Thinking Out Loud

October 13, 2014

Megachurch Musicians

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

Warning: Run-on sentence follows:

I think if I joined a mega-church and aspired to be part of the worship team, and then jumped through all the hoops of auditioning and qualifying, when the moment finally came where I was actually on that stage, I would be so concerned about doing well and making a good impression, I actually wouldn’t really be worshiping God at that moment. 

Human nature is human nature. If you read the tags, I’ve tagged this post “ecclesiastical ambition.” It certainly describes pastors, but musicians have a more natural affinity to wanting acceptance; of wanting to be liked.

Today's post was written by this guy.

Today’s post was written by this guy.

So here’s what I’ve concluded: Everybody who gets up on a large (or mega) church platform should be forced to wear a mask so that nobody knows who they are. Yes, a mask. Think of what a motive-purifying thing this would be. Think of how this would respond to the church culture that sees the people on the platform as performers

If this goes against the grain, you could consider having the musicians (and people who do announcements) stand with their backs to the audience. Or they could present the worship set from the back of the auditorium the way many church choirs once stood in a balcony at the back; the manner in which the church organist (the only church musician at the time) once performed from the back, or with his or her back to the congregation. 

In the life of service to God through public ministry, there’s no room for ego. 


Update 10:30 AM: I had no idea when I posted this that the same day Talbot Davis would post a sermon text with the repeated refrain, “God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.” Take the time to read it by clicking this link


Somewhat related: “There is no limit on what can be done for God if it does not matter who is getting the earthly credit.”  Read that blog post here.

October 4, 2014

Who Says Youth Groups Won’t Sing?

…and How Running The Internet Rabbit Trails Led Me to New Discoveries

…and The Theology of Acapella Worship

Rural Hill Church Camp

So it all started on Monday night when I was wrapping up the link list. A visit to The Christian Chronicle, a news page of the Churches of Christ revealed that they had started a new feature, Voices Only Wednesday on September 17th. Kicking it off was what appeared to be an eight-minute camp music video from Rural Hill Church of Christ. It reminded me of a couple of Young Life Clubs I attended at another high school many years ago.

There’s a moment in this video near the end (about 6:18) where they go into a James Cleveland song, Get Right Church. (You want to play this loud.) There’s a lot going on in this song. A lot of fun. A lot of energy. A lot of passion. But also a lot of musical complexity. Who says you can’t get youth groups to sing? They call this part of the facility The Singing Porch (see photo above). I’ll bet a lot of audio memories are made there. (You really want to click the link, okay?)

I fired off the link to people I know who work with choirs, with camps, and with youth groups. But found myself wanting to look a little closer. So I checked out the Facebook page for the church. Many more videos from summer camp were waiting. But by this point, I wanted to learn more. 

The church website is visitor-friendly. Remarkably so. On the About Us page there is a notation:

We  do not use instruments in worship. We simply use our voices and our hearts. If  you have never experienced this type of worship, you may be surprised at how  heartfelt and uplifting it can be! We sing a mixture of traditional and  contemporary songs – reflective of the diverse age range and preferences in our  congregation.

So that’s where the kids get this. This musical paradigm is caught at an early age. It’s part of the worship style they’ve grown up with. Yes, there’s Power Point and microphones, but no keyboards, no drums, no guitars.

Days later I checked out the denomination’s description at Wikipedia and learned more:

The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church’s worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.

The use of musical instruments in worship was a divisive topic within the Stone-Campbell Movement from its earliest years, when some adherents opposed the practice on scriptural grounds, while others may have relied on a cappella simply because they lacked access to musical instruments. Alexander Campbell opposed the use of instruments in worship. As early as 1855, some Restoration Movement churches were using organs or pianos, ultimately leading the Churches of Christ to separate from the groups that condoned instrumental music.

(See the link for footnotes.)

Finally I went to YouTube in search of more songs. You can search under Church of Christ acapella, or Church of Christ singing. I used Church of Christ music and ended up listening to a 30-minute teaching from Mountain Creek Church of Christ on why they don’t use ‘mechanical instruments.’ The pastor takes a very easy-going approach on this, and while I would disagree with his hermeneutics, or even the logic by which the conclusion is reached, there’s no denying his hardline conviction. I just don’t think you should take a minority reading of a passage and then argue it quiet so dogmatically.

As an aside, several years ago I met with the lay-leader of a small congregation in our neighborhood, that I knew used only the King James Version. I asked him if there was a theological underpinning for this, and he quickly cut in and said, “No it’s a preference and only a preference. Our people can read anything they want, and many do.” That was refreshing. Rather than preach about the doctrine of acapella music, I would love it if this person simply talked about the rich musical heritage of the capital ‘C’ church — Christianity is a singing faith — and said the acapella thing is just a preference, just the way they do things.

Bottom line? I didn’t find anything on YouTube that grabbed me the way Get Right Church did that first day, but if I were ever in Antioch, Tennessee, I would definitely want to experience what Rural Hill offers first-hand. It would beat spending the Sunday at just another generic megachurch. And I wouldn’t let the reasons they may have for their music stop me from enjoying the rest of the worship service, especially when the music would be the reason I was there at all!


Photo: Ironically, the video from which this was taken (click the image to link) has background music which included a full instrumental background.

 

September 15, 2014

Poetic License or Errant Theology? You Decide

image0915Going through our archives, I thought I’d pay a return visit today to Tom Lawson at the (mostly) worship blog, Adorate to see what he’s written more recently.

I Don’t Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary

While criticism of contemporary worship music is sometimes fully justified, I’m baffled that older gospel songs seem insulated from such scrutiny.  The truth is hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary worship music all have their fair share of either shallow, silly or even wholly heretical (a phonetic oxymoron) lyrics.

We ought to stop longing for A Mansion over the Hilltop.  In 1611 the word “mansion” simply meant a place to live.  The actual idea in John 14:1-2 is clearly the “Father’s house” has more than enough room for everyone.  The gospel song seems to suggest heaven is going to be a land of millions of eternal antebellum southern plantations.  I would note this is an image of heaven many black Christians, for some reason, find less than appealing.

Sometimes, the images are so deeply rooted in the presumed mythology of popular Christianity that even well-informed believers are surprised at the absence of any biblical basis for them.

I believe in a hill called Mount Calvary
I believe whatever the cost
And when time has surrendered
And earth is no more
I’ll still cling to the old rugged cross

What’s wrong with any of that?

If we’re talking about the overall intention of the song, nothing whatsoever. The centrality of the atoning sacrifice of Christ in dying on a cross for the sins of the world has been and must remain a core truth of Christianity.  For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered death and was buried.  On the third day, He rose again, according to the scriptures.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

But, unless you are hiding something in the attic that would be a real show-stopper on the Antique Roadshow there is no “old rugged cross” for you to hang onto…

continue reading here

September 11, 2014

Veteran Christian Artists Offer Scripture Music Collections

“Wait a minute;” I can hear someone saying, “Isn’t all Christian music supposed to be based on scripture?”

Well, as true as that should be, even today’s vertical worship music is rather subjective in its composition and most CCM simply offers a Christian perspective on life, love and living and even that is often veiled. The two projects we look at today are remarkably different.

Michael Card - CD series based on the Gospels

Michael Card‘s collection of four CDs based on the gospels reflects an entirely different genre lyrically. Released between February, 2011 and July, 2014, the four albums aren’t exactly the old “Scripture in Song” material, either; but rather offer something refreshingly unique. The series is called Biblical Imagination and each has a book which corresponds to it, suggesting that the songs come out of the depth of study necessary to complete the books. Both books and music are distributed by InterVarsity Press (IVP), so if your local Christian music outlet only deals with Provident, or Capitol, or EMI, they might not have access.

For those old enough to remember Michael’s song Known by the Scars, the style is really unchanged. (Card is also the author of Amy Grant’s El Shaddai.)

The album I was given as a sample, Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel includes a very classical performance by Fisk University Jubilee Singers before settling down into more familiar Michael Card territory. Scripture references are provided, though here the texts are used more as springboards for more poetic considerations and impressions from the life and teachings of Christ.

I’ll be reviewing the accompanying book here at a later date, but honestly speaking, owning one of the CDs only makes me want to own the entire set.  If my remarks here don’t accurately convey the nature of this recording, it’s only because the beauty and depth is rather hard to describe.


Brian Doerksen and The Shiyr PoetsThe Shiyr Poets (pronounced ‘sheer’) on the other hand takes a more word-for-word approach, but with a conversion to modern English from the Hebrew and with the addition of recurring choruses as keeping with the structure of modern music. In many ways, bringing these texts into our century captures the heart and anguish of the Psalmist in ways we might miss with a cursory reading of the text.

The band is the latest project from worship leader Brian Doerksen composer of Refiner’s Fire, Come Now Is The Time to Worship, You Shine, and Faithful One. The sound is consistent with past Doerksen albums, a gentle, more intimate sound. (Foreshadowing this project was the song Fortress 144 from a few years back; a song Brian said was written especially to be a song that men could embrace in a corporate worship setting.)

On Songs for the Journey, Volume One the goal is to begin working sequentially through the book of Psalms, hence this album covers the first ten, with two bonus tracks. Yes, this is an ambitious project! The group used crowd-funding to partially underwrite the launch of the first project and probably would need to do that again to create successive volumes, as this has not been produced for a major label.

You can listen to an audio sample from Psalm 3, at the band’s website by clicking here, or watch a video from a Christian television program here and here. The physical album is only available in Canada, but you can download it digitally anywhere from iTunes

Again, there’s a lot going on in the Psalms that we miss, and this project accurately captures both the tension and the wonder.

 

 

September 7, 2014

Veritas Mixes Musical Sources into a Single Genre

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Veritas

Veritas is five young men who wear suits to perform; the type of group your church would have booked on Sunday night a generation ago; the type of group the Christian college would send on tour to raise funds and recruit students.  Described on their website as “a contemporary classical vocal group,” their self-titled album is a mix of things that said church guest musicians or college quintet would offer for sale in the lobby after the concert, assuring patrons that, “There’s something on this for everyone.”

Veritas CDSo you get a little CCM (I Can Only Imagine), a little modern worship (Angus Dei, 10,000 Reasons) an inspirational track (You’ll Never Walk Alone), the obligatory patriotic number (American Anthology), the classical performance number (The Lord’s Prayer), a John Legend cover (If You’re Out There) and inexplicably, a Christian rock cover (Dare You To Move). Hearing the last one, my wife noted, “They’ve taken Switchfoot and done a Disney version of it.” Well, not exactly…

But then my son commented that genre issues aside, “This is actually a very well produced album.” And it is. And there really is something for everyone. And Christmas is coming and you need to buy gifts.

You’ll find it available in stores on Tuesday filed under… well, you’ll just have to look in various places for it.


When Christian blogs took off, publishers rushed to flood popular social media authors with books to review, but CD reviews are rarely seen on any but a few Christian websites. We’re open to reviewing any and all nationally-distributed albums sent to us; this one is releasing through Provident Distribution and was sent to us by David C. Cook, who do an excellent job — and I’m not saying that to get more CDs to review — distributing their product in the frozen north.

 

 

August 23, 2014

There’s a Place That’s Called Heaven, Don’t You Ever Forget

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

We continue our weekend with the oldies.

In the late 1960s, in a pre-CCM environment, songs expressing some type of spiritual sentiment were usually a surprise. The closing song on Freedom Suite in 1969 by The Rascals (aka The Young Rascals) was such a song. This was the same band that recorded People Got to be Free, which could be described lyrically as inspirational with a hint of gospel. So this song, Heaven, wasn’t alone in their repertoire.

Sometimes, baby, when you’re really down
There just don’t seem to be a ray of hope around
And everybody that you meet kind of wears a frown
It’s cold and lonely in the heart of town
Got to tell you all that

There’s a place that’s called heaven
Don’t you ever forget
Now, once I heard about heaven, yeah
I’m gonna get there yet

Some days you laugh and some days you cry
Sometimes it feels like the world has passed you right by
But everybody’s got to find a peaceful place to hide
If you’re out looking, take a look inside
And I think you’ll find that

There’s a place that’s called heaven
You might think that’s kind of square, oh oh yeah
If you don’t believe in heaven, yeah
You ain’t never been there

They’ll try to bring you down to their way of thinking, yeah
But don’t you do it, no no, don’t you let it get by (don’t let it by)
A little voice inside will tell you
Exactly what you’re gonna do
Don’t be a fool
Ooh yeah

You don’t have to go looking near or far
‘Cause you can find happiness standing right where you are
Just open up the windows that are in your heart
And let the light shine, then your life will start
Please believe it that

There’s a place that’s called heaven
It’s filled with joy and peace, whoa oh yeah
And once you get a look at heaven, yeah
You’ll find the love that you seek
When all the world is falling down
You’ll find a world filled with peace and love and joy
For every girl and boy
And all your troubles will cease

You know, somebody said to keep on pushing
‘Cause there’s a change that’s got to come
She said, “Thank the Lord”
And every day I thank you, Lord
For all the stars and all the seas
And all the birds and all the bees

August 22, 2014

Who Will Answer? Relevant Today as it was in 1967

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:56 am

This is a really quirky song you don’t hear on your local radio station’s ‘oldies weekend.’ Here are some details from Wikipedia:

  • released as a single in November 1967, is the title track of the 1968 album Who Will Answer? by the adult contemporary singer Ed Ames
  • originally written as the Spanish song “Aleluya No. 1″ by the Philippines-born Spanish singer-songwriter, poet and painter Luis Eduardo Aute, it was adapted into an English-language version with new lyrics
  • It was Ames’ fourth charting single that year, following “My Cup Runneth Over” [and 2 others]
  • Billboard magazine, naming the song its “Record of the Week”, praised the topical lyrics and the unusual musical combination of “Gregorian-like chant … Johann Sebastian Bach and … hard rock”, saying the song “expresses the urgent feelings of our times and deals with such meaningful subjects as nuclear war, apathy, religious discontent and the underlying confusion of today’s generation.”

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

From the canyons of the mind,
We wander on and stumble blindly
Through the often-tangled maze
Of starless nights and sunless days,
While asking for some kind of clue
Or road to lead us to the truth,
But who will answer?

Side by side two people stand,
Together vowing, hand-in-hand
That love’s imbedded in their hearts,
But soon an empty feeling starts
To overwhelm their hollow lives,
And when they seek the hows and whys,
Who will answer?

On a strange and distant hill,
A young man’s lying very still.
His arms will never hold his child,
Because a bullet running wild
Has struck him down. And now we cry,
“Dear God, Oh, why, oh, why?”
But who will answer?

High upon a lonely ledge,
a figure teeters near the edge,
And jeering crowds collect below
To egg him on with, “Go, man, go!”
But who will ask what led him
To his private day of doom,
And who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

In the rooms of dark and shades,
The scent of sandalwood pervades.
The colored thoughts in muddled heads
Reclining in the rumpled beds
Of unmade dreams that can’t come true,
And when we ask what we should do,
Who… Who will answer?

‘Neath the spreading mushroom tree,
The world revolves in apathy
As overhead, a row of specks
Roars on, drowned out by discotheques,
And if a secret button’s pressed
Because one man has been outguessed,
Who will answer?

Is our hope in walnut shells
Worn ’round the neck with temple bells,
Or deep within some cloistered walls
Where hooded figures pray in halls?
Or crumbled books on dusty shelves,
Or in our stars, or in ourselves,
Who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

July 25, 2014

When Heroes Lose Their Honor

larry norman bw
I do not believe I would be in the place I am today spiritually were it not for the great influence of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and the role I got to play in helping introduce the genre to a nation that was hesitant to accept it.  The people I met, the songs and scriptures they were based on, the communities, the whole movement of it all; each of these contributed to my spiritual nurture in ways for which I will be forever grateful.

In general, Larry Norman is considered to have started the thing — referred to as the “father of Jesus music” or even “grandfather of CCM” — but it would be more accurate to say that he popularized it rather than birthed it.1 Larry passed away in 2008.

fallen-allenWhile I was aware that Fallen Angel, a documentary had been produced showing a darker side of Larry Norman there is a difference between knowing about a film and actually seeing it. Imagine! A popular Christian figure having personal issues. That had never happened before.

I think that too often we want to see the good in people and so we miss the clues that things might be wrong. One of Larry’s songs was Baby Out of Wedlock and it was so easy to see this as a piece of poetry, not a personal confession. That very I Corinthians 13 of us.

As it turns out, I still haven’t seen Fallen Angel, but last week we discovered 28 sections of it have been posted on YouTube; some of them have been there quite awhile. The user’s channel is Corrine M. and the documentary excerpts include a number of names I was aware of back in the day, promoters, managers, record company execs, past wives or girlfriends, and Randy Stonehill. Some of these I met through helping three different concert promoters bring Larry, Randy and Tom Howard to Canada, while others I met on a half-dozen extended holidays in Southern California. Collectively, they paint a rather sad picture of a person I could have easily hero-worshiped.

For his part, Stonehill is rather charitable, considering everything. He simply points out the disconnect between the person who led him to Christ and the personality idiosyncrasies about that person that later surfaced. The whole story is so very sad.

Growing up, my father was part of a music team that was associated with a popular Canadian evangelist and pastor who later lost his faith. Charles Templeton’s move from the Christian limelight to bewildered agnosticism is chronicled in many places, including the opening chapter of Lee Stroebel’s The Case for Faith.

One of the takeaways from my childhood that my father made sure I didn’t miss is that you can’t look to people to sustain your faith. They will inevitably let you down. Or take you down. We must instead look to Christ and Christ alone. He is the rock that never rolls.

larry norman in another land 25th frontElsewhere here at Thinking Out Loud:

1Supporting the idea that the roots of Jesus Music were much broader than what might be traced to a single “alpha person” is the YouTube channel Favorite Jesus Music. Scroll down to reveal some of the oldest posted songs. There is another YT channel like this as well; if someone recalls it I will add the link here.

July 19, 2014

When We All Get To Heaven

Rapture art

If someone were to ask me if there are any paradigm shifts I’ve noticed in Christian perspectives on various issues, I would have to say that among my peers and those with whom I converse online, three things might quickly spring to mind:

  • A rethinking of the afterlife as ‘New Earth,’ rather than a ‘heaven’ that’s up there as opposed to down here. (For this, see the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.)
  • A reconsideration of the ‘rapture theology’ that has dominated Evangelicalism for the past several decades. (See End Time Delusions by Steve Wohlberg.)
  • A reassuming of our social justice responsibilities as opposed to placing the weight of our emphasis on doctrinal proclamation. (See Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma.)

However, the songs that we sing in our churches today — and by ‘our’ I mean those of us who have moved toward modern worship as opposed to gospel and classical hymns — do not reflect this change in thinking.

The hymns and gospel songs were consistent with things being preached in the pulpit and for many of us, these doctrines were ingrained through exposure to the music. Consider:

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away

That’s rapture theology pure and simple. When We All Get to Heaven does talk about seeing Jesus and being in His presence, but implies that we are going to get to heaven, some place that’s out there.  Onward Christian Soldiers talks about taking the cross to the world, but our crusade doesn’t appear to include demonstrating compassion or there being servant leaders among the soldiers.

I’m not opposed to those songs entirely; they shaped who I am today. It’s just that in today’s vertical worship environment, we don’t have songs that tell our story and describe more of the thinking that is currently being taught in our churches.  Let me conclude with an illustration.

Last weekend we visited the anchor store in a large chain of musical instrument dealerships. I was telling the manager how my son, recently graduated in electrical engineering, has an interest in designing mixers, keyboards and especially synthesizers. I asked him if the store, when it hires people, is looking for product specialists or people who are good at sales.

He said basically that the product knowledge is a given. Nobody is going to apply who isn’t already a customer and very familiar with what’s in the store. So it’s the sales aptitude that they look for and develop in their staff.

Similarly, if I were asked to speak at a Christian songwriting conference, I wouldn’t talk about the basics of musical composition, I would, like the store manager, take that as a given. Instead, it’s a knowledge of the the lyrical foundation in the writing process that I would want to cultivate. I would want to encourage young Christian musicians to craft pieces that express where the church is today, the things that are central to us in 2014-15, and the things for which presently no songs exist.


We found today’s graphic image along with a very thorough article at this website

For an entirely unique view on this, here’s an old post I wrote about how a particular sect expresses their story in song.

July 18, 2014

Equal Time for Modern Worship

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:21 am

A few days ago I ran a string of videos that left some with the impression that, in terms of Christian music, I am stuck in 1977.  So here, unedited, are recent things that have been playing on my computer.

Here’s the new Steve Fee that Andy Stanley says you should download

With the present modern worship trends, vertical worship means we’ve lost songs of testimony, or songs like this one which make a declaration of faith

If you haven’t heard this Chris Tomlin song before, that’s because it’s a single; the album will be out later in the year.

This one goes back a few years, but my local Christian radio station played it yesterday and it was new to me. Songs which use scripture always have a lyrical power behind them that some other songs lack. Again, a declaration, “My heart is where my treasure lies.”

I think the idea to put this together came while I was discovering Worship Mob last night. They do a lot of covers, this one is original. Check out their video channel.

This one is current, but does echo a lot of Andrae Crouch and the Disciples stuff from a bygone era:

Okay, I want to end with something a little quieter. So for this we do go back a few decades:

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