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Personally, I prefer a sloppy wet kiss to an unforeseen one.

I could just let that stand as my entire blog post, and I’d probably field a slew of comments… albeit far ranging in subject matter and context.

But if you have lead worship in a church with any contemporary leanings in the last six months, I’d bet you a ham sandwich that you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.  I am referring, of course, to that great declaration of the love of God in the epic ballad “How He Loves,” by John Mark McMillan (or “JMM” as the church creative community calls him these days.)

I knew this song was a big deal.  I knew it the first time I heard it.  And then a couple weeks ago uber-blogger Carlos Whittaker posted a question on his blog (ragamuffinsoul.com) about what songs really seem to be powerfully impacting local churches across the country right now.  Hundreds of worship leaders, pastors, and lay people commented and left their lists of what God seems to be blessing and using right now to speak to his church.  At the top of the list?  Yep.  “How He Loves.”

The crux of the issue of discussion comes in verse three.  Listen to these two brief examples, first in the original format, the way John wrote and recorded it, and then the updated version, as recorded by David Crowder:

[audio:http://www.jskogerboe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/howheloves_2kisses.mp3|titles=howheloves_2kisses]

     >> Original (via JMM):  Heaven meets earth like a SLOPPY WET kiss

     >> Updated (via Crowder):  Heaven meets earth like an UNFORESEEN kiss

If you’re a worship leader, you have most likely already come down on one side or the other of this debate.  It has been interesting to watch.  Now the debate rolls on, as various congregations and artists consider the ramifications of rewriting someone else’s poetry to edit out the distracting (or offensive) phrases.  How does John Mark McMillan feel about all of the hubbub?  You can read his excellent response here.  In a nut shell, he has no problem with David Crowder recording his song with the new text… on the other hand, he’s asking why the Church can’t handle singing about God stuff using the phrase “sloppy wet kiss.”  “Are we in Kindergarten?” he asks.

And to be clear, John wasn’t EVER intending to say that somehow God interacts with us, His children, through a “sloppy wet kiss.”  The lyrics are “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  It is the messy, beautiful mingling of the divine and the natural realm through Jesus’ condescension – most specifically at the cross – that John is marvelling at here.  “But,” he says, “Heaven meets earth like a ‘gory mess’ didn’t have the same ring to it.”

Right.  Here’s the thing…

When it comes to the corporate worship setting, we as worship leaders are called to model authentic worship and lead in such a way that people can focus on and respond to God in an intimate way.  Free of distractions.

And THAT is the issue for me.  Like I said at the top of the post, I prefer sloppy wet kisses to unforeseen kisses.  The artist in me revels in the beauty of that poetic idea.  Just a few well chosen words convey so much depth and emotion.  So if I am singing this in my car, or in the shower, or in my prayer closet… I’m all about those sloppy wet kisses.

But when I lead this song at Living Hope Church, I know… because they have told me so… that a number of people in our congregation just get weebed out singing that phrase.  It’s not that we’re not mature enough somehow to sing “sloppy wet kisses” without blushing.  It’s simply that the phrase is awkward.  It is arresting, because it is so vivid a metaphor.  And the fact that it is arresting makes the phrase both powerful (in an artistic sense) and ineffective (in our church) as a worship tool.  So what could be a POWERFUL reminder and declaration of God’s love for us runs the danger of becoming…  that “sloppy wet kiss” song.

One little change of wording, and the whole song works – powerfully – free of distraction, and full passion.

Yep, I’ve done this song both ways.  On one occasion, when I failed to communicate clearly with our vocalists on the Worship Team, we did it both ways at the same time.  I don’t recommend that. 

But from this point on, I’ve choose to lead with “unforeseen kiss.”  At the end of the day, it is NOT about my preference.  It is NOT about singing the better poetry.  In the end, when I lead worship I want to help our people throw themselves deeper into their love response to God – and that means removing distractions as we lead them.  That means that our purpose trumps our preferences every time.

How about your church?  Are you all down with your bad selves and rockin’ that sloppy wet kiss?  Or are you surrendering to the less provocative unforeseen kiss?  And more to the point… why?

    

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“the great sloppy wet kiss debate :: preference, poets, and purpose” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.