Last month while I was in the Philippines for a historic gathering of the Manila Underground, I had an odd realization during the worship time. Some of the songs were in Tagalog (the primary language of the Philippines) but every other song or so was in English - usually a Hillsong standard or something else I recognized. That was fine, nice even, to think that people all over the world can relate and agree on the lyrics and feel of a song that seems to say what they are feeling or what they believe about God. But during one song in particular, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the irony - and frankly the inaccuracy - of a certain lyric. It was the final line of the bridge that made me cock my head and squint one eye…
“To the far ends of earth we go, Your love story must be told, We will not live in comfort anymore.”
It occurs to me that a line like that, when sung by middle and upper class Australian Christians is not only meaningful, it is also needed. It expresses a genuine desire to resist and even forsake the comfort of their middle class existence - but as I looked around this room, it was just wrong. These were not people who needed to confess and turn away from living in comfort. This was a gathering of the poorest in the earth. They were repenting for someone else’s sin. They didn’t need to commit to forsake comfort they needed to ask God for it. If anything, their truest songs would embody the opposite sentiment, more like Israel’s in exile:
“Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” Or, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isa. 49:13, 52:9)
It was a poignant reminder that the words of our worship must be our own, and if we borrow them, then we must feel the same convictions that the writer felt.
Shortly after that trip, I took another to attend a gathering of apostolic leaders and churches in the United States. I returned a little disappointed to find that we are actually farther along a certain path than we realize. I was disappointed because we are looking for peers - even mentors - in what we are doing only to discover some of what we are attempting is truly new. So, I am more and more aware of the uniqueness of our community. For more reasons that I can list here, I believe that our little network has a special place in the body of Jesus, and for that reason we have to start looking for the words to describe it. In music, in liturgy, in curriculum, in story telling; we need to find our own words for our own experience that will lead our own community.
I have since challenged our musicians to step out and try to write music that comes from the rich soil of the UNDERGROUND. It may take them some time before they learn to really express it, but I think we will all be lead deeper into the presence of God by art that comes from our own people. Likewise, I am leading a writer’s workshop next week for our people who have the urge to write. I want to stir us all up, to codify, chronicle, and even herald our work. Not because we are better than other communities or other times in church history, but because we love what God is doing in us and in our time. We carry a kind of false humility that says I am not important enough or gifted enough to write or publish, but those motivations are the wrong ones.
I believe we should write and create for God, as a tribute to him, and for our own people. Not for the world at large or for recognition but because we worship God when we take the time to remember and record the work of his hand. He is doing profound and beautiful things in our midst; I want to take the time to memorialize it.
I am asking for us to recreate his work in us, in our own words, with our own voice, and with the heart that he has given us. Pray with me for the artists in our midst to rise up and lead us.