These days, I often travel from my home base in San Antonio to Dallas to connect with family, colleagues, and friends. I make the trek often, either driving up Interstate 35 – affectionately known by many as the Texas Motor Speedway – or boarding the quick convenience of Southwest Airlines.
Today’s route to attend short meetings with colleagues took me over the astonishing triangle between Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Denton. It feels like a Texas version of Los Angeles, miles and miles and miles of steel and concrete surrounded on every side by stunning urban sprawl.
The takeaway from today’s driving tour was marveling at the number of churches all over town who declare that Christ is the center of salvation and the model for all compassionate ministry to others. Church houses of every style and design densely dot the roadways. There are Roman Catholic cathedrals with spires and beautiful windows, non-denoms with no openings nor channels at all for natural light, small makeshift evangelical meeting places in strip centers, megachurches which could fool us for movie theatres or shopping malls, and “traditional” (whatever that means) protestant “mainline” (there it is again) houses of worship. Traditional structures of all sizes, shapes, and colors as well as contemporary edifices which make us guess what the symbolism might be … if any.
For us church musicians trying to find our ways out of pandemic darkness, this profusion of size, shape, color, and style can be a powerful reminder. The diversity of approaches, theology, symbolism, and ministry philosophies should affirm to us believers that there are, indeed, many ways to do good things. We need not be at a loss for ways to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls. Neither needs we lack for ways to love our neighbors as ourselves.
You and I and our colleagues can get into all kinds of discussions, debates, disagreements, and yes, even arguments about what is “theologically sound,” what emphases should be placed where, how much inclusion is enough, and what styles of worship best honor God. Most of us in our line of work are not shy when it comes to making our points, defending our positions, and making sure that everyone around us is on the straight and narrow. Defending our turf has become a national pastime, and if you don’t believe it, just tune into any one of the 24-hour news cycles peddling their lopsided views on politics. The talking heads have become pass masters at drawing the lines in the sand between “us” and “them.” (By the way, take a look at how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pass master.” You can find it online.)
I will admit that I have been known to find a lot more kinship and compassion across denominational lines than I sometimes find within my own little ecclesiastical echo-chambers. But it doesn’t stop there. Have you ever had the experience of discovering more grace with a Muslim sister, a Jewish brother, or a Sikh family than with some of your Christian friends? If you have not, let me encourage you to get out and around a little more. When we move beyond our tight, “safe” cocoons, we discover that God is at work in all kinds of people and, indeed, all over the world … including across the street.
As we begin to emerge out of the COVID-19 Pandemic, let us look beyond the limits of our own threadbare comfort zones to reimagine ministry in a new day in new ways.
Indeed, some things never every change for us as believers in Christ.
Jesus is Lord. This has not changed, nor will it ever be up for grabs.
We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength. This never changes.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Politics, stand aside.
There seems to be at least one thing more prolific than churches in Dallas. That would be self-righteousness. There is an ample reservoir of that to go around … enough supply for the next century or so. In an amazing phone conversation yesterday, a dear friend and colleague said to me about self-righteousness, “You know, throughout my whole life, I’ve never been able to gather up enough real righteousness … I don’t think I’m ever going to be any good at distributing the high potency self-righteousness!” Preach it, sister!
As we seek ways to serve others through our ministry of music, let us look to the “white unto harvest” needs sprawling all around us. Serving the least of these will assure us that we are doing the work and will of the Father.
May God bless all of us as we seek new, better, broader, and smaller ways of ministering with our gifts of artistry, choral music, empathy, compassion, and leadership.
Happy Singing! Randy