with Christian values. But John reminds us that power doesn't come from domination. He gives the perfect image of the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who did not conquer or come into power because he dominated. The Lamb conquered by giving himself up for us (5:5-10). And we, as followers of the Lamb, conquer by renouncing our power and laying our lives down in this same sacrificial manner (12:11).

With this image of the sacrificial Lamb, John challenges the believers to think beyond their political identities. I would argue that he even challenges them to think beyond their tribal, national, and racial roles. America, like Babylon (Rome), is doomed. She's not going to last forever. We will be judged and found wanting for the ways that we have elevated the white race above and at the expense of other races.

And in the end, the "kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15).

Hear the words of the prophet John.

Seek first God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Follow that Lamb into the New Creation.

P.S. For more thoughts on nationalism, kingdoms, and identity read this post from Ben Cremer. His post gave me the courage to write these words.

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