Word vs Worship

Briefing cover January 2007

January’s issue of the briefing had an in-depth look at the 2006 Hillsong conference and another couple of articles which discuss how different church movements use music in their services. This discussion comes at an interesting time for me as I consider in what direction I should be pushing music at the Toongabbie Anglican church Sunday night service.

My criteria for selecting songs in the past has been, in no particular order:

  • Singable for the congregation
  • Interesting for the musicians
  • Theologically accurate

I’ve struggled in the past with songs that are overly repetitive, are boring to play, that the congregation just don’t participate in or just don’t fit the ‘mood’ of our services. Also songs that are just slabs of bible text or essays on Christianity can be painful to try to play and sing.

I want to be careful in what I write here as I have close friends and family involved at Hillsong and similar churches and I don’t want to be perceived as attacking them or their style. I am merely trying to discover the best and most faithful way I can lead the music team at TAC without endorsing or opposing the opinions held by others.

The articles in The Briefing try to express the attitude that the modern pentecostal and/or charismatic style churches have when they engage in ‘praise and worship’. It is very experiential – by working hard we can create the appropriate environment for God to be present so people can feel His presence. As a result the better the music the closer we are to God and the more impact He can have in our lives.

I may have just butchered that explanation so I may revise it later.

On the other hand, classic evangelical music has been focused on the Word and so the quality of the music being played is less important than being correct in the worshipers attitude and content. Indeed it is my experience that many evangelicals feel music is imposed and artificial and distracts them from focusing on God.

I like music. I like music in church. I like music that talks about God and makes me think about Him, how wonderful He is and the wonderful things He does. I like music in church that helps me remember basic doctrines and passages from the bible.

But I don’t believe we discover God through song. I don’t believe God reveals himself to me more if I am singing than if I am serving Him, or reading His word. I believe God reveals Himself in whatever manner he desires, whatever I happen to be doing at the time is up to Him.

I think there must be a middle position. We sing to encourage each other and to speak out loud how great our God is. I believe we can do that in a way that motivates and encourages the singers, without being either too focussed on the words, or on the experience, instead on the nature of our God and in the company of our Christian family.

I’m not sure if I’ve really declared anything clearly or succinctly or definitively in this post, but I hope I’ve raised some issues and encouraged anyone who might read it to contemplate what they look for or enjoy in music at church. I wrote most of this post over 2 months ago but couldn’t decide if I was happy with it or if it said what I really thought. In the end I guess it is better that it is out there so other people can think about this stuff, even if it isn’t perfect. Then again, until that day comes, which of us is?

Rockbox

Rockbox logo

Almost a year ago now I purchased a Toshiba Gigabeat digital audio player. During this period I have learned a few things – such as it often locks up and needs to be restarted if you leave it in a hot car in the sun, I only own 13GB of music and 16 hours of battery time means you need to recharge it every 2-3 weeks during regular commuting.

When I purchased it I was pointed towards Rockbox, an alternate firmware or operating system for players such as mine. At that point, the Gigabeat version was still in beta status, but the iRiver, iPod and Archos versions were working well. I looked again this week and discovered that the Gigabeat version is now stable and fully functional.

I was encouraged to do this after I spotted someone else on my train with the same player I had, except she had a much cooler theme, selecting albums by the album cover graphic rather than just a text based list. I decided my device needed an upgrade.

So I downloaded Rockbox. I didn’t follow the instructions on their site, instead using the ‘fool proof’ method posted by Mozhoven at the My Gigabeat forums.

Using the official firmware, the only way you can put music on the Gigabeat in a format that will get played is to use the official software, either Windows Media Player 10 (or greater) or Gigabeat Room. These programs convert your mp3 or wma files to SAT format, an encrypted version, so even your non-DRM files get obfuscated.

With Rockbox, you simply copy the files over. The player can then use the files as is, either selected via the file manager or via the database (of artist, album, genre etc.). One obvious advantage of Rockbox is that the player can now play more music formats, MP3 and WMA as before, but now also OGG, AAC (as used by Apple), FLAC and WAV, amongst others.

It also adds a lot of other features that I didn’t realise my Gigabeat was capable of. It can play Doom in 320×240, has a Gameboy Colour emulator and has a bunch of games written for it like Sudoku, nibbles and solitaire. Not that the PlusTouch control is particularly intuitive, but it is there.

Doom running on an iPod Nano via Rockbox

There is a project going on that will allow Rockbox to play video such as the iPod video H.264 format, amongst other ongoing development, another difference from the official.

So thus far I am very happy with my new, more capable Gigabeat. It was a bit scary blowing away the official software (you can ‘dual boot’ if you choose) but the result has been excellent.

  • A good review if you own an iPod is here: NewsForge
  • Another linux/gigabeat user details his experiences: Linuxphile
  • Wikipedia Rockbox Page: Wikipedia