Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Say what you will about Southern churches, but there is one thing they do tremendously well: energy. Huge quantities of energy. If you could somehow translate the energy of a Pentecostal church service into electricity, you could probably power a small city for at least a few minutes. Churches up here in the Northeast are, frankly, pretty darn boring from what I can tell, as are a number of very ritualistic, liturgical denominations. I love me some Lutheran services, but honestly, it feels like everyone there needed to get a little more sleep and about ten pounds of caffeine more than they've had that morning. Everything is slow and quiet. People are afraid to sing loud and proud.

Not so down South. I don't care if the service only gathered five people that day -- those five people will be jumping up and down, flailing their hands, and singing as loud as they possibly can until their voices run out. They will be a five-man crowd. Even the pastor will be in on it, jumping around with microphone in hand and waving his hands in the air. (I think it's some kind of unspoken mandate that Southern pastors have to be good singers? Okay, not really, but lots of them are at least competent and lead songs.)

What is with this formalized, squashed church service idea we have up here? Music is a powerful tool, and not just for slow meditation. I believe that God created rock music for a reason, and you can make awesome church songs with just about any genre. I'm pretty sure there's even Christian hip-hop and metal and stuff. Musical styles aside, you owe it to yourself to see the sheer momentum involved in a Southern church service.

We're enthusiastic, shameless people down there. We don't care if someone sees us shaking our booty to the music, or doing a very sports-stadium kind of arm-waving, or singing louder than anyone else. I was taught as a kid to project -- to really ball up your volume in your diaphragm and then use your abs to throw it out there like the song leader is a drill sergeant and he just told you to drop and do a zillion situps. We love the sense of being swept away, of giving up life's troubles and being thrilled to bits for an hour or two. We want to show how enthusiastic we are for God and all the awesome therein. So we're not going to sit on our little kneelers, no, we're going to get up and dance!

Apparently the concept of a "praise band" is a distinctly conservative thing. It's usually the Pentecostals and other fundamentalist and/or evangelical types that really do the loud church singing thing. "Shout to the Lord" is meant to be sung with the amps to 11, if you ask me, none of this wussy piano and quiet singing business. I was happy when we did Christmas carols at my church last year, because then I got to actually project.

I'm not sure what this entails. Does this mean that Southerners are more open and brash, more in-your-face? Does it mean they're more relaxed, or more enthusiastic about their faith? After all, these are the people who are okay with getting in your face about their beliefs; maybe that is yet another trait of people who are open and used to being received warmly for their religion. In contrast, I've experienced a lot of cold shoulder in the Northeast, a lot of "well, that's what you think, good for you, little kid," a lot of looking down the nose at the specimen of the "privileged majority." Down South, Christianity is a point of pride, and people will assume you're a trustworthy person until proved otherwise, so long as they've seen you in church each week. They respect that. Up here, people are expected to keep that kind of thing under wraps. God forbid you insult someone by suggesting that you have beliefs.

We should take a lesson from the South. Be proud of what you believe. Stand behind it. Fight like a beast for it. Don't be afraid to sing it loud, throw your hands in the air, dance like an idiot, whatever gets your blood going. If anyone else has a problem, they can shove off. The Christian has the same right to celebrate and enjoy their faith as anyone else, so make sure to claim your space and your voice. Don't be a shrinking violet, trying to shrivel up and disappear. Challenge assumptions, and don't let other people put you in a box so they don't have to look at you.


1 comment:

Ariel said...

Heh. Are you familiar at all with the Shakers? It's not just the pentecostals who have noticed the power of song and dance. Also the Sufis (the whirling dervishes are *totally* special), and large chunks of the Old Testament and some modern Judaism, especially the Hasidim.

I do wonder why so few of the classic denominations have much energy. Puritan influences, perhaps?