I think we all know where I stand when it comes to bluegrass. The rest of you can have your Chris Tomlin pablum or your oppressive baroque toccatas or all that (completely) unironic tedium from the 19th century which fills the bulk of the United Methodist Hymnal.*
As far as I’m concerned, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, and Jesus Christ would be a fair second place substitute for the Holy Trinity and one that would make me reconsider my denominational affiliation.
I’m well aware its considered trendy now. If so, then consider me a round peg in the circular bliss that is the banjo. My church’s Bluegrass Easter Sunrise is the largest attended service of the year. As I often tell folks why bluegrass makes for good worship music:
‘It’s as soulful as white people can get without being cringeworthy.’
Paula Spurr at Geez Magazine (great publication by the way…it’s like a leftist, Canadian version of First Things, which I also love) has a great piece ‘In Praise of the Banjo.’
“Stand and sing with me, number 422 in your hymnal. Ladies on verse two; men on verse three; all together on verses one and four.”
This was how I experienced worship growing up. A man stood at the front and led us like a choir. We had no say in anything.
As the years went by, worship morphed from the choir experience to some sort of karaoke rock concert, the band leading you through its set list, the words projected on the wall. You could stand or sit as you wished, but it was still a very directed experience. As a member of the audience (I just can’t call it a congregation), I had very little responsibility for the worship experience and none at all for the music, which was so loud that I could sing off-key and it wouldn’t matter.
I don’t attend church anymore, and the main way I experience music now is in the bluegrass genre . . . banjos and doghouse bass, mandolins and fiddles.
I wish music in church was a lot more like bluegrass.
In the jam circle, everyone participates.
There’s no leader. Everyone gets a chance to pick a song, everybody plays and everybody takes a solo break. If you don’t want to, you can pass and nobody minds. Those who can’t play an instrument are encouraged to sing or clap along. Sure, there are the hot players who form bands and put on concerts, and we’ll go watch and sing along, but mostly we just gather every week and jam.
Wouldn’t church be crazy if it were like that? Each member sharing in the responsibility of the music, helping other members enter in?
But churches are too big. You don’t get to know the person beside you. You just sit and enjoy the show. It’s one of the many reasons I quit going. If you need me, I’ll be on the front porch pickin’.
Click here to see the full piece.
* for those of you whose feelings are hurt, this is what writers call ‘hyperbole.’