Why do we sing songs in Spanish?
Why would we not?
Over the last few months, Restoration has added three or four songs with Spanish lyrics to our canon of music. Generally, we have chosen one each Sunday and sung it during the offertory. Some of you have loved doing familiar songs with Spanish lyrics. Some of you have wondered why this is happening. Here are three reasons that are informing this practice:
It is Biblical.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7: 9-10
As followers of Jesus who submit to the Scriptures, we have a long-used methodology for determining best practices: protology and eschatology. How did things begin (protology)? How will things end (eschatology)? As Christians, want to be moving either towards the way things were intended to be or the way things will be.
Revelation 7:9-10 gives a vivid description of the way things will be. There will be multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual worship of the Lamb who was slain for all peoples. Consequently, we seek a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual worship service in the present because we know that it is ‘the telos’, ‘the end’, ‘the eschaton’, ‘the goal’ to which we are headed. Singing a familiar song with Spanish lyrics is a SMALL step towards the rich tapestry of linguistic diversity that we will enjoy in the age to come.
Similarly, Revelation 19:9 says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The ‘marriage supper of the lamb’ is the telos (the end) to which our current Eucharist points. We eat a bite of bread and take a sip of wine in anticipation of the FEAST we will enjoy in the age to come. Our eschatology (FEASTING) determines our present practice (TASTING).
It is kind.
Kind means “having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.” There are people in our congregation for whom Spanish IS their heart language, their first language. When we sing familiar songs with Spanish lyrics, there is an ease and comprehension that opens for them that is not available when we only sing songs in English. As majority English speakers, we extend ourselves to our brothers and sisters whose first language is not English when we sing songs that our less comfortable for us and more comfortable for them. It is kind.
It represents who we want to be.
According to Statistical Atlas,
“14.1% of the total population living in Arlington County live in households where Spanish is spoken at home.”
According to Data USA,
“Arlington County, VA is home to a population of 223,945 people… The ethnic composition of the population of Arlington… is composed of:
- 141,107 White residents (63%)
- 34,629 Hispanic residents (15.5%) (This is supported by the U.S. Census bureau which puts the population at 15.4% as of July 2016.)
- 22,085 Asian residents (9.9%)
- 18,584 Black residents (8.3%)
- 5,777 Two+ residents (2.58%).
The most common foreign language in Arlington County is Spanish (29,482 speakers).
Restoration wants to love our neighbors and look like our neighborhoods. We want to welcome anyone who is curious about Jesus and what it means to follow Him as the One who forgives our sins and leads our life. To that end, we want our liturgy, our music, our volunteer opportunities, and our teaching to be accessible to all of our neighbors in all of our neighborhoods.
Are we there yet? Not. Even. Close.
Can we do it by ourselves? Never.
We will need to partner with our brothers and sisters in other churches across our region. We will need to keep looking for the courageous steps that our particular congregation can take. We will need to embrace uncomfortable.
So the next time you see Spanish lyrics, try this:
- Say a quick prayer of thanks for all the people and households in our neighborhoods who speak Spanish. We are so glad they are near us.
- Choose a language to sing. We will always put English and Spanish on the slide. Choose what feels right to sing so that you can worship. You are worshiping God and he can sort out multiple languages at the same time. No sweat.
- Consider taking a risk from time to time and singing the lyrics that are less familiar to you.
- Pray for the people standing around you that they would be the light of Christ to all the peoples in their neighborhoods.
For Me? Well, so far I have stumbled through my Spanish during those songs. Every time. But as I bump along, embracing uncomfortable, I am so grateful that my voice gets drowned out by the volume of others singing next to me. So grateful that we are a community. I am so grateful to be in a community that is being kind and welcoming and hospitable. I am grateful for really small steps that demonstrate trust in God and partnership in his mission. And I look forward to that gigantic multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual worship of the Lamb in the age to come.
January 19, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
I deeply, deeply, disagree.
January 19, 2018 @ 2:25 pm
Thanks for the feedback. Would you be open to sharing some of your points of disagreement?
January 19, 2018 @ 6:10 pm
This is a far more fulsome explanation that helps understanding. Thanks, David. Worth explaining more often as it’s not intuitive and can be confusing to others as well as inviting. Let’s be careful to build bridges not walls inadvertently for those who believe differently. This is not a norm but a bit of an experiment and, like raising arms while singing, we worship Christ as Lord differently but prayerfully with a common heart. Help us all be comfortable with our differences on secondary considerations.
January 20, 2018 @ 5:46 am
Thanks Ray. I appreciate the encouragement on the explanation and the reminder to be careful about building ‘inadvertent walls’- such a good reminder and such a gracious way to put it. Important to remember that decisions and choices can always have unintended consequences.
It’s great to work on this in our community. Thanks for your charity and kindness.
January 19, 2018 @ 10:29 pm
Oh this is interesting. We now live in Japan and attend Japanese church. All the songs are in Japanese. Although I miss singing in my native language, I understand it is the language of my host country. They always have the English translation on the screen though which is nice to understand the lyrics if you don’t understand Japanese. (sadly I don’t).
I am aware that Arlington has a high number of Spanish speakers and it is great to share the fellowship. It would be interesting to know if this change was driven by English speakers or Spanish?
In any case, I loved the music at Restoration! It was very unique and wish we could have stayed longer and had been a part of the church. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed singing in Spanish, but I appreciate the heart-felt openness to love and respect all these cultures. This is what makes Arlington so interesting.
January 20, 2018 @ 2:01 am
FYI, it’s just one song.
And the lyrics are provided in both Spanish and English.
And people sing in both.
January 20, 2018 @ 5:43 am
Thanks for keeping up with what’s happening all the way from Japan! I appreciate it.
January 20, 2018 @ 2:44 pm
Thanks Beth! I introduced singing a song in Spanish for a variety of reasons some of which David mentioned in this post. I would be happy to grab coffee or other libation with anyone who would like to discuss this decision more…though I recognize that grabbing a drink between here and Japan may be out of reach. 🙂
I live in Chirilagua/Arlandria which has a very high Spanish speaking population, and the first church that I helped with music when I moved here in 2009 was a Spanish speaking congregation. I helped them build a music program (even though I did not then nor do I now speak Spanish) until they could take over for themselves.
I grew to value the way that Spanish often makes me feel uncomfortable forcing me outside myself (much like liturgy) to see things beyond my way and my comforts. I believe this venture would be pointless, however, if we were doing it to merely feel discomfort. I believe this particular discomfort is important for English-speaking Christian discipleship in highly populated Non-English-speaking areas to help us see and recognize the value of the neighborhood cultures that are not like us. It can serve to help keep our minds and hearts in check.
We also live in the midst of highly populated African-American communities, so last week we sang “Let Us Break Bread Together,” and this week we will sing “Precious Lord.” If we were an English-speaking church in Silver Spring, MA, I would probably also try to introduce Ethiopian songs.
I have been encouraged by the responses I have gotten after our worship service from a number of people who have come up to me and thanked me for helping them, in a very small way, take steps toward seeing the Spanish-speaking population in our midst as their neighbors. We start every service with the Great Commandment, and I think this is a small way that we can begin to shape our hearts to love our minority neighbors as ourselves.
January 20, 2018 @ 5:25 pm
That’s a great connection, Matt, between singing songs with Spanish lyrics and singing songs that come from the African-American community. And like Nat said as well– even doing Eucharistic liturgies that are from non-Western cultures (we are currently using a Kenyan Eucharistic Rite).
January 19, 2018 @ 10:51 pm
Our country is in the midst of a serious debate over illegal immigration. There are thoughtful and logical opinions on both sides of this debate. While well intentioned, I, and probably others like me, believe/feel the introduction of hymns in Spanish in the service is coersive. Spanish is the native language of largest segment of the illegal immigrant population in our nation (and likely our community). Whether intended or not, the decision to sign hymns in Spanish feels like and attempt to push the congregation to support a political agenda with which I vigorously disagree. In what I feel is an unwelcome manner, it thrusts a very divisive topic into the middle of the worship service where it does not belong.
January 20, 2018 @ 5:42 am
Mark, thanks for your thoughtful feedback. I (perhaps naively) never considered that singing songs with Spanish lyrics would feel like an ‘attempt to push the congregation to support a political agenda.’ I am sad that it feels coercive and divisive to you.
I think the multi-lingual and multi-ethnic Kingdom of God transcends the pain and vitriol of our country’s current debates. We really are headed towards a telos that has some from every tongue, tribe, and nation worshiping the Lamb. We are the church and that end is our joy and hope. It is our privilege to seek out every opportunity to start living in that future reality now. I hope that our choice to keep singing songs with Spanish lyrics can be received as a step towards who we want to be and not as coercion.
Thank you for sharing that it feels unwelcome. I receive that and I hope that feeling can change.
January 26, 2018 @ 11:35 am
David, I did chuckle at your comment to Mark about not realizing the political impression some congregants might have. Setting aside our current political moment, few things have historically been as divisive or unifying as language. In recent years, language has signified identity in places such as Quebec, Catalonia and Belgium. Conversely, large and linguistically diverse cultures like China became more unified through the adoption of a national language.
I’m grateful for the ways in which Restoration welcomes and serves native Spanish speakers: RILA, Casa Chirilagua (the Glebe Star Tree and AFAC also primarily seem to serve native Spanish speakers). Three years ago, I spoke with a pastor friend in Florida who is a native Spanish speaker. Her church had struggled to decide if it would offer separate English and Spanish services, or attempt to blend the two into every service. Not wanting to silo people off into separate worshiping communities, I was surprised to learn that they decided to hold all services in English, and commit to offer ESOL classes as a way of demonstrating hospitality and welcome to those who had newly arrived. ESOL requires a significant volunteer commitment, so this wasn’t an easy choice. Considering that we at Restoration struggle to get volunteers for something relatively simple like AFAC, offering ESOL is probably not going to happen soon. But I was intrigued that this pastor with our same goal of welcome offered something that could assist her immigrant community without dividing the church.
Ultimately, the welcome comes from Jesus. As the Kenyan liturgy says, “Christ is the host and we are his guests.” If we faithfully communicate his unique Gospel message, that will be the most powerful way we can welcome people, even with language or volunteer limitations.
January 26, 2018 @ 5:08 pm
Just to express a different point of view . . . I happen to lean conservative on immigration policy. And I LOVE that we sing in Spanish. It might be my favorite part of the service.
One thing that is great about reading scripture and singing in other languages is that sometimes we get a deeper understanding of the meaning. The scripture was not written in English. Sometimes a different translation gets us a closer (or just different) perspective on the idea. This is why I love when Morgan mentions the ancient Syriac texts in his sermons, too.
January 20, 2018 @ 2:21 pm
David, my favorite part of what you wrote was when you spoke about how we, as the Church, should always be moving toward what was intended and what is going to be.
For many years I have been captured by the verses in Revelation that talk about how people from every tribe, language and nation will worship Jesus together. This is a description of Heaven itself, the Place where Jesus reigns and everything is as it should be. Apparently, in worshipping Jesus, humans are able to transcend all of those differences that ordinarily divide us- differences in race, age, gender, socioeconomic class, and political opinion, to name a few.
When we worship, we stand together and sing, praise, and affirm that God is good, glorious, powerful, present, and moving in our hearts and in the world. And we affirm that we, as people, are loved, known, heard and seen, and saved by grace. We are united in worship. Is there anything else that can unite in this way? I don’t think so! There is no earthly strategy, policy or law is able to unite people like worshipping Jesus.
This is what we, the Church, are able to offer the world, and it is the thing for which people hunger and will be satisfied. It is breathtaking and irresistible. It is Heaven- a Place where humans from every corner of the world worship Jesus together, in love and humility. We can worship Jesus together in different languages and read liturgies from other continents (Africa!), and in so doing we have the privilege of joining with God in bringing His Kingdom, Heaven, to earth, and inviting others to join in.
January 20, 2018 @ 5:29 pm
Thanks Natalie. Really interesting point about the ability of musical worship to unite us, especially in light of how musical worship has been so divisive in the western church over the last 30 years (thinking here of hymns versus choruses, ‘traditional’ v. ‘contemporary’ and every flavor in between). And yet when a room of people is singing to Jesus together, it is a powerful expression of unity– both the actual effect and the emotional response it evokes. Thanks for this.
January 20, 2018 @ 4:34 pm
One of the things I get to see when standing by the communion table is the enthusiasm with which Spanish speakers in our midst sing with gusto when we have the words in Spanish – what joy!! tbh I don’t always sing the Spanish words – sometimes I sing along in English – because I love to hear the English and Spanish mingling…. I also love to worship using British Sign Language – having translated for years for the deaf community in our church in England, there is something very special to me to be able to articulate praise in a different way using my body to articulate things my voice can’t do on it’s own… and if snippets of other languages come into my mind you may hear me using them too…. I try to stay roughly on tune and in tempo….but good luck if you’re sitting next to me!
January 20, 2018 @ 5:22 pm
I love this, Liz. Thanks for your abandon in worship and willingness to go for it!
January 20, 2018 @ 6:01 pm
I love including Spanish in our worship. But I have to tell a story to explain why.
I was on a short-term mission about 13 years ago. During a worship service we put on with a local congregation, a young man experienced something–not sure what, but something–powerful from the Holy Spirit. And he started falling unconscious, right next to me. Now I’m a pretty skeptical guy, but I have no doubt that this was a God thing. Somehow I reacted in time to catch him to let him gently to the ground.
So when the Spirit is moving, I want to be part of a church that gives everything it has to catch people when they fall under His power. On that mission it was my physical arms and hands. During our services, by singing in Spanish we’re casting our net just a little bit wider to be part of the Spirit’s work in our community. I’ve helped out a Southern Baptist church in Manassas, whose pastor is a friend of mine, build up its ministry towards Spanish speakers, and it’s amazing what God is doing over there. So I’m excited to see where the Spirit takes Restoration.
January 20, 2018 @ 6:56 pm
That. Is. Beautiful. Thank you, David.
January 20, 2018 @ 8:50 pm
Wow! I’ve had such a flurry of thoughts and emotions reading this. When I first saw David’s post I was immensely encouraged. Yes! This is why our family calls Restoration home. As a church body, we have embraced the difficult task of trying to figure out together what it looks like to live out the gospel here and now, to walk alongside of one another preparing for our eternal home.
The first Sunday we sang a hymn in Spanish I was skeptical but hopeful. But I was certainly encouraged that we were intentionally seeking to be a little uncomfortable. The blessing I have received from that discomfort has been immense. I don’t fluently speak any foreign languages. But as I’ve stepped out just a bit to very awkwardly sing in Spanish, sometimes singing songs I’ve loved since childhood in my native tongue, I’ve been blessed in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve been able to imagine and see more clearly images of the kingdom of heaven. And I’ve been able to better understand what it is to be an inhabitant in a foreign land. This second part has definitely softened my heart and increased my compassion for many of my neighbors. It hasn’t changed any of my political opinions on immigration or any other issue — but it has made me more attentive to the individuals, made in God’s image that surround me that my Savior deeply loves.
But in reading this post, my heart has been broken and my naivety exposed. While I’ve enjoyed this personal joy — it brings me pain to hear that this uncomfortable part of worship has become of source of pain for some of my friends. I have strong opinions about the political issues of the day, certainly including immigration. And I am thankful to be in a community where we can discuss our differences of opinion and challenge one another with the truth of the gospel. I naively saw this small change in our worship as a forward looking homecoming preparation and opportunity to love our neighbors. And my ears were not tuned to hear that this could be a source of pain and disagreement and perceived as promotion of a political ideology. My sincere prayer is that as we all continue to try to figure this out together we will pray for one another and listen to one another. I am now equally thankful that David posted this so that we could start this discussion.
Singing a hymn in Spanish may never bring a new Spanish speaking neighbor to Restoration. But I pray that this conversation will continue to challenge me to cling to my citizenship in heaven — and to pursue understanding what that looks like lived out now.
January 21, 2018 @ 6:45 am
Thank you, Heather. These were really gracious thoughts. I’m especially encouraged by these two things:
“I’ve been able to better understand what it is to be an inhabitant in a foreign land. This second part has definitely softened my heart and increased my compassion for many of my neighbors.”
“Singing a hymn in Spanish may never bring a new Spanish speaking neighbor to Restoration. But I pray that this conversation will continue to challenge me to cling to my citizenship in heaven — and to pursue understanding what that looks like lived out now.”
These are two of the primary things that I hope for in this.
January 21, 2018 @ 9:34 am
I support what we are trying to do, but would like to see a slight tweak.
Songs written with words that are carefully chosen in one language do not always translate accurately or well into another language. (There are exceptions.) What has been distracting for me is singing a translation and noticing that it clearly does not match the meaning of the English which is also listed. It is especially tough to go between English and Spanish, as Spanish often takes more words to say the same thing, meaning it is awkward making it fit a melody meant to be done in English.
I would like to take the next step and sing songs that were originally written in Spanish. I think it would be more comfortable and meaningful for our native Spanish speakers.(I grew up in a Swedish Baptist Church and still cherish the hymnal with the Swedish hymns in the back of the book.)
While we’re at it, how about some other well written songs in their original languages? Having lived in English speaking Africa, I love it when we do the Kenyan liturgy. There is a mindset reflected in those words that is dear to my heart.
January 21, 2018 @ 10:31 am
Bev, that is such an insightful comment. Thank you! Such a great idea to do songs that were originally written in Spanish. That seems like a logical next step. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
January 21, 2018 @ 1:23 pm
Agreed! That is a great goal, Bev!
January 26, 2018 @ 4:46 pm
A great goal indeed! I think this is a challenge with church music worldwide- a lot of churches default to songs translated from English. But certainly in Spanish there are original songs, too.
January 21, 2018 @ 11:27 am
I like Bev’s idea as well. I’ve enjoyed singing in Spanish because it forces me to pay more attention and engage more in worship. I think it’s also good for the many children, teens and adults at Restoration who are learning Spanish — it’s a good way to practice and connect what they do during the week to what they do on Sunday. When I took French in school, I learned a lot when our teacher had us listen to pop and rap songs in that language, and in college, I loved going to our weekly French chapel (le culte francais) because it made me use a different part of my brain and reminded me that the church is bigger than any one language or country. And to be really blunt, I like the Spanish songs better than some of the English ones we sing.
January 21, 2018 @ 12:20 pm
I remember reading the Psalms in French. God was often calledL’Eternel. That thought has stayed with me.
January 21, 2018 @ 2:15 pm
Me too, Cathy! 🙂 I like the Spanish songs more than some of the English songs we sing too.
January 22, 2018 @ 9:33 pm
January 21, 2018 @ 3:28 pm
Even though I don’t speak Spanish, every time we sing a Spanish song at Restoration, I think how nice it must be for folks whose first language is Spanish, especially visitors.
January 21, 2018 @ 3:59 pm
One more thought. When I was in the planning phase of starting a Spanish language small group, my co-leader (and native speaker) made a point that really stuck with me. She said we shouldn’t think of it as a small group that’s about speaking in Spanish and just happens to bring up God and the Bible. We must conceive of it as a small group that is about God, and only about God, and we happen to be talking about Him (and *to* Him!) in Spanish.
For all the benefits worshipping in Spanish brings to us, like how it challenges, inspires, intrigues, teaches, or pleases us (or not, as the case may be), we’re not worshipping for our own sakes, but to bring glory to God. So I hope the first question we bring to the issue is not “what cause is this music serving?” or even “how will the congregation (or visitors, etc) receive this or get something out of it?,” but rather, “is Christ being exalted by our worship?” The other stuff matters, certainly, but we are offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God. We happen to be doing so in Spanish.
January 22, 2018 @ 9:31 pm
January 21, 2018 @ 9:04 pm
I agree that singing songs in Spanish is kind and welcoming. And I am glad that the English lyrics are alongside the Spanish but it is somewhat distracting for me. I grew up in the Catholic church when Latin was the language used in the Mass and although after years of listening I could pronounce the words I had no idea what they meant. When English replaced Latin it was wonderful to be able to comprehend and participate more fully in the liturgy. I know we are only singing one song in Spanish as opposed to conducting all the liturgy in Spanish so the Latin mass example is not 100% comparable.
Overall I love the music worship at Resto.
January 21, 2018 @ 9:27 pm
I love singing in Spanish, for just the reasons David and Matt spelled out. It is a small and sometimes akward step, but it is highly symbolic and poignant for me. Like Heather, it never crossed my mind that it ight be part of any political agenda, but that may be because I have studeied, lived and worked in several non-English speaking countries. The fact is, though, that in 2012, 38.3 million Americans (acc to US Census, so presumably these are green card holders and citizens) aged 5 or older spoke Spanish natively, more than TWICE that of 1990. I would imagine it is quite a bit higher now, in 2018. So putting any opinions one might have about illiegal immigration aside, it is still a Kingdom act of kindness for our many neighbors. And it is only one song!!
January 23, 2018 @ 9:21 am
(1) Illegal immigrants are included in the census, ~20M people, most of whom would be native Spanish speakers.
(2) In my opinion, it does not behoove our country to have a large group of people that are not fluent in the language used by the government and for the ruling “class”. This is a huge problem in Haiti where the government and officials use French, and the other 99% of the people speak and write Creole. They are effectively shut out of moving up and making changes.
(3) I don’t like to assume anyone’s native language by the way that they look – it is stereotyping. This is why I greet the “Spanish-appearing” people in my neighborhood in English. When I go to France, I greet people in their language. I don’t expect them to know English (although most do), and frankly, I’m a little offended when they immediately switch to English as it makes me feel worse about my French and/or that I appear as a stereo-typical American.
(4) In my travels in Europe, I had to look HARD for an English service – and that was okay. These were usually churches that were in the center of the city, catering to temporary expats and visitors. If that was the purpose of our church, and our singing, I would understand – but it’s not the stated purpose.
(5) When I read the verse from Revelations – it doesn’t say that people will speak in tongues (i.e., a foreign language to themselves). It says that people from every nation will gather and speak their OWN tongue. So using this as a reason for 99% of the congregation to speak a foreign language would be inconsistent with that verse. If we were at a global church conference where everyone WAS from a different nation, I would understand, but I’m not.
January 23, 2018 @ 8:53 am
I so need tangible reminders of the global nature of the Church, and am grateful for this one. Thank you for incorporating Spanish!
January 23, 2018 @ 11:40 am
Thank you for this post, Fr. David. The Church is something that should transcend all racial lines. But I do wonder about a few of your justifications for this and can’t join the chorus of mutual back-patting.
For starters, we don’t know that the liturgy in Revelation is actually multi-lingual anymore than we know that the anti-Christ will actually have seven heads. Everyone knows they speak Cranmer’s English in Heaven. (I kid… kind of.) But in seriousness, we have no idea what language will spoken in the next life. What we can reasonably expect is that it will be a language we speak in common. In his biography of the Book of Common Prayer, Alan Jacobs noted that praying the Latin Liturgy – which ostensibly united people in a common tongue across nations – actually individualized prayer. Nobody knew what was going on so they prayed alone. The English liturgy made prayer a communal undertaking. For the first time, people were praying together.
Of course our situation is different, but the original purpose of having a common liturgy shouldn’t be lost on us as we seek to navigate the complexities of a global world. C.S. Lewis said liturgy works best when it isn’t really noticed. It’s suppose to guide our thoughts upward without us really realizing we are being coerced along. Insofar as singing in Spanish is a distraction from that, it may not be useful distraction.
Finally, and with apologies for particular bluntness, I have to wonder if this really does represent what Restoration wants to be. Restoration is a particularly white and upper middle class parish. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this – it’s located in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. Arlington County is a large area. You can only expect to serve your specific parish well. And from what I’ve heard, that’s what Restoration set out to do. When I first came to the New to Restoration dinner, you explained you wanted to be the church for our neighbors in North Arlington that we work with, go to school with, but who don’t go to church. When you set out to be an attractional Church in a particularly affluent, bourgeois area, and you can’t really be surprised when your congregation ends up consisting of mostly affluent bourgeois whites.
In so far as Restoration is trying to be a contemporary church (contemporary as defined by a narrow sect of western evangelicals), it can’t really expect to have broad appeal. I’m reminded of a passage from Graham Greene’s Orient Express that is remarkably applicable. An immigrant on the train is running from the police. He knows he is about to be caught and killed. He earlier spotted an Anglican priest on the train and tries to find him so that he may pray and have a final confession. The Priest is a modern, relevant type. Instead of using traditional religious language, the Priest tries to give the immigrant spiritual lessons by referencing a cricket match. Batters and pitchers need discipline and skill and duty and comradery, etc. The immigrant, who has no idea what cricket is, is left bewildered. He was looking for someone who could speak the universal languages of love, duty, sacrifice, and honor – those were things that transcend language and culture. But in trying to be relevant, the Priest only rendered himself unrelatable to everyone except bourgeois white English families.
There’s a reason that the hymns of Charles Wesley, for instance, have been adapted into everything from Appalachian folk to African spiritual to Anglican choral. Their message and beauty is universal. (And, those pre-christian Greeks, with their clear rules about objective and transcendent truth, goodness, and beauty may have been onto something after all, as many Church fathers knew well.) Restoration, on the other hand, too often feels like a place for affluent North Arlingtonians to find a life coach. I can’t quite put my finger on why. The preaching is often very good and Matt is clearly a great musician – I don’t mean to critique either of your clear talents – both of which I have benefited from. But often the sermon or the music will sort of lapse into contemporary cliche. To be quite honest, to say that singing a song in Spanish is “courageous” is just such a cliche that only a certain sort of affluent westerner could believe. And it’s a completely unnecessary cliche! Restoration already does so much real good on behalf of the marginalized in our communities through RILA and other programs. We have more to offer the marginalized than our insecure western banalities.
All of which to say, I very much share your desire to see all people united in Christ’s Church. But the best way to do that may be to be more like Charles Wesley and less like Graham Greene’s relevant Priest. Don’t get bogged down in contemporary cliche. We have a much richer tradition than that. Aim for the transcendent, emphasize the universal virtues of love and sacrifice and beauty, read the timeless stories (like from the uncomfortable Old Testament as appointed by the uncomfortable lectionary!!), and you will speak a language everyone will understand.
Your friendly parish curmudgeon,
January 23, 2018 @ 3:27 pm
Thanks for the feedback, Brian. You have some really good thoughts and few really good zingers! I appreciate the encouragement to aim for the transcendent. I will.
January 23, 2018 @ 4:07 pm
Maybe this is just me, but I don’t think of this addition as all that different than the fact that music at Resto is generally pretty diverse… we have old hymns, Hillsong, short choruses, long wordy verses, 90s praise, african american spirituals, really quite a lovely gamut. Which I truly love, but I also appreciate that this fact makes some people uncomfortable, since we all tend to (naturally) have a few ‘styles’ or ‘types’ of music we’re drawn too.
So just as it might make one person uncomfortable to sing an old hymn, and another finds it difficult to worship to Matt Redman, I think one of the beautiful things about our music is that it likely stretches EVERYONE outside their comfort zones in one way or another. But it’s loving and kind and gracious to our church family who comes from diverse church (and thereby musical) backgrounds to have diversity in our music. I think having ONE song in Spanish (that is also in English, helpfully, I think) is yet another way to expand our expression of worship. I’ve found it’s made me think a bit more about well-known songs that I might otherwise fall into singing mindlessly.
To share a relevant story that ends in a hopefully helpful point: for a few years I helped plant an English-speaking international church in Romania. The English speakers in this city were from all across the globe- Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, France, Israel, Pakistan, and on and on. While we all shared English as common ground, for many people that was not their first language. But at a minimum, the type of music – and often the language of music – was both the biggest source of discussion (debate?) AND one of the biggest ways we could love and serve each other as we worked out how to “do” church in that situation. We would sing songs in numerous languages, and while it was initially hard, I came to love it, and appreciate the diversity of expression of worship. But more, that it enabled each person at different times to more fully worship. Our team’s mantra came to be “fight for your neighbor’s preferences.” We all (again, naturally) tend to seek out and fight for our own preferences in all kinds of things in church, but how does it turn things upside down if we instead each try to make sure our neighbor is served, getting their preferences, able to worship more comfortably?
I’m not arguing for us to sing in half a dozen languages, but just that I appreciate efforts to take small (or big) steps to fight for each other’s preferences, and stretch ourselves through that service.
Also a side note- I really really love the Kenyan liturgy, it’s been wonderfully stretching and helpful for me.
January 25, 2018 @ 11:28 am
I love the phrase, ‘fight for your neighbor’s preferences’. That is such a good picture of generous service. Thanks!
January 25, 2018 @ 10:26 pm
While often reading the comments in online posts is like looking into the hole of a portapotty, our small group talked about this dialogue and recommended we all read it.
Having read the comments, I am surprised that no one has challenged the anti-immigrant views that are present in some of these posts. What about welcoming the stranger? Given the current plight of DACA recipients, I am saddened by this reading.
However, I am, as always, thankful for our leaders’ thoughtful articulation of their thinking.
January 26, 2018 @ 5:38 am
Thank you, Jessica. I am so grateful for the work Restoration is doing with RILA and for the welcoming spirit that is in our church. I am also aware that the current national conversation about immigration is both painful outside of our church and is represented inside our church. I love your heart and I appreciate your advocacy. I am glad we are a church that welcomes people who have conflicting views about our immigrant neighbors. May we continue to dialogue on this issue with charity- as you so visibly demonstrated.
January 29, 2018 @ 8:28 pm
Hi Jessica — Those comments bothered me too. I am also sad and angry about what’s happening to DACA and TPS recipients, many of whom are Christians, and about the ongoing refugee ban, which has been awful for Christian organizations such as World Relief. Of course, I care about Muslims and other non-Christians as well 🙂 The best thing to do is pray and consider what to do going forward!
January 30, 2018 @ 4:31 pm
Hi Jessica, Cathy, Fr. David,
I find what is happening to immigrant families who are torn apart by unjust policies appalling! But it’s in light of that real suffering that I also know singing a song in Spanish is hardly worth noticing… much less congratulating yourself about. The Church has a great role to play in this and many political debates. But I thought this wasn’t about politics?
Which leads me to another question: I’ve read this whole exchange several times and haven’t seen anything that is “anti-immigrant” (At least I wouldn’t assume that of my brothers and sisters in Christ based on their liturgical preferences – that would be very uncharitable of me). I’ve also not seen any “conflicting views about our immigrant neighbors.” I’ve read conflicting views about liturgy and how to best serve our immigrant neighbors, but nothing conflicting about *them*, i.e. their status as humans or members of Christ’s Church! Could you guys maybe help me out here? I’m just trying to read everyone’s comments charitably and thought I’d ask about yours directly!
If you are right, I guess perhaps it is these commenters – our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – with their slightly different liturgical and political sensibilities who we are suppose to be “courageous” against. Clearly these people, with their preference for common prayer, must be stood up to by casually assuming they are “anti-immigrant” – which is apparently the way to “dialogue on this issue with charity.” Is that it, Fr. David?
Obviously I’m being sarcastic (a rhetorical device favored by Christ himself, so I don’t feel particularly bad about it). But I am left more than a little bewildered. All that has happened is that some fellow congregants have voiced some rather mild objections to a rather innocuous instance of banal virtue signalling. But the comment that casually assumes the objectors are racists gets the commendation of our priest as an example of charitable discourse?
I’m really not trying to make your life difficult, Fr. I understand you can’t please everyone and can’t have every word scrutinized. But you can understand how confusing this looks. In response to Mark, you said this is about transcending politics. But when Jessica explicitly brings up politics, you are grateful. Was Mark’s original comment nearer the mark than we thought?
As I said above, the Church has uncomfortable things to say about many political issues. That includes immigration – where we desperately need a voice for mercy and justice. But, as I also said in an earlier comment, cliche is of no use. In this situation, cliche has had the effect of dividing the congregation and encouraging uncharitable (and frankly tired and asinine) assumptions about those who differ from us politically — and all while doing absolutely nothing for the marginalized.
January 26, 2018 @ 2:49 pm
Friends, I have been observing with ongoing consternation the online conversation among us about the experiment of singing a hymn in Spanish each week. Up until David wrote a week ago, the reason for this trial was obviously confusing, at least to some. Afterward, what people have been feeling has been made clearer in their responses. Likely these are representative of our community as many do not read blogs or get on Facebook. What is perplexing and causes me to write now is the interpretation of some that those who prefer to sing in English are possibly anti-immigrant making those who favor singing in Spanish compassionate to the sojourner. The reverse has also been expressed although more muted. My greatest fear for our church or any church is division. Online conversation, however polite and couched in biblical expression, can still eventually devolve into misunderstanding because we are not face to face. I would like to suggest we are at a point where we pause in implementing this new idea as well as this online discussion and take stock of ourselves as a church. Unless I am missing something theologically, this issue is adiaphora, whether this church sings any hymns in another language or sings all their hymns in English is a secondary doctrine, not central to the gospel and neither is “wrong.” Some may argue that we are more welcoming to the visitor who might speak Spanish more easily while some argue that it might turn away others. Some argue that we will all sing in other tongues in the new heaven and the new earth while others argue that the babble of Babel will be redeemed and one language restored. Language divides; language unites. The reality is that when we come around to the song with Spanish words every week we will more and more be aware of who is doing what and more aware of the discomfort of our neighbor, all that adding confusion and distraction for many whom we love but disagree with. I would strongly recommend that the leadership, Vestry, clergy, and staff please take a step back and rethink how this is impacting our unity in Christ and in who we are and where we are going. These bigger strategic issues have all been raised within this discussion not surprisingly. That and politics of course. Those matters deserve far more prayer and consideration by our leaders and our body. It seems that one size does not fit all 600+ of us and likely does not fit all those who we seek to reach through the gospel who might consider coming among us. Certainly not yet. I know that disunity was never the intent of this experiment as we’ve seen in David’s and Matt’s good explanations, but we must better understand that the context of Washington DC as a place of ministry and mission is perhaps more complex than we know and take that into account as we would in any foreign place. Let’s take a strategic pause and give ourselves time to pray and talk together as one people or in smaller venues.
January 29, 2018 @ 9:16 am
Friends, I have been observing with ongoing consternation the online conversation among us about the experiment of singing a hymn in Spanish each week. Up until David wrote a week ago, the reason for this trial was obviously confusing, at least to some. Afterward, what people have been feeling has been made clearer in their responses. Likely these are representative of our community as many do not read blogs or get on Facebook. What is perplexing and causes me to write now is the interpretation of some that those who prefer to sing in English are anti-immigrant making those who favor singing in Spanish compassionate to the sojourner and vice-versa. My greatest fear for our church or any church is division. Online conversation, however polite and couched in biblical expression, can still eventually devolve into misunderstanding because we are not face to face. I would like to suggest we are at a point where we pause in this new idea as well as this online discussion and take stock of ourselves as a church. Unless I am missing something theologically, this issue is adiaphora, whether this church sings hymns in another language or sings all their hymns in English is a secondary doctrine, not central to the gospel and neither is “wrong.” Some may argue that we are more welcoming to the visitor who might speak Spanish more easily while some argue that it might turn away others. Some argue that we will all sing in other tongues in the new heaven and the new earth while others argue that the babble of Babel will be redeemed and one language restored when the eschaton is realized. Language divides; language unites. The reality is that when we come around to the song with Spanish words every week we will more and more be aware of who is doing what and more aware of the discomfort of our neighbor, all that adding confusion and distraction for many whom we love but disagree with. I would strongly recommend that the leadership, Vestry, clergy, and staff please take a step back and rethink how this is impacting our unity in Christ, who we are, and where we are going. These bigger more strategic issues have all been raised within this discussion–not surprisingly. That and politics. Those matters deserve far more prayer and consideration by our leaders and discussion by our body. This is not all that simple. It seems that one size does not fit all 600+ of us and likely does not fit all those who we seek to reach through the gospel who might consider coming among us. Certainly not yet. I know that disunity was never the intent of this experiment as we’ve seen in David’s and Matt’s good explanations, but we must better understand that the context of Washington DC as a place of ministry and mission is perhaps more complex and take that into account as we would in any foreign place. Let’s pause and give ourselves time to pray and talk together as one people or in smaller venues.
February 4, 2018 @ 3:40 pm
I have a few comments about this ongoing conversation.
First, I do not think the issue is finally about the one Spanish song we’ve sung a handful of times. I think the issue is that, despite our predominantly white, upper-middle class make-up, a) we have really different political and theological beliefs concerning people from other places, and b) these differences concern us. We don’t know how to confront them, or whether we even should. Should I tolerate the views of folks at Restoration (clergy or congregation) when I think they are wrong? Should I just go to another church? What is a reasonable price to pay for unity, after all? I wonder if these are questions we could ask one another.
Second, if you’re like me, your particular beliefs about the issue at hand are not flawless or completely formed. Mine could definitely benefit by challenge and affirmation in the context of a candid, charitable conversation together.
Finally, on that note, I do hope we can talk together as a church, sooner rather than later.
February 9, 2018 @ 5:15 am
Thanks Christian! Great insights. I am looking forward to the conversations we will have in the coming months. Thanks for responding.