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Opinion: Gospel music is a ‘praise weapon’ for otherworldly Christian worship

(Alicia Caldera/Daily Bruin)

By Janice Lee

May 24, 2024 12:04 a.m.

While the sound of gospel music has evolved, its spirit of heartfelt worship remains encapsulated within contemporary Christian music today.

Many people may not know what to expect when they hear the word “worship.” While it is commonly associated with singing and praying, worship is far more than the songs we sing or words we recite.

Diane White-Clayton, the director of the African American Music Ensemble at UCLA, said gospel music is a Christian art form that was created by African Americans within the Black church.

Gospel music’s origin was not bright given its connection to the history of the enslavement of Black people in this nation, but it has inspired many of the popular American music genres we know today including rap, jazz, rock and roll, country, R&B, hip-hop and more. There was a transformation of gospel from its roots in pain and suffering to its flowering as an inspiration and influence for musical expression, according to White-Clayton.

“It’s our praise weapon. It’s the gasoline in an engine that has sustained my people for centuries,” White-Clayton said.

In a 2014 report, the UCLA Student Affairs Information and Research Center found that nearly one-third of the student population identified as Christian. Undeniably, worship music is prevalent in the lives of many Christian Bruins who praise God through it.

Worship may look different for all Christians, but the reason we worship is ultimately rooted in the gospel.

For me, I worship to glorify God and sing of His goodness. My identity is in Christ, and I hope to praise him all the days of my life. Worship is a way for me to do exactly that. By singing these praises, I am joining with the angels and catching a glimpse of heaven on Earth.

All this may sound outlandish, and that is because it is.

Christians’ worship practices are out of this world – or more accurately – beyond this world. That is why it is so special. By engaging in worship, we transcend the physicality of sound waves and vibrations, amplifying a song that resounds from the deepest parts of our souls.

And it is not for ourselves. Our songs all look to one entity, Jesus, and it has been this way for thousands of years.

Megan Monroe, a second-year business economics student and worship leader for the Cru campus ministry, began her musical journey at 2 years old and has fostered her love for music through her experience in her church choir.

“Being a worship leader is creating an environment that is welcoming for everybody to turn to God and focus on him,” Monroe said. “I have been gifted with the ability to be musical, and I wanted to use that gift to glorify God.”

Monroe added that she loves worshiping on Sundays with her church community as the Holy Spirit guides her.

Worship music is not limited to the confines of a church building.

For third-year biology student Joseph Truong, worship is done through an a cappella organization on campus, Road to Damascus. He said that the a cappella group dedicates many hours to its craft, as they sing for a purpose higher than competition or performance – the glory of God.

“I think we have even more of a need to excel in our music because it’s not for people or to compete with others, but it’s ultimately for God,” Truong said.

When I think about my own faith and why I worship God, it aligns with the sentiments of my fellow Bruins.

Truong added that he becomes especially aware of the fact that he is a sinner when he ponders on the goodness of God. And I claim this identity as a sinner as well.

The gospel reveals the reality that I was stuck in my sin as a human, and sin cannot coexist with the perfect God. But because He loves me, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for my sins so that I could be with Him in heaven for all of eternity.

“It’s like no other religion. You don’t earn it,” White-Clayton said.

What sets Christianity apart from other religions is this truth. I don’t deserve it, and I cannot earn it, yet God in His goodness has reconciled me to Him. And as God’s beloved, I am called to praise and glorify His name. I do this because He loves me, and because I love Him.

Worship does not solely point to music, and praise can take numerous forms. Other religions often take part in their worship through daily prayers, observing the sabbath or making pilgrimages.

Just as worship music resonates deeply within me and other Christian Bruins, the diverse practices of faiths across the globe hold profound significance for their followers, connecting them with the divine and enriching their spiritual lives in manners that are sacredly cherished.

The Good News is why I praise. God’s love and grace for me is what makes my heart sing.

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Janice Lee
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