“Our people, our songs.”

Just read a review of an interesting book for pastors, worship leaders, and community developers trying to sort out the common lingua questions of music in worship.  Gerardo Marti busts some of our assumptions about community connectedness and music.

Emerson notes that we often assume everybody has to have “their kind” of music to feel like they are a part of the community.

What does this have to do with the problem of the musical-buffet style? Marti finds that this style actually “essentializes” racial groups and draws on narrow stereotypes. Want white people in your church?  Play Vineyard, contemporary Christian music (or for the older crowd, play European-origin hymns). Want black people in your church?  Play gospel music. Want Hispanics in your church?  Play salsa music. Want Asians in your church?  Play, ah . . . well, play white music.

The end result? Instead of bringing people together and transcending racial boundaries, this approach reinforces boundaries—boundaries built on gross, oversimplified stereotypes. It unwittingly even assumes that somehow we have inborn preferences for certain styles of music, rather than tendencies to prefer the type of music we most often hear those around us enjoying. Fact is, musical preferences are learned.

So what did Marti discover?  I love this statement:  “what matters is the network of relationships.”

What “succeeds” musically in multiracial churches is not a certain type of music or how well it is performed. Rather, it is: (a) people of various backgrounds all practicing together, spending time together, singing together, worshiping together; and (b) the fact that it is “our choir, our people.”

To get downright sociological, it is the transcendent experience in which worship becomes at the same time a celebration of the group itself and of God who has brought the group together. At its essence, then, what matters is the network of relationships of the people in the congregation, not the type or even the quality of the music.

What matters is “the network of relationships.”

Read the whole review of Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation.

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