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Lessons from Raffi

It occurred to me the other day that lining up my rather small CD collection in order of purchase date could provide an interesting study about my life. There is the set of Billy Joel CDs purchased after I completed a study of his music for a college music class and found an affinity for the song “Pressure.” There is music from the years I lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba—music from the great local Christian songwriter Steve Bell, from my intrigue with the Vineyard movement and the local Vineyard church led by David Ruis, and the influence of the First Nations people exemplified in the music of Susan Aglukark. There is the CD Tears from Heaven—a compilation of classical music that I received after my mother’s death. There are the choral music years. And at the very end of this chronological collection is Raffi.

Raffi is a singer and songwriter of children’s music who has entertained and delighted children since the 1970s. I purchased a three-CD collection of Raffi music for my one-year-old daughter who loves all things musical. So I am now spending a fair amount of time listening to Raffi and enjoying the way he weaves nonsense songs with life lessons—lessons that even relate to the leading of worship.

“It’s mine but you can have some”*

I must admit that sharing is not a lesson my daughter has mastered. When we have friends over, she literally puts herself between a toy and her friend and takes over, regardless of what toy it happens to be. As a parent I do my best to redirect her to another toy and explain that it is OK for her friend to play with the toy in hopes that she will someday learn that “it’s mine but you can have some.”

In this issue of RW we spend a fair amount of time talking about Vertical Habits (see Betty Grit’s article on page 4 and the Series for the Season on page 8). This concept is built on the idea that just as children do not naturally share or say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry,” but need to be taught to develop these basic relational habits, so it is with the habits we need to have a healthy spiritual relationship with God. How do we say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” in worship? How do we teach congregants to practice these habits in and outside of worship so that they become a natural part of their relationship with God?

It used to be that the majority of North American Christians grew up in Christian families whose lives revolved around the church—going to church once or twice on Sunday and a prayer meeting on Wednesday night, Sunday school, catechism classes, Bible studies, potlucks. People learned some of these relational habits simply by being in the Christian culture. But that is no longer the case. We need to find new ways of teaching those basic practices both to new Christians and to those who have been Christians all their lives but don’t necessarily know the reason and purpose behind many of their habits.

“You don’t need a radio to sing a song”**

Raffi’s point is not that you can also sing a song with a CD, your MP3 player, or the karaoke machine, but rather that you can sing a song by yourself—without any accompaniment. This is a lesson adults can learn from children. Children love to sing. They’re not afraid to sing and even make up their own songs wherever they happen to be. They have no problem taking their songs from the bathtub’s stage to the limelight of the grocery cart. Much to the chagrin of some parents they also have very little regard to volume or how much attention they are drawing.

But at some point in our lives we lose that sense of abandon and we find few places to exercise our vocal cords, so we stop singing altogether. Martin Tel in his article “They Just Don’t Sing Like They Used To” (p. 30) examines a few reasons why we might not be singing in church, while Calvin Seerveld (p. 33) encourages us to renew the practice of singing in various settings. We’re happy to present his “Morning Weather” hymn, set to music by Carson Cooman, in this issue. And I am sure many of us will resonate with James Schaap’s story about the power of music (p. 28).

As worship leaders and pastors I hope we can help our congregants recapture the joy of singing they had as children by providing ample opportunities for all of us to join together in songs—songs that teach and songs that pray, songs of lament and songs of praise, songs about the beauty of the morning and the wonder of chemistry. We need them all.

*    “It’s mine but you can have some” is taken from “The Sharing Song,” © 1976 Homeland Published/SOCAN, as found on the 1976 recording Singable Songs for the Very Young.

**    “You don’t need a radio to sing a song” is taken from the song “Oh Me, Oh My,” © 1977 Homeland Publishing/SOCAN, as found on the 1977 recording More Singable Songs. Both of these recordings were re-released in 1996 by Troubadour Records Ltd.