This weekend the wife and I took several kids on a junior higher retreat to a camp in Michigan. The retreat was fun - plenty of snow made for good sledding & tobogganing, the boys & girls of our group got a long quite well in their respective parties (there was not much intermingling and after spending 48+ hours with a group of junior high boys, I can certainly understand why the girls might prefer their own company) and my wife got to see some old friends from the church she used to attend some years back. Only a few gripes - the speaker, though obviously a loving and dedicated youth pastor, just wasn't up to snuff. We had at 4 chapel sessions starting Friday night and ending Sunday morning, but there was little continuity between his talks and the kids just weren't engaged by them. What he said was good, it just wasn't well presented for this audience. They had a three person band performing and they were pretty good. However, they played the same set of worships songs with few changes for all 4 sessions. For me, a person not prone to get into contemporary praise choruses, having to sing "Even more undignified than this" that many times in such a short span of time was deeply frustrating.
Which brings me to the long-standing fascination I have with contemporary worship music. And this is not "fascination" in a particularly positive sense. At best it is neutral and more often than not, it borders on...not revulsion actually, but something close. See, a while back I started counting the "me/us:you" ratio; that is, the number of times a particular chorus uses the words "I/me/our(s)/we/us" versus a "you" (or other term, such as a name or honorific title) that refers to God. This weekend most of the songs hovered around a 2:1, which is the average ratio my independent research has uncovered. I think one song managed to get an entire verse out without once using a "you" or "God", but I was admittedly quite tired and trying to keep kids from messing around, so I could be mistaken. Needless to say, I think a 2:1 ratio is troubling and would prefer, at best a 1:1 ratio and probably one even lower on a consistent basis. I'm not sure how we can call singing about us, even an "us" as we relate to God, worship. It seems like it should be much more God-centered and a lot less emotion-driven. Several songs, for instance, had a line about dancing - implying that the congregation of singers should be dancing - but no one was. A small contingent was jumping up and down, but you see the same thing at your average secular concert, so I don't take that for anything significant. Other than that, most of the kids just stood there and sang, with varying degrees of emphasis and emotion I'm sure, lines that talked about being sooooo happy and sooooo excited, etc. The disconnect was profound.
Needless to say, this weekend was also a bit of challenge due to its coming on the heels of all the parental shenanigans of last week. In all honesty, I kept thinking in the back of my head "am I (or my senior pastor) going to get a phone call about this?" Can the kids have a snow ball fight? Can the kids go sledding without my immediate supervision? Can I let them participate in the camp tradition of making a toboggan run shirtless? (I did and much to their delight and the delight of the crowd, which joyfully pelted them with snowballs as they came down the course. Unfortunately, they were topped a few minutes later by a group of boys going down in just their shorts. How quickly our glory fades.) Can I let them dare each other to do stupid but non-dangerous things as part of some game? A few of the boys rode up with my wife and she inadvertently let them play "slaps" - a game similar to bloody knuckles - and one boy's hand swelled up like he had broken a bone or something. I was just praying it would be much better by the time we left. It was both a relief and scare when one of the boys immediately told his mother of the semi-nude toboggan run, which she laughed at and said "oh, they'll remember that forever!", but then also said, "they'll probably all get sick and the church will be sued!" Great. Thanks. Just what I needed to hear. I'm just pretty gun-shy right now and have some fears and doubts about moving forward here. I've had a variety of problems with this church since we came on staff and got to know things from an insider's perspective, but this feels like it could be the beginning of the end.