We come to church as individuals who belong to a community, and, in gathering, our community is made visible. In a congregation, I am one worshipper among many; the "I's" form the "we", co-existing in time and space, creating an interdependent unity. This complex relationship is uniquely embodied when we sing together. Although we admit that worship singing should not be about me and my preferences, it is difficult to move away from the comfort of knowing what I like and liking what I know. "Me" and "we" are often at odds.
Congregational singing is the result of many choices: an individual, not the congregation, chooses songs for us to sing and all are expected to participate. But what happens when I don't like a song? Now the tension begins to mount. Do I sing? If I participate, how do I cope with my less-than-worshipful attitude? I feel unable to express myself in musical worship, frustrated because I can't identify with the words and/or the music. I resent the choice the song leader has made, and I feel somewhat alienated from the rest of the congregation. These kinds of reactions are framed in personal terms. I want to have the feeling that in singing a song, I am expressing myself and my relationship to God from the "heart" with a sense of honest, authentic and sincere worship; the voice of the "real me" singing to my Saviour God. This need often comes with a moral dimension: surely I have every right to sing songs of worship that resonate with me, that connect with my life.
But what if I were to think of songs as being connected to a sense of who WE are, together, in this place, before God? This approach opens many possibilities. Singing historic songs reminds us that we have inherited from the communion of saints, a legacy of riches that can take us deep into the roots of our Christian story. We can also sing the songs of living composers who write in the language of modern song, with its many interesting styles and flavours. Songs from other countries with a different musical vocabulary can remind us that we, in North America, are just a small part of God's global, multi-cultural church building activity.
With this in mind, should it matter so much that sometimes I don't like strange songs? No, it should not, but it takes work to break free from the insidious influence of the expressive individualism so rampant in our culture. As well, it may be a difficult challenge to remember the bigger picture of "us", the Church Universal, into which we have been baptised. And what about the kind of love God has shown to us and requires of us; self-giving, gracious? Somehow this has to make a difference in my attitude towards music that isn't "my kind of music." As I sing with the rest of the congregation on a Sunday morning, this may mean that I acknowledge the songs sung as our songs and not just means of self-expression; they are gifts to God from us, his church. There is no better way for a Community of the Redeemed to embody, proclaim and celebrate Christ, whose Kingdom is much greater than I or anyone can think or imagine.