Thoughts on Worship and Culture
- Thursday, March 15, 2007
4. Intrinsic vulnerabilities of high culture include elitism and snobbishness. In demanding high levels of intellect and skill, it easily inflates the ego of those who succeed in it, and tempts them to look with contempt on folk culture with its simpler achievements. It easily isolates technical expertise from the larger issues of life and attempt to give it intrinsic value instead of defining its value in relation to other, more important spiritual and personal realities. It is inevitably less accessible to average people and therefore tends toward performance rather than participation, and this performance orientation carries again the tendency toward an atmosphere of aloofness and distance.
5. Intrinsic vulnerabilities of folk culture include a laziness and carelessness. There is an intrinsic drift toward increasing indifference to simple disciplines that define excellence at the most rudimentary levels (for example, using bad grammar in worship songs like "you reigneth" or having "you" and "thou" in the same line. This is not like the word "ain't" in "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog." It's like singing "Thou ain't nothin but a hound dog."). Folk culture, with its intrinsic anti-intellectualism tends to short circuit the mind and move the emotions with shortcuts. Thus folk culture is not generally a preservative force for great Biblical doctrine.
6. The positive potentials of fine culture include the preservation of what we might call the "life of the mind". Fine culture is more likely than folk culture to inject into the stream of society the commitment to think hard and think clearly. It is more likely than folk culture to keep the intellect from atrophying. It is especially crucial that Christians not surrender the life of the mind to the secular world, first, because it belongs to God, and he commanded us to love him with our minds, and second, because we will lose succeeding generations if we do not have intellectually credible expressions of faith to pass on to them.
Further, fine culture has the potential of preserving the very concepts of truth and excellence and beauty as objective ideals rooted in God as our Absolute. Folk culture tends always to exalt what works. It is intrinsically pragmatic and colloquial and does not measure its achievements in terms of objective, absolute ideals, but generally in terms of wide appeal and practical effect. Fine culture tends to march the beat of a drummer other than mass appeal or practical effect. At its best it strives to create images of excellence and beauty and truth that echo more faithfully the ultimate excellence of God. Fine culture thus has the potential (if not contemporary success) of helping preserve the real complexities of truth and thus guarding against the intrinsic tendency of folk culture toward over-simplification and eventual distortion.
Fine culture has the potential of touching some emotions that folk culture will not touch. Folk culture tends toward what can be commonly shared and therefore minimizes what is rare. However some emotions that belong to God are rare and profound, and may be awakened and carried best through the expressions of fine culture. For example there are probably some senses of grandeur that find preservation and expression best in some grand and magnificent artistic statements that are not part of folk culture.
7. The positive potentials of folk culture include meeting people where they are in order to communicate. Folk culture affirms the importance of building bridges of shareable experience. It is a go-and-tell mentality rather than a come-and-see mentality. It goes the extra mile to make its vision accessible to the average person.
Folk culture keeps the truth clear that elite groups of intellectuals and artists that look with contempt on the common man and his needs and tastes are not admirable persons no matter how accomplished their talents. Folk culture has the potential of reminding us that God must have loved the common people because he made so many of them. Folk culture is by nature incarnational: it clothes its claims with the skin of ordinary people and affirms implicitly the value of getting though to the mind and heart of the masses.
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