JUST “the way it was…”

This morning’s Waco Trib has an interesting piece about a local project in “church swapping.” (I would share the link, but online access is by subscription only)  The idea is to get people to try a church that is predominantly a different race than their own.

This post isn’t about race or church-swapping, however.  In the opening paragraph one of the participants in the swap gives an example of the difference between the African American church he is visiting and his home church. He says

It’s more praiseful. For example, if they sing ‘Amazing Grace’ they put a different emphasis on the song,” Province said. “The words are the same, but the hints are different, whereas when I sing ‘Amazing Grace,’ I just sing it the way it was written.

Welcome to Postmodernism 101.  Mr. Province’s belief that he sings a song “the way it was written” is presumptuous and fallacious.  Unless, that is, he wrote the song or is good friends with whoever did.

This principle is important to keep in mind not just with songs, but with scripture as well.  Many if us assume that we read scripture the way it should be read, to find the plain or obvious meaning.  When we hear someone interpret it differently, then, we may too quickly assume that they (rather than we) are reading something into it, whereas we are just reading it “the way it was written.”

You don’t read something “the way it was written” just because you have always read it that way.  The assumption that others are interpreting where you are simply reading is unfair to them and to yourself.

4 thoughts on “JUST “the way it was…”

  1. Granted, there are generally multiple ways to interpret a Scripture. Otherwise, there would be no need for theologians, right? However, I will say that (although I don’t have a clue what the guy in the article was trying to say, perhaps he just didn’t have the vocabulary to explain) in music you can either follow the music and the words, or not. True, that there are nuances in phrasing, tempo, and other aspects of singing … but there ARE some ways that are clearly not “the way it was written.”

    Amazing Grace is a good case in point. At the sunrise service this past week, the tune was subtlely changed “from the way it was written” (also hard to explain since I can’t hum it for you OR include a quick transcription of what I heard). Also, there was an extra chorus inserted (“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free” … etc.). Not the way Amazing Grace was originally written.

    Although yes, I know what you mean, everything requires interpretation … ultimately the text can only be stretched so far. At some point, the text has been stretched and prodded and poked as far as it can go, and then everyone must make the choice — do you believe it or do you not? It’s a thumbs up or thumbs down proposition.

    During my stint at one of the flagship universities of a shall-remain-unnamed Christian fundamentalist sect, I was curious as to why those belonging to this type of church were so resistant to any kind of fellowship with other types of Christian. When I asked some of the more dogmatic people I knew, the answer came back, “Well, we just go by the Bible.” To which I was tempted to retort, “And what the h*#@ does that mean!”

    I guess you could say that I buy into postmodernism to an extent. Can you really become a postmodernist (in full) without having been a modernist (in full)?

  2. I think my way of looking at things has been called “critical realism.” Not sure if this is also a postmodern stance or falls under some other rubric.

  3. I agree with Kim. In music there is a way it is written. Sometimes we follow that and sometimes we don’t.
    Sometimes it is obvious and sometimes it isn’t. Btw, what is a different ‘race’? Are we talking about the also fallacious idea that there are ‘races’ of humans? This was debunked back almost 100 years ago. It was used for all types of horrific divisions in humanity, the worst fulfilled of such in Nazi Germany.
    There is one race, the human race. By saying that please don’t think I am attempting to diminish the fact that there are stylistic differences in worship for ANY tradition. I would suspect in some ways worship at an AME might be more similar to a UMC, than say a Catholic church with an AOG.

    • I don’t want to argue your point on race, Ryan, but I am skeptical that this point will radically and immediately change perceptions and levels of comfort between people of different hues.

      Perhaps there is indeed “music the way it was written.” I doubt the phrase in the original reference was uttered by a music professional or historian, however. Did the man KNOW that HIS version was the way John Newton wrote it to be sung?

      I am skeptical.

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