Sunday, 5 November 2017

Is It My Ears?

A question that often comes my way in church and at events is ‘Why does worship music have to be so LOUD?’ 

Yes, I am getting older, but I have served my time as a guitarist and ‘worship leader’ who introduced drums into our band in our church. Our first drummer had the strict remit that his role was to keep us disparate musicians together whilst hardly being noticed by the congregation. My point about volume isn’t specifically about drums, but is about the effect of and reason for the trending increase in volume levels.

Many find high volume not just unpleasant, but even painful and certainly not conducive to their worship. This has been highlighted to me by those with hearing aids, with tinnitus, with hearing acuity issues or with autism, all of whom can find the sensory overload of high volume too much, and some of whom simply walk out.

Whilst considering the volume issue, it became clear that much else has changed alongside. Sung worship used to be just that - congregational singing where you could hear yourself and others making a joyful collective noise. Hymns and songs used to be a series of well constructed verses, sometimes with a repeating ‘refrain’ or chorus. Everything rhymed and scanned (the words had a regular rhythm pattern) and was set to a singable often comfortably predictable tune that could be harmonised if you were so inclined. The instruments were an accompaniment to the all-important communal singing. 

Words were paramount - very carefully crafted, robust theology often written as poetry by pastors. The format helped people remember important truths throughout the days ahead. I still recall word-for-word many such worship songs that I haven’t sung for years. If I said “Saviour if of Zion’s City….” where would your mind go to? Would you remember it as well if it were not strict metre rhyming poetry, but more like prose set to a wandering tune? Isaac Watts knew a thing or two about writing poetry. He extolled the benefit of rhyming and scanning to help people remember worthwhile words. [“What is learned in verse is longer retained in memory, and sooner recollected. The like sounds and the like number of syllables exceedingly assist the remembrance”] Have people changed so much? Or is the whole point now more about instant response than remembering some worthwhile poetry. 

Over time the ubiquitous organ or piano has of course been replaced, often for very good reason, by the ubiquitous amplified guitar group, but the change of instruments has lead to other changes. The use of guitars has fundamentally influenced the construction and selection of the songs. Many are now in a ‘pop’ format. Rhyming is largely ignored in favour of assonance (vowels that sound the same), and scansion is often far from strict. The repetition element has become dominant with an inevitable chorus and almost invariably a ‘bridge’ too. We also have songs written at a pitch or range that is not realistically achievable by people with a normal vocal range.  If the verse of a song is pitched at singable level, then the chorus can be stratospherically beyond reach without tighter singing trousers and a stepladder. Many songs even have full octave vocal jumps. Some songs in contemporary genres come from musicians rather than from theologians, and this can reflect in the content. Yes, I am commenting generally and I know, appreciate and use some wonderful exceptions.

Does any of this matter? When somebody tells me that they had a ‘great time of worship’ I am sometimes tempted to ask if God enjoyed it. Was it the excitement? The beat? Or the dancing? Has it helped their appreciation of God? Surely our worship, musical or otherwise, should be to do something that pleases God, and shifts our focus to Him. The change of song format to the pop genre has meant that dance has come into ‘worship’ like never before, and the role of ‘worship leader’ has emerged. In the same inevitable way that drums became part of the deal, the role of ‘worship leader’ has grown naturally out of the guitar band format, where every such band has a front man or woman. I am not so convinced of the Biblical mandate for this - and yet far more young people aspire to the worship leading role than to being preachers, teachers or evangelists. I was encouraged when one group I went to see and hear, memorably said that “We are not here to lead worship. There is only one worship leader, and that is the Holy Spirit. We are going to praise God with our songs, and we invite you to join us.”.

Adding extreme volume to these various format changes, means that many people have largely given up on congregational singing, despite the fact that singing is much more of a Biblical directive than dance. Faced with the difficulty and the volume, the fact that one voice makes no difference against the overwhelming amplification, and the megawatt worship experience - sometimes including a lighting display -  is passively observed while it is presented to the congregation by those at the front who are undoubtedly gifted in what they do. Presentation worship may be an inevitable result of the change in the format of songs, the instruments and the volume. Extreme volume may be necessary to ‘optimise sound quality’, but that is surely only needed if the priority is the presentation, rather than the participation of the congregation. Maybe presentational worship that is truly inspirational at a large event, doesn’t transfer well in form or volume to the ageing congregation back home at Little Puddleton Chapel. It’s a bit like trying to get the feeling of a majestic Albert Hall concert with full orchestra and chorus back to our village hall. Each is uniquely suited to different things.

This isn’t a plea to get back to old hymns and songs, but to restore  meaningful congregational singing. There are good old and good new songs and we should be using both. The thing I look for first is good THEOLOGY (even if simply put), It really should be all about the words. Then a song should be MEMORABLE (rhyming and scanning really does help, as does an ear-worm or easily followed tune), SINGABLE within the realistic range of most people, and with VARIETY (there are loads of instruments and music styles out there just waiting to be used. It doesn’t always have to be an amplified guitar band). And if the volume level is capable of going to 11, it doesn’t mean that it has to. Increasing volume is actually excluding an increasing number of  people who may otherwise be persuaded to accept other changes, if only it weren’t so unnecessarily LOUD. Like Elvis, some of them have left the building to sing no more. Enthusiastic volume should surely come from the involved voices of inspired worshippers, with music to accompany and even lead, but not to overpower.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Life As A Carer

Most of you know that as well as being a happy husband, I am also Kay’s ‘Personal Assistant’ or ‘carer’. Her disability affects her pain, her vision and of course her mobility. She uses a wheelchair for all but the shortest sequence of slow steps with a stick or a crutch. There are obviously some household things that Kay can’t do, but I thought I’d let you in on some less obvious work-related aspects that keep us functioning normally, apart from the obvious technical kit that is needed for mobility and vision.

TIME. A lot of time has to be invested in preparation . Even getting up and getting ready is slower for us than for many, so early alarm calls are part of the routine especially when a long journey is required. We have to do a lot of advance checking by phone and Email to make sure that we can get where and when we are needed. If it’s somewhere new to us, it is a huge help when good information is on their website - otherwise it’s phone calls.

ROADS. Motorway services usually have ample Blue Badge spaces for parking, most of which are usually occupied with non badge holders [this is not an exaggeration - have a look next time you visit one of these places], so those who actually need the spaces close to the entrance have to park further away, especially in bad weather. Accessible toilets are always at the furthest point from the entrance, and often being used by those who don’t need them. We go by road when we can as long as suitable venue parking is available, although this is obviously not feasible for London. Even Birmingham is proving more difficult by road. The Second City always has a good reason for her reluctance to let us go, last year this included a major delay because of a Second World War bomb. 

TRAINS. For train trips to London, I usually see Kay onto the train after which she and her powerchair are on their own. Kay being as independent as possible is important for its own sake, but in addition it saves buying two tickets, and avoids me being an unneeded guest, even if a welcome one. Journeys have to be booked in advance, and we have to arrive at the departure station half an hour early to ensure ‘assistance’ is there. Mostly, station staff are friendly and good at being there with the necessary ramps. Once on the train, there is often luggage in the clearly marked wheelchair space. Train Manager to the rescue!

AIRPORTS. Again there have to be lengthy phone calls well in advance of the journey in order to organise the necessary help. Arrival is required well before able-bodied passengers and we have been ‘tutted’ at when taken to be loaded first - even though we are offloaded last so that we don’t hold others up.

VENUES. Having done all the checks and arrived raring to go, even then there can be unexpected challenges (opportunities?). Things like powerchair failure (once), rarely used lifts breaking (at least twice), and several occasions when incidents have caused road closures, especially in London. This means that taxis can’t get us either to where we want to be, or to where we are in order to collect us. If you wonder why we don’t use the Underground in London, try and find out how many stations are actually accessible to a wheelchair user.
Within venues the platform may be out of easy reach, and accessible facilities are often used for storing cleaning equipment. One of Kay’s pet grumps is accessible toilets that have a strong door closer (neither a legal nor a fire regulation necessity). Imagine being in a wheelchair, having little upper body strength and trying to fight with a door that fights back. One day I may get into trouble for waiting outside ladies toilets.

RECOVERY. Once home again, time is needed for proper recovery of depleted emotional batteries, and re-grouping before the next adventure. None of this is mentioned for sympathy for ourselves - our own coping strategies mostly work very well - but it is rather a plea for a little more understanding for anyone and everyone who copes with a visible or invisible disability on a temporary or a permanent basis. We are all trying to function as normally as possible with things that most people can take for granted. What those with a disability go through to just get to a meeting or an event, is probably a lot more than is done to accommodate them. Our annoying questions and detailed preparations are just a small part of what we have to do to maintain the swan-like appearance of smooth, easy progress. Together we can make it look simple. Is it just me? Absolutely not! This is for those with disabilities and their carers everywhere. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

I do care really!

My first blog, and I should probably start with an explanation. I hope the 'I don't care' title grabbed your attention, and it is true - well not in the official jargon sense anyway. Proper terminology can be useful to convey a message, but it can also give a very wrong impression or a picture that is far removed from the intention.

Kay, my wife of more than 20 years is 'disabled'. This comes as no surprise to me, and we don't need to use the word except on official documents or when a shorthand explanation is required. Indeed before she agreed to marry me, she made me sit down and listen very carefully as she explained in graphic detail what the likely progression of her conditions would be. So I'm neither surprised nor in denial.

I am primarily a husband who happily made promises when we married. Those promises were of course mutual, although it should be said that at the time, the worldly goods that Kay endowed me with consisted of a cordless electric drill and an ageing Astra estate car.

Anyway, back to the point about jargon. I am officially categorised as Kay's 'carer', or more currently her 'personal assistant'. (PC jargon changes with the seasons). Labels are certainly sometimes helpful, but this makes our relationship sound like a rather dry and humourless transaction, a chore or a burden - which it never has been. 'Carer' seems to me to bring with it various unhelpful implications, so I can confirm that it is only in the jargon sense that I don't care - I just happily do what we both agree would be helpful, not because I'm designated as a 'carer' but because nothing could be more normal!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A New Name & A New Owner

Having said to Steve a while ago that he should blog - he has finally decided to go for it.
So, I am in the process of handing the site over to him so he can share his own unique wisdom and fun with the world!

Our work has changed beyond recognition in the last few months, meaning the old ministry blog was becoming a little redundant. I'm hoping the new Blog of Steve will be far more informative and fun. (How could it not be with Steve in charge!)

We're still doing children's work and still refer to ourselves as children's evangelists. You can access our diary via my work site - the link is on the right hand sidebar.

We decided to leave all the old ministry blog posts - just for history and information :o)

Meanwhile, I'm blogging over at the 'Pondering Platypuss' and 'The Non-Work Blog' and expecting regular cries of "Kay, how do I..... (Insert any technical blog related question here)" from the other side of the room.


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christmas News Letter

For some of our friends this year, wishing them a happy Christmas seems insensitive, and the phrase ‘seasons greetings’ always seems a little bland. So we will instead pray that God would bless you all as we celebrate the Birth of Jesus - and that you would find Him to be all that you need during this season.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Latest update

Thanks to everyone who has been praying.
We still haven't heard back from the DWP about moving to PIP.

We managed to get some help filling in the forms - which was a small miracle in itself. We manage to get the forms in with a couple of days to spare, and within a week had a phone call to ask if they could do a home assessment. This was a nerve wracking experience - but I had a nice assessor, who didn't seem to mind that the house was a building site! That was nearly three weeks ago and we're still waiting to hear if the application has been successful. Maybe this week? Or the week after? We don't know.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Prayer Update - We could do with some!

We have a lot going on at the minute.

The view from our
kitchen door today
We have the builders in - we’ve scrimped and saved for many years, and managed to get a gift towards some much needed building work to make our house more accessible for Kay - this includes a downstairs accessible shower/loo, and a new kitchen more suitable to Kay’s needs (Mind you - it was an original 1960’s blue tiled monstrosity!)