Welcome to Hell

There is a cartoon in the "Far Side" series by Gary Larson, in which there are two panels (I'm sorry! I know there is little that is more annoying than someone trying to explain the subtleties of a cartoon in words, but if you think I could afford to fight a copyright case with Mr. Larson's publishers, then you obviously don't know what a Methodist minister gets paid). In the first panel a queue of people is obviously entering the pearly gates, and are greeted by St. Peter, who says to them "Welcome to heaven! Here's your harp!" The second panel also includes a queue of people. This time however, the destination is not so pleasant, and the horned individual greeting them says: "Welcome to hell! Here's your accordian!"

I know where Larson is coming from.

My own personal hell would be made up of accordians playing a selection of Irish Country and Western style gospel music. I know I've probably alienated some people out there, but music is a matter of personal taste and I can't help it if you don't have any. No, seriously, not everyone likes classical music, not everyone likes jazz, not everyone likes bluegrass, not everyone likes R&B... so why should we expect everyone to like the same style of music when it comes to worship? But more of that anon.

My mind is drawn to the accordian at this point in my ramble through a lifetime's experience of worship, because the accordian looms large in my memories of childhood in the Methodist Church. Most of the teachers in our children's church were superb... One woman was almost certainly certifiably insane, but we all loved her... A number of them used fuzzy felt to tell Bible stories, something which is unlikely to impress the children of today who are used to cgi and hd dvd's from they are no age, but back in my day, fuzzy felt was the business! Others thought up great games to test our Bible knowledge or different ways to teach us Bible verses (although they can't have been that effective as I cannot remember any of the verses that they taught us). But the number 1 favourite was a particular man who had an accordian. And when he was on duty he would bring this weird instrument with him, and we sang all kinds of choruses that involved us doing strange things like climbing sunshine mountain, or going on the "Happy Day Express" (both of which sound like some strange drug fuelled trips).

It was brilliant. I learned then that the shortest distance between our heart and God's heart is a song. A song which the person understands and makes their own. Singing isn't the be all and end all of worship, but is it a surprise that in most Christian traditions, music plays a huge part in it... and in most traditions since the reformation, that has meant congregational singing? My Mum always knew when the man with the accordian had been out at Children's Church, because I always came home hoarse.

I loved it then, but mention an accordian to me now and I think of buskers with limited ability and gum-chewing girls in short polyester skirts in awful accordian bands on the Twelfth of July parades (and for those of you from outside Northern Ireland who have never had this experience, than God!). I also don't think that kids in Sunday School today would be overly enamoured with worship led by an accordian. Kid's are even more hi-tec than we are, and what all kinds of electronic wizardry to accompany their singing... Which no longer involves climbing up sunshine mountain, but a lot of "Whoopah! Wayhey!"-ing.

Things move on. In the wider world. In the world of children's worship. In worship tastes in general. It should also move on in our personal tastes, experience and approach to worship. It would be a sad state of affairs if my worship preferences were frozen in time around 1974 and involved songs like "The Happy day Express"... I no longer live in a fuzzy-felt world lived out to a sound-track played on the accordian. Yet I sometimes wonder if my worship preferences have got frozen at another timeframe in my Christian journey, so that the soundtrack is now slightly out of synch with the rest of my life and society in general.

However, whatever we may sing in worship may we recover some of that childhood exhuberance. Rarely do I come home hoarse from singing God's praise today... and that isn't because of better vocal control.



whynotsmile said…
One of the best kids talks I ever did involved a house made of a cardboard box, and little cardboard cut-out people moving around it (for the story of the paralysed man getting lowered through the roof). That was only maybe 10 years ago... a lifetime in technology terms, but even then the kids were fairly high-tech.

Sometimes I think we should give the kids of today some fuzzy felt and see what happens! We can overestimate the need to 'stimulate' them.

But no acccordians, definitely no accordians.
gadgetguy said…
Could'a been bagpipes...
Bagpipes are the seventh circle of hell, reserved for those who REALLY deserve it!

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