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Finding Unexpected Worship

In my mind it is still the 1990’s. That was when I came of age musically when I moved away from folk music’s softer melodies my parents listened to in favor of bands leaning towards an edgier sound. I can remember the first time I heard Nirvana on the radio or when my friend gave me the first Pearl Jam CD telling me how I had to listen to it. I remember when I watched The Pogues perform on Saturday Night Live.

I found music that spoke to me as a geeky outsider. I rejected the church because I felt confined by both by the shirt and tie my father forced me to wear, as well as by the dusty old hymns we sang each week that couldn’t possibly relate to my angst ridden teen and young adult years. Even as I started to go to churches with more “contemporary” services the worship still felt dry to me. They didn’t get it. I wanted punk’s harder guitar licks, ska’s kicking horns and grunge’s cynical poetry. I wanted music to speak directly to where I felt I was at the time. I often argued with my friends how bands like The Newsboys and Sonic Flood were meant to minister to people like them, while other bands with the more underground sounds like The Blamed or Blenderhead were meant for people like me. I reasoned that both had the same message they just came at it from a different direction. One was from the insider’s point of view. The other from the outsider’s. As much as I tried to make them realize that the body of believers has so much variety not everyone was going to be ministered to in the same way by hymns as they may with something harder. They never got it. I even toyed with the idea of starting a punk church for people more like me preaching a rebel Christ to reach the lost who are afraid to step foot inside of a church because they feel they won’t be accepted. Show hope to people who felt betrayed by a world that made them feel like an outcast. A church that finally "gets it."

Looking back I am glad it never happened as I found a church that appreciates the wide variety of God’s community of people. I can come in as I am without being given a second glance by our elder saints. They never seem to notice my outer dress, but often ask about the condition of my heart. And like most people, as I got older I mellowed out, coming to appreciate other styles of music. There’s more jazz and classical in my music collection than in the past, though I’d still prefer to listen to harder music over more adult contemporary.There are still times I wish the worship team would finally get it and rock out once in a while but I accepted that it will more than likely not happen.

Recently I had an experience, which pushed me further over the edge acceptance when a friend asked me to attend a classical concert held at 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, a church famous for attracting a lot of young people in spite of only playing the dusty hymns I spent years rejecting. Performing that night was Anne Martindale-Williams, a principal cellist for The Pittsburgh Philharmonic, and on piano was the church’s worship director playing instrumental renditions of old hymns. Though I became more welcoming towards hymns it still brought back memories of boring services and waiting for church to be over so I could go home to watch The Three Stooges. I decided to ignore those old feelings and sit back to enjoy a pleasant evening.

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The music started. Silence fell over the sanctuary. The first notes drifted in a meditative tone contrary to the usual genres I listened to, but struck me in the chest harder than any guitar riff ever could. For the first time in my life I had a religious experience I often jealously read about in the ancient mystics. At first I attributed it to the beautiful music played expertly by two people who knew their craft. But no, it was more than that. They desired the music be for God’s glory joining us together as a body so we may come a few inches closer to Him. I was not an outsider, but a member of a greater body who desired His presence. I bowed my head in repentance for my years in selfish worship. All my arguments for a more rocked out worship style became moot. All I wanted was any opportunity to give thanks. It took me twenty years as a Christian to realize why there was so much variety to the psalms.  God allows the time to question and shout or sit back for a moments selah as long as I did it for the glory of God. Style became immaterial over substance. My worship experience up to that point had been bankrupt. The idea made me want to weep.

I looked to my left and saw a few teenagers texting to their friends instead of enjoying the moment. It frustrated me at the time. I wanted to yell at them, “Don’t you get it?” Now I can laugh. All those years I felt frustrated towards churches that appeared dead because they refused to get with the times disappeared. God gave me the clarity to realize I was the one who didn’t get it. I prayed that someday they will see worship for that one moment in our day when we can put our selfishness and hurt aside to say, “Thank-you.”

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