Thursday, August 5, 2010

Folk Worship?

I linked to this post recently and found it to be a mess.  I have cleaned it up (somewhat) since....

So it all started with a uke.  Or, I guess, it started when in late spring the church realized that we wouldn't have a regular pianist for our summer services.  Like many churches, our summers are more casual affairs with lighter attendance. Our Music Director traditionally takes the summer off and our usual volunteer musician was unable to play.  So we sent out the call and received one positive reply from a member of the church who could play piano on a few Sundays.  This is where the uke comes in.  There was a void on those other Sundays.  I am the pastor.  I needed to fill it myself.  

I bought two very cheap ukeleles a couple years ago to hack around with the kids.  In this respect, they have served their purpose well.  However, one would be hard pressed to say that I knew how to play.  I would pick out tunes, not finish songs, and ignore them for months at a time.  The fact is, these particular instruments are not user-friendly.  I got what I payed for, which wasn't much (about $40 each).  The capo in the picture?  It is structural.  I need it to lower the strings to an acceptable level or else it all comes out sounding like a slightly tipsy cat running amok in the recycling. 

These were (and are) problems. Still, the liturgical void needed filling.  I purchased something called an "Easy Hymn Fake Book" (which instantly put me in mind of the "Easy Bake Oven" of yore) and proceeded to pick out hymns.  First there was "Amazing Grace".  Then I worked through "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" and "Be Thou My Vision".  I played them in church.  The congregation survived.  Now we are on to "Holy, Holy, Holy", "Ode to Joy", and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"...nice.  I am a beginner but I am also a player.

While I was preparing for that first service as a church musician I got thinking about worship and preaching as forms of folk art.  They have similarities with other forms, after all.  Worship in particular is largely enacted and celebrated by amateurs.  At the time I had this mild epiphany, I was preparing to accompany (rather badly) my congregation in the singing of hymns.  Where else in our lives do a group of people get together to sing?  Yeah, there are choirs and such, but those are people who like to sing and go our of their way to do so.  Church is filled with people (including me) who would die if we were to sing in public anywhere else and yet that is just what we do!

Preaching is folk art too (or can be) if you consider that speaking in the presence of God each week doesn't make you a pro.  Rather it makes you humble.  All that training is helpful but it doesn't make one an expert in something that is so vast and unknowable and experienced differently by different people.  A preacher who self-identifies as an "expert" can become an excellent public or motivational speaker but otherwise fall short.  

Many traditions (including my own) expect lay preachers from time to time.  Others demand it.  Amateurs again.  All of us are.  Each person is seeking the ultimate truth by falling back on our own experience and gifts.  Sure, we help each other.  But we are just folks learning and growing.  Whether in a house church or a cathedral people come together and find ways to tell the story of a people and of that people's relationship with the Divine.

By the way, if you are a Burbanian parent wondering if the ukelele is a good way to introduce your child to the guitar, you might as well get them a banjo.  I am kidding but not much.  Get a small guitar instead (I'm NOT kidding).  All these instruments are similar in form but the tuning and general dynamics are quite different. If your child wants to play the guitar, no amount of ukulele time will help that happen.  Of course, you could get a uke and then (after some awkwardness in high school) your child will be very popular in college.  Which is to say, get a kid the instrument they want to play.

Of course, if you are asking yourself "how can I contribute to this no-longer-young man's accidental music ministry," I have an answer for you.  The Oscar Schmidt OU5 Concert Uke or the Flea with a concert green.

No comments:

Post a Comment