Singing as a picture of beautiful humanity (humility and unity in diversity)

I sat in an incredible worship set 2 hours long on Friday morning 21st March at the Tauranga House of Prayer.

It was a harmony of peace and passion and rest, and as it waxed and waned in the highs and lows we were drawn in with melody and rhythm and song. Like shifting ocean currents with the volume to consume and push wherever they please, so this morning’s worship ebbed and flowed and peaked and troughed. The male lead was complemented throughout with a myriad of female voices around the room.

There is something unexplainably beautiful and irresistable about corporate singing.

To try and deconstruct it: there is so much ‘human dynamics’ in corporate worship, that is, there is so much in singing that is fundamental to living and thriving as a human being.

It strikes me, when ‘done rightly’, as an incredibly beautiful picture of humanity. And utterly irresistable.

 

5 observations about singing (with greater general application to humans and human relationships):

1. Leading and following with each person performing and knowing their part. The leader leads well, and there is never any competition as to who does the leading and who holds the melody, nor does there need to be – and so there is freedom to do what you are supposed to do.

2. Awareness – everyone is intimately aware of where the other is in pitch and rhythm and voice. There is an intimate awareness of each other and of the part that each person has to play, with no overstepping of boundaries.

3. Harmony (In community and with distinct individuality) – When a skilled male leads, and a skilled female harmonizes as we heard today, the sound is breathtaking.

4. Full engagement and ‘life in the moment’ – there full engagement in the moment. each individual’s heart is engaged, the mind is engaged, the body is engaged (the vocal chords and fingers on the guitar, the lungs mouth and tongue, inevitably the body moves in ‘dance’).

5. Synergy. There is a synergy that happens in the singing. The resulting aesthetics is more than a mere sum of the parts.

 

And the incredible thing, is the way in which this dynamic, this harmony (in so many dimensions than just the pitch) just flows. The music and melodies and harmonies.  Without the need for each person to think about what they are really doing. There is no sense in which there is competition. There is freedom from the need to compete because each has their own role and part to play and are able to be fully expressed. And there is an awareness of the greater goal of the whole sound rather than each individual sound.

I am at risk of sounding idealistic here – but let me say that such singing is a glorious glimpse – a taste of what could be and what can exist for a world of 7 billion people who coexist not in conflict or overinflated egos that rub up and bump, they coexist not in tension or repetition but in perfect harmony and union, in distinctiveness, and yet complete individuality, in perfect consideration and awareness.

And a generation of young men and women will sing. They will raise their voices and join the beautiful global song (in more ways than one) that arises from the ends of the earth.

 

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It’s simple.

Simplicity. I have been gripped recently by the significance of simplicity. Not only the necessity of, but the beauty and freedom of, simplicity.

The problem with “dichotomy”

The rational and logical worldview that was brought on by the enlightenment and modernism still pervades our thinking today: in concept of the ‘dichotomy’ of things. There is a separation of things in two mutually exclusive fields, where A cannot be A if it is non-A. The mind is separated from the body – the mind thinks and the heart or the gut feels. And so it would seem logical that the world works in such a fashion.

The problem with this kind of thinking (that began with Plato and is Greek in it’s origins) is that it is essentially reductionistic. It reduces things/people/life to being the sum of all the parts. In this reduction, where the spheres are separate and not intersecting and interacting, you lose meaning and significance. See, Jeremy Lung is far more than his brain, and his personality, and his hairy legs put together. The suburb of Epping is not merely houses+cars+people+etc. There are dynamic and ever changing unlimited relationships and interactions within these spheres that make it the beautiful whole.

I believe this concept of ‘dichotomy’ expresses itself in problematic ways: for e.g. Life is separated into what you NEED to do and what you WANT to do, particularly for us Gen Y’ers. And when we are not doing what we WANT to do then we are unhappy. It also reduces the significance of doing things we NEED or HAVE to do. I’m not discounting the fact that there are real needs and wants in a person’s life, but if we could perhaps think of both as necessary in the scheme of the whole, we would be a generation alot more content, and certainly much more productive.

Indeed ‘dichotomy’ is a very real concept in the church, where our lives can be separated into what is “holy” and “secular”. That going to church and praying and reading the Bible is “holy” and going to work and eating, sleep, weeing, shaving is “secular”. In this assessment of things, the “secular” activities lose real meaning.

The significance of “unity”

I believe the Hebrew mind and the Hebrew worldview was one that advocated this unity and wholeness. The Hebrew conception of the world was a womb WITHIN God. It’s one of unity and wholeness. We see this in the Trinity, where each unit has it’s distinct sphere and function, but they exist as a whole.

Indeed, in western medicine, we have dichotomized physical and mental and spiritual health. Physical sickness is seen as purely a function of physiological pathology that is completely unrelated to mental and spiritual issues. And yet anyone would be able to tell you that stress causes disease, and the psychological IS linked with the physical. Lesser known are the links say between bitterness and cancer. Indeed in my own healing and journey through ezcema, a physical skin condition, it was the resolution and healing of mental and conditions that brought physical healing.

The solution of ‘the Kingdom’

And all this musing I am doing is simply because I am trying to introduce the idea that life was made to be coherent and meaningful and whole, that life and wholeness is meant to be simple. And in this coherence and wholness, we find significance. And it is found in a life with Jesus.  I deeply believe that life finds its wholeness and fullness to the extent that we do one thing. You see “only one thing” is required in the Kingdom of God. You do that one thing and everything else falls into place. To the extent that we do one thing, your life finds unity. Your passions, your desires, your work, your ambitions, your talents. You do this one thing, and it is not as if your life won’t consist of doing many things, but that everything will fall into place as a whole, as a consistent, beautiful and meaningful whole.

The more we follow Jesus, the more we sit as his feet, we realise life becomes increasingly coherent and SIMPLE. It doesn’t stop being complex in that we still eat, drink, work, play, sleep, love, cry. But perhaps it does become more simple and what a beautiful simplicity it is, what a freeing simplicity it is.

And a generation will arise that pursues one thing, and in that one thing, they shall find fullness and meaning and freedom and significance and life. Life to the full. Just as he promised.

Towards Christian Unity

I begin this post with a concession: Christian unity is topic I don’t pretend to fully understand. But I feel I do have a few helpful suggestions I would like to present regarding the church/bride of Christ moving towards greater unity. Feedback is very welcomed.

A little bit of my own colourful context: I grew up in a Chinese Baptist church, and in high-school and the first half of my tertiary education then became heavily involved with the “conservative evangelical” Sydney Anglicans. Then I was part of an independent church and in that context, we had a move of the Spirit which thrust me into some “Pentecostal” and “Charismatic” movements including the International House of Prayer, a “New Apostolic Reformation” movement. I participated para-church activities run by heavily “Pentecostal” Zion Hill church. In Sydney I have been a part of the Vineyard movement – “Neo-Charismatics”, and now attend the Sydney House of Prayer. I have prayed with Catholics at an anti-abortion rally. I have ministered with a Seventh-Day adventist in prison-ministry. I listen regularly to the “Neo-Calvinistic” John Piper, the “Reformed-Puritan” Paul Washer.

Reading through John 17 yesterday, I was struck by the way Jesus prays for the unity of his church 3 times in 3 verses “that all of them may be one (21)…that they may be one (22)…that they may be brought to complete unity (23)

I am convinced that a movement or a group of people that believes that they have the exclusive hold on the truth is blind to the fact that:

1. Like sheep to pasture, humans cannot lead themselves to the truth 

2. God’s leadership over his flock is perfect, and his desire and ability to reveal himself (and the truth) is unhinderable.

What is important in our journey towards Christian unity and cooperation is the realisation that this tendency to be biased towards our own versions of truth and our beliefs exists in every human heart. It is an outworking of pride – a trait inherent in the deepest recesses of our hearts to the very surfaces of our haughty eyes. The pride within us causes the rejection of the differences and the diversities of the body of Christ. Pride is a deeply constrictive posture for ourselves and for the people we interact with. Internally, it a causes a narrow mind and a hard heart. Towards other people, it produces condemnation and criticism which is essentially crippling and restrictive.

And yet there must be a way forward, if Jesus prayer is to be answered, which I don’t fully understand. And just as crucial as being more accepting of others in the body, we also must be more sure of the truth that we hold and the boundary lines we draw regarding the centrality of Christ and his death and his no holds barred call to “follow me”.

A way forward is to attribute differences in doctrine, practice and history not as errors but diversities in function. Different body parts have different functions, but all are important to the wholeness and function of the one body. The basis for unity in Jesus’ prayer for his church is the Trinity – in which we see a one-ness in which there are distinct entities that vary by name, and by function.

Finally, a practical suggestion for movement towards unity is doxology. For doxology humbles. And where differences become divisive, it has been shown time and time again that doxology brings humility and unity. Also where truth becomes hazy, doxology brings clarity and revelation and direction. We see this so clearly in Isaiah 6 in Isaiah’s encounter with the throne-room of Heaven.

Only in the light of his face, in the fire of his eyes, in the beauty of the man Jesus Christ will a prideful, divisive and broken generation all around the world begin to pick up their individual instruments, from the grand piano to the cymbal to the violin to the trumpet to the triangle. And a beautiful sound shall rise. It shall rise as each player and instrument comes to know its right place and its dependence every other instrument. It shall rise as each instrument comes to play in perfect time. And it shall be a sound more beautiful than anything this world has ever heard. It shall rise from the ends of the earth, from Australia, from New Zealand, and the islands of the Pacific. It shall rise from the European nations, from the Americas and from Africa. It shall rise from the Chinese and the Asians. It shall rise from the Middle-East. And it shall arise from Jerusalem.

And to such a sound and song, our King will come.