Monday, November 4, 2013
Some Thoughts About Change
I can actually remember the first time my husband and I saw this commercial. We laughed ourselves silly...and have referenced it often over the years. You see, I am a woman who LOVES my bushes. Change is NEVER easy for me, usually creating considerably more stress and anxiety than the specific situation warrants. If I had my druthers, I would happily live in my bushes forever and ever and ever.
Which brings me to what I would like to talk about today - Community of Christ Sings, my church's new hymnal.
(I imagine some of you may be scratching your heads over that one. Bare with me...)
Two weeks ago, Community of Christ Sings was officially released at the 2013 Peace Colloquy to great fanfare and celebration. (The Peace Colloquy is an annual event held at our world headquarters in Independence, MO.) New hymnals don't exactly appear often, so this is - as you can imagine - a Very Big Deal, and was in fact part of the main focus for the weekend.
According to my mother, who is my resident expert, hymnals go out of date roughly every 20 years, and our old hymnal was over 30 years old....so we were overdue. My understanding of the purpose behind updating the hymnal was twofold. First of all, the church wanted to make sure that the songs inside reflected our current mission initiatives as a peace seeking church which is inclusive of all. Second, they wanted to expand the range of music available to include different styles and languages as we truly are a global church. This all makes very good sense as we do consider our hymnal to be a book of scripture, and I actually do support those goals.
It has, quite naturally, been a long process. In all fairness, I give great credit to our world church for helping to prepare everyone by releasing previews at reunions and special events, and by holding music workshops. They've been doing this for about two years, with the end result that most of my church family has been quite excited about the new hymnal.
And I've just been 'meh' about the whole thing.
I fear change, and will keep my bushes.
You might be wondering why I would be so ambivalent and/or nervous about a new hymnal when I support the ideas behind it. Seems odd, don't you think?
The fact of the matter is that I've struggled with new religious music since I was a teenager.
Let me explain...
The contemporary Christian music and worship movement was really taking off when I was a teen...and I hated it. I had sooo many well-meaning adults try to convince me that such things were for ME. After all, I was a teenager..and teens LOVE pop and rock music, right?! Teens wanted informal and fun, right?!! Teens wanted lots of movement, bright colors, dancing and concerts, right?! RIGHT?!?!
In fact, I was super-annoyed by the whole thing. (And a grumpy Kristin has NEVER been an easy thing to deal with...sorry Mom and Dad.) I suffered through contemporary services that my parents dragged my brother and I to in an attempt to give us what they thought we needed/wanted. I rolled my eyes at the canned music that found its way into our worship services and the overeager people around me who embraced it. I prayed for peace, and I shut down.
(As I write this, I'm keenly aware that as an adult I've come to realize that I do truly have issues with being very sensitive about sensory input. It's entirely possible that much of my problem was actually about the fact that it was all too much...too loud, too much motion, too bright, etc.)
You see, I love the old hymns. Always have, always will. There is a difference in my heart between a song that has been beloved by generations and a song that was written last year. The old songs carry the weight of history behind them, and because of that their meaning and spirituality is magnified. They are beautiful...and nothing is better than listening to a congregation join together to lift them to the heavens. The familiarity is comforting. Those old hymns have lifted my soul in joy, bonded me through tears with a friend, brought comfort when needed, inspired me to greater contemplation and given me great peace.
In comparison, I felt that most of the contemporary Christian music was overproduced dreck that was so treacle filled that it could have given a person a cavity. Either that or it was emotionally manipulative in a clear and cheesy way. Don't even get me started on the electronic background music. Shivers.
No thanks...I'll keep my old hymns.
I survived the Contemporary Christian movement only to be confronted with two supplemental hymnals that our church published about 15 years ago. To my disappointment, the two books had a distinctive contemporary Christian feel, including songs such as "My God is an Awesome God." That's just about my least favorite song in the entire world - being maddeningly repetitive and slangy. Ugh. To my even greater disappointment, I quickly found that my opinion was in the minority...and that if I expressed it I was going to be quickly trounced as a hater. The movement had officially invaded my church, and was here to stay. It's hard to put a finger on exactly what I felt we had lost...except perhaps that in embracing the new I felt that we had taken a huge step away from who we were.
(Another wee insight that I'm receiving as I write is that newer songs are never sung well by congregations...and the stumbling around is distracting, even in new hymns with potential.)
Please remember, this is personal opinion...and I'm being honest.
Since then, by and large I've kept my mouth shut. I know full well that my feelings on the subject are just that - MY feelings - and that others feel quite differently. So long as our services at church include a decent mixture of the old and new, I am happy. (Although I'll be honest...there have been many a service in which only new songs were used, and they generally leave me feeling pretty cold.) I don't want to impose my own personal preferences for worship on others, just as I don't want them to impose their own preferences on me. I truly believe that if a church is going to thrive it needs to learn how to accommodate the needs and wants of all of it's members, and I'm totally ok with that.
Oddly enough, I love experimenting with different components in the worship service...it's just the new music that bugs me. Go figure. I'm a conundrum.
Anyway. This brings me back to the new hymnal and its release two weeks ago.
My Mom called me from the Peace Colloquy, clearly head over heals in love with Community of Christ Sings. She wanted to buy me a pew copy as my ordination gift...and I tried to politely refuse. What followed was a crazy discussion in which my mother told me I was being an old fart (in not so many words) and needed to be more like her as I tried to explain why I'd rather just stick with the old hymnal, thank you very much. It was a rather bizarre conversation, and I'll admit that it left me rather agitated. It felt like high school and that rock worship service all over again.
I went to bed that night very, very nervous about going to church the next day. I knew the new hymnal was likely to be a hot topic as we'd already received excited news of it from a few of our congregations members. I was so very not ready....
And then I had a dream.
I dreamt that I was in a large hall for some sort of event. It was a beautiful, beautiful place...reminiscent of an old fashioned 'crystal palace' ,the flight cage at the St. Louis Zoo and a grand ballroom. I wandered through the very crowded room, mostly keeping to myself...but happy to be there, enjoying the party Then I heard a single voice begin to sing...
Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace...
It didn't take long for other voices to join in, and before I knew it every single person in that very crowded hall was singing along. There was no accompaniment...just hundreds of voices lifted together in song. At one point a choir appeared to lead the room in harmony.
It was amazing.
I woke up the next morning with that song on my heart, and was comforted. I felt as if God had reached down to say, "Don't worry. The old will not be lost or forgotten. We will still honor it. Don't be afraid of what's to come." I felt better about that new hymnal than I ever had, and was able to honestly celebrate with all of those who were excited for what it had to offer.
I've been singing that hymn to myself every since. What a blessing.
There was still something missing, though. I needed a reason to embrace the new hymnal for myself. I had to find something in it that I could love, and I had to find a bit of reassurance.
With that in mind, I sat down with my mom's musician's copy of Community of Christ Sings during our trip home a couple of weekends ago so that I could explore it for myself. What would I find? What was still there? What had been left out? Would there be any new songs in there that I would like?
I spent a good hour searching through that book. I was relieved to see that many old favorites had survived the selection process, and was amused to see a key change or two designed to make them easier to sing. I both laughed at and was puzzled by the inclusion of alternative music for one hymn. (Mom said it had lots of complaints for it's tendency to be a dirge..which I blame on the pianist, and not the actual music.) I was glad to see that the one song I enjoyed from the supplements made it in, and relieved that a few others had been left out. I figured out why that blasted preview song had been such a hot mess when we'd tried to sing it at reunion. (No time signature) I also grieved when I discovered which hymns were missing....at least two of which were near and dear to my heart. For the record, I wish there was an official list somewhere of the approximately 200 songs that were cut from the last hymnal. Mostly, I explored the new..reading lyrics, examining rhythms and styles, seeking to understand what was so special about them. I tried my darndest to keep an open mind and heart.
By the time Mom came home from church (You caught me...I was lazing at home with my brother and kids!) I had found two new hymns that spoke to me. Mom was delighted when I asked her to play them for me. She's a brilliant pianist, and has a gift for making hymns truly come alive when she plays.
The first of the two songs I had selected had absolutely lovely lyrics, but had a flat that I found a bit irksome in the melody. I need some time - and a few more listens to adjust. Still...it held potential.
The second, though, the second was absolutely beautiful and I fell in love.
I didn't know it, but apparently all I needed was that one new hymn that could speak to my heart as so many of the old ones do. I've found it, and I am at peace.
Community of Christ Sings is indeed a book of scripture, and there is much in it that I look forward to exploring and enjoying in the years to come. I have no doubt that it will become an important part of my own ministry, and I look forward to learning more about it. I will also hold on to my old hymnal, and will honor all that it's given me over the years. There are still lessons to be learned from it as well.
So yes, my friends, I shall continue to hold on to my bushes...but I will wear pants as well, and I will learn to enjoy both.
Miracles never cease!
Many thanks to my Mom...for being patient...and to all of my church friends who've been working to prepare us all for the new hymnal.
Many thanks also to all of those who put their hearts and souls into creating Community of Christ Sings. I know it wasn't an easy job - especially when such changes can be so challenging for so many - and I do appreciate all of their hard work!