Tag Archives: Lutheranism

A FRESH TAKE ON CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC by Amy M. Heinz, Final year M. Div.

“I detest contemporary Christian music.” This comment, from one of my lunch partners immediately after I had finished presenting on that very topic at a worship seminar, drew me up short. I thought I had presented the case for utilizing truly new Christian music quite well, but I recognized that mind-set. Two years ago, that had been me. In my opinion, there was so much wrong with contemporary Christian music that I could not have imagined myself even investigating the topic, much less speaking about it.

Christian worship draws attention to the work of God in Jesus Christ by calling us out of our separate lives to participate communally in Word and sacrament. Worship is a bold statement that we as Christians place God above all powers of this world, including and especially our own. So, if worship is about the incarnate presence of God in our lives, I feel it should reflect the contexts of our lives…including geographical context, theological and denominational context, historical context, and global context.

With this in mind, I wanted to see if it would be possible to honor the past by utilizing a previously established—though by no means binding—Lutheran liturgical format for a service of communion, while inserting current popular contemporary Christian music (CCM) songs in place of those which are in the various collections of hymns and communion settings most often being used. I concentrated only on the songs Lutheran parishioners were sure to have heard on Christian radio stations, and focused on whether or not these songs could be utilized in a Lutheran worship setting containing traditional liturgical elements such as the Kyrie, the Hymn of Praise, and the Great Thanksgiving. The result was that I spent one month listening to and theologically evaluating the top songs from 2014 through 2016 as presented by Billboard Magazine on their website. Although the website categorizes Christian music in several ways, I utilized the category of “Christian Airplay,” as that would reflect the most popular songs on the radio during those years. I also chose to evaluate only the top 20 from each year, as there is some carryover from year to year in songs which ranked lower in the previous year.

It wasn’t an easy task. Much of Christian contemporary music is not gender-inclusive, and appears to use scripture either as “proof texting” or as a catchy sound bite. In addition, as Mark Allan Powell points out, it is permeated by “triumphalism, commercialism, [and] individualism…”.[1] Most bewilderingly of all, I found far less mention of Jesus Christ than I had expected in music labeled “Christian.” I discovered a tendency for songs of hope, stick-to-it-tiveness, and militant growth in a general “faith,” all without mentioning the reason for hope or how we are enabled to grow in that faith. In evaluating 59 songs (although I listened to far more than that number and read lyrics from even more)—20 from each of three years with one overlap—I found only 17 which could be useful in an ELCA worship service. Several of those which I deemed “Lutheran” in theology as well as “singable” would need minor rewrites in places. And although Christian contemporary music is a different subgenre from contemporary worship music (commonly referred to as “praise and worship songs), it is what parishioners who are interested in this genre are listening to in their homes, cars, and at work.

“Christian music often occupies a major, even defining role in the lives of its more ardent listeners. The music…becomes a soundtrack for people’s lives. Individualistic piety and crass sentimentalism can be innocent enough in small doses, but some fans and performers seem to think that faith consists of little else.”[2]

If one is a congregational leader in a place where many parishioners listen regularly to Christian radio stations, then I feel it is imperative to address some of the shortcomings of CCM with one’s congregation, just as it is important to celebrate and utilize those CCM songs which are familiar, easily learned and sung, and theologically faithful to the gospel (using a Lutheran lens). People need to know what they’re hearing and be able to evaluate it for themselves. “This requires teaching and has to bear some relation to the musical language that is in the ear of the people.”[3] That doesn’t mean one ought not to sing a rousing chorus of “Move (Keep Walkin’)” by TobyMac, but one should be able to discern the theological content and whether or not the song points to Christ and not to ourselves. I could even see this being an interesting small group or adult/youth education topic. Mark Pierson, a pastor in the Baptist Church of New Zealand, calls this discerning approach “slow church.” In this ideal, a congregation will take the time to discern prayerfully the central things of worship and what it means to worship in that particular place, at that particular time, with the particular resources of that culture.[4] Dr. Gordon Lathrop supports this view as well; “While the pattern of the action has a long history in many places, it always becomes local.”[5]

One of the better resources I discovered for the discernment process is Sound Decisions: Evaluating Contemporary Music for Lutheran Worship by Dori Erwin Collins and Scott C. Weidler. Published by Augsburg Fortress, this thoroughly Lutheran look at CCM is well-organized and accessible to anyone—whether or not they have a seminary background. The authors lay out a four-step discernment process:

  1. Agree upon foundational principles of Lutheran worship.
  2. Apply a set of questions to a specific song in order to determine its textual and musical characteristics. The purpose of this step is only to gather information, not to make judgements.
  3. Compare the characteristics identified in step 2 with the principles in step 1, always taking into account the particular worship context. (emphasis added)
  4. Discern the song’s suitability for use in worship.[6]

Collins and Weidler rightly emphasize the importance of correct performance practice which facilitates learning and singing CCM. This is an issue of great importance that needs to be fully addressed when considering adding this genre to worship rotation. As someone with experience in both “contemporary” and “traditional” performance practice, I will point out that there is a big difference between accompanying worship out of a typical hymnal such as Evangelical Lutheran Worship and deciphering the charts, lead sheets, verses, choruses, and bridges of CCM.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as “contemporary worship” as we tend to define it—worship utilizing musical instruments other than organ, and songs which have a more upbeat tempo and/or a back beat. Indeed, in my home congregation, contemporary worship for years was defined as the Saturday night service which was exactly like the Sunday morning service but accompanied on a keyboard instead of the organ! Contemporary worship is just…worship. I cannot overstate the importance of acknowledging this fact. Discerning the music used in our worship of God may need differing processes depending upon when the music has been written or where it has originated, but the criteria are still the same. Does the music we choose lift up the gospel message for all? Does it point to Christ? Is it singable within one or two iterations of the tune? Does the music address the culture, context, history, and personality of the particular congregation? Does it remind us that we are part of a global church and one body in Christ? These are questions which should be asked of all music used in worship, whether one toils over spreadsheets of the most popular CCM songs or chooses hymns based on the topical suggestions in the back of a hymnal.

It is extremely important to note that CCM is not a magic bullet that will “bring the young people back to church,” nor is it the only element of import in worship (that would be Christ and his real presence in Word and sacrament!). If congregation members are not inclined to listen to, and appreciate, CCM then it may not be the appropriate context for going “all in” on worship which features that genre of music. People respond to almost all types of music when performed to promote assembly participation. When worshippers feel confident in their musical participation (regardless of natural musical talent or familiarity with a particular genre) and the music reinforces the proclamation of the Word, then Martin Luther’s stance on worship is upheld: “We can spare everything except the Word.”[7] In the end, it is our enthusiasm for being brought together as a community of faith, our joy and sorrow expressed in honest ways through words and songs, our ears and hearts opened to the Word, our partaking of the sacraments, and our deep growth in faith and relationship through the work of the Holy Spirit that produces lively and enthusiastic worship.

[1] Mark Allan Powell, “Jesus Climbs the Charts: The Business of Contemporary Christian Music,” The Christian Century 119, no. 26 (December 18, 2002): 26.
[2] Ibid., 22.
[3] Paul Westermeyer, Paul Bosch, and Marianne Sawicki, What is “Contemporary” Worship?, vol. 2, Open Questions in Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), 11.
[4] Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader (Minneapolis: Sparkhouse, 2010), 72.
[5] Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 87.
[6] Dori Erwin Collins and Scott C. Weidler, Sound Decisions: Evaluating Contemporary Music for Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997), 6.
[7] Ulrich S. Leupold, ed., Luther’s Works: Liturgy and Hymns, American Edition, vol.53 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 14.

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FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS by Denise Rector, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I am African-American. After Charleston, we as the ELCA need to go be Lutheran in African-American communities across the United States.

Within Lutheranism there are, truly, many ethnicities. But as discussed in the recent article in The Economist  (“The silent minority: America’s largest ethnic group has assimilated so well that people barely notice it” ) many of those European ethnicities have blended together. Could it be that they have assimilated into the modern American concept of whiteness?

The black/white distinction is not something created by African-Americans. This is an important point. The cultural distinction (to put it mildly) is something everyone is born to, yet only “other” ethnicities have to deal with. Whiteness has social and economic benefits, and thus, very practical dimensions.

Lutherans have a chance to proclaim and demonstrate a word of grace in the midst of exclusion. Black America needs a word of grace. Economics, stop-and-frisk, and other ills have left too many behind, and the African-American community sees a world going on about its business with little care.

Are we listening? Are we willing to partner for change?

Lutherans are “the grace people,” and we have a powerful work of grace to do. It is not neat. It is not fast. It is not easy. It is one by one, face to face, fueled by humility and an understanding of willing sacrifice.

I am willing to answer the question “Why are you Lutheran?” over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. But people can’t ask me the question if I am not out there, where conversations can happen.

Have you been asked why you’re a Lutheran lately? Is it because you are only around Lutherans? Then how will that powerful work of grace proceed, if we talk only to ourselves?

 

“OUR HOPE IS GOD IS THERE”: AN INTERVIEW WITH PASTOR HILARIA “NAAMBO” SHIKONGO OF NAMIBIA by Carina Schiltz, Final Year MDiv

Serving as a pastor for twelve years in rural villages of Namibia, Naambo has now begun a two-year Masters of Theology at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA. One might be surprised at the deep connection between these two places, but Naambo’s presence on campus is a testament to deeply-rooted relationships between Wartburg Seminary and Lutherans in Namibia. When she considered doing a Masters of Theology, other Namibian pastors encouraged her to come to Wartburg. “They convince you to come here! It’s the best [they say]! I don’t know how they know it’s the best seminary, because they only know Wartburg!” Naambo laughs.

Beyond prompting from other pastors, how did Naambo’s journey lead her to Dubuque? We must return to her childhood. She is the oldest of five and grew up in the Lutheran church. Her grandparents on both sides and her parents are Lutheran. “When I grew up, my parents were usually churchgoers, especially my mom,” Naambo remembers. “She sang in the choir. When I was little I followed her and started singing [in the choir, too]. It shaped me to who I am now.”

While Naambo went to church and Sunday school throughout childhood, it was difficult for her because she was not accepted by society in general. Naambo was born with albinism. In a crowd of Namibians, she stands out because her skin and hair are light-colored. Albinism is characterized by little pigment, or color, in skin and hair, and is caused by a gene mutation which affects production and distribution of melanin. Albinism runs in her family, and one of her brothers was also born with it. Of Namibia’s 2 million people, about one in every 3,000 is born with Albinism. [1]

“I wasn’t accepted,” said Naambo. People understood albinism as a curse. “Maybe you did something to someone or to God—that was the understanding.” In the past, it was dangerous to be born with albinism, and some argue that it still is, because, “If parents gave birth to albino children, they would kill them at birth,” recalls Naambo. This is not the case all the time, but albinism still carries huge stigmatism.

Albinism was isolating. Children and even adults would single out Naambo, ignore her, or make fun of her. “She’s not part of us, she’s not like us,” were the sentiments that Naambo heard and felt since she was very young.

“Sometimes I cursed God. Why did God create me different from others? Why am I like this? If God is there, why do I have to suffer like this?”

It was not until eighth grade that Naambo had a true friend. “She was strong enough to defend herself,” said Naambo, speaking of the teasing that her friend endured because she shared friendship with Naambo. While the friendship was real, true, and encouraging, it ended in high school when the girls went to different schools. After that, it was back to life with no friends and no acceptance. Naambo did not go to her first week of high school because of the ridicule she received from classmates.

Thankfully, this is not the current situation in which Naambo finds herself. “I have many friends now who accept me as a person,” she says. During that first week of high school, one pastor in the local church took her for counseling and she learned to begin to understand herself and accept herself. “Even though I am different from others I am still in the image of God.” There is still a fear, though, when Naambo goes to a new place. “Am I going to be accepted?” she wonders.

Despite social isolation, Naambo was a passionate student, devoted to studying medicine. She wanted to be a doctor, and her favorite subjects were biology and physical science. However, there was a struggle within her. “One voice was saying go, one was saying don’t go,” she reflects, remembering her process of discernment to ordained ministry. Growing up she’d always thought she’d be a doctor, but then, “It was a call for me, a voice, like Isaiah, saying ‘Whom shall I send’?”

Naambo contemplated this call for three years. Throughout that time she had doubt and questions. Though women had been ordained in Namibian Lutheran churches since the 70s, she still remembered a Bible verse that said women were to remain silent in the church. Her understanding of scripture was very literal at that time in her life; however, she still heard another voice, the call to ministry. She talked to her pastor, thinking, “Maybe this is where God wants me to go” and then began seminary. “After that, everything went smoothly,” she smiles.

Naambo attended Paulinium Seminary, which is Namibia’s Lutheran seminary. Though there are three Lutheran bodies, separated mostly because of language, the churches have one seminary. While at seminary, Naambo was transformed. Her relationship with God, others, and herself changed. She understood who she was and what she was called to do. Her theology was changed and her understanding of the Bible was changed. She “learned to read the Bible with the eyes of the culture” of those who were writing and to whom they were writing. Not only was she educated academically, but the social interactions in which she found herself were different from her childhood. People accepted Naambo as a person.

After four years in seminary, Naambo was ordained. At her ordination, she remembers thinking, “Here, as a pastor, I feel like, yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.” Naambo loves being a pastor. “I do my work freely,” she smiles. “I love my work, especially to walk among people.” Her favorite people to serve are children in Sunday school and the elders.

The congregations she has served for the past twelve years are in rural villages. Her current congregation is in a village of two hundred people, but serves a total of four villages. There are over 4,700 members of the church, and about 500 people attend worship on a regular Sunday. Because of weather during the rainy season and flooded roads, the church has several posts throughout the countryside that are accessible.

When Naambo preaches, she hopes that people hear good news. “Love for yourself, love for others, love for God,” she says. “The main thing is that you want people to connect with God.” Naambo hears the gospel for herself, too, knowing that she is made in the image of God. “If God is God of all, that means…we are all the image of God, even though I was born [different], I am accepted by God as I am.” Regarding albinism, Naambo understands it now this way: “Even though we are different in colors, colors cannot divide us. We are all equal before God.”

Being a pastor in Namibia has challenges and joys. Poverty and unemployment are the roots of many problems, including robbery. There are also many killings of women. Naambo says it is “worse than ever” both in cities and rural villages. Men kill the women, usually women they were or are in a relationship with, due to jealousy or some other cause. As a pastor, Naambo is called upon to counsel the families of both the victim and the perpetrator, who is usually in jail. These two families are brought together in hopes that there would be unity. “It’s really difficult to help them. You have to unite those families, but it doesn’t always work,” Naambo explains. Other difficulties of being a pastor in Namibia is the prevalence of alcohol abuse and the violence it causes.

While the issues are deep, Naambo sees hope. “I see hope in everything we are doing because God is there. God can work to bring change. As a pastor I can do what I can, but I cannot change the people. Only God can change them.”

Being a pastor in Namibia is joyful for Naambo. “People are really helpful!” The people are unified, caring for their pastor, for one another, and even for strangers. “The spirit of ‘serve one another’ is there in my church,” Naambo says proudly. For instance, if there is a death in someone’s family, “You don’t need to worry—people come with everything to help, even though they’re not related, just the people of God from your church!” In all cases, people come “to offer every help they have, even with the little he or she has.”

The spirit of “ubuntu”, or togetherness, is real in Naambo’s congregation. “I need you, you need me, even though we are not related,” she explains. “Everyone is there for the other.”

Naambo embodies that gracious spirit of “ubuntu” on Wartburg’s campus. The connection of Wartburg and Namibia is still alive. God is at work, inspiring in us, as Naambo says, “togetherness.”

“You are not there for your own, but for each other.”

*****

For more information, please visit the following:

Albinism in Namibia:

“Albinism: Rising above the odds” article from The Namibian 6/16/15

http://www.namibian.com.na/indexx.php?archive_id=138140&page_type=archive_story_detail&page=1

Namibian Lutheran Church:

The three church bodies are known as ELCRN, ELCIN, and GELC. World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation websites offer overview information. https://www.lutheranworld.org/country/namibia

Wartburg Seminary is home to extensive archives about the history of Namibia’s independence and the Namibia Concerns Committee. Students have written their theses on the Wartburg-Namibia connection, and these theses can be found in Reu Memorial Library.

[1] http://www.kas.de/upload/auslandshomepages/namibia/Children_Rights/Children_n.pdf

SIGNS OF THE TIMES – Australian Lutherans Say “No” Again

The Lutheran Church of Australia once again has turned down the ordination of women. The issues has been before the national convention at least 4 times before. The vote was just under the 2/3 majority required.

SACRED SPACE by Rita Augsburger, M.Div. senior

The Lord speaks to us in many and varied ways. At times this voice may be a thought or a quiet, persistent pulse that continues to oscillate in intensity until it is addressed in some concrete way. Sometimes the persistent voice calls to engage with others and something new is created. Barb Otten is a member of St John’s Lutheran Church in Sterling, IL., and a junior at WTS. She had completed a two year program of Spiritual Formation and was feeling the persistent pulse to share, with her congregation, what she had learned about spiritual practices.

When I came on internship at St. John’s in the late summer of 2010, Barb mentioned this desire to me. Within moments we had a plan and a schedule to run by the pastor. Sacred Spaces, a five week Lenten series on Spiritual practices —Mandella, Stretch-N-Pray, Praying in Color, Lutheran Prayer Beads, and the Labyrinth—became the concrete way of addressing the persistent pulse.

Evolving out of this series, and another community event, a group of congregation members felt the need to create a place for people to go to pray, read scripture, contemplate, and meditate. The East Room of St John’s, formerly just a pass through, was a perfect choice. This room has now become a Sacred Space for spiritual refreshment.

From one pulse to another to others, the work of the Spirit carries on.