Monday, July 4, 2011

Of Thee I Sing

My father was a WWII POW. He was in the US Army just 19 months when he became a prisoner of the Japanese during WWII. He was starved and often brutalized and suffered for three and one half years until Japan surrendered in August of 1945. He was liberated about a month later. He did not re-enlist. But he often said, “If my country needed me and I could serve, I would go again.” He was very patriotic. And one of the signs of his patriotism was evident whenever the national anthem was played the tears would roll down his cheeks. Whenever the flag was raised or any patriotic songs were sung or played my father would silently cry. These symbols of our country moved him deeply. He lived to be 85 and I don’t think the emotion ever subsided. I have witnessed this over and over again with the American people, and veterans in particular, in a variety of contexts. Patriotic music moves people—especially people who understand the cost of our freedom.

As a pastor and worship leader it makes me wonder. So often I sit in worship and observe people singing songs about the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ, the price he paid for our sins, the grace and mercy and forgiveness of the Lord, the new life we are given, and yet I would dare to say the majority of people sitting in worship are at least visibly unaffected by what they are singing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that tears are the primary or necessary evidence of heartfelt worship. I am just saying that the contrast between what I see when veterans sing the national anthem and what I see when many Christians sing in worship makes me wonder. It makes me wonder if we understand the cost of our spiritual freedom? I do not see the same level of engagement with the lyrics of the words of worship music as I do with patriotic songs. Animated and enthusiastic is how I would describe patriotic singing followed by clapping and whistling and cheering. Not so in worship in many churches I preach and worship in. And heaven forbid, if someone actually moves or raises their hands during the singing! Even when the song’s lyric’s say “we lift up our hands” few venture to actually do such a demonstrative thing.

The important question for person to ask is, of whom or what do I sing? What makes my heart sing? What gives me goose bumps? What makes me want to shout for joy? What causes me to silently be in awe? These are questions especially important for people claiming to be set free by the blood of the Lamb. Tears will not reveal the answer to all of these questions but they do indicate some level of deeper engagement in the music and its words. The question for me is clear, no matter what the visible signs, who is the “thee” of whom I sing?!

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