(This poem is based off of a story that Randy Harris told in his Introduction to the New Testament class)
It was hidden in some woods on a back road off the highway
That I stumbled across while I was on my way
Back from visiting a friend on the other side of the state
And it was Sunday morning, so I decided to take
A chance on this place
Where the sign read: “Church on Harmony Mountain”
And given the location, I knew they believed in miracles
Cuz it was a miracle anyone found them.
But I parked the car and, walked inside and was astounded
At the worship service taking place, the spirit flowing like a fountain.
But the problem is that people are the vessels and people aren’t perfect
As was made clear by this church’s method of worship.
The pews were old and frankly dangerous, crafted from splintered wood
And the praise team only had one bass… And she wasn’t all that good.
The song leader’s hand kept tempo, or at least he thought so
Everyone sorta went their own pace, so it was difficult to follow.
And hands were stretched up to heaven
Fingers stretchin’ to beckon
The spirit to move them
And get their feet steppin’.
And their voices were crashing, clashing, and cracking
But with the smiles on their faces, I don’t think they realized it was happening.
Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord God Almighty
But coming from their lips, that sound was so frightening.
Their hearts were in the right place, that much I could see
But I guess no one taught them how to worship in the assembly
How to follow a pace and produce a decent harmony
And that if you feel particularly moved, you could lift your hands to a cool 90 degrees
But you’re not to exceed.
And that’s how you succeed
In getting God to hear your song
But those Harmony Mountain people got it all wrong.
So I was glad for the benediction and the dismissal
And when I got home I told my friends of that dismal
Encounter I had on supposed “Harmony Mountain”
But that next Sunday at church came something I hadn’t counted on.
As worship was led,
I got stuck in my head
That crashing, clashing, cracking rendition
Of the songs and I listened
And watched those around me as I filled up with dread.
Because their faces were blank and staring straight, vacant
But their words offered such stirring praises and phrases
That now sounded like babel, and on my lips the words tasted
like poison, putrid and false like lukewarm obligation.
And I saw someone with their hands raised to that rigid right angle
And roll their eyes, let out a sigh, as they praised God and His angels
And that almighty power I claimed to believe in
But singing from my heart, I wondered who I was deceivin’.
I’d made worship a matter of practice,
But if that’s all it is…
Well I guess that’s it.
And that’s sick.
So the next week I wanted
To see what had haunted
Me when I came down from that Harmony Mountain
Where the singing was messy and the actions were weird
But where I felt fully convicted there was some other message that I needed to hear.
So I was greeted and welcomed as I walked through the door
And the song leader asked us to stand and sing to the Lord.
And as the church began to sing, nothing had changed
The splintered seats, the clamorous songs, it all seemed the same.
And as I watched in frustration, I made a chance gaze
At the person down the row and I saw their face:
Graced with a smile on those exalting lips
And I won’t say I saw their soul, but I perhaps got a glimpse
Of what difference there was in what these people did:
They were letting their heartsongs overflow, and they were blowing off the lids!
And that’s when those tones all shifted
And suddenly it was like their voices were gifted
But I knew it was because our song was being lifted
Up with those of 10,000 angels to our king who was listenin’.
Cuz it wasn’t about singing really good
Or doing all of this because we know we should.
Because that Sunday morning tradition
Was no longer the mission
For a people who knew what it was really about:
Singing praise to the God who’s already won the battle
Who looks like ruby and jasper and sits on a throne of victory
Who brought his children to him with his own son as an in-between.
Whose lampstands spilled fire onto the earth to ignite the world
With a holy blaze that caused Satan’s hand to uncurl
From the throat of his people to whom he gave his word…
All this was the true song that I now heard.
And for so long that message had gone unseen
Too focused on the offering instead of the King.
So with those 10,000 angels and His kingdom around me
With a cracking, humbled voice, I cried out to sing.
And again I listened as we belted out the words
But instead of the crashing, clashing, and cracking
This is what I heard:
Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is and is to come.
With all creation I sing
Praise to the King of Kings.
You are my everything
And I will adore you.
(And here’s a video of me performing this poem for my church family at North Davis.)