On Saturday I went to see The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony at the Melbourne Town Hall. I am not a regular attendee for classical music and was rather daunted by the weight of history and culture that accompanies going to the orchestra. So, I made sure I did not walk in unprepared. Before the day I listened to the entire symphony on youtube and did the research on the history of Shostakovich's writing of his fifth symphony. The history tells us Shostakovich's Fifth is a reaction to the Stalinist regime and the loss of friends to the purges that happened around him. The Communist party wanted a symphony that fitted their heroic leanings and all through the symphony is this darkness that looms in the background along with a bombastic and cynical rejoicing enforced by a military beat from a snare drum.
What I began doing was searching the symphony for the emotions and themes within the four movements and while I did this I could see a story emerge. My excuse for this is that my experience of classical music comes from movies and animation. As I hear classical music I expect the themes to tell a story. When that does not happen I find myself lost and unable to appreciate the music as it has nothing for me to grasp onto.
This inability to grasp the music happened earlier when a new piece The Lost Art of Letter Writing by Dean Brett was played. It was technically brilliant but it was very difficult for me as a novice to comprehend and receive it, let alone enjoy it. Compared to Shostakovich's Fifth this new piece was as if I was hearing another language that was communicated with sounds that I had heard before but put together in an unrecognisable form. Surely this is how people approach the unfamiliar searching for something that they are used to hearing.
A good example was put on youtube recently of Grandpa Al listening to dubstep for the first time. Al is clearly a big Beatles fan as the wall behind him is proudly arrayed with Beatles paraphernalia. Have a look and see how Al searches for something that he can understand and does find it despite his early dismissal.
Al finds the beat and then he can deal with the unfamiliar because he has something that he knows. Grandma however cannot get over the alien nature of the sounds and cannot even accept the beat that her husband tries to get her to dance to. Al's situation was similar situation I had with the new piece performed by the MSO. It wasn't until the fourth movement of the new piece which used the familiar large sound that an orchestra has at its disposal that I was able to hear something familiar.
Of course being thischristianguy I feel the need to use what I just wrote as a mirror on how we present the gospel. Are we making it easy for people to grasp the gospel are we making it possible for many to come and find the familiar in the gospel that resonates within them? Can we do this in a way that presents the gospel without the Christian-ese and other baggage that weighs down how we traditionally communicate message. The information is out there and people can read the basics much like how I did, they can also take friends they trust to help them understand what is going on. But if there is nothing that people can find familiar then the words just mean nothing.
What this means for those who are in church like Grandpa Al is that there will be the familiar beat of Jesus as the only way to God, salvation, grace and forgiveness that we can dance too but the sounds and sights are going to very different at times. The technique will change but it will still be based on the same foundation of Christ the Lord of the Dance who can dance the waltz, shake a tail feather, do the twist, the macarena, rock out, shake his groove thing and jump around. To paraphrase The Rolling Stones It's only Jesus Christ but we might not like it, to begin with.