Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Narcissistic Lyrics in the Worship Service


For a long time I have been of the opinion that we should put an end to singing "I" "me" and "my" songs in our worship services. Because the worship service is a dialogue --- God speaks to us and we respond to him --- our response is a form of prayer. Singing in worship together is essentially congregational prayer. Just as a person who leads prayer in a public worship service will almost invariably use "we" "us" and "our" language, the same should be generally true when we sing together.

The fact that our singing is so filled with "I" "me" and "my" songs, strikes me as rather self-exalting, which seems an odd thing when it should be our triune God who ought to be exalted in a worship service. Therefore, when I read these words from James Resseguie's book, Spiritual Landscapes: Images of the Spiritual Life in Luke's Gospel about the testing of Jesus in the wilderness, it was difficult for me not to think of the self-referential nature of our worship services these days. Notice the difference between the devil and Jesus:

"The devil's self-serving point of view feeds ferociously upon an irresolute ego. His self-referential posture is apparent in the tribute to himself.
To you
"I" will give their glory and all this authority
for it has been give over to "me"
and "I" give it to anyone "I" please.
If you, then will worship "me",
It will all be yours (Luke 4:6-7)
Although the passive voice ("it has been given over to me") acknowledges in a roundabout way that God delegates the authority to the devil, he buries this information within a paean to himself. First-person verbs and pronouns exult in the self. In 4:6, for example, the devil begins with "I will give" and closes with "I give." Like a persistent salesperson who is closing an important sale, his speech accentuates what "he" can do for Jesus: "to you" and "to me" are placed in the emphatic position. "'To you' I will give their glory and authority, for "to me" it has been given." His self-regarding posture elevates the material point of view to new heights as the "self" becomes the object of worship.  [As an aside, the relevance of this passage to worship is that the devil is tempting Jesus to worship him.  Thus, we have two contrasting ways of worship: one from the devil and one from Jesus! --Bill]

"By contrast, Jesus' speech is utterly devoid of first-person verbs and pronouns. Whereas the devil is full of himself, so to speak, Jesus is "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1). He repeatedly refers to God, not to the self. With a string of quotations from Scripture, Jesus, unlike the devil, shifts attention from himself to God. In 4:8, from Deuteronomy 6:13: "Worship the Lord your God and serve only him," and in 4:12, he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." In the single instance where the self might surface, no "I" is found; only a generic reference: ""One" does not live by bread alone." (Luke 4:4)."

I understand that we have inherited many "I" "me" and "my" songs from our spiritual forefathers, and that the spiritual content of many of these hymns is good. Our generation --- the "me generation" built on the philosophy of self-esteem --- has just sort of put this "I" "me" and "my" trend into overdrive. But our spiritual ancestors were not right in everything they did! Jesus, the true worshiper, is a better model for worship than the enemy he defeated!

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