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I love singing. Many people already know this, but I am part of a community choir called the Greenwood Festival Chorale, and we sing 3 times per year. Our concerts are formal with monkey suits and an orchestra playing with us. I have to admit that I’m not really a tuxedo guy but I LOVE the classical music feel that we have with the orchestra. I also love the 6-part choir with the challenging music that keeps me on my toes.
Being part of the choir is something I grew up with as the churches we attended had choirs and extremely talented choir directors. My love for choir began with watching my parents in the choir and now our kids get to watch us in the Chorale. Even though we are not able to have a choir at our church, we can still sing with a choir, and that is just as good for me.
This concert coming up in March is especially challenging for me. We are singing Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living,” and the entire piece is in Latin. The music itself is not really difficult compared to other songs we have sung although the constant changes from 4/4 to 3/2 to 2/2 back to 4/4 is driving me crazy. The biggest challenge for me is trying to learn these Latin words. Not only do I have to pronounce the words correctly while singing, I have to overcome this disconnect I feel from not knowing what the words mean. I have the English translation alongside the Latin words, but it will take a few tries before I can immerse myself into the music.
Singing music in a different language creates an additional barrier that slows down the process of internalizing the song.
Without internalizing the song, it is hard to sing with my whole heart. And if I am not singing with my whole heart, the sound will not be as good as it could be. And if I am not singing to the best of my ability, how can I glorify God with my singing? The good news is that I have time to fix the issue and I will be ready to go when the concert happens in March. It will be hard work, but I will be glad that I did not quit.
Internalizing the song is harder when it is in a different language, but it can be done. In the same way, a church that speaks a different language than the community can be difficult to accept.
A couple of decades ago, there was a word created to describe the insider language of the church, and it was called “Christianese.” This type of language involves the words we use that are hard for others to understand because they are not familiar with the church. Phrases like carrying my cross or being washed in the blood of the Lamb are examples of language that can be strange to those who are not part of the church. For this reason, there have been movements with a goal of eliminating any and all insider language so visitors can feel welcome at church. Although this may sound like a good idea, there is a danger of losing the identity of the church if we simply remove phrases that sound weird.
The answer lies in the education of the people rather than the elimination of the phrases.
When visitors are in the building, we should be ready to explain parts of the church that appear normal to us. Even if the visitors are familiar with the church, it would be better to make the effort to explain rather than assume that they already know what is going on. After all, they are still visitors, right? If they understood what was going on, perhaps they would have already been members. My point is that we should not be afraid to explain what we do and the phrases we use because that will work much better that trying to erase the uniqueness of the Christian Faith.