I’m not always a fan of “Christian” music. But, while I was in college in the early 90’s, the Christian worship genre was really starting to take off. Gone were the hokey campfire choruses: they were replaced with thoughtful lyrics and an expectation that you would palpably meet God. (Some would say they’re still hokey.) During ths time, David Ruis’ songs like “Let Your Glory Fall” and “You Are Worthy Of My Praise” were helping us enter into God’s presence.
So I was understandably excited when I heard that David Ruis would be leading worship at the Vineyard conference I went to yesterday. I was ready for the old school jams, ready to be nostalgic about the good old days when faith was naive and zealous, as compared to the often confusing and world-spinning thing called faith I have today. But where I was expecting something familiar, I instead was plunged into foreign territory. I didn’t know that I’d be needing a passport.
Most notably, while we were singing a new, intimate song influenced heavily by Gregorian chant, the instruments peeled away so that all that was left was the soft drone of keyboard-produced male voices. It smelled more Buddhist than Gregorian. Then, confirming my suspicions, Ruis picked up a meditation bell and rang it four times, pausing in between each strike to let the vibrations bounce around the room.
I was jarred. As an Asian American, I know that sound. That shouldn’t be here, right? But I was confronted yet again about how small I make my faith and my God.
I like to consider myself open-minded, open to new avenues and expressions of faith. Perhaps in some pride or rebellion, I sometimes wear this attitude like a badge, letting the fundamentalists know that a new sheriff is in town. But there I was, like an old-timer raising a cane against rock music in the sanctuary yet forgetting that many melodies for my hymns were stolen from bar songs. I forgot that God is bigger than the sound of a stick striking metal — it’s just a sound. And that sound is being redeemed, a form of worship borrowed from another culture and reoriented back to God. Too often in history has our faith been taken for granted, unexamined in its cultural, Western European and Enlightenment wrappings, so that when we approach other cultures, we end up obliterating them with ours. But every culture has something of the image of God in it. And finding the God-planted story in other cultures will help each person get to walk with Jesus without having to reject their own communities. Instead of rejecting culture, Jesus redeems it.
So, that bell — that sound — was being transformed before my eyes yesterday. It has helped others meditate on spiritual realities in the past, even if another religion co-opted a cultural practice. Yesterday, however, it rang for him.