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Monday, March 14, 2011

Exploring the Practice of Bible -Thumping: Elevating the Percussive Discourse.

 A few days ago I caught a glimpse of an interview with Kid Rock talking about not wanting Bible-thumpers running the government, and I began to wonder about the practice of Bible-thumping itself. I'd never given it a thought before. I'd always assumed a thump was just a heavy, dull sound, leading me to wonder about the actual methodology of Bible-thumping. How's it done? And why would the Kid not want them in the government? The thumping sound could be annoying, I guess, if it's incessant and loud, but was Bible-thumping so?

As a drummer, I'm always interested in the percussive possibilities of various sound sources and have used all manner of "found-objects" over the year to create interesting, nuanced sounds for improvisation when afforded the chance, but I'd never included the Bible as having any real potential in that regard. I've been a Christian a long time and have never seen anyone actually play the Bible. I've read and studied the Bible. I've discussed it. I heard it taught and preached, and have done so myself, but I've never heard the Scriptures actually thumped, with or without skill. I've read all sorts of books on Church history, Christian theology, apologetics, even Christian art and aesthetics with nary a mention of thumping. Why the silence in the Church and the annoyance in the overall culture?

What's weird is non-Christians seem to know about it, and don't like it. How are they privy to Bible-thumping, whereas I being a Christian of 39 years cannot point to one experience of the glories of the WORD-thump. I would think it'd be the most sacred of the percussive arts, including Psalm 150's call to praise God with the tambourine and clashing of cymbals (my favorite). While I get that zero non-Christian bands use a Bible-thumper, but what's weirder still, neither do Christian bands.What's going on here? Maybe playing the Bible requires a level of mastery few are able to achieve. Perhaps it's a theological issue, i.e., the Scriptures should be studied and preached, yes, but not played - especially when they're being preached. I agree with that.

Not to be deterred by my questions, and being the intrepid seeker I am, I decided yesterday to try Bible-thumping after church - didn't want to draw attention! I picked up my trusty bonded-leather NIV Study Bible, put it on my lap, and began to explore the idiophonic landscape. I noticed a few things right away:
  • Playing with the full-hand extended produces a fat thump bringing out the lower tones of the leather tome especially at the fleshy "heel" similar to a small bass drum. Sweet!
  • Playing with the tips of the fingers yields a warm, mid-sized tom sound, adding a little more definition and variety to the thumping milieu. Also, single stroke rolls make more sense with this technique.
  • Playing on the spine with the thumbs or fingers yields a higher pitch a little like a snare drum, especially if you snap your wrists to give the thumbs some velocity.
  • Bible-thumping with a bonded leather instrument yields little resonance, a drawback in my mind. I can see that it could be a special effects percussion instrument rather than the main groove-keeper. It would also need to be miked well, unless in an all-acoustic setting.
I also tried my hard-bound and thick ESV Study Bible to hear the differences of a hardcover playing surface. I took off the dust jacket because it produced an annoying and thin paper rattle. I immediately did not like what I heard. The hard cover has a more brittle sound emphasizing the attack. There is no resonance or warmth whatsoever. I doubt devotees of the thumping arts would use these inferior instruments accept for special effect, although I can't imagine what musical setting would benefit.

In the final analysis, I don't really get why non-Christians always speak of Bible-thumpers in the pejorative. My experience with the leather NIV produced a warm, low-volume, unobtrusive sound suitable for playing around the Christian campfire or in small groups. It's much less dominating than a djembe or tambourine. And, we're literally bringing the Word into worship in a fresh, new and exciting way by using it!

So I have a dream that soon legions of Bible-thumpers will join worship teams all over this great land. They will humbly take their places in youth group sing-a-longs and on retreats. Bible-thumpers will add their voice to small group worship and Women's Conferences. Master Bible-Thumpers who have serving hearts and creative fire will join the songs of joy and freedom in churches big and small.

Let's bring home Bible-thumping and elevate the percussive discourse! Selah!!!
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