It's time for all to stand up and sing together

Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2012, 7:30 am
Comment on this story | Print this story | Email this story
By The Rev. Peter W. Marty
In 1900, most American households had at least one musical instrument. Sales of recorded music were negligible, even though the invention of the phonograph already was 20 years old. People bought sheet music. Families gathered around the piano at night.

One of the storied photos of my own childhood has our family gathered around the upright piano in the living room. Dad is at the keyboard; we kids are the songsters. That mid-1960s photo was taken at the tail end of an era when households regularly engaged in the practice of making music. By the late 1950s, professional musicians were generating most of the nation's music.

The emergence of technological devices that play back recorded music did more to shrink peoples' confidence in singing than almost anything else. In many churches, singing has become something hired or gifted professionals do. Others consider singing the work of "performing" choirs. These shifts help make singing seem like an external option for our lives rather than an internal component of being human. Shrinking numbers of Christians view singing as an intrinsic part of a breathing faith -- that expression of human emotion for which spoken words never seem to be enough. Singing is now "an extra."

So why should you sing in your congregation, especially if you are unsure of your voice? You could argue that singing in worship serves no practical purpose. No casserole for the homeless will be baked after the opening hymn this Sunday just because you opened your mouth in song. No sudden healing on the orthopedic wing of the nearby hospital will take place because you let loose on "Amazing Grace" during communion.

We sing, in part, because no sound is more sublime than the human voice. Some people sing because they are happy; others are happy because they sing. Either way it's a good deal. Singing breaks down boundaries and creates amazing solidarity. If diverse peoples can rise eagerly from their stadium seats during the 7th inning stretch to sing for the concept of baseball, one might think that standing in another venue to sing for the reality of God carries even more delight. Songs of faith often connect us with God more intimately than many sermons do.

If you come to worship wearing analytical eyes, you will convince yourself that you are not a strong singer. A ghost in your head will tell you that weak singing, whatever that is, has no place in God's house. Embarrassment is the one word that will keep resting on the tip of your tongue as you think about how much you struggle with pitch. On top of this self-consciousness, you find yourself thinking that worship is just plain peculiar. People stand up, face this large wall with a cross on it and belt out words like Precious Lord.

To defend your silence, you always could put up the argument that Jesus never played an instrument or sang in any choir. At least we have no record of him doing so. But that argument is not exactly productive, and it misses the point.

Maybe singing in worship isn't all about YOU, or about any one person for that matter. Maybe it is about what we do together -- a "living together in harmony," to borrow words from the Apostle Paul. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted on this communal quality of song: "It is the voice of the church that is heard in singing together. It is not you that sings." We should all work to get over the idea that the principal aim of singing in worship is to please ourselves, or to focus on that lovely soprano. The greater delight is in pleasing God through our unity of voice.

Theologian Eugene Peterson reflects on our different modes of human expression. "Song and dance," he says, "are the result of an excess of energy. When we are normal we talk, when we are dying we whisper, but when there is more in us than we can contain we sing." So, regardless of the tempo of your organist, the typos on the screen, or the timidity of your own inner voice, just sing! Free yourself from those hang-ups and that analysis. Burst with song because there is more life in you than you can contain.

The Rev. Peter W. Marty is senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, and is part of a rotating system of columnists for Faith & Values



Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital.
1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post .
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.

(More History)