I’m part of a quad of musicians convening a music/worship event we’re calling SHIFT. It’s in response to a question the four of us hear all the time as we travel: “Where can we find good worship songs?” (I wish a higher percentage of people would add “like yours.”) They tend to reach for words to describe what they want in a worship soundtrack as contemporary, alternative, emergent, post-modern, ancient-future. The most recent addition to the vocab list is progressive. We want progressive Christian music for progressive worship.
I quote brother Martin Luther: “What [the hell] does this mean?”
The blogs are humming with opinions. Smart people are scrambling to define it: progressive. Does it mean liberal? Post-evangelical? Left or Right? People who are recovering from an immersion in any tradition? There’s an amazing range of sensibilities for the people claiming this term. Maybe the most telling mark of this so-called movement is that so many are so keen to be on board. Lots of buzz, lots of words. More than a few writers claim to have thought of it first and are leading the way.
The idea of progress in the word progressive bothers me a little. It implies advancement, moving forward. Suggesting if you’re not in that club, you might want to check your compass or shift out of Park.
The main reason for our SHIFT event is to get to the bottom of what this word means for people. As a person who values questions, I am curious how people are feeling inspired, pushed and pulled? What are they excited about progressing toward? And what are they eager to leave behind?
The Wild Goose Festival starts today in North Carolina. It looks brilliant, offering an unprecedented gathering of amazing artists and theologians. Among those on stage, I’d be most excited about hearing T-Bone Burnett. Next most interesting for me would be David Wilcox, Michelle Shocked, Jennifer Knapp, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Anyway, you start to get the idea of the presence. There will be lots of words spoken and heard. Metric tons of it. Lovers of words will do their best to define this trend some call progressive Christianity. The thing is, language’s job is always to divide. So I am paying attention, dying to know what dialogue emerges from the event.
Luther’s idea was that the church is always reforming. In an incarnational theology, the Living ChristLogos is woven into every particle of creation. Fresh into Pentecost, we might say we’re within the flow of the Holy Spirit. Present with the holy, we live and move and have our being.
When I think of how my ideas about life, the universe and everything have changed since I was a kid, I’m certain that what I believe today will change. I’ve learned to cherish intentions more than beliefs. More of my center these days is in clarity and not certainty. My life works best when I remember I am an evolving being with a mind that is soft and flexible.
And if we are always emerging– as individuals, as societies, as the homo sapiens sapiens species, and as a global village with all creation– maybe it’s good for the church to see herself this way, too.
Hey. Instead of progressive, how about progressing? It reminds us we will never arrive, that we are always reforming, and that we have a lineage that includes wandering, being led and being provided for along the way.