Friday, May 22, 2009

Creativity in Worship

Lately I have been struck by the potential and possibilities of human creativity.  As I've been substitute teaching for music classes, I've been scouring through albums and videos, trying to find top-notch performances to share with my students.  I've listened to a wide variety of genres, I've seen a number of different performances, and all I can say is-- wow.  It leaves me speechless what humans are able to do with some innate talent and a whole lot of practice.  I've been moved to tears on several occasions as I listened to a guitarist play, or heard a vocalist sing, or seen a dancer dance.

God made us in His image, and the best evidence of that is our own ability to create.  We have access to centuries upon centuries of human creativity-- in art, music, literature, and so forth.  And humans all over the world are creating new and wonderful things on a daily basis.  Something synergistic happens when human thoughts convalesce into art.  The whole becomes greater than its parts.  Emotions are evoked.  Beauty happens.

Just this evening, I watched my daughter's dance recital.  Some of the older dancers have become quite accomplished ballerinas.  The whole time I kept thinking, "How beautiful and strong the human body is.  How beautiful is this form of expression.  What a great testament to God's creative power.  How very... worshipful."  Indeed, one of the songs was a praise song, and you could tell it meant something to the three girls dancing to it.  They wore expressions of adoration on their faces as they lifted their arms and floated across the stage.  It caused me to worship God in my heart.

In stark contrast to this stands Sunday morning.  When I compare it to the creativity I've witnessed these last few weeks, Sunday morning worship seems rather... bland.  [Edit-- This is not an indictment of just one particular church--I've had this feeling in many of the churches I've been to and heard the sentiment expressed by friends and family in their own churches.]  That's not to say that it isn't true worship, or that it doesn't have beauty to it.  But it seems like we are trying to paint with just red, yellow, and blue when the whole spectrum of colors is available to us.  Sure, we can make some pretty pictures with the colors we're using, but oh, the possibilities if we would expand our palette!  What better way to praise our Creator than to use the full extent of the creative power He gave us?  Why aren't we doing it?

Throughout history, the Church has generated some of the greatest works of art known to humankind.  We still have that potential, and in many ways, the Church is still creating.  But I fear we've settled for lower expectations and have allowed ourselves to get stuck in the rut of a few formulas that (sort of) worked once upon a time.  We start thinking in terms of what people like, what people are comfortable with, and what's easiest rather than what best expresses our love and adoration to our Father.  We settle for "we've always done it this way" rather than "how can we do it better?".  We stop imagining, reaching, dreaming, and searching our hearts for new ways to express all that is within us in reverent worship.  Sure, a simple chorus song with a few words repeated over and over is easy to sing, but it hardly says all the things I want to say to my Father.  It seems shallow when my heart wants to cry out of its depths.

As a songwriter, I feel a personal responsibility to help remedy this problem.  I've avoided affiliating my music with so-called "Christian" music as a genre.  "Christian" music has a certain set of unspoken expectations of what can be said and what should be said, and I don't want to limit myself to overworked cliches and tired imagery that's been used a thousand times.  I have a lot of thoughts and ideas right now, and I'm not particularly sure what to do with them all.  I just know that I don't want to settle for mediocrity, and the Church certainly shouldn't settle for less than its best.  May the Creator be honored by our creativity, in all its many forms.


Dan Martin said...

Wow, E.A., all I can say is "yes, yes!" The notion that our creativity is an expression of our bearing the image of God is one I've held for a long time, and it's not usually taught.

And your comment regarding the weak palatte with which we "paint" our worship is very telling. That's actually part of what I've really appreciated about much of the lyricism (and less-frequently the music too) of Michael Card and Chris Rice--two Christian songwriters whose work actually invites the listener to think.

But based on your comments (here and at Kurt's blog) I'd definitely go to a club to hear your non-religious music, if it was anywhere close to where I live. . .you ought to consider at least YouTubing some performances and embedding them here!

E. A. Harvey said...

Thanks Dan! I too appreciate Michael Card and Chris Rice, as well as the late great Rich Mullins. I like Caedmon's Call a lot too.

That's funny you mention YouTube... I actually have quite a bit of stuff on there (it's where I got my "start" as they say). Maybe I will post one here... :-)