i’m Distracted by me

It has somehow become trendy to do away with the capital “I” for the first person pronoun in praise and worship songs, especially if the lyrics are projected on a screen. The goal, I suppose, is to reflect (or promote) personal humility. Apparently if we use a lowercase “i” we will be (or appear to be) more humble. But for me this practice produces the opposite effect. When projected song lyrics use a lowercase “i” my attention is actually drawn to the pronoun rather than turned away from it. It distracts me, and the thing that attracts my thoughts is the very thing the lowercase “i” is supposed to be deflecting!

ironic.

Look, nobody sees a capital “I” and thinks, “How self-centered! That person sure must think highly about himself to be capitalizing the first person singular pronoun!” No, the capitalization of “I” is simply a convention of the English language. To put things in perspective, the German language actually capitalizes all nouns in a sentence, but Germans aren’t thereby saying every person, place, thing, or idea deserves to be worshipped or honored.

I struggle to understand the motive behind using a lowercase “i,” wondering if it may, in fact, actually promote a prideful humility—“Look at how humble i am!” or “You people who use a capital ‘I’ sure are egocentric (unlike us, who use a lowercase ‘i’)!” On the other hand, a desire to be less self-absorbed and me-focused is a noble and needed corrective in contemporary worship. But songwriters and worship leaders who want to pursue this goal can do so in far more effective ways. Let me suggest two.

First, we could use less I and me and more Him and He. How about more song lyrics that just don’t mention “I” or “me” all that often? Instead, let’s tell the story about the Triune God, singing praises to the Father, confessing faith in Jesus Christ, and proclaiming the work of the Spirit. Keeping the focus on Him in our lyrics will remove the necessity to constantly sing about how I feel about God, what I gain from salvation, how I can personally benefit from my relationship with God. Songs that obsess with a lowercase “i” could avoid the problem by ejecting the pronoun entirely.

Second, we could use less I and Me and more us and we. Far too many of our contemporary worship songs are individualistic, emphasizing personal faith, personal problems, personal salvation, personal growth, personal eschatology. How difficult would it be to change some of the lyrics of these songs to a plural pronoun? Often the lyrics of worship songs communicate to the worshippers that they are simply a large mob of individuals engaged in private, personal communion with God. Let’s leave individual worship at home in our prayer closets and come to church to worship in community.

I must clarify, though, that nothing in the Bible suggests that using “I” and “we” in corporate worship is wrong. Many psalms are written in the first person singular. Many of our great hymns and worship choruses have endured as individual poems of devotion. The Christian faith clearly involves both individual and corporate aspects of prayer, study, and worship. To emphasize one over the other would create an unbiblical and unhealthy imbalance. But in a culture like ours, driven by thoroughgoing metheism, it might not hurt to rethink how and what we sing.

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