The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

Worship Music and the Generation of Embarrassment March 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joel @ 7:53 pm

There is something strange that happens between worship music and myself, and also, i think, between other people my age that i know want to proclaim the christian faith.  That strange thing is, i think, a kind of conviction.

The music enters with power, whether beautiful or not, into our consciousness, without any permission, without any question of its entering or not.  It just comes into our senses whenever we hear it, our ears performing their listening abilities perfectly.  And so, having heard the music, we hear the words, the gospel proclaimed, and our pasts and histories and our present lives are laid before us.  The difference between our lives and the words, and our lives and the life described in the words, becomes painfully apparent.

It is important to say here that it doesn’t matter whether the lyrics are shit or not, or whether they are even theologically sound!  that reasoning is yet to come.  what is immediate to our souls and senses is the experience of distance from the witness of these songs.  Before a word is said, if we have the feeling that it is a religious song, we are already worried that it will lay bear, or at least accuse, our spiritual inadequacies.  Perhaps we should criticize this, but who do we criticize?  No, instead we should pay attention to our fear.

We are afraid of being found out, of being “outed” as spiritually bankrupt.  Beyond this, we are afraid that the people around us will realize that we in fact DO care if we are spiritually bankrupt or not, that it does matter to us that we cannot lift our hands in praise, cannot stomach most church services, cannot maintain even the simplest theological dialogue with a person from a different generation.  These are deep points of embarrassment.


4 Responses to “Worship Music and the Generation of Embarrassment”

  1. roger flyer Says:

    Good stuff Joel!

  2. Our times with you and Laura were deep, but so short. Deep, but yearning for sustained interchange with all of the memories and all of the aspirations.

    Does this embarrassment in the “Herbs….” you speak of reflect the brevity of time for interchange, or the span of the generations that rub together so little that when we get some understanding, time and space keep us from confirmation that we’re in the same music?

    Does this “shit” you describe in lyric jar you as much as its use impacts polite discourse?

    You’re flying high. Tell us more of the “audience” you address? Tell me more about your heart and my heart. Teach me more as Jesus, “whom the common people heard gladly.”

    We’re so proud to get a taste of your fine thoughts.

    From Grandma Norma; Hi! Joel. It was so great to see you and
    Laura. We love you! We are so glad you made the trip. I know it was a hard trip and full of love.

    Love ya much!
    Gpa and Gma Mason

  3. masonmusic Says:

    hi grandpa,

    i had such a wonderful time with you and grandma, thanks for having us!

    thanks for reading and for your questions.

    though i would like to answer your questions individually, maybe a few words of context in general would be good.

    I think this piece is trying to express the disconnect that I and a lot of my friends experience in terms of “church” and all its practices (and the way those practices are expressed). I think a big misunderstanding of the divide between generations is the idea that the younger generation’s discontent is caused by lack of care or lack of felt need for God. Basically what i’m trying to say is that the opposite is the case: the discontent grows in us, not because we don’t care, but because we do, and deeply. (for we are apparently unable to cease caring completely; in this way, i would say we are haunted by God)

    Now I think this misunderstanding prevails because it is a myth that both the younger and older generations believe. it is not just the older generation that thinks the younger has gone off the deep end; the younger generation are afraid that this is in fact the case. That is why I thought of casting our experience of worship music as embarrassment. So i think more time spent between generations sharing is a part of the answer. voicing what i think is the actual reality is another part. (that reality being the indestructible desire for God that lives in us, regardless of our generation).

    I was also playing a bit with the word “generation,” using it both as the term for older and younger and as the term for how the feeling of spiritual embarrassment is created or “generated.”

    The question of aesthetics is a huge one (as you know from your study of Aristotle) and it is this question that I was getting at when i mentioned the “shit” of lyrics. Because even though i sometimes use the bad aesthetics of a song as an excuse, it sometimes is an authentic block for me in worship. we are trained and created as sensory creatures with discerning minds, hearts, and spirits, and so the ways we enact our worship can’t be a category placed outside of our ingrained aesthetic sensibilities.

    I hope these thoughts add context and additional nuance to my words in my post.

    love you!

  4. Mary Elizabeth Ilg Says:


    One correction to previous post.

    the website for The Divine Mercy novena is the following:

    –Mary Elizabeth Ilg

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