January 16, 2005

so i went on the winter retreat this weekend. and it brought up a lot of stuff i hadn't expected it to. things i hadn't thought about in years.

one of the songs we sang a lot was:

fall on me
ever so gently
washing, washing my filthy stains

shower me
with your love
breathe on, breathe on these dry bones

and break these chains, and break these chains
set me free! set me free!
set me free, Lord, set me free!

now this is probably one of my top ten favourite worship songs. i like the words and i like the melody. when i sing it i am reminded of important things. i can tell that the person who wrote it cared about the way it came together and wanted to be faithful to the gospel and to its purpose in corporate worship. i sing 'breathe on these dry bones' and am set to resonance by ezekiel's powerful and amazingly impossible vision of dead dry bones coming back to life, i sing about the breaking of chains and remember that Christ came and is coming to overthrow the regime of sin and death and set us captives free. when i sing this song i long for the day when the skies will open and everything will be set to order, working harmoniously and towards the purpose of God's glory.

nevertheless this song also, i think, has some problems with it. i see no understanding of the communal aspect of christianity. the song asks God to 'set me free'. in that i fear it has been infected with individualism. how can we, knowing the bondage in which we have been held, not ask for the loosening of our brothers and sisters' chains, especially those in countries where they are being beaten and persecuted for the sake of the Lord. how can we think about dry bones without our hearts breaking for this western culture, which has fallen so far from its first love, trapped at the temples of materialism and individualism and autonomy and rationality, modernity and postmodernity.

i also worry about the climactic height of the song. the emphasis is put on being set free, but there is nothing after that. there is no conception of why we are free. in john 10, Jesus tells His disciples that He is the gate and the good shepherd. lovingly He leads His sheep from the wild terrain around us, full of hungry wolves and slippery cliffs, INTO freedom. and freedom is a sheepfold. a pen. a place within God's laws. a place where we are safe to be followers of Christ. but leaving that place enclosed by God's law is not freedom at all, but death. we are set free for a purpose, to serve God by heralding the return of the King and doing everything we can to make this world ready for that Day.

but actually, i don't want to talk about freedom right now. i want to talk about what i just did. (hint: it was a pretty reformed thing to do). that's right. i used reason to talk about why i liked a worship song. in fact, i find i am rarely able to 'turn off' my rational analysis. this is probably due in some part to my personality, but mostly i think it is because of my upbringing in a family and a church tradition which put a strong emphasis on reason. i have not figured out whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. i know it's a frustrating thing. sometimes i want to locate the anti-dualism indicators and ism-o-meters in my brain and hit them with a metaphorical sledgehammer so that i can, as the-philosopher-who-shall-not-be-named might say, 'experience reality in the totality of its aspects' or 'engage in pretheoretical thought'. (side note: i knew they were calibrated too sensitively when i started pointing out the thomistic dualisms in the hymn 'joy to the world'... "and heaven and nature sing"... oh the nature / grace split... you are driving me crazy)

the situation is made more complex by the fact that, as i mentioned above, rationalism is one of the major idols of our culture. hyper-rationality is not unknown in the reformed tradition. and as annoying and dangerous as i find the current trend in emotionalism and anti-intellectualism in the contemporary north american church, i have to recognize that the church of my mom's and previous generations was often so concerned with theology and capital-R Reason that it completely steamrollered over the needs of the very broken people it was called to heal, both inside and outside the church. these two extremes have been battling it out since at least the time of jonathan edwards in the 18th century and probably since the very first generation of the Church. i bet st. peter and st. john argued about this stuff. the rock vs. the one Jesus loved. what an interesting discussion that would be.

it's all about finding the centre ground between these two extremes. and i'm not sure how to go about that. good thing we have the Holy Spirit. whether you come from a more reformed or more evangelical tradition, give thanks to God for the way His Spirit has blessed and guided your tradition and ask him to help you see the good in the others.

Posted by Tim at January 16, 2005 11:41 PM

what a weekend.
good and bad.
your post made me laugh, at parts. =}

are we reacting so much against postmodernism that we're reverting back to rationalistic modernity?
nah i don't think so. but we still have to figure out a balance... mediation is the key. it all has to do with a balanced life. ahaha. andrew vis.

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