- Dr. Rebecca A. Thomas
Why Can't Church Be Like Songland???
I have always felt a little bit like an outsider in the church community regardless of where I attended. Essentially I have spent a virtual lifetime trying to figure out how to fit in. As a child, my Grandma began taking me to church when I was very little and so by this age, which is, shall we say in the third act of life, I have been in a wide variety of denominations and have experienced a good many different church traditions.
As far as my faith goes, meaning my belief in and relationship with God, it remains the touchstone of who I am and why I do whatever I do. To me the Church is the universal body of believers, which I don't necessarily think is always well-represented in church buildings. I would like to not just complain about it but be a part of the solution.
It seems I am perpetually thinking about why I might feel the way I do and then wondering to myself what the church environment would look like if it were relatively healthy. I attended a Christian university and spent a good deal of time on my doctoral dissertation in pursuit of finding a way to encourage the church to consider being more relationally healthy rather than focusing on rules and regulations. that tend to eschew diversity and freedom by developing a behavioral 'measuring stick' for spirituality.
One thing I discovered during that time was the realization that most institutions are masculine and therefore are unbalanced, in that they don't make room for the feminine. I'm talking here about traits and characteristics (e.g. nurturing, caretaking, and more relational qualities being seen as feminine, while the 'business model' is more indicative of masculinity.) In a nutshell, who we are, not what we do. This is the place where many church folks begin to get real uncomfortable with me. I'm not talking about men/ women issues, I'm talking about characteristics of masculinity and femininity that we all have and should manifest if we are whole. If balanced, these qualities best represent God. I think this is evident in the incarnate Jesus and how he lived and conducted his own life.
So along came Songland, and I found myself getting emotional and all excited in watching this TV show about song writers. Now, I love music and all; I grew up singing in church. But there is something that touches my core in a way that I just couldn't explain about this show; something on a spiritual level. So I have done some 'marinating', as I call it, about this; I have finally begun to have the light bulb come on, I think. At least here's where I am at the moment, though I'm pretty sure that this will continue to simmer on the back burner for some time as it really feels big to me.
Songland consists of three songwriters who are quite diverse individually, but when they come together to create and help aspiring songwriters make their song a quality product that a current singer or group would love to record, it is amazing to watch. The panel consists of three well-known song writers; one is a gay male who writes largely country music, a black female whom one would take for a diva, and the third is a male who is quite an accomplished musician and performer in his own right who also writes songs for other performers. Yet one soon discovers that these three well-known, sought after folks who are at the top of their game, are extremely excited to provide an opportunity for aspiring song writers who have a burning desire to have their songs heard also. The new songwriter presents a song to this panel of three, as well as a guest 'star' or group who plan to choose one of the presented songs for their next recording and /or tour.
It is amazing to watch this panel greet the novice, listen with respect, make them comfortable and welcomed, and begin to use their expertise to help that writer bring the song up to the standard needed to be a potential hit for a well-known artist or group. You can witness love and respect and not a hint of divisiveness or defensiveness among these people. Even though they are quite diverse in their personal styles, each of them is able to communicate and appreciate input of the others and showing they value all forms of good music. Because of this, the creativity just oozes out of them as you watch them excitedly work together, sharing lyrics, rhythms, arrangements, etc. that will ultimately make this novice's song amazing.
As a part of the show, there is a friendly competition where three of the songwriters who have auditioned are individually placed with one of the three new songwriters who present on each show to further work toward making the song marketable for the guest artists. And yet it doesn't feel really competitive at all; it's about the end product and making the novice produce a professional product. It is a beautiful thing.
So I have figured out that it's really not about the music...not about the song. It's about the picture of wanting to pour yourself into someone else; to share your knowledge and gifts in order to make someone else great. To appreciate the work of someone who is trying to 'make it in the business' and to remember where you came from and what it felt like when you were also in that position. That's what is known as discipleship in the church community.
The elements that seem important here are evident in this show. There is something that I know and care a great deal about that I would like to share with you. But I don't want to make you into another 'me', I want you to be the best 'you' you can be. Your 'product' is totally yours and I am thrilled to have been able to serve you and pass along what I know. It's much more relational than behavioral. The creativity flows out of a loving, respectful, egalitarian relationship among people. It's not about hierarchy or 'who's in charge' and 'who sets the rules' and 'who owns the place.'
Basically, I see people who think that God is mad at them; most people really don't think God is irrelevant. They long for relationship and they long to be significant, but they don't behave up to external standards of 'the church'. So they figure they are rejected. Why try?
You know, I spent to much of my life trying to behave and be a good little girl for Jesus when that's not what it's about at all. God loves me, and when I really learned to accept that, I understood that I want to be like God and learn to love others, as well--unconditionally, which is the really hard part.
So it's really simple, but not easy at all. Yet we have churches operating on a business model, with executives, hierarchies, and budgets to fund their plans. It's not necessarily wrong, but it isn't the big deal. That's how we have denominations and 'non denominations' en ad nauseum. Rules, rules, rules; do it this way, don't do it that way, WE do it this way, you're bad if you do it that way, etc. It kills the creativity and gives a false narrative about what it's really about. Giving folks freedom and encouraging them to be who God made them to be; a person who loves and is learning to accept, love, and serve others.
Even when folks don't 'win' on Songland, you'll notice that they walk away enriched, encouraged and on fire to keep doing what they're doing; they actually feel excited to get back at the grinding work of making it in the song writing business, which is no small feat. But that's what they're called to do and they are encouraged to keep on keepin' on, as they say. That's the kind of people with whom I want to gather...
Wanna go to the church of Songland with me?