Coffee-Stained Hymnals

[Estimated reading time: 3m11s]

I played music in worship bands for 9 years.

The backlash started in 2014. My fingers had callouses from playing the same church songs over and over. But it’s what happened after a trip to Africa that had my heart more calloused than my fingers.

The services and times spent playing music in Burkina Faso were unbelievable. Even a church kid who’d supposedly seen everything by then  was speechless at what happened when people would gather to just…sing.

They couldn’t understand the lyrics I’d written and I wasn’t gifted enough to keep up with their beautiful songs, but it happened anyway.

Tears, like, genuine tears. All over every face in every room. The experiences were so profoundly personal, I’d refuse to open my eyes while playing/singing because I didn’t want to risk anyone feeling seen by anybody other than God.

Back in the US, fresh off what’d happened across the ocean, I was invited to lead worship in a service. The particular congregation will remain vague on purpose.

Before I could even reach the choruses of the ever-familiar Australian bangers, it happened again. My eyes welled-up again. I could barely sing again. I found myself deeply moved again;

until I opened my eyes and…


Phones out. Heads down. Nothing. The few who were paying attention would look away as my eyes neared them. Disgusted. Bored. Ready to leave.

Okay, I thought, I’m done.

I swore off worship music. I stopped doing Sunday mornings for 2 years. I’d try to go, but would sit in parking lots in tears. It felt like revisiting the alley where I’d been mugged and robbed by someone I was about to propose to.

I did what every millennial does upon getting hurt. I legitimized and escaped to “big, deep ideas.”

I took the philosophical approach well-worn by the feet of cynics. Grabbing coffee with friends, I’d utilize the right metaphors to make them feel how brilliant I was to be done with worship music and church culture.

“But Arvin, do you still want to preach?”

“I mean, yeah, sure.”

Years later, when all my music books were recycled as coasters for the coffee cups I’d drink from as I expounded on how right I was to bail on Christendom™, opportunities to preach in a few different cities opened up around the world.

It was in my preparation for these conferences and Sunday mornings that I learned what I wrote this blog to tell you.

I returned to worship music when I discovered disliking worship music was disliking the label on a bottle of water.

Who cares what the label says, you need this stuff.

I can now tell you from experience: I go back/forth on liking the stuff, but I need it. I know I need it.

Whether it’s fog machines, lights, predictable refrains, and decked-out worship leader outfits or just a group of tone-deaf kids playing guitars, I need this stuff.

I don’t care about the packaging anymore.

You don’t know how badly you need to worship God until you’re in your room minutes before preaching for the 6th time this week with a massive headache, jet-lag and insomnia and consecutive sleepless nights, plus several vague memories of having fainted from exhaustion/dehydration in the middle of preaching in yesterday’s 3rd service.

When I found myself battling for what I’ve wanted to do with my life, worshipping God with music I’d often mocked wasn’t even a question.

I had to. I needed it.

I cracked open my coffee-stained hymnals and began to sing the songs I’d written years prior before I’d been hurt. The healing felt good enough to make me realize:

Oh, no wonder I was wounded in this area. The enemy wants to keep me away from how wonderful and necessary this is.

Cynicism is a luxury reserved for those who aren’t fighting a battle.

You wanna go on enjoying your first-world experience texting on your $1K smartphone to setup hangouts where you drink $6 cups of coffee and mock the men and women who are fighting spiritual battles with exhausted hearts, lifting tired hands and crying salty tears while holding their tongues after having seen some crazy-offensive and faith-shaking obscenities go down behind the scenes of ministries and the Christian faith, yet they worship out of genuine surrender for the God who is their only hope? Be my guest.

Enjoy that latte and philosophize your woundedness until you think you’ve covered it up in enough literature. We won’t be looking at you; our eyes will be closed.

The rest of us need to worship God.

The rest of us have work to do.

How Truth Can Lie