So I’ve had my head under a rock, I suppose, so I didn’t know that American Idol had done a show that included a group sing rendition of “Shout to the Lord” on two consecutive nights on their “American Idol Gives Back” show. Great song, but my first reaction on watching the YouTube piece was, “Wow…this is weird.” Talk about wrong context. Was I offended? Not in the least, but I just kept thinking, “This is so odd.” If you haven’t seen it, watch and see what you think.
It came at the end of a day in which I’d been thinking about the whole notion of worship and what it means. In churches of Christ, there have been the battles over instrumental music (vs. a cappella), discussions over whether worship is just the “singing part” of the Sunday service or whether its a broader concept including all our energies and lives, and how to navigate the competing values of participation and musical excellence. Mostly what I wonder is what happens in the mind of the worshipper.
Worship is inevitably connected with awe, beauty, wonder, and identity. Awe is an event that has both intellectual and emotional aspects. The dance of rational understanding and emotional connection is ongoing as we ponder, meditate on, and seek out, God. The very idea of God bends the mind, though we bandy the word “God” about like it’s not much different than the name of our favorite ice cream. Familiarity and the buddy-Jesus is far more culturally relevant than the Holy standing-outside-of-time God and the King of bloody robe. Through our lens of suffering, we question God as if the clay does indeed question the potter, and we cry out in pain as the wheel turns again and pressure and cutting comes again. “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you” always swings through my mind as I think about this, because we simply don’t understand. I often tell people my walk with God begins with the notion that we talk about things we cannot possibly get our heads around, glorious though our created minds may be.
I do wonder what God does with our raised voices and scattered minds as we come to him singing words declaring His wonder and power and worth, how our hearts impact Him as we come to Him. Love would suggest He cherishes the thoughts of the ones He loves. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 claims the thoughts of God are precious to him, and John tells us in Revelation that the prayers of the saints are golden bowls of incense.
Worship and praise (at least in moments of directly addressing God) is about what is in “the life of the mind” about our Triune God. Which leads me back to American Idol. What was in the mind of the singers, and how does it work as the song moves out into the world? Surely, we can be thankful that the name of Jesus was held up for attention and praise (though the first night “Jesus” was edited out so that the song started with “My Shepherd, My Savior”). But given that post-modern thought is all about context, what does it say that now evangelical praise songs are being used for entertainment on American Idol? The weird mixture in America of commerce and entertainment and idea (no matter how lofty) ends up making me lean toward cynicism, believing that somewhere in the backroom decision-making, there are Christians honorably working to get the Word out, and that right beside them are the producers who see things only in terms of market share and bottom lines. That said, God works together in all things, and who knows what was sparked in some lonely living room somewhere as America tuned in to see a show and got a bit of praise instead.
What’s on your mind when you worship?