There's a downside to taking piano lessons. At least there is if you're a Church Girl. Once anyone knows you can play the keys with any sort of accuracy in notes and rhythm, you're drafted, dragged up onto stage and plopped in front of a keyboard which you silently and worshipfully pray will contain at least 62 working notes. If you're an introvert, you spend the pre-songtime moments bowing your head and attempting to look like you’re deep in prayer for the missionaries to Outer Patagonia. This technique is also known as Avoiding Eye Contact At All Costs. Maybe this week you won't have to be up in front of the world playing shouted-out requests like some sort of Piano Man. Although a tip jar would have been a nice touch.
Since this technique rarely works, I've been playing for choirs and worship groups and youth groups and any sort of church group since I turned 11. Back then, I had well-rehearsed hymns with pre-determined grand flourishes and embellishments and YOU HAD BETTER WAIT UNTIL I FINISH THOSE BECAUSE THIS IS HOW WE ARE SINGING THEM, PRAISE JESUS. I was delightful. I've played "Come, Now Is The Time To Worship" so many times that I have a physical reaction to it, and not one of any pleasant variety. I've played in rock-style bands or in uber-conservative churches. I've played alongside electric guitars and next to people who were sure that electric guitars were Satan's tools for evil. I can’t lie. An electric guitar player is a pretty attractive thing. Not that I’ve noticed, since I’ve been busy praying for the Outer Patagonians. Along my worship music sojourns, I have had moments where God's presence felt thick and real and hovered over the crowd like a tangible cloud. I've been moved to tears, as music can do to a person. But I've also cringed with embarrassment. Not because I missed a note or three (and there have been plenty of those, bless my piano teacher's noticing heart), but because I could not relate to the lyrics, although church folks call them “stanzas.” Everybody knows that “lyrics” mean love songs, and love songs mean that at any moment the teenagers in the congregation (never say audience..that implies people are watching you, you prideful sinner) might spontaneously combust into a cloud of lust and pre-marital handholding.
I digress. Some of these lyrics (rebel that I am) made me squirm with the awkwardness of it all. For instance, one song described me leaning against Jesus’s chest and feeling his heartbeat. First of all, that doesn’t sound like anybody’s idea of a good time. I don’t even want to do that with my dog, and she’d let me if treats were involved. Second of all, are we sure Jesus has a heartbeat? Because I’m no expert on the whole glorified body theology, but if he is all around us, that’s going to get all Tell-Tale Heart creepy and also if I had already asked him to come into my heart, this whole thing does not sound cardiologist-approved. Besides, we’re giving those aforementioned lust-drenched teens some very mixed messages.
Another song we sing tells Jesus we want to touch him. Ummm…I have questions. Of course, I won’t ask them because I don’t want to be added to the Wednesday night prayer list. Or how about the myriad of worship tunes detailing being consumed by him and how we can’t get enough of him and how we should run away to our secret place? When the worship leader sings through all 56 repetitive choruses of these and then fills in the empty spaces with ooohs and moans, that, my friends, is why so many worshippers close their eyes during these songs. It has little to do with worship and mostly 112% to do with the fact that making eye contact with anyone else would cause uncontrollable, nervous guffawing. And as Tom Hanks famously said, there’s no laughing in worship time.
Some folks say we could avoid all of this nonsense if we just went back to the good old hymnals. To them I say, if you believe that a group of fourth graders is going to overlook the fact that eight tenths of the hymns in that book are written by a woman named Fanny, then you are a person of greater faith than the rest of your snickering pew-mates. Also, hymns are not guiltless. Take the one about coming to the garden alone while the roses are all dewy. That sounds like the start of every stalker-murder mystery I’ve ever read, and those never end well for the garden-goers.
The thing is, fellow Jesus people, we have to laugh at our absurdity. I’d like to honorably mention in this category the fact that worship pastors are wearing skinnier jeans than I am these days. Someone speak a word of truth to these guys and tell them that it’s not a look. Say it in love. Of course. With some skinny-jean scripture to back it up. But if we can’t muster up the courage to do that, at least we can poke a little fun at ourselves. And write some better songs, where Jesus is more of a savior and less of a sex symbol. I mean, that's what the electric guitar players are for. In the meantime, I’ll be the one behind the keyboard with her eyes closed. Don’t you dare look at me.