Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections on Catalyst (part 3)

I really intended to blog more about the Catalyst experience closer to the actual event. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I have been to every Catalyst Conference from the very first one ... and I hope to go to every one from here on out. The teaching is absolutely incredible ... and (tongue in cheek, here) the exhibitors give away better and better stuff every year (this year I won an iPhone, which I then turned into an iPod for me (which was stolen), one for my wife (which she still doesn't know how to use), and some extra stuff that will remain hidden for now).

Since my iPod was stolen, I didn't get to listen to the 10/11/07 edition of the Catalyst podcast until just recently. I had to leave early to be a good husband and father (crucial for proper perspective in ministry), so I didn't get to experience the worship session that they talked about. I was appalled, however, to hear the podcast hosts talking with Steve Fee about it and boasting about the sound levels (120dB sustained for 15 minutes or so). They attributed it to the singing from the attendees, but it seems to me that it is quite difficult to get that kind of volume with just the combined forces several thousand human voices. Amplification HAD to have been a significant contributor.

[urgent need to digress here]

As I write this, I am reminded of being at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in the Fall of 1980 when Auburn played LSU. As an Auburn band member, I had the privilege of traveling to all the away games (just ONE of the perqs of playing in a college marching band). I talked to my folks on the phone a few days before the game and my Dad commented that Tiger Stadium was the loudest place he had ever been (he did his medical internship in New Orleans). I believed him when at the opening kickoff the football was repeatedly toppled off the stand by the crowd noise. The officials would put it back on the stand and it would be stable until the crowd began cheering, then it would fall. This happened several times until it was decided to have the ball held in place by a player on the kicking team. All that to say that I know it's difficult to get those levels with just combined, unamplified voices (easier with 70,000+ people than with the 8,000+ who remained for the last session at Catalyst 2007), but to be honest I have to acknowledge that it can happen. At Catalyst 2007, however, I suspect that amplification played a larger role in those volume levels than the attendees' voices did.

[digression done]

As I heard the podcast hosts talking with worship leader Steve Fee about the sound levels and attributing it to a move of God among the people (could have been, I wasn't there), two thoughts occurred to me.

1) "Protect your hearing!!!" I can't remember who said it, but it was said of ministers in the care of their own psyches: No craftsmen worthy of his hire abuses his tools. [There's another point of digression tugging at me, but I will remain focused.] As a musician, I have a deep appreciation for how valuable my hearing is to my craft. To hear other musicians (whose own ears are equally crucial to their craft) discuss such sound levels with no apparent concern for the long-term impact it might have on their ministry concerns me. I don't want them to lose their edge because of unwise exposure to unhealthy sound levels. Further, it is the responsibility of the head sound guy(s) to protect the audience from unhealthy sound levels. OSHA has some strict guidelines for industrial sound levels and limits for duration of exposure. Those are a great rule of thumb for arena sound as well.

2) A quote from C. S. Lewis in the article On Church Music from Christian Reflections (© 1967 by the executors of the estate of C. S. Lewis, published by Eerdmans). It simply states: "Neither the greatest excellence of a trained performance from the choir, nor the heartiest and most enthusiastic bellowing from the pews, must be taken to signify that any specifically religious activity is going on. It may be so, or it may not."

Now, before the 6.5 loyal readers take me to task one way or the other, I would encourage them to check out Lewis's entire essay. While the technology and style parameters we are seeing in the cutting (bleeding?) edge of worship music today did not exist when Lewis wrote, the philosophical ideals he outlines in the article are timeless. Further, I would encourage them to keep in mind that I am sure that among the entire crowd there were many who were deeply engaged in real worship on one end of the spectrum AS WELL AS many who perhaps were merely on a volume-induced adrenaline high. Sometimes we confuse adrenaline with the Holy Spirit, and high volume levels tend to produce higher adrenaline levels.

Remember, the test of worship is not how I feel during the worship service, it is how I behave the rest of the time.

That's enough to think about for now.



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