Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

At Least We Wore Pants

John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward."
~Mark 9:38-41

In my California days, I sang in a worship band at my church. For some time the Spirit had been stirring up a guitarist and a drummer in our congregation, and as this was the days of "Create a Contemporary Service and They Will Come", we started a second service and formed a band.

Our praise band had an open door policy--if you liked to sing or play an instrument, you were welcome. We didn't have a band leader, as nobody really wanted to lead. Nobody really wanted to
follow either, so we were sort of a motley crrew. (And before you go thinking I'm pointing fingers at everyone else, know that I was probably the most difficult of the bunch.)

After about a year, we realized that the only people coming to the contemporary service were related to the band, and we stopped the second service. But the band, aptly named Joyful Noise, still wanted to play, and so Pastor pulled us in to the traditional service, and we began what is "affectionately" known as "blended worship."

Our band consisted of 3-6 guitar players, a drummer, a clarinet player, and several enthusiastic vocalists. Some weeks there would be 4 of us, some weeks 10. We practiced one evening a week and played in worship twice a month. The drummer was a professional, owning his own music store and having played with a few rock bands over the years. One of our guitarists was a blues and gospel man. Another guitarist had a decided bent for country. The third regular guitarist was a kind man who tried to bridge the gap a bit. Every now and then a student would pick up the bass and play along for a session or two. We had a keyboard, and sometimes that got used. Always the clarinet. And every now and then, the organist and choir director would yield to temptation and begin to play along with us, if it was a song she knew. It often took a verse or two before the organ/piano shifted into the correct key.

Out in the sound booth, everything depended on which guy was manning the controls. They all had different preferences for our voices. Some Sundays my mic was on so loud, the ceiling shook. Other weeks I was all but muted. I would wave over to the sound guy and point at the mic, and he would shrug helplessly like there was nothing for it. But we all knew when we'd been turned down.

Some folks really hated the drums, and they wanted to put up a plexiglass screen in front of the drums to mute the sound, then add a microphone so the sound guys could turn the drums up or down, depending on their best judgment. We resisted such efforts.

We often left our equipment set up, and there were those who found the band's musical detritus unsightly. They offered to purchase potted plants to place in front of the speakers and mic stands. I think it was the pastor, not wanting the worship center to look like a jungle, who vetoed that.

They offered us choir robes, but we chose blue Hawaiian shirts instead as our uniform. At first it was all the same Hawaiian shirt, but as the years went on, and we ran out of extra shirts, we simply told people to wear a Hawaiian shirt. As you may know, Hawaiian shirts vary quite a bit in terms of pattern and color.

The real offense, though, was in the fact that although our shirts matched, our pants/skirts did not. If you gazed at the bottom half of the band, you might find on any Sunday: blue jeans, red slacks, a patterned skirt, plaid shorts, a billowy skirt. When questioned about this, I may or may not have said, "At least we WEAR pants! Be grateful!" The choir offered to go without dry cleaning their robes for a year in order to purchase us matching pants. We declined.

One day we were practicing a Bob Dylan cover, and I got it in my head to screech "Jeeeesssuuusss!" at the top of my lungs, somewhat repetitively. I'm not certain what demon I was working out that day, but my fellow band members implored me not to do it on Sunday during church. For once I took pity on my long suffering colleagues, and complied. It was so tempting, though. And there I was on a Sunday with that Bob Dylan cover, and my mic was turned ALL the way up into heaven. If I'd started screeching, it probably would have blown out the speakers.

We tried to match our joyful noise to the scripture passages presented by the pastor. One week he was going to preach on divorce. Carelessly, I suggested "The Old Gray Mare, She Ain't What She Used To Be." This was not well received by some of my fellow band members, some of whom had been divorced. Our kindly gospel singer shushed me, with a twinkle in his eye. He had more patience for me than most.

The worship wars were alive and well in our congregation. We got them to give us an electronic screen in the new sanctuary, and every time it rolled down the wall, you could see half the congregation cringe with distaste. But on we went.

Why on earth would a pastor let this happen, you ask? 

I can only speak to what this did for me. Others will have to attest to their own miracles.

Singing in the band got me to church every Sunday, a miraculous feat no human had yet been able to achieve.

When I became a ruling elder after starting to sing in the band, the church board placed me in the worship committee. That is a hilarious story all it's own, but suffice it to say by the next year I was chairing the worship committee, but nobody told me I was chair. We didn't meet for 6 months because I was waiting for whoever the chair was to call a meeting.

Singing into a microphone, however badly, was great practice for preaching into a microphone, however badly. After a few times of hitting a sour note, publicly, loudly, one loses one's fear a bit of public humiliation. Or at least I did, for better or worse.

The praise band gave me a concrete place to work out my tensions in the church. There were all kinds of ways I didn't fit at the church, but the praise band was the most obvious. I wasn't alone in my misfitness there, and we could all politely subscribe to the illusion that if it wasn't for the praise band I'd fit in quite normal.

For the first time in my life I was praising God in a way I could understand. I didn't grow up in a church, so the hymns and anthems meant nothing to me. These days, after 20 years of regular church attendance, those hymns mean a lot to me. But in those days, I was so disconnected. The band helped me make the church my home. At the very least, one some Sundays, when the sound guys liked me, my voice filled the sanctuary with joy and enthusiasm (and occasionally accuracy). I can't now think of that sanctuary without thinking of the days I sang in it and the people I sang with.

They are still going, I think, Joyful Noise. What a gift to me! It came at a terrible cost for some of those poor congregants. The lucky ones had hearing aids they could turn down, but there was nothing they could do about the mismatched pants except close their eyes.

Since we are in Lent, I offer my sincere repentance for the pain we caused in carving out our space, and for the graceless way I handled it. I sure could have been nicer about it all.

I was reminded of all this today as I woke singing one of our songs. It sounded just like this, except in a rock/bluesy/gospel/country/clarinety sort of way:


  1. Very cool - thank you for posting!

  2. Ha! Was smiling all the way through this. We had a band at our old church. The first time my mom came to see us play, she asked Kristen, "since when does your mother play the guitar?" Kristen's response, "she doesn't."

  3. Don't know why it has chosen to hide my identity. Lest I be looked upon as a troll, this is Betsy.


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