“… or a melody that rhymes.” These lyrics from the late folksinger Steve Goodman have been rattling around in my head (lots of room in there) over the past few days. This was triggered first by a post on Musehead about the joy of poetry, A Complete and Necessary Waste of Time. Then, I read a great article in the only magazine I currently subscribe to, Cutting Edge, by John Mortensen.
Mortensen is a worship leader, who also happens to be Associate Professor of Piano at a university. He had some less than flattering opinions of many of what passes for worship songs in many of our more contemporary churches, musically, but more importantly, lyrically.
Some of his main points, with which I totally agree, are:
- Many of our songs are self-congratulatory, expressing our pleasure at how we respond to God’s grace (“I will sing of your love forever,” “I will follow you,” etc.). He mentions that these promises sound alot like Peter’s, shortly before he denied Jesus, and wonders if we are singing in praise of our own competence.
- Good lyrics are composed, not inspired. (That could get you stoned in some circles…)
- Meter matters (my phrase…), as does rhyming.
- Truth (theology) also matters.
- Try using a little imagry. It worked for David.
He had other things to say, about musical styles, arrangements, and masspopcult, but for now, I’ll just comment on what he had to say about “the words.” That’s what we’re really talking about (although instrumental music can also assist in worship (again, it worked for David…).
We can talk forever about the content (theology) of our worship songs, or lack thereof. Many songwriters (I hesitate to call them lyricists) would be completely embarrassed to have to explain some of their lyrics. What about the oaths we make people take, unwittingly? What about, “I will follow you, never turning back?” Never? Cross your heart and hope to die?
But what about the simply stupidity of some of the songs? I’ve heard worship songs that were energetic, fun to sing, but didn’t have the foggiest idea what they were about (neither did anyone else), and the crowd would break into applause in worship. Is it worship, or just mass hysteria?
Isn’t it time to get back to some worship songs that are:
- Theolgical (you can educate while you worship)
- Skillfull (oh, you mean like a real lyricist?)
Wouldn’t it be cool to have worship songs so skillfully written that you can worship to them without the music? I know that’s nearly sacriligeous. I’d probably settle for words that are true; but I’d love words that inspire.
I know Steve Goodman was being humorous when he wrote those lyrics, but he may have had something. Give me some words that we can dance to.