Today’s post is from Elias Dummer of The City Harmonic. To read more from Elias visit his blog, Orthodoxical.
It was cold, although not “Polar Vortex” cold. My family and I were crammed into our minivan and were two-thirds of the way through our thirteen-hour drive from Nashville to Canada just four days before Christmas. Every once in awhile messages from family with news of an impending Ontario ice storm would grab our attention but, as it was, all we could see before us was rain and road. One hour after another on one of America’s most boring drives. That is, until dark.
Besides the obvious (it was dark), the darkness was blinding – turning our minivan into a rolling death trap – street lights, car lights, reflections of any light of any kind suddenly transformed into bizarre laser beams headed directly for the eyes – I was suddenly unable to see much of anything around me.
It was the smudge.
We’ve had this smudge on our windshield for something like four months. And like we all do all-too-often, we kept saying to ourselves – ‘we should do something about that smudge’ – but despite our good intentions we never did. In the sunlight you’d never even notice it but at night the driver’s point-of-view is blinded from everything but the foggy-looking smudge on the inside of the window.
Of course, it took us some time to remember that the smudge was even there. So we turned the windshield wipers on, using probably half a jug of washer-fluid: no change. We turned on the air conditioning and heat at the same time: no change. Next we blamed the fog, until we opened our windows and realized that there wasn’t any fog at all. Eventually we realized that the problem didn’t lie in our surroundings but rather how we saw them. I remembered the smudge. With a simple swipe of the arm I brushed the smudge enough that we could see and finished our trip safe and sound.
We kept looking for problems all around us, but even if any of them had been true, fixing them still wouldn’t have meant that we could see clearly. What it took was to step back and take a good look at the thing through which we saw everything else: the windshield. If we hadn’t we would continue to have a distorted way of seeing things.This is also true in how we live our lives at large: how our collection of ideas and assumptions about life and the world cause us to form our values and determine the ways we interact with God and the world around us.
This is often called a ‘worldview’ and everybody has one even if they don’t realize it or haven’t spent the time to think through what it might be like. This collection of ideas is often compared to a pair of spectacles, the lens by which we see and interpret the world around us. And its pretty likely we share ours with the people around us too. Cultures and societies have many assumptions of their own. And though Christianity certainly has beliefs in it, it might be fair to say that in the right light it is more like a worldview of its own than simply a one-size-fits-all-worldviews religious system. As is often the case, Lewis puts it beautifully:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
- C.S. Lewis
So how do you see the world? Yourself? The world around you? What’s wrong? How do we fix it? Have you even thought about it? What do you assume when you read the Bible, when you talk to your friends, when you vote or when you sing or write a worship song?.
After all, many of us song leaders started out as teenagers with a guitar strapped on our shoulder and the best of intentions. We loved music and we loved Jesus and wanted to be involved in our church somehow. If we could sing and strum four chords or more all the better! Choosing a set of songs didn’t seem like such a big deal: we’d been doing it all the time in our garage band or for the high school talent show. But it turns out these things are kind of a big deal. Before you know it and of course depending on the structure of your church, you might find yourself forming what is essentially a liturgy and seriously impacting how congregants understand God and themselves. Nevertheless, we’re thrust forward and given a few websites and a book of chord charts. Even with the best of intentions and incredible effectiveness, worship training resources tend to be focused almost entirely on ‘what we do’ — these are the questions most of us are asking after all — and only occasionally do we address the assumptions that led us to do those things in the first place.
So for us to constantly answer ‘how’ to do a thing without asking ‘why’ we do it this way seems fruitless. I began to unpack this thought a little in my post on New Years Resolutions: if we obsess with ‘what’ without ever asking ‘why’, we easily lose track of why we do things at all. I have to admit that I worry that may be exactly where we’re headed in the Evangelical church. Without developing a keen sense of the bigger picture we awkwardly cram Christian beliefs into the driving narratives of the world around us: conservatism vs. liberalism, enlightenment philosophy, materialism, pragmatism, commercialism, and so on. The blogosphere is on fire with examples of us attempting to cram our faith into strangely-fitting-philosophical-outfits and all the while Christianity is a story in its own right — with its own set of assumptions.
So let’s get practical by taking some time away occasionally from being so darned pragmatic. Let’s take a look at the big picture together and talk through our cultural and personal assumptions and how they have shaped the songs we write, the assumptions we have when we gather for church, what ‘worship’ is, and so on. This series of posts will focus on discussing our cultural and personal assumptions and ideas and how they have shaped our services, songs and assumptions about worship, about ‘why’ we do certain things, and perhaps even at times ‘why’ we shouldn’t. So let’s take off our spectacles, take a good look at our smudges and do our best at giving them a wipe to the glory of God.
In the meantime, if you have any subjects you’d like to see covered in this series please comment below – I’d love to see the kinds of things that have got your attention and see if we can talk it out!