Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
I grew up in a small Presbyterian church in Charlotte, NC. The youth choir was mandatory for middle and high school youth before dinner. Contrary to what recent research has revealed - that almost everyone can be taught to sing well and that the greatest barrier to this is not skill or anatomy, but being told at a young age you cannot sing - most of us young boys were told we sounded awful. Not by the leader, but by his followers - as so often is the case. Thus, it was a wretched experience, most weeks, to come and be mocked by high school girls as my voice changed from alto to tenor to bass in my middle school years. As if that weren't bad enough, we were called Joyful Noise.
Our phenomenal choir director was at least sensitive to our plight, having been a middle school boy at some point, I imagined. He filled our hour of torture with gifted instruction and humor. He silenced most of the snickering. And he never made us sing solos. He taught us music, and even a love for the music, if not a total assurance we young boys could make it. And he was probably my first theology teacher. He assured us repeatedly that a joyful noise was not the same as a perfect one and God desires joy. Everyone, he told us, deserved to be there and contribute.
That choir taught me some important lessons. I learned how to sing. I learned that people other than the leader could be influential...for good or bad. I learned that a leader, like Christ in the Church, can espouse inclusion and the giftedness of everyone, and emphasize the importance of joy over perfection and that their followers can drown that message out with derision and scorn. It has been important to me in every group I've joined or led to see that a message of that hopeful inclusion and appreciation and joy is central and practiced. I've seen that in the guitar group Mark Fallis formed and the people who have fostered that joy. And I saw it this week among the youth who gathered to play stringed instruments this Sunday night. I encourage you to make each group you join one that includes all who come and affirms their gifts. And if you want to make a joyful noise, we have places for you to do that at JCPC.