Hey! Lay off Chris Tomlin: A Response

Jonathan Aigner, a UMC music director and worship blogger, took on a reader recently. Quoting his reader, the anonymous "Glenn", Aigner fires back on Glenn's accusation that Aigner often unfairly takes shots at Chris Tomlin, one of America's modern leaders of music in worship.

Aigner often has a lot of smart things to say, particularly about theology in worship. That's convenient because that's literally the URL of his site.

Though I respect much of Aigner's work, I feel as if this time Aigner missed the mark. In what I can only imagine is a defensive work so as to continue his personal vendetta against Tomlin, Aigner inaccurately describes Tomlin's music, blindly points out the speck in Tomlin's eye, and in the process secures his readership in their own personal dislike of the modern worship scene.

Aigner organizes his thoughts by way of several key aspects of Tomlin's music. I'll do the same here.

Tomlin's Music Isn't For Congregational Singing

 I've many times over been led in singing by Chris Tomlin and those he's raised up as new leaders and songwriters. I also consider myself to be a student of the worship artists who are writing new music for the church. I, as a seminary graduate and music leader myself, think often about what I call the "sing-ability" of the music we lead with.

I'd argue that Tomlin's music is often melodically and rhythmically simpler than almost every other mainstream worship writer. My argument might even consider the fact that his music has caught on more than others' precisely because of this.

Aigner doesn't use this argument, though. His assertion centers on the fact that Tomlin's Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) hits a "high G" in its refrain. That's factually inaccurate. Tomlin's refrain, one he tagged onto the beloved hymn, makes use of a high F, a whole step down from the G to which Aigner is referring. Most basses are going to drop the melody down an octave anyway. Most altos are going to sing it in octaval unison with the tenors (Tomlin, for instance) and the sopranos will sing it just as normal. A G above middle C is unattainable for most baritones, relatively high for most tenors and sopranos, and right in line with with altos. An F (the actual pitch Tomlin sings) is a more agreeable pitch simply because it finds itself below most sopranos' and tenors' passaggios, reachable for baritones, and again in line with an alto melody. I'd criticize Tomlin for writing a G too.  But he didn't write a G. He wrote an F.

Aigner also references the problem of the "solo" worship leader. He remarks that Tomlin's vocal stylings do not allow for congregational singing, instead presenting the congregation with the opportunity to merely sing along. It's true that our modern worship culture doesn't see anything wrong with worshipful singing being described as singing along, but to attribute this solely to Tomlin is unfair. To critique this on the basis of Tomlin's musicality alone is worse yet.

Because He Writes Poor Texts

Here, Aigner tackles Tomlin's poetic skills. The lines he chooses to prove his point are these:

  1. And like a flood His mercy rains
  2. He wraps himself in Light, and darkness tries to hide…
  3. And if our God is for us, then what could stand against…
  4. I will rise on eagles’ wings / Before my God fall on my knees…

My commentary on each: 

  1. Tomlin's (worth noting that Louie Giglio is also given songwriting attribution here)  obvious intention here is to metaphorically draw the connection between never-ending rain and God's never-ending mercy. Aigner suggests this is a weak metaphor but I've never heard of anyone using a water metaphor for God's mercy before.  I, too, wish Tomlin hadn't used a destructive force of water to describe God's mercy.
  2. Criticize the guy on weak and strange metaphors, sure, but criticize him for quoting the psalmist?  No. This isn't a fair critique at all. Here's a concession critics should make: songwriters are allowed to quote scripture and not be criticized for poor poetic skills.
  3. See above. I've heard the argument before that this line does not properly assign an object to the preposition whereas Paul does in his Romans text.  That might be a fair assumption but, again, Tomlin wouldn't be the first hymn writer to stretch the English language to fit a rhyme scheme or rhythmic structure. 
  4. I can only imagine Aigner's frustration with this line is its imperfect rhyme structure. Ok, sure. Or maybe it's the irony of "rising" by "falling on my knees". At the skin level, the latter critique seems humorous. I think there's something beautiful, though, about drawing the connection between humility before God and rising as Christ was risen. 

Because He Is A Worship Superstar

I'm with the high and mighty idea that those who write music for the church ought to do so for the good of the church and the church alone. Their work is kingdom building work and ought to be seen as such.

But this celebrity-status isn't a new phenomenon. Do you think John Wesley wasn't a big deal? He famously learned to preach to the multitudes of people gathered from George Whitefield. American churches vowed to follow his every instructions(sort of). Isaac Watts trained pastor after pastor at his large church in London. Tomlin may be an overpaid worship superstar but he's certainly not the first and certainly won't be the last Christian celebrity.

And whose fault is it really that Tomlin's presence has the gravitas it does? Tomlin's? Or is he simply trying to make the best music he can for a modern generation? Is it the nature of us, the people, that want to celebritize everything we come into contact with?  Likely.

And before you go on pointing to the "showy" nature of modern worship music as the reason for this, I'd like to point to this, a church organist competition (utilizing the playing of hymns) with a cash prize. So maybe, just maybe, let's step off that high horse for just a second. After all, a quick Google search of Jonathan Aigner's name returns a few professionally-shot-in-a-church promotional head shots. Speck, meet log.

 

Aigner thinks it right and proper to criticize the work of the church so as to make it better. I'm with him. But these types of critiques of the modern worship world cannot be generalized, must be factually accurate, and ought to be approached with humility. It's only in that moment that we'll actually make any progress as a church and enable ourselves to speak to generations to come. 

 

-B

God's Not Dead

Sometime soon a new movie will release. It's named after a song that originally held a different title and features a band that only licensed the song; they didn't write it.

The movie "God's Not Dead" is named after The Newsboys (but really, you can't have The Newsboys without Peter Furler, can you?) cover of a Daniel Bashta song which was actually made famous at Passion one year (I was in the room for its debut) by David Crowder. Crowder debuted it (if Daniel Bashta's twitter feed is to be believed, he was unaware of the song being used) as "Like a Lion." To the best of my knowledge, Bashta's recording of it wasn't even publicly released yet. He later came out with his own recording, but it was Crowder's use of the song that made it popular in worship circles. Our praise band did a tour of sorts in the summer of 2010 and we closed every night with the piece.

I say all that because The Newsboys changed the title of the song when they debuted it. Instead of "Like a Lion," they called the song "God's Not Dead" which, to be fair, is the prominent line in the piece.

But then they debuted a music video for the song which prominently featured newspapers with the headline "God is a Myth" changing to
"God's Not Dead" by the end of the video.  The song, once proclaiming a message of resurrection and revival within one's life of faith and using the helpful metaphor of Christ's resurrection from the dead to do so, has been repurposed by The Newsboys marketing team to stand for an argument for God's existence against those countering such existence. I like Michael Tait (and I was so glad they invited Kevin Max to provide vocals for the bridge...hearing Michael and Kevin's voices together is such a treat for a true dc Talk fan) a lot and his music has served as an inspiration to me for years, but this song has now been repurposed and this changes the implications.

Repurposing is ok, I suppose. After all, there are many within the world who do claim that the existence of God is folly and that faith in something that doesn't exist is a waste. There are voices among us that claim that Christianity is all made up. So, the necessity of fighting against those voices is easy to see for an Evangelical; the voices threaten my very reality.

But there's a trend here and I think the use of language is dangerous. Within the very-well-produced-for-a-Christian-movie's trailer, appearances are made by actors like Dean Cain and TV personalities like Willie from Duck Dynasty. The trailer portrays a student whose philosophy professor makes him write a paper presupposing the deadness of God. As a Christian, the student is forced to defend his faith within the classroom by putting God on trial because he, as a Christian, must prove God's existence. He, as a Christian, is being persecuted by the professor.

Persecution is the point here, isn't it? If you read through the film's Facebook page, you'll get that feeling. "Share to prove them wrong" or "Share if you're not ashamed" light up the main feed. Of course, like sheep, the film's many fans share and share and share and share. Because the liberal world is trying to tell us that God doesn't exist. Because we are being persecuted.

The problem with this is that this language is difficult to repurpose without consequence. Philosophers and theologians HAVE put God on trial before. Some posited that God died in Auschwitz. Blacks in America doubted the reality of a good God because the white plantation owners understood the slaves as being provided BY God. Many many bad things have happened in God's name since Christ's resurrection including persecution after persecution.

And so, if persecution is the point, what does it mean to portray that in a film with a bunch of white middle class Americans trying to fight the liberal academy by proving God's existence? Who do we think we are to even come close to knowing what TRUE Christian persecution is? We can't. We can't. We can't.

So the song "Like a Lion", intended (clued in by its naming by Crowder and Bashta) to serve as a recognition for an inner revival for the soul gets repurposed by the Evangelicals to prove God's existence and in the meantime shows the Evangelicals cards completely.

The song begins, "Let hope arise and make the darkness hide." This hope, as we understand it in Christ Jesus, is a hope that defeats death and sin. The darkness to be hidden is the sinfulness of our own actions.

But in this film, in the Newsboys interpretation of the song, and in the Evangelical mindset, the darkness is the Liberal Left.

The cards are completely exposed.

-B

We Run Things, Things Don't Run We

I'd say that in general I care very little about Miley Cyrus's life.  I suppose I'd like to see her be a positive role model on my future children but because that isn't a current reality of mine, I generally don't care much about her. Her new song, "We Can't Stop" has a catchy hook though so I turned up Spotify when it came on.  So that you don't get bogged down in the disgrace that is the song, I'll sum it up for you: Miley owns the world and she doesn't care if you care. 

I'll say it: Hannah Montana is creating a whole new persona and its first name is "badass." But what do I care?  She has friends, they like to party, they're poorly influencing America's youth, and they have poor grammar.   As a concerned citizen with children I'd care, but I reiterate: Miley's life really doesn't concern me much.

But then I heard these lines:  

To my homegirls here with the big butt
Shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge ya
Forget the haters, cause somebody loves ya

Oh! Miley's a theologian now. Now her life concerns me.

I've been bothered recently with liberal America's approach to ethics and morality.  Actually, that's not quite accurate, I've been bothered with liberal Christian America's approach to ethics and morality.  Given that Miley is a baptized Southern Baptist and is outspoken about her support for gay marriage, I'll assume that she's part of that club.

In liberal Christianity, the jump to "Only God can judge ya" is, in my opinion, made far too hastily.  The line is often used to justify our earthly actions that society may deem as "wrong."  Because the Bible, as many people read it, is inconsistent about exact sins, those arguing for progress in America often fall to this simplistic thinking and when those people are Christians the situation gets messier.  It's reactionary too.  Conservatives tell a gay couple that their actions are sinful in the eyes of God but it feels natural and right to the gay couple so they result to "Only God can judge us."  It's a decent starting point maybe but the line is unhelpful in continuing a theological conversation about a very important topic.

When I read Scripture and hear it proclaimed in worship, I don't understand God to be one who calls for a world in which people do whatever they want however they want whenever they want and just wait for judgement day to find out if they were on the right path or not.  There's no participation in salvation in that scenario and there is certainly no growth into holiness.  This runs along neo-Reformed thinking and scares a disciple like me who longs for the world to move in a holier way and requires action (due to God's grace) on the part of the Christian. There is perhaps "progress" there, but it doesn't seem to be holy progress.

If one wants to argue for things like gay marriage in the church, the conversation (at least in the Wesleyan tradition) must be framed theologically and, along with that, within the realm of holiness and salvation.  In the VERY least, the argument about the sinfulness of homosexuality ought to be centered around how we are created and not that we can "just do whatever we want." The Scriptures must be wrestled with for liberal Christians.  The teachings of the Church throughout time must be wrestled with.  But everything, no matter the direction of the conversation, must be contained within a framework appropriate for the conversation.  Otherwise, we Christians that seek inclusion and equality are faced with a temptation to leave the Christian framework completely.  That's a no-no.

So Miley is encouraging this "No one owns me and I can do whatever I want" attitude.  Fine.  It's not ideal for the youngsters of America (frankly, it's downright terrible) and her culture writing insists on a degradation of our youth.  Fine.  I could approach that another time (and we should).  But, it seems to me that Miley is perpetuating a mindset that is unhelpful for Wesleyan Christians.  If we insist and believe that we can (by the grace of God) participate in our own salvation, we must reject the simplistic and unhelpful line, "Only God can judge me." Judgement and accountability by the community (the church) are integral parts of discipleship. 

Miley, put on some clothes.  Your dad watched that video. 

-B

 

"With Every Breath We Sing"

The key line, perhaps, to Bellarive's hit worship song "Taste of Eternity" points to a relatively new phenomenon that's been occurring in our churches' worship music for the past few years.  If you're unfamiliar with the song, it might help to check it out below before moving on.

The song is simple, catchy, relatively singable, and sincere. It has everything that one might imagine that it needs for it to be 'successful' in the ever increasing worship music genre.  Bellarive, as a band, is catching on in popularity.  They're a great band with a unique sound and a strong following.  The world is likely to hear much more from them.

For fun though, let's parse the trend we see in the video above.

A trendy band, gathered in a circular fashion, singing a psalm-like text together, as one. The communal nature of the singing is evident in the group around them as well.  Many eyes are closed, hands are raised, bodies moving passionately.  The video conveys to me this: these people love God and are singing their love to God, together. This is typical of what mainline Christians are often calling "charismatic" or "evangelical" worship.  As someone who falls somewhere in between those two sides, I can testify that I find what you see in the video above very powerful.

The comparison to David's Psalms is not that far off.  Many of his Psalms are emotional.  The experience you see above is emotional.  Many of David's Psalms are personal.  This song is, without doubt, very personal (while using the pluralized first person to describe the community).  Compare this song, though, to many Wesleyan texts from the beginning of the Methodist movement.  Wesleyan hymns (written mostly by Charles, John's brother) were often very personal and often didn't use the pluralized first person (but were still sung communally).  They were, however, written on a different intellectual level than what you might hear above. Charles, after all, was interested in conveying theological insight of the goodness of God's grace and love into the text of the hymns.  It's a sung theology. This kind of singing was high on Charles's priority list.

In a Wesleyan text, you get a clear in-depth theology in the music. Above, you get a heartfelt communal response to God but you don't get a clear in-depth theology.

And so we find ourselves at the same argument that's been made for years about the state of contemporary music: there's not much lyrically there. Some even make the argument that our communal theology has become weaker as a whole in our pursuit to fall in love with God.  A summary of such an argument might be to say this: our love for God has overshadowed and replaced a deep understanding of God's infinite grace that used to be explicitly expressed in our worship music and no longer is.  Sure, Bellarive's lyrics acknowledge "all that [God] has done," but a Wesleyan text, for instance, would likely describe it in further detail.

I observe a lot of worship groups in many many different situations.  I even participate in a fair amount of them.  After all, my age group is currently leading this revolution.  I think it is inevitable that groups like Bellarive will form and shape the future of worship music in our churches.  They already are.  If you ask me, that's ok; they're a really good band. But it is undeniable that a sung theology that you might see in a hymn writer like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley is lost in most of our current music. It used to appear to me to be something the "theological astute" would argue about because they disliked the style of music.  I now see it plainly: it's simply the truth of our current situation.

A rich, sung theology is traded for an excitement in a singable melody, a band using musical elements to engage the emotions (at 2:20 you can hear the band building, the lead singer taking his melody up an octave, the band pausing for the anticipation of the coming hit on the word "sing"…it's like waiting for the drop in Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble"), and simplistic, heartfelt, personal, and emotional lyrics.

Perhaps within this movement the church is returning to a more Psalm-like (and yes, I recognize that this is a shallow and over-generalized interpretation of the Psalms) approach to worship.  Perhaps.  You might argue that this is bad.  Or you might argue that worship is once again "authentic" (as if it ever wasn't).

Imagine, though, a band like Bellarive using the musical elements that build the excitement through their musicality (that inevitably convey a strong sense of power within the music), mixed with singable melodies and unbelievably deep texts about who God is, who God is calling us to be, and what eternity really looks like.  That sort of music, that sort of movement, gets me really excited.  Then perhaps the taste of eternity, in all its fullness, might more fully be on our lips so that with every breath we could sing to the one who reveals that very fullness to us.

-B

Macklemore's "Same Love"

I'm a sinner. At least, that's something I believe.

Every week, heck sometimes even multiple times a day, I pray a prayer in church that recognizes that sinful nature and confesses it before God and our neighbors. Then, as one whole body, those gathered partake in the meal that Jesus instructed us to partake in. It's a bit of grace, reconciliation, confession, mercy, atonement, and love all rolled into one mysterious experience that Christians have been sharing together since Jesus Christ himself.

We live in a society where sinfulness is celebrated. In much of the secular world, it is becoming increasingly acceptable to act in a certain way.

The only thing that holds one from acting in a completely "wrong" way is the fear of the consequences of their actions. The world acts within a framework of consequence. In example, if I'm willing to be held to the consequences of my actions...that's something I am totally ok with...then I can act however I'd like. The individual becomes the standard for what is "right." How else is it to be judged? Respect the individual because they are being themselves.

Now, look at this individualism in a different light. From this comes respect for the individual comes a respect for the unique. This, perhaps, is something a bit more modern. If someone challenges the status quo in today's society, they are looked up to for their courage and uniqueness. There was once a time in our society that if you didn't conform to the status quo (either in your very being or your thoughts and actions), you could be tried and killed.

So, to recap: sinfulness is celebrated in our society now because the only standard against which actions are judged is the willingness of the "sinner" to accept the consequences of their actions. That's the secular world. The reason that this is the judging standard is because individualism is the dominant force and uniqueness is celebrated. This is the secular world. This is the world of Macklemore's "Same Love."

Many Christians argue that this is bad. They argue that the standard against which we ought to be judged is God. The closest tangible evidence that we have of God's standard is the Bible. Hence, they argue, the ways of the world ought to be judged by what is outlined in Scripture. Since the beginnings of Christianity flowed out of Judaism and Judaism was ruled by a "Law," they argue that the words of Paul and many other biblical writers ought to hold the world to account. Paul was against homosexuality, they argue. Therefore, homosexuality in the world is wrong. It's unnatural. It's unbiblical. It's just wrong. This is a different language than the one Macklemore is speaking.

Macklemore, in his song "Same Love," argues against the "paraphrasing of a book written 3500 years ago." He argues against a church preaching hate. He argues against the idea that it's a changeable thing. He argues that the "right winged conservatives" are "playing God." The hook of the song says, "I can't change...even if I tried, even if I wanted to...my love, my love, my love, she keeps me warm." The individual wins, here. "Just be yourself," Macklemore raps.

The church doesn't speak that language and it never really has. The church has been in the business of telling an individual that how they act is wrong. That it's keeping them from God. That it's sinful. That they need to change in order to follow Jesus and live into holiness. The church speaks a language of sin. And, now, perhaps more than ever before the world is speaking a language of uniqueness. A language of the individual. A language where the understanding of something being "wrong" is reliant completely upon the individual and their level of comfort with the consequences of their uniqueness. Two different languages.

Because so many Christians today live in the "individual" world and yet still belong to the church, the conversation, the argument, goes in circles. It tears us apart, eats us up, spits us out, and leaves us for dead. The conversation even hurts souls.

How, then, to mend ourselves? Ah, yes. Remember what I said? I'm a sinner. A perpetual sinner. One who (at least) weekly comes before God to confess my own sins before I partake of the grace that Jesus conveys. Sometimes I know my own sins. I'm aware of what I've done wrong. Many times (in fact, probably more times than not) I'm unaware of all of my sins. And yet, not even knowing all that I've done wrong, I come before God routinely to confess and pray for forgiveness. I pray that I may be joyfully obedient. The best part? It's not just me. It's the whole church coming before God for such a task. The whole church coming to confess our sins and pray for forgiveness.

It seems to me that the conversation over homosexuality is not one of just individualism. It's not one of just sin. It seems to me that the conversation in the Christian church over homosexuality is both. It's a conversation over a dinner table of bread and wine, where all at the table confess their sinful nature and are gravely aware of the significance of the meal. They're aware of themselves. They're aware of their brokenness. They're aware of the grace offered to them and the call on their lives to be better.

"I can't change" the song says. "Even if I try. Even if I wanted to."

Well, then, thank God for grace. A trust in that grace might result in a holier community: a community that can understand sin in light of the individual and the individual in light of the sin.

Macklemore is speaking the language of the individual standard. The church is speaking the language of the biblical standard. If we are going to keep this issue from tearing our churches apart, we're going to have to learn the language the other is speaking and figure out a way to understand each other. I bet if we tried it, God's grace would step in and help us out. Then, and likely only then, could rappers stop rapping about how awful the church is and the church could stop condemning people with a speck of dust in their eye.

Grace has got to be the key.

-B

If you're lost, you ought to watch this video. It's touching: http://youtu.be/hlVBg7_08n0

Contemporary Worship Music: Unintentional Ecumenism

ec·u·men·i·cal

adjective

1. general; universal.
2. pertaining to the whole Christian church.
3. promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world.
4. of or pertaining to a movement (ecumenical movement), especially among Protestant groups since the 1800s, aimedat achieving universal Christian unity and church unionthrough international interdenominational organizations thatcooperate on matters of mutual concern.
5. interreligious or interdenominational: an ecumenicalmarriage.

In the United Methodist Church, we have a hymnal.  Every 20 years or so another one pops up, with great new hymns,  great old hymns, and...unfortunately...some of the same old, really bad hymns.  The church is trying to be 'progressive' (whatever that means), so we have seen little books like 'The Faith We Sing' and 'Worship and Song' pop up as well.  These are the technologically limited offerings aimed at keeping up with the rapid rate of song creation in the Church these days.  'Worship and Song,' printed last year, has only now included "How Great is Our God" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (Open the Eyes of My Heart was written in 1997, How Great is Our God in 2004).

When I purchased my copy of 'Worship and Song' at Cokesbury, the sales associate told me that this was the "first expandable hymnal!"  I asked her how the binding to the book played a role in its expandability and she gave me the scrunched-nose face. Technologically, these books have been limited.

Interestingly enough, in some Christian circles, this technological barrier has played a huge role in keeping the churches singing the same songs they've been singing for ages. In others, they have ignored the technological implications completely.  Many Christians are growing up in church environments (that alone is something to celebrate) and do not realize that Christians used to sing songs out of books that they held in their hands instead of on screens (I'll let you decide whether or not that is something to celebrate).

Long story short: music in the Church is rapidly changing.  Some people are changing it, some are avoiding it.  Others, like the United Methodist Church in large part, avoided it for 20 years or so and are just now trying to catch up. The last category of churches feel a little like RIM and Nokia do now when it comes to smart phones:  late to the game inevitably will hurt, no matter your customer loyalty.

Not long ago I presented a hymnal to a student of mine on which her name was imprinted.  I said to her, "These are the songs of our tradition." Ever since that moment, I've been thinking about what I meant by that statement.  Did I mean that these are the ONLY songs of our tradition?  Did I mean that these are the songs our of tradition and OUR TRADITION alone?  What is it that I meant?  Does that make the songs outside of our hymnal NOT part of our tradition?

In seminary we talk a lot about the music we sing being formative for the Christian journey.  We sing songs pertinent to the liturgical context we are in, usually having something to do with the morning's message.  We pride ourselves: the hymns we sing aren't, and shouldn't be, fluff.

In fact, the United Methodist Church has something going for it here.  Charles Wesley, brother to John Wesley and co-founder of the Methodist movement in England, wrote hundreds of poems.  As the search for a 'Wesleyan' identity is set before us in the UMC, a return to Charles's lyrics are usually appreciated.  Whenever I bring the topic up in UMC circles, eyes light up.  "Yes! That's the way it should be!" they seem to say.  Methodism was blessed from its beginnings with theologically based hymns and Methodists far and wide don't want to lose that.

This isn't the whole story though.  We sing songs every Sunday in Methodist Churches that were written by non-Methodist writers. Heck, we sing songs in church on Sundays that were written by the Gaithers.  We sing songs written by Calvinist predestinarians.  We sing all kinds of music in the UMC, no matter how much we pride ourselves in being 'Wesleyan.'

I was thinking about all of this, trying to put these pieces together in my head, so that I could sort out the proper course of action. Then I had this thought: We're not seeing this hangup with many who are writing music for the masses today.

No, in fact, these hangups of being strictly 'Wesleyan' don't matter to many.  The people who are constantly writing new, exciting, progressive, worship music are largely from non-denominational churches. These churches usually have some sort of vague mission statement and clearly defining themselves is not something they do!  The popular people writing music these days for the 'contemporary worship' setting are largely tied to movements.  Is Hillsong a movement or a church?  Yes.  Is Passion a movement or a church?  Yes.  What do these movements do? A little bit of everything.  Many of these groups don't even use the word "church." Being sticklers for quality, theologically sound music is simply not a priority.  They want music that is exciting and engaging, and the lyrical composition can be what it is.

The question then becomes: is the work coming out of these 'movements' unifying the church at all?  In other words, if those producing material are not hung up on staying true to their founders, are they free to write music that spans across denominational barriers? Are these songs acting, whether intended for it or not, as a form of ecumenism?

These songs, those written within the past 20 years for 'contemporary' worship environments are criticized all the time for being too "simplistic" or "shallow" in their theology. But it occurs to me that this  very criticism might actually be what makes these songs work across the barriers.  Charles Wesley wrote songs that were deeply explicit in their lyrics, calling out church heretics, heretical leanings, and teachings that were against his views of Christianity.  He even, from time to time, called out people by name.

We simply aren't seeing this in today's music.  We're singing statements about loving Jesus, about Jesus rising from the dead, and Jesus saving us.  While they might still be criticized for aligning themselves with Jesus and little else of the Trinity, these are overarching statements that don't necessarily apply to any specific denomination or tradition.

It seems to me that it is BECAUSE of the more universal nature of the lyrics within recent songwriting that these songs are becoming forms of ecumenism.  These songs are popular, easy to sing (choruses and refrains repeat constantly) and when played well, tug at the emotions of those singing them.  In a sense, these songs are unifying the church.  These songs are played in Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, and most prominently in non-denominational churches far and wide.

So, are they unifying? Yeah, I guess, in a way they are.  These songs are being sung all over, much like hymns like "Holy, Holy, Holy" "It Is Well" and "Come Thou Fount" were before.  Generalized lyrics and easy to sing melodies.  They surpass and tear down walls of division that have been placed there by theological and political arguments for 2000 years. To me, it's an interesting phenomenon.

See, the technological barriers of printing books has kept many denominations and generations infused with the idea that if it's not in our hymnal, it's no good.  This has allowed for boards and agencies to curate the contents of our singing, too.  But, these groups that work past those technological barriers (we don't print books anymore), are able to stretch beyond that. And, because of that freedom, they've explored new realms of communal singing.

The interesting question is, what if true, studied theologians had done this rather than the guy down the street who played guitar?  Would that have changed the outcome?  Could we have had a more universal set of songs that were ALSO theologically grounded?  I don't think so.  I think the "shallowness" of much of what we see set to worship music today should get credit for helping me attend a non-denominational service and know the music.

Contemporary worship style gets a lot of crap for the way in which it exists. All I'm saying is that its music (one of the biggest reasons it has been successful) deserves a look. A critique, too, perhaps.  But, definitely, a look.

Just some random thoughts.

-B

"Not that": An Observation of 'Contemporary Worship'

The more and more people that I speak with that are at least remotely involved with church life, the more questions come up about my opinion and experience with 'contemporary worship.'   They like to pick my brain, ask my preference, and get a sense for how I feel like worship in the church ought to be.  Yes, they often have their own preconceived responses and notions regarding the style of music used within the Church. The questions range. "What do you think young people are into?" "Don't you think 'traditional' worship is a turn off for young people?" "Don't you think contemporary worship is too hoaky these days?" "Is it possible to plant a church that only uses traditional worship?" "Does Chris Tomlin every write any good songs?" "Don't you think hymns are just boring?" "What's the purpose of the flashy lights? To try to be something we aren't?" "Aren't choirs outdated?"

Contemporary worship, though, is the newcomer in this game.  In many ways, it has to prove itself.  Somewhere around 50 years ago or so, the Beatles invaded America, forever changing pop music and rock and roll. This, along with the decline of mainline church membership in the United States sparked new ideas.  People left the mainline denominations to be 'non-denominational' in an effort to do church differently.  That was the goal: do church differently.  Maybe then, perhaps, people might think about coming back.  If we just aren't 'that,' maybe they'll be more likely to come back.

In a sense, then, Contemporary Worship (with a common low-key liturgy and more culturally-relevant music) became "Not That" worship.  See that stuff the Methodists are doing?  We aren't that.  We're cool.  We're hip.  We're reaching out to young people.  We are meeting you where you are.  You can wear jeans to our church.  That's the way we are.

This type of church is the church that I was born into.  We still were a part of the big Baptist church downtown, but we were open to those who had never been to church before.  We didn't have cryptic creeds.  We didn't have strange liturgy.  We watched movie clips and played slide shows.  We had drama. Our pastor preached from behind a music stand rather than a pulpit.  I was born into a church that was trying to make church relevant to a society that it wasn't relevant to.  What we did, in the early 90's, was to be "not that."  For peope too intimidated or scared to attend traditional worship, we were "not that."  We called ourselves the "Seeker Service" so that those who were 'seeking' could find a place to feel at home.  Too intimidated by the choir robes and organ?  We aren't that.

So, if this is true, and it was truly meeting a need, why aren't all churches like that now?  Why are there young adults begging to go back to the traditional services? Why are large portions of people leaving NOT ONLY the mainline denominations, but also the nondenominational churches?  If being 'not that' was supposed to save the church, why are we drowning more than ever before?

I'll tell you why.  We stopped.

It isn't 1995 anymore. What was hip and cool then is not hip and cool now. What drew people in because it wasn't 'that' then, pushes people away now.  'Contemporary' has become a way of saying 'not that' and it has done so in a permanent sense.  This is why so many 'contemporary' services feel hoaky.  This is why many young people want to return to traditional worship.  This is why when you hear about contemporary worship, you ask yourself if it is emergent or 'contemporary.'   Oddly, those leading the traditional services never went out of their way to reach the young people and different generations; it's very much a "take it or leave it" situation.  Some choose, for many reasons, to take it. Many, sadly, are choosing to leave it.

'Contemporary' was great when it needed to be. But it is stuck now.  Sure, churches like Hillsong and movements like Passion are successful, but by and large 'contemporary' music in many (especially mainline) churches is simply stuck.

'Contemporary' has to move forward. 'Contemporary' has to continue to be what it's high and lofty goal was (an environment that allows those on the outside access to the inside) instead of what its not-so-just goal was ('not that').  It has to be as innovative as it once saw itself being.  It has to live into its title.

In order for us to justify our worship style, no matter how it exists, we need to be able to articulate it in a way that explands the Kingdom.  Otherwise, it has little reason for being. This is true for traditional worship.  This is true for 'contemporary' worship.  Our worship should be creative.  Our worship should be innovative.  Our worship should remind of of who we are.  Our worship should define who we are.  Our worship should convey to those within it that the Church is thriving, moving, changing, and growing disciples. Our worship should be, of course, worship...reflecting the God who breathes life to the people.

We cant have 'not that' from either side.  We need quality, strong, theologically sound worship in both environments (and perhaps more to come).  That's when it finally becomes quality worship and we can **finally** get out of the way.

-B

Why Christian Music Is Essential

I literally remember the moment.

It was on a school field trip and all of my peers had their Walkmen and assortment of CDs with them. One of the greatest pastimes of such trips was, as kids do, compare and contrast the assortment of CDs each friend had brought with them. I remember my friends having CDs of The Smashing Pumpkins, Blink 182, Smashmouth, Green Day, Nelly, and many other secular albums that were often stamped with that 'my mom doesn't know I have this' EXPLICIT stamp.

My collection of CDs, though, was quite different. It was made up of dcTalk, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and many others. I loved that music. It was the music on the radio I listened to and I listened to it constantly. That fact alone was not enough though to keep me from being embarrassed when I was around the kids with the 'cooler' music. I was so embarrassed that I even moved dcTalk's albums to the front of my CD binder (remember those things?) because their album artwork would at least look cooler than Michael W. Smith's. The horror as a youngster of being caught listening to music that wasn't 'cool' was more than I could bear.

I liked my music. I just wasn't proud of it.

One peer even said to me (I remember this word for word), "I like the music to Christian music, but the words suck." To which I responded, "Oh yeah, I only listen to the music anyway. I don't listen to the words."

Wait, what?

What kind of an idiot was I? You don't listen to the words!?!? What a MORON!!! Of course you listen to the words, Bryant! That's the whole point!!!

But, you know, saying that would have meant that I submitted to the lyrics that he said, "sucked." I would not be caught doing such a thing as that.

(In seminary we talk all the time about pop Christian lyrics 'sucking.' But, we speak of them in terms of theological shallowness, not in terms of whether they are cool or not.)

I really was stupid. Either that, or I didn't realize the truth behind our faith. The truth is that everything we do forms who we are. The way we worship in church forms us into who we are. The things we watch on television form us into who we are. The things we read form us into who we are. The same is true of the music we listen to. These outside influences affect the way that we interact with God, each other, and surrounding communities.

This is why Christian music is essential. We need something that defines the Church and the disciples of Christ lest we risk allowing our children (and, let's be honest, us) to be influenced by other non-Christian, non-Holy influences. I no longer worry about whether listening to music that speaks the Gospel is cool or not, because I know that what I listen to is forming me into who I am. And, forgive me, but I'd rather that influence be something inspired by Christ rather than the sinful ways of the world.

Therefore, I give praise for the witness that Christian music, in whatever form, style, or genre, provides.

The next step, as we often lament in seminary, is to actually say something. "Falling in love with Jesus" was ok when we first realized the issue of American music. Now, it's time that we take this formative aspect of music one step further and use it to form disciples who can actually articulate something theological. Our next step is to recover the depth that many of our founders clung to.

Wouldn't that be something!

-B

The Greatest Love of All

I'm not one of those people who, when a celebrity passes away, writes on Facebook something along these lines, "People die every day. Why does the world stop when these overdosing celebs die?" I try not to judge people who do, but it's not something I've felt the need to say. And so, I write here not to disparage Whitney Houston's name, simply to call attention to the shaping and forming of our culture through music (which, arguably, music does).

People look up to many celebrities. Singers look up to singers. Athletes look up to athletes. Comedians look up to comedians.  Perhaps it's because they're simply good at their craft. Perhaps it's because they see a little bit of themselves, and a lot of their potential inside of the talent of these celebrities.  Perhaps it's a way to live a life they'll never have, vicariously.

I've refrained from commenting much on Whitney Houston's death. I'm saddened by the reality of her life, her dependence on substances to counteract an abusive marriage, and a talented soul lost from this world.  For many obvious reasons, her death reminds me a lot of Michael's death and that only brings sad feelings to my heart. It's such a shame.

However, I was watching YouTube this afternoon and came across this tribute by PS22 (who I have included man times here and on Facebook; I think they often do a stand up job at recreating pop tunes):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grA54mwpxPI&w=640&h=385]

 

They do a phenomenal job here and are well led.  The female soloist is something else, too.

Every pop artist has their ballad that stands out for them.  It often separates them from the rest of the artists and solidifies their place in history as a phenomenal singer. Whitney, as I see it, had two: "I Will Always Love You" and the one above, "The Greatest Love of All."

What's most interesting to me is that Whitney set a place for black singers such as Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce to become as accepted and popular by mainstream media and popularity as they have been.  Whitney came out of church, gospel-singing background and blew the world away with her incredible range, passion, and natural phrasing. She had a huge voice and knew how to use it. Her level of stardom, in many ways, is untouched.

But, if we are going to see this song, "The Greatest Love of All" as a song that was defining for her career and thereby defining for our culture, I think it's important to examine the text for what it is, especially because of its placement of a bold statement within the title. The Greatest Love of All. If that statement doesn't shock you into listening to it, you ought to wake up. The song title makes you want to listen to find out what it is she is going to define as the 'greatest love.'

She starts by singing, 

I believe that children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

I'm tracking. I agree. Show the children the beauty they possess inside? Yes, Whitney. (Whitney didn't write the song, but she's singing it so I'm going to speak as if she agrees with the text.  Especially because the story is that she fought for the chance to record it against Clive Davis's wishes.)

But then, we start to separate. She sings:

 

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

 

Pride is a weird thing for me.  Our Christian tradition teaches that pride is a bad thing. Our American tradition teaches that pride is how you get somewhere in life.  Without confidence in what you do, in America, it is hard to succeed. The song assumes that pride makes things easier.  If I'm confident and prideful in what I do, life becomes easier. This is a humanist message, not a Gospel message. This is reliance on the individual, rather than reliance on the grace of God.

 

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

 

I assume that because Whitney desired to sing this song that these lines, perhaps more than any other within this piece, resonated with her. It, to me, shows two things: a reliance on herself (obviously), and a direct rejection of any Christian role model (i.e. Jesus).  I appreciate the honesty within the lyrics, but the lyrics suggest a solution that is not Christian (remember, the tradition that Whitney was raised in) in any realm. Reliance on self? Once again, this is a humanist argument. Our hope is that a born-again Christian would have someone who fulfilled their needs, Jesus. And, with that, the Church.

 

She continues:

 

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity

 

This is almost at the crux of the song. This continues to emphasize this complete and utter reliance on the self. More than that, though, the use of the term "believe" makes this a stronger position. It may not quite reach the lengths of spirituality, but it's clear: the writer of the song thinks that if you believe in yourself and have dignity, you might not always succeed, but you will be...better. This is an American idea to be sure, but seems to stand in complete conflict with the Christian message. Indeed, Christians are to walk in Jesus's shadows.

 

But there's more to this line before we move on. I read these lines to be an "us against the world" type argument.  This is intriguing to me because that has many parallels to the argument of Christianity. We have a better way of life, you do not. Come join us and put your faith, hope, and trust in the Savior of the world. This message: if I put my faith, trust, and hope in myself...and believe in myself...then I'll have a better way of life than the world. The world may be out to get me, but that's ok...I have myself. This, again, emphasizes where the trust is placed. Christianity claims Christ. This song claims the self.

 

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

 

And here we are. The definition of the 'greatest love of all.'

 

Friends, learning to love yourself is not, as I see it, the greatest love of all. The greatest love of all is the grace of God. The grace that is poured out on a broken humanity that confesses its sins and seeks to live in communion with Christ's offering.

 

The song, for the listeners, is a lie. It spreads a reliance on humanity, on the self, and the good works of said people. It delivers a message of hope that resides completely within the self. It places trust on the individual. And because of that, it is in direct opposition to the heart of the Christian message: Jesus is Lord.

 

"But Bryant," you say. "This song was written by someone struggling with cancer who may or may not have been a Christian. She was in the midst of a crisis and writing honestly about where to place her trust. In her against the world, she finds the strength within herself to survive. How beautiful of a message?!?!"

 

I respond: This is not a beautiful message. And it is in direct conflict with where we should be.

 

The movement towards a trust in the individual rather than a higher power is a move that the Enlightenment granted humanity and may never ever be able to be taken away. Songs like this destroy the Christian message and focus: Christ. They enable humans to understand that they're able to battle whatever they're fighting (whether it is cancer or something less tragic) simply by believing in themselves.

 

The Christian Scriptures teach us that when humanity ran from God and placed their hope and trust in other things it always went worse than if they had placed their trust in God in the first place. This is a message that obviously wasn't written into Whitney's narrative, because I imagine this song would have struck a different chord with her than it did.  It's sad. And, inevitably, the trust that Whitney placed on herself and the things of this world came to cause her death. It's sad, very, very sad.

 

I do believe that children are our future. If we teach them well and let them lead the way, we are in for a wonderful ride. But, the beauty within them that this song talks about OUGHT to refer to the beauty that God placed in God's children, not the beauty within their humanity. Humanity is fallen, God is holy. Only a trust and belief in God can give true hope and love. That is the greatest love of all.

 

Why does this matter? Because music shapes our culture.  Therefore, music shapes us. I'd prefer that Christianity define "The Greatest Love of All," not Whitney. 

 

Lord, help our unbelief.

 

-B

Emulating the Greats

Adele is, without a doubt, the best artist of 2010 and 2011. She's had nearly half her album 21 hit the top of the charts and it seems like everyone everywhere has at least heard about her canceled tour because of the strain her voice has been under.

Everyone seems to be covering her now. I've shared some of my favorites on this blog.

This kid below evidently won Austrailia's Got Talent. I found the video when I was bored on YouTube. Skip forward to 2:00 to see him actually sing.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UuolIZlEyg&w=640&h=385]

 

The funny thing is, I actually don't think he's that good of a singer.  Sure, he's far and away better than I was at that age and is far and away better than probably 100% of his peers, but he's pitchy on most of the songs I've heard him on, and they tend to all be a tad too big for his voice.

It's true that he has a huge voice for a 14 year old.

But there is one thing that he has that I think of as enviable. Listen to the way he emulates Adele's voice. It's incredible. He gets her accent (much different than his Australian accent), he gets her voice pronunciation, and he captures he presence inside of the piece, though it's not her singing it...it's him. It's remarkable really. Listen to Jennifer Hudson pop out of this one below.  Again, skip the crap at the beginning.

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wupr-p96i68&w=640&h=385]

 

He's actually a really good singer, despite what I said above. I find it most remarkable that he is able to contort his voice to the style of the original artist in ways I could never dream to. It's an incredible talent.

He's also like the Australian Justin Bieber, except that he can sing.

 

-B

On PS22 and Music

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZnSwGCliB8&] If I had one criticism of PS22 and their teacher, it's that he is probably not teaching proper singing or performance techniques to them at a young age. Its common thought that this creates 'bad' habits that will influence the art in a negative way, later.

I was thinking that as I watched this.

And then I thought, "so what?"

There are probably many many children singing in children's choirs around the globe inside of Universities, etc. that don't enjoy the music they sing. I think I'd argue that that fact is more destructive to the art than something like PS22 is.

When musicians come to hate music, it might be one of the saddest days on earth.

If anything, performances like these are creative, unique, and stretching across boundaries. Right? I can see some of these kids rushing over to their friends' house after school and being super jazzed to load up YouTube and show their friends what they did at school that day.

These are kids. And they're excited about what they're doing.

That's the future of America, I think. Creativity is key. Technology (because it is simply an embodiment of creativity) is key. Fine arts (because they are simply embodiments of creativity) are key. The study of maths and sciences (because they are products of creativity) are key.

And so when I cringe to see the kids moving their bodies so much, I have to stop and think..."how proud are these kids of their work?" or "how much will the enjoyment of this experience influence their lives in the future?" You can experience the excitement within the last few seconds of the video. Sheer joy.

Because in the end it doesn't matter if they're singing Mozart or Lady Gaga (though it might be nice for them to understand both forms of the art); they're singing. They're practicing. They're performing. And they're enjoying it.

And, better yet, they're doing what they do...well. We don't have enough of that in today's world.

It's cool stuff. It really is.

-B

I really don't like the song that much, despite its catchiness. Gaga wrote the song with her dad taking shots on the piano after her grandfather died. I just don't, quite...get it. It doesn't speak any sort of message that I would consider life changing, and I don't think the lyrics are very poetic at all. Also, the music video was ridiculous.

Regardless, though, the act of singing it is moving something inside of these two groups. It's weird to think that something's moving inside of these groups when the lyrics to the song suck. But, you know, perhaps that speaks to the power of music within the soul. It probably does.

TSO's 'Christmas Eve Sarajevo' performed by Andrew Boss

A fellow music major of mine from undergrad plays Trans-Siberian Orchestra's 'Christmas Eve Sarajevo' by ear on the piano.  Andrew is a top notch player and does a fine job at picking out these sort of things.   Imagine you're listening to him play it on a giant Steinway or Bösendorfer for full effect.  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uuu0oBNGKFc&w=640&h=385]-B

I Hated the Organ Because Of Church (A Confession)

I grew up in a contemporary church world with music played by guitars and four chords.  I went to traditional services and hated every minute because they were 'boring.' As I've matured, I've realized that I disliked many of the hymns not because of their content (although a lot of the language no longer makes sense in today's context) but because the way we sang them was...painful. I've listened to countless arguments on why contemporary, modern music doesn't belong in worship context and I've expressed via this blog before that I think those arguing that are wrong.    I've kind of looked down upon the organ as a legitimate instrument for much of my life. They were expensive (I once heard someone arguing for traditional music yell at me for my use of a Taylor guitar because it was 'lavish'), hard upkeep, and generally boring to listen to. I thought of them as the 'old way,' once used to decorate unnecessarily lavish sanctuaries and provide a huge sound, one that is getting closer and closer to being able to be replicated digitally. And, we can conquer their original purpose with audio amplification.    They were cool I guess, but the church ladies never let me play it, so I had a bad taste in my mouth. You had to have the special shoes. Ugh.   I guess I just thought they were antiquated.    Duke's Divinity School is incredibly fortunate to have a stellar organist in David Arcus,and I've spent time in very traditional services at Duke enjoying his art.   

This guy below, though, changes the game. 

 

I seem to remember being shown something by this guy a ways back, but his art is indescribable here. Watch this three times to get the full effect. 

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygb-IQNUCJI&w=640&h=385]Don't miss his CBS (old) appearance either. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3ApgF2s3LQ&w=640&h=385]-B

Music in the Church - A Series

The facts are simple.

They can be boiled down to this: the Church, as an all encompassing body of believers, is declining in influence and popularity, in general, world-wide. The mainline denominations have less than 50 years left at their rate of decline and the "growing" churches among the world are not growing anymore. When "growing" churches can be named, because they are so few and far between, we know that we have a problem; we shouldn't be able to name the churches that are growing.

In general, religion is dying. While it seems to be growing in African countries and tribes, it is declining in Europe and America, places where lots of money, power, and world influence are still held. It is sometimes losing to "spirituality" or "divine relationship." The decline of organized Christianity will, by definition, lead to a loss of Christians. Less Christians might lead to less accountability. Less accountability often leads to weaker discipleship. Weaker discipleship allows the sinful world, not God, to win.

We are to be comforted, though, because we know that in the end God does win. However, I often fear that we are forgetting Jesus's commands to go and make disciples.

As far as the Church is concerned, I think I've come to the realization that the Church needs a revitalization movement. We've had several successful ones in our history, and there's not reason to think that God wouldn't bless a faithful one even today. Within that movement, we're going to need leaders. We're going to need followers. We're going to need ministers. We're going to need missionaries. We're going to need disciples.

And, we'll need some practical things as well.

We'll need new, creative, innovative, relevant, contextual, powerful ways to reach the world. We'll have to be ahead of the world, reflecting the ultimate Creator, rather than behind the world, simply copying what they do.

I imagine that we'll need some leaders that will attract followers with their charisma and gifts. But I don't think this movement will be led by only key leaders (what movement ever has?). No, I think this movement will need everyone; all hands will need to be on deck.

One of the gorgeous things about the Church is how diverse we are...we have so many people with so many talents, passions, and gifts. We'll need them all.

So, here is my thought: Let's stop talking about it. Let's just start it. It's already too late.

The movement is beginning, so let's start.

Throughout reflection, the Church has to find within each of its individuals a sense of place, a sense of fit, a sense of call. The area of which I feel I have been impassioned and gifted is music.

The point is often made: music is not the reason people come to church. While I'd often be inclined to disagree, I'll forego that opportunity to make a larger point: music serves a higher purpose than to get people to come to Church. Whether or not people come because of music is irrelevant. I believe that if we have quality, solid music, the details will often take care of themselves.

When people attend a church service, questions that are often asked are, "What songs did you sing?" or "How was the choir?" or "Is the service 'contemporary' or 'traditional'?" These questions are indicative of the situation of music in the Church. It matters to people.

Music is, as I see it, one of the most integral parts of the Church as it stands today. It is Biblical, traditional, formational, communal, along with many other things. It serves to worship God, it serves to create disciples, and it serves to create fellowship. Music is a magical thing that challenges perspectives, opens eyes, implants happiness, and encourages hope. It's often empowering and bold.

Last week, I attended a conference that tried hard to be cool and to reinvigorate a livelihood into the United Methodist Church. So, having thought about some of my thoughts above, I went to a a workshop on music ministry. I thought'd be a good reflection time. The lady who led it was nice, intelligent, talented, and very talkative. There were all kinds of students there. There were practiced, studied musicians. There were diva-like "worship leaders." There were hipster, tight-jeaned guitarists. There were classical snobs. We talked for about an hour about random things, mostly having to do with the practicalities of organizing a music team, rehearsing them, and some about leading music for worship. All in all, it was an ok workshop.

But that was my issue: it was just ok. It wasn't mind-blowing. We didn't talk about writing new music. We didn't think creatively. We didn't even really discuss why Christians sing. We just talked about how cool or sucky our band was and how to pray with our group. Then we left.

And I left the room knowing there had to be something more. There had to something more to our approach. I left the room feeling as if we were just sitting in a rut, trying to push ahead while the dirt just kept us back. And I realized this (probably aided by our worship service experiences throughout the weekend): We're faking it. We're faking it really badly. And we aren't growing from it; all we are doing is keeping from dying.

So that's what I hope to explore throughout a small series here on this blog. I'm going to be posting over the next week and organizing my thoughts into three different posts and categories, explaining why I think we do what we do and what good it is going to do for a dying church.

I often don't like using violent language, but I feel as if this fits: We aren't on the offensive, we are on the defensive. I can't think of a single point in history where those on the defensive changed the world because they intended to.

It's time to take the offense, and because it's one of the only things I know, I'm starting with music.

I hope to cover things like:

  • Why do we sing?
  • Is music foundational for the future of the Church?
  • Is music for the Church ever-changing?
  • What do we sing?
  • What's a 'good' song for worship?
  • Why do we use terms like "hymn" and "praise song" and what are their connotations?
  • Who is writing quality material in 2011?
  • What historical church material is worth retaining?
  • What movements have progressed the Church positively?

...along with many other nuances of music ministry.

As is always the case with me, you'll hear my opinions and observations, and those often change from time to time.

It is, though, something we should be talking about, and I'm ready to get going on it. This dead time within the Church is killing us.

Follow along? I hope so.

-B

Duke Music and Arts Festival

Watched this while I waited in the Detroit airport to get to St. Louis.

Raise your hand if you didn't realize that Kara DioGuardi was a Duke Alum.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZBn_oDvUXg&w=640&h=385]

Don't miss Andrew Rohm, a Wesley student, playing the Bari Saxophone at the end.

-B

AutoTuned Siri

Ever wondered what Siri would sound like AutoTuned. Wonder no more.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53my-LM23wI&w=640&h=385]

Funny work. Catchy progression.

-B

If The South Would Have Won

In light of the Hitler and ESPN controversy, I'm reminded of this song.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxEmry5lRKk&w=640&h=385]

The question is, of course, would we have had it made? And who is "we"?

Make no mistake, Florida does need to get back "on the right track" but it is not because of "Miami" and the need to "take it back".

Rather, it is because of this guy:

I say we take back Tallahassee.

I'm tired of this being a Republican vs. Democrat argument. I'm tired of this being a liberal vs. conservative argument. I'm tired of it being a Fox News vs MSNBC argument. It's not ok to compare people or leaders to Hitler unless they are oppressing and killing their constituents. And this is isn't a North vs. South argument or a Hate vs. Heritage argument either. This is about being responsible citizens of America.

Sometimes, for us all to get along, we all have to let go of something. I'd day this kind of country music would be a good place to start.

-B

Five Year Old "Super Bass"

As you watch this little gem, ask yourself questions like, "Is what we play on the radio formational?" or "How do kids learn things so much faster than we do?" or "Should we film our children?" or "What the heck is her sidekick doing the whole time?"

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7hTAp6KrGY&w=640&h=385]

Five years old. While I don't support children this young saying, "Excuse me, you're a hell of a guy"....

...she killed it. I'd love to hear her sing in two more years.

-B

These Girls Are Good

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sg959d7a2JE&w=853&h=505]I'm disappointed that I haven't been watching this show. Because of that, I've been wasting most of the morning catching up.

So perfect in nearly every way.

The emotions and crescendos are placed exactly right, and the harmonies are tight when they need to be and wide when they don't.

Truly great work.

-B

(They had a third performance that was a lot less creative than these two and not as good...so they're not infallible.)