Monday, May 4, 2009

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died
By Judy Vandiver
I can’t remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside the day the music died.[1]

Yesterday I sat through a funeral service. A service that made me physically ill as a large knot settled in my stomach. I felt hopeless and helpless; and I listened as hearts and souls around me cried. Death crept among the linked-together chairs of the room and cold, prickly tendons of demise threatened to strangle those who struggled with their own humanity; those who bereaved for a part of themselves that had been wounded, stabbed, and left for dead.
Someone at the front of the church tried to lead the group of mourners in songs of denial, but another tune rolled through my head. Not a tune one would normally sing at a church service or a funeral, but a tune that spoke of death and seemed altogether fitting. Over and over, I played, rewound, and played the words of Don McLean’s 1972 hit called “American Pie.”
Maybe you remember those words. Maybe you’ve never heard the song. Maybe you won’t understand how they pricked my heart. McLean wrote his song in memory of the death of three well-known singers of the 1950’s: Buddy Holly; The Big Bopper; and Richie Valens. The three men died, along with pilot Roger Peterson, in a plane crash February 3, 1959, over fifty years ago. The line from the song that stays with me most is “something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.”
That line seems to describe what happened at my church yesterday. I sat among the congregation and could only think that May 3, 2009 would be a day I remembered as “the day the music died.” And I, among other mourners, cried as a way of worship was reasoned dead.
Our particular congregation has been built on a doctrine of holiness and our worship style is what would be termed traditional. This specific group of believers have united under a banner of love for the common interest of praise and worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The congregation began meeting together in the 1940’s and have continually held to a style of worship that gave honor to Jesus Christ, but deliberately chose a style of worship that lends itself to the hearts of this blended and gathered group of believers. That style is traditional in the sense that the majority of the congregation prefers hymns from the days of Charles Wesley, Fannie Crosby, Isaac Watts, John Newton, Haldor Lillenas and many more.
We had chosen a leader for that style of musical worship that we believed in. We believed in his integrity, his faith, his commitment, and his leadership for the musical aspects of our spiritual needs. We believed in him for over thirty years. I still believe in all those things about this man. Not everyone agrees with me. And that’s okay.
But, does a church blend its style and way of worship to conform to the true needs of a specific congregation or to the preferences of a few? And what is the true need of a congregation?
The apostle Paul states in Ephesians,
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts, through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (vv: 3:14-21 NIV)
I interpret these verses as stating that the true need of a congregation is to be strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit, to have Jesus Christ dwell within them and to be filled with the fullness of God. And yet no where in the Bible can I find a place that states that the tone of a service must be traditional, contemporary, or even futuristic in order to accomplish these true needs of the Church.
Some current members of this church joined our congregation fifty-nine years ago. Some have joined more recently. And over the years, people have come and gone. We live in a mobile society, plus some may not have found our style of worship to their liking. Like the difference in opinion over the choice of a music director, that’s okay.
One style of worship does not fit everyone. I pray that those who look for different styles of worship find a congregation where they can offer their praises to God in a way that comes from deep within their soul, because that’s the only kind of praise that is truly meaningful.
But at the same time, I pray and I ask the world to please allow those who wish to worship in what is termed traditional, rather than contemporary, a place to lift the stirrings of our hearts for the things of God in a manner that comes from the depth of our emotions.
For me, yesterday’s church service was a time of singing "dirges in the dark." Yes, we sang what I’ve called traditional songs. But the mood left me feeling as though it was a time for burying something long held in love and respect. Our beloved minister of music was no longer allowed to lead us to the throne of God as he has done for so many years. And the congregation cried.
Ironically, the song that played through my mind is one that I would have called contemporary, but is actually almost forty years old. So what, exactly, is contemporary? Is it not living within your time period? Is it not that which is up-to-date? Is it not our hearts which tell us what is current and up-to-date for each person? Is it any more wrong to like a traditional style over a contemporary one than to choose one version of the bible over another?
In Psalm 9:1, David speaks of praising the Lord and he tells us he did so with all his heart. To me, that is the fundamental nature of praise – to do so with “my heart.” I cannot speak for anyone else, but “my heart” wants to praise God in a way that comes from the essence of who I am and from that which I understand. Otherwise, I feel as though I am trying to speak to God in a language with which I’m unfamiliar.
I worry about what is to become of my church and I pray that God’s way will prevail. I pray that our congregation will not be scattered like the wind, but can stand together and lift our voices in praise to Jesus Christ, our King and that those praises come from deep commitment and from the depths of our souls.
Finally, I am reminded that many years ago a group of believers huddled together, cried, and mourned. They thought all was lost the day that Jesus died.

But, you know the rest of that story. . .

[1] Lyrics from American Pie by Don McLean, 1971