What Is Worship White Noise?

(Part 4 in the Worship White Noise blog series)

You’ve probably heard the unmistakable hiss at some point in your life. White noise is a wall of sound produced when all frequencies of the audio spectrum, emitting from any particular device, are simultaneously amplified to the same volume. The result? A generic, non-descript hiss – or white noise.

Music Orders Chaos
Just as frequencies of light combine together to form white light, so too frequencies of sound combine together to form white noise. White noise has its uses, but for the purpose of our metaphor here, it could be called the antithesis to what we recognize as music. Music is different than white noise. Music occurs when frequencies are individually selected, colored with a unique personality, and then shaped by pitch, rhythm, tempo, meter, timbre, texture, dynamics, volume, and instrumentation.

Both noise and music draw on the same frequencies – the difference is order and intentionality. As my good friend, a music educator, puts it: “Noise may be defined as energy unhinged from any reference to rhythm or regularity,” or to look at it another way, as “energy lacking structure” or “chaos applied to force.”

Music brings the energy naturally occurring and orders it, like the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the disordered (chaotic) waters of Genesis. Creative work brings order to chaos.

Melody And Harmony
In music, select frequencies from amidst all the possible noise are lifted to the foreground to act as one, connected voice – we call this voice the melody. Other frequencies recede, step back, and take their place as harmony, groove, and texture. They color and lift our perception of the melody – we call them accompaniment.

You’ve experienced the power of music before as I have. When a melody and its accompaniment are in their proper places, the resulting music literally becomes a surreal “place” to which we go. Music creates an imaginative, magical space that is unique to the song and the listener. Music takes us places in our hearts and minds without physically moving us from one spot to another.

A Sonic Sanctuary
Music can create a sonic sanctuary, remind us of an important story, or heal us emotionally. Music can inform, reform, and transform the listener. Music Makes Sense Of Noise For this reason, humans have made music, and music has made humans, since the beginning of time. Music takes us somewhere that random noise never will. Music tells a story that transcends words; it reaches around the back door of our soul, bypasses the critical faculties of our mind, and transports us.

Listen to a piece of your favorite music later today. Ask yourself, “Where is this music taking me?” If you need a suggestion, listen to the Vitamin String Quartet’s version of U2’s New Year’s Day. If you’re not stirred in your longing for a world that glistens like Eden, by some form of music that you love, you may need to get your pulse checked. Like the old, black man with Alzheimer’s who would significantly regain his mental capacities after just one hour of therapy listening to his favorite Jazz artists – music centers us.

Distracted By The Noise
That’s it – noise distracts us; music centers us. What Then Is “Worship White Noise?” What does all this talk of white noise and music have to do with the modern worship experience? Let’s say, for a moment, that words are like frequencies. We can make noise with words – chatter with them, overuse them, misunderstand them, post them with profundity on Facebook, and even make weapons with them. Words are powerful. Words matter. Words are dense with meaning and shape how you and I understand and interpret life.

If we can make “noise” with words, we can also make “music” with words. Words can express important ideas, inspire us, shape national sentiments, and even alter the course of history. Perhaps this is why Jesus is revealed to us, in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, as “The Word, made flesh” (John 1:14). The Word, and the right words, can give us context and meaning that wrap us right up into the middle of the Story of God.

When carefully and intentionally fused together, words – adjectives, verbs and nouns ¬– can create melodies and harmonies that move us. But, if we’re not careful with precious words, words like “worship,” their meaning can be both diluted and even altered over time. To use our music metaphor, the melody of a word’s meaning can be sloppily trumped by other words that were designed to be harmony and accompaniment.
Here is the dangerous thought.

Finding The Melody Of Worship Once Again
Words like worship can lose their meaning; worse yet, they can begin to mean something different, something less and limited – something even destructive to their original meaning.
Worship white noise – amplifying all our popular ideas about worship to the same volume – has eroded worship’s most profound meaning for all of us.

We must find the melody, the music, again.

(Click the “Follow” Button Below To Follow The Worship White Noise Series; post excerpted from Worship White Noise: Tuning In The 7 Worship Culture Shapers In The Chaos Of The Modern Worship Experience)