Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Would I Be a Better Person if I Went to Church?"--Music

Surprisingly, my adamantly atheist friend says she would go to church if she could find one with a good Gospel choir. She says she would stay through the whole service, carefully not listening to the rest of the service, if the music was good enough.

I asked her if the lyrics to Gospel music didn't bother her, and she claims that she doesn't listen to the words, she just listens to the music. I argued that if she went to church on a regular basis, the words would sink in and change her. She claimed that would never happen. I'll comment on the idea of The Word in a separate post. Today, I want to think about the music that happens in most churches.

Most of us of a certain age probably learned to sing in church. In fact, for much of human history, humans got much of their art training at church. And music has always been one of the predominantly featured arts in many Christian traditions.

Of course, there's a wide variety of music to choose from. And what I find inspiring might drive the next person crazy. Luckily, so far, there seems to be room for everybody.

There's often a wide variety of musical instruments in church, which means that children can learn to play. Again, this doesn't always happen, but it could be a benefit.

I go to a liturgical church, which means that much of our service is sung, and we sing the same things each week. That practice means that the music and the words get in our heads, which for most humans is one of the easier ways to learn and remember (studying for a test? set the facts to music and you'll have an easier time). I'm often surprised when I read the Bible and stumble across a passage that has been turned into liturgy. I've already memorized the words because I sing them every week. Likewise, my church returns to certain hymns on a regular basis; I know the words because I've been singing them since childhood.

My musical backbone means that in times of tension, I've got an extra resource to calm myself down. I have been known to walk outside or to sing in the stairwells if I need a song break (much healthier than a smoking break!).

Music consoles most of us in a way that few other things can. Music can reach even the hardest heart, as my atheist friend demonstrates. And if we have that consolation, then I believe we're likely to be better people: calm, loving, serene, generous.

The lyrics of most religious music that we hear in church reminds us to be the people that God calls us to be. But I'll return to this theme when I talk about the value of hearing words spoken in a church or religious setting.

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