Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shoplifting and Angry at the Church

I should have known that I was getting sick. I haven't been myself since the weekend. On Sunday I accidentally shoplifted this set of MonKeys key covers. Shoplifting is not something I make a habit of doing.

I was super-tired, but trying to push through it to enjoy a normal day out with Ken. Just before 5 pm we were wandering around in a store. I had the pack of key covers in my hand, with every intention of paying for it. Then Ken said "We'd better go. It looks like they're closing." In a daze, I wandered out of the store with him.

A few steps out onto the sidewalk, I realized I had something in my hand.

"Hey!" I said. "I'm stealing these!"

Of course I ran back into the store and paid for them.

Anyway, long story short, after that I had a scratchy throat for three days and now I've got a fever. Blah.


I've been thinking about more disagreements I have with my church. These ones have to do with music.

Last time my group played during the service, we tried to amp it up. The congregation seemed to be having a bad-energy day. I could see most of them slumped in the pews like dead fish. We put everything we had into bringing the good spirit into that auditorium.

Later, a fellow who leads one of the other musical teams came up to the three singers.

"Be careful," he told us. "You were almost dancing. You know, like doo-wop backup singers. You'll get raked over the coals for that."

I stared at him and blinked, completely taken aback. Yes, we had been moving in time to the music. So what? We weren't being immodest. That's part of musicianship. If you "dance it up" a little it keeps you on the beat. Is the board of directors so uptight that they can't handle us swaying our shoulders?

Our church has an incredibly old and stuffy board of directors. There is one 30-something black man who speaks for the younger demographic. He ends up in a lot of disagreements. The rest of the board is all elderly white people.

I have heard stories of another music group that ended up disbanding because they received so much criticism from the board. The drums were too loud. The songs were too new. This is church, not a rock concert. Etc.

I hadn't expected such criticisms to be leveled at my group. Not that we don't rock it out a little here and there. But more to the point: the church has trouble finding enough musicians to play at all of its services. My group's leader was invited to get involved in the music program because the pastors were rather desperate to fill some gaps in the schedule. On one hand, I love being involved in the music. It's a labour of love. On the other hand, it's a lot of work. They asked us for help. Do they think they can be that picky and restrictive?

The more I think about it, the angrier I get. This is not Footlose. In this day and age, even Pentecostal churches are embracing dance as a form of worship. Only last month, we heard a sermon describing how, according to scripture, King David was so overcome with joy and love for God that he tore off all his clothes and danced around like a maniac in his underwear. The pastor was all "we should be more like King David!" Hello, are you people even listening to yourselves?

Not only that, but Ken, who is involved with the production side of our music, working the sound board and setting up electrical equipment, has been running into roadblocks as he attempts to improve the technical situation. One pastor in particular is resisting the idea of spending money to upgrade the old and broken equipment that limits our sound. Ken has offered to take responsibility for raising money for the cause, but that doesn't help.

On one hand we hear that we have to provide great music, because that's often what will draw visitors back to the church for return visits. On the other hand, the pastor warns us that it must not be a performance. One man with a guitar singing heartfelt hymns is as good or better than a whole musical team with a fancy electrical set-up.

Which makes me ask: why am I bothering? Every month I spend around 3 hours at home listening to our tracks so that I can learn the songs. I spend at least 2 hours creating, editing, and printing lyrics sheets. We spend 8 hours in rehearsals. Then there are other peripheral activities that take up time and effort. All in all, I devote a lot to this group. It would be just as good or better to have one guy with a guitar? Then maybe I'd rather do something else with my time. Especially if my "dancing" is offending the congregation.

Honestly, all these politics bug the heck out of me. Lucky for them that I still feel a lot of love for most of the people there, or I'd have left in a huff already. We'll see. There may come a confrontation at some point. If the board continues with their habits, they should be prepared for the church to die when they die, because they're not changing with the times. That would be a shame.


Kate said...

As a long time church worker and someone who has lived with resentments against the church for far too long, I say this. (And please take it with a grain of salt. As with anything I say.)

Choosing to be a part of a worship team is putting yourself on the chopping block every single time you lead music. There will ALWAYS be someone who criticizes you. One of the things I learned about the church early on is that it is a place where people see it as their "God give duty" to tell you how they feel. Also - it's a place where they feel like they "should have" to be heard. Because of course, we're all children of God, don't you know.

Take it, say thank you for the criticism and then keep doing what you know in your heart is right. And if it suddenly appears that you are not at the right church for your spiritual needs (and believe me, it will be sudden) then start looking for another church that does INDEED embody the things you feel are appropriate for worshiping God.

I mean it. It's not "church shopping" and it's not bailing when the going gets rough. It is finding where you feel the most comfortable expressing your worship of your God and in a place that embraces that YOU. Because GOD embraces that you, too. No matter what anyone else says.

Sparkling Red said...

Kate: Thank you. It's helpful to have the perspective of someone who knows about churches and how they function. It's not at all what I would have expected before I became a church-goer. But in the end I suppose it's all part of the spiritual journey. I'm going to have to find a little extra courage to move onstage next time, but I promise I won't give in to the negative pressure.

wigsf said...


Anonymous said...

What would Jesus play?

Jenski said...

[sigh] One would think church would be free of the politics.

I say you do it because you love to play your music! I played handbells, my flute occasionally, in a recorder ensemble, and was in the choir growing up - playing music in church is a great way to participate! Think of all the people in the congregation who love hearing you. They just figure everyone does and therefore don't think to tell you.

And BOO to being sick again! Another massage would help maybe? :-)

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Do you think the illness is some strange monkey curse?? I mean it started when you got the monkey keys.

Do what you enjoy and what you love. If it makes you dance then dance. If they have issues with the dancing, I'm assuming you wouldn't start stripping or go extreme ;) then you might want to move on. Find a place that accepts you for who you are.

Sparkling Red said...

WIGSF: The monkey things are super-neat. At night my condo complex is lit by sodium streetlamps, which totally drain the colour out of everything. My old key identifiers, rings of plastic that fit poorly over the key heads, were useless. Now I can tell which key is which by looking at the monkey's face. Sad monkey = main gate. Dead-eye monkey = the mailbox. Etc.

Anonymous: I bet he would play a double-necked electric guitar.

Jenski: Actually, I'm kind of blaming the massage for my illness. You know how if you relax a lot you run the risk of getting sick? Like, so many people get sick when they go on holiday. My theory is that I relaxed too much, my immune system took a holiday, and that's how I picked up the germs. And yet, I still feel the massage experience was infinitely worth it.

Ron: OMG - you're right! It must be a monkey curse! Darn those cute little devils. I knew they were too good to be true! They even wanted me to steal them. That's a sure sign of evil.
Anyway, you've touched on my Top Secret exit plan. If the church ticks me off too much, I won't go quietly. I'll do one more service and dance real dirty onstage. That'd show them. OK, of course I wouldn't, but it's fun to picture it.

Jameil said...

watch out you're dancing!?!? crazy talk! don't let them steal your joy. i was just about to bring up david before you did! and of all the dancing, did you say doo wop? not pole dancing, doo wop. wow... is it the 50s? banning doo wop? kate gave very very good advice. to add to that, i'll say there are just as many catty, unhappy people in church as there are anywhere else in life.

Claire said...


Been there, honey.

I say, if it glorifies God and gives you pleasure, go for it! If you stuck to trad hymns...some people would have a problem. If you went all Christian rock....some people would have a problem. If you embraced P&W MOR stuff....people would have a problem. If they really have a problem, ask them why. If they can offer a genuine explanation, fair enough, but all too often these disputes are simply down to taste / pettiness / the way things have always been done...

I hope it irons itself out, sweetie.


Warped Mind of Ron said...

LOL... well if you decide to leave the church like that let me know and I'll show up to lend you moral support.... yup, just supporting a friend.

Sparkling Red said...

Jameil: True indeed. People are people, no matter where they happen to be, and no matter how much they try to pretend to have an angelic halo. I have already seen some very hot tempers in a political church meeting. Brotherly love went out the window in a hot second.

Claire: Taste, pettiness, and the way things have always been done - that's exactly what is determining some peoples' opinions. I hope I'm not like that when I'm old. If there's one thing in life that's a guaranteed losing battle, it's resisting change. Change happens whether we want it to or not. Seems like God built the world that way. So it's better to be a little flexible.

Ron: I'll save you a seat in the front pew and you can stuff your offering envelope into my back pocket. ;-)

Scarlet said...

It DOES sound like the Footloose movie! I'd just keep doing what I'm doing a la King David...but I'd keep my clothes on! ;)

powdergirl said...

Sounds like your board is talking out both sides of its mouth, my friend.
Also, in the Mennonite church in which I was raised dancing is strictly forbidden.
So is sex, because it could possibly lead to dancing.

I don't understand, I can see why they would frown on really provocative forms of dance, but a little swaying to the music?

And you're exactly right to question how they can be so restrictive and demanding after asking musicians to invest so much time and energy in their efforts to draw new members to the congregation.

They sound very self-important!

G said...

Strange indeed.

Sounds like you're in a catch-22 at the church.

Or at least, don't do as I do, do as I say.

In any event, I hope you come to a firm resolution with this issue. If it was me, I would of packed up a long time ago and moved to another place that was more tolerant and open minded to what it was that I was doing.

Sparkling Red said...

Scarlet: That's the best way to go, I think. It's going to be a little scary to move freely in front of everyone when I know that some people are judging me, but I'll try not to let that stop me.

Powdergirl: Not everyone at the church is like that, but enough loud-mouths and people with power have created an atmosphere where their point of view prevails. It's worth trying for change, or at least that's how I feel now.

G: What I haven't had a chance to do is to discuss that comment with the other members of my team. I'd like it if we could all agree to "be the change we want to see in the world", as the saying goes. It'd be worth the effort if we could change the church's restrictiveness. There are a lot of kids who go there and the environment will affect who they grow up to be. I'd like to see them exposed to a more creative and liberal perspective.