Why We Sing

My father’s theme song could have been “How can I keep from Singing?” He was completely tone deaf and had no musical background whatsoever. He sang in church. . No matter what. As I became more musically erudite, his rumbling monotone embarassed me. I have a different appreciation for singing in worship now. Singing in worship is absolutely not about ability or performance. . Singing with others is deep in our bones. Martin Luther and the reformers wrote many hymns so that ordinary persons could to sing. Lutheran identity was forged in music as much as in declarations and debates. Still, people have been fussing about singing in church for generations. The very fact that we fuss reveals how important it is.

Why doesn’t this church sing more familiar hymns?

I don’t understand music and I hate to sing  I wish we didn’t have all this music in church.

raising a hand to question

I like to sing with others around me who know how to sing..

Why doesn’t this church sing more upbeat songs like (fill in the blank Church) does?

So if it’s just going to be fuss, why do we keep doing it?  WHY DON’T WE JUST DROP MUSIC ALTOGETHER?

Drums/instruments  /contemporary music/chant/other languages/dance oh my,  in MY church? 

I don’t get anything out of all these “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs.

cover my ears

I think I’d just rather go out on the deck and listen to the birds.  

Every single church of which I have been a member fusses this way.
So why do we sing? Because singing matters. Singing with others has become
rare in our times. We consume music performed by others, often with our headphones on.
Church is one of the few places where we sing with others. Singing joins us together
Singing comforts. Singing forges community and bolsters us in courage and will.
A few weeks ago 300 Firefighters from South Africa came to Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada to fight the wildfires that have overwhelmed the area. They had only known one other for a couple days. Arriving at the airport, before they faced the furies, they needed to sing. And dance. It is what warriors do before going into battle. It is what people do to unite. Not a choir. Just people. No books. Canadian Broadcasting interviewed one of the firefighters: “Why do you do this? “ He answered. It gives us courage. It makes us one. We always do this. When the work is hard or dangerous we sing out to encourage, unite, and make us stronger. I would not trust someone who does not sing with me.  You can see more about it here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0nbAQm-N_4

[Unfortunately, the firefighters did not fight the fires they came to fight as the situation deteriorated when it came to fare wages.  That does not change the way they fortified themselves for the job they expected to do.]
It’s not just a cultural thing. My dad still remembered the Marine drill sergeant’s calling of cadences to the day he died. In the movie/ book “The Lord of the Rings” the dwarves sing their ancient songs the night before they set out on their dangerous journey. Powerful music emerges from protest movements: slavery, women’s suffrage, union strikes, apartheid, and war. The Gospel of Matthew speaks of Jesus and his followers singing in exactly the same way. Matthew 26:30 “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives…” It almost slips past us because the text assumes that the reader would know this is something they would naturally and always do. Jesus sings before the great ordeal begins. The disciples sing with Jesus, not fully understanding the ordeal that lies ahead.
So we sing. And when we are teary eyed, or too croaky or in too much pain to sing, the congregation sings for us. We sing for one another: to comfort, to strengthen, to unite, to give courage, to sit together in grieving or to join together in joy. People all over the nation gathered in vigil after Orlando, and Columbine, and 9/11, and Sandy Hook. Too many more times. They lit candles. They sang. Often “Amazing Grace” is the only song everyone knows. We sing when we don’t know what to say. When we are overwhelmed. If it is only one song in the darkness, it matters. We sing to be present to God and one another whether we weep and rejoice. We sing so that we can insert one sliver of light into unmanageable darkness and evil. We sing to be ready. How indeed can we keep from singing?


About Pastor Betsy Williams

I am a mom. And a wife. And a Friend. And a homeowner. And a dog ...uh....owner? Actually make that two dogs. Two kids. One husband. I'm an ELCA Lutheran pastor of a beautiful downtown church. I am the third senior pastor in a century, so my 10-12 years here may feel like an interim to some of the folks here. Recently I have had no spare time. In my spare time in the future, my imagination inhabits a novel I am writing, The Funeral Preacher. My primary blog is a personal reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary...mostly: "Not All Who Wander are Lost." A few years ago I was on a team of writers who produced a little book for Augsburg Fortress in the Washed and Welcome series called "Living the Promises." It's 101 ideas for helping parents and godparents nurture their children in the faith of their baptism. I am developing another blog, more about worship at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Newark, Ohio and including a summary of the past week's preaching. Otherwise, I imagine myself to be a musician, liturgical artist, cook in a five star restaurant where the patrons keep ordering chicken nuggets, but never a bottle washer. I know how to delegate and share.
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2 Responses to Why We Sing

  1. Amy says:

    Hi, Pastor Besty!

    My name is Amy, and I recently began working as the Director of Modern Worship across the way at First UMC. As you might imagine from my title, I really enjoyed this post! I’m trying to get to know other church leaders here in Newark, so this seemed like an especially appropriate way to reach out. 🙂 Hope to talk with you more sometime!

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