I remember the astonished look stretched across the face of our first staff musician when I suggested that we cover an Iron + Wine song as our anthem in response to the sermon. The song, "Walking Far From Home", wasn't written for corporate worship, but when situated beside the scripture reading for that Sunday it appeared that we commissioned Sam Beam to write it just for us. Still, the lyrics needed slight adjustments but with a little tinkering, we made it ours.
The astonished look on the face of my colleague was more giddy than incredulous. Like other musicians that share their gifts in church, he was taught that worship music was a genre unto itself, separated from popular music by a misplaced expectation that God only speaks one language. The imagined distance kept worship music safely confined within the "unblemished" context of church. No matter how theologically significant and spiritually rich Bob Dylan's song "Knockin on Heaven's Door" sounds each time you hear it on a long car ride, it can't expect an audience in church. Dylan is an iconoclast with a discography informed by the kind of counter-cultural movements that make institutions like the church scared. I suppose the fear arises from a desire to not unwittingly convince someone bopping their head in rythym from the pew that along with the song, the church believes every thing Dylan has ever done or said is worthy of tribute.
Sadly, the patronization of worshippers in this way only serves to diminish our ability to spell the gospel out using the alphabet of our surrounding culture. This is an oversimplification that demands further treatment and more conversation, but I'm convinced we keep playing homogenous-sounding, shallow, music in worship, especially the contemporary Christian variety, because we're scared people will think we're heretics and not spiritual enough to be leading worship.
At Downtown Church we've found this fear to be unjustified. Music and laughter are two ways to find common ground with people. Whether or not we choose to do Iron + Wine in church, people will continue to sense the subtle touch of the divine in music, even when they are listening to it on some other day than Sunday. To deny this is ignorant.
The purpose of this rant was to introduce a new feature here on the blog that we hope you will enjoy. On occasion Kelley and I will highlight a song we introduced in worship and share with you, our dear readers, why we selected the song for worship and how we altered it to fit our context. Our desire is for the wisdom we've gained to be a resource to the wider church and for it to encourage all the Dylan fans to embrace the moment when you are knocking on heaven's door while in your car alone as an extension of worship.
Check back soon for the first post on Laura Marling's song "Devine Bell" that we presented in worship this past Sunday.