Thinking Out Loud

November 30, 2014

Some High Church Music

I thought the Christian internet could use a little balance today. Our regular playlist of Bethel Worship, Hillsong United, Rend Collective and All Sons and Daughters will resume momentarily. You can thank me later for this:

November 24, 2014

The Original Nativity Scene Probably Looked More Like This

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:14 am

This was composed and recorded by a very good friend of mine. Kick back for five minutes and consider what the scene at the back of the Bethlehem Inn really looked like those first few nights.

I have a little manger scene I unpack every year,
I put it on the mantle way up high
Safe from puppy dogs, little hands and wrestling adolescents,
Who might break a piece and make me want to cry.

I’ve had that little manger scene of china and of glaze,
Since I was just a kid of 4 or 5
For years and years I looked at it believing every line,
Cause it made the ancient story come alive

It makes me sentimental, Though I know it didn’t happen quite that way
A little poetic license is OK.

In my little manger scene Mary’s got blue eyes,
she’s dressed in silk and satin like a queen
Joseph’s beard is neat and trim, just like his fingernails,
And everybody’s handsome and serene

The swaddled baby’s smiling up at three wise men standing guard,
So noble, not a sunburn neath their crowns
They’re hanging with the shepherds who are kneeling squeaky clean
on golden straw carpeting the ground

It’s all sleek and smooth and shining,
Tho’ I know it wasn’t quite like that, don’t you?
The truth is not quite so pretty, but it’s true

I bet Mary, she was saddle sore and Joseph couldn’t sleep
The wise men smelled like camels and the shepherds smelled like sheep
And the stable smelled like cattle and the things that cattle do
The baby woke up hungry every morning, half past two
And the straw got into everything, your shoes and in your hair
In the food and in the beds and on your nerves and everywhere

But our Mary, she’s no china doll, she’s a fighter through and through,
Joseph knows he has a job to do
There isn’t any stopping them, there isn’t any doubt,
Together they will see this journey through.

‘Cause she, she was a warrior, he was her strong right arm,
In a battle that they couldn’t comprehend
That baby was a treasure who would ransom all the world,
They’d carry him until he took his stand.

Even though Mary, she was saddle sore and Joseph couldn’t sleep
The wise men smelled like camels and the shepherds smelled like sheep
And the stable smelled like cattle and the things that cattle do
The baby woke up hungry every morning, half past two
And the straw got into everything, your shoes and in your hair
In the food and in the beds and on your nerves and everywhere

So if in my little manger scene, they look a little glazed
A little poetic license is OK.
Though I know it didn’t happen quite that way.

©2011 Ruth Wilkinson

November 23, 2014

The one about Hymns and Choruses and Cows

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:25 pm

Okay, I know this is old, but this morning I encountered someone who had never heard it, and so I figure there’s probably more than one. (This was a popular e-mail forward about fifteen years ago.)

Praise Songs explained…

Not long ago a farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the farmer, “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”

“Praise choruses,” said his wife, “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The farmer said, “Well it’s like this – If I were to say to you:

`Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

`Martha Martha, Martha, Oh, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA,
the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows,
the white cows, the black and white cows,
the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn,
are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn,
the CORN, CORN, CORN,’

Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well that would be a praise chorus.”


Hymns explained…

A young, new Christian from the big city attended the small town church one weekend. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

“Well,” said the young man, “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”

“Hymns,” said his wife, “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.

“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.

The young man said, “Well it’s like this – If I were to say to you, `Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.

For the way of the animals who can explain?
There in their heads is no shadow of sense,
Hearkenest they in God’s sun or his rain
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.

So look to that bright shining day by and by,
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn.
Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.

Then, if I were to do only verses one, three, and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.”

November 11, 2014

How Things Look From the Platform

Filed under: music, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:36 am

aka What the Worship Leader Sees

This is something my wife came up with four years ago. Have you ever wondered what the congregation looks like when you’re standing at the front leading? Fortunately, the ones the team notice most are the people really entering into worship; but if you look more carefully — and it’s not recommended — it probably looks like this:


November 7, 2014

Media Musing: Who Owns Christian Publishers, Deline of Music Sales

Filed under: books, media, music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Two stories today that have a common link

Christian Publishing: Who owns what?

First, Christianity Today ran this chart a few days ago which helps put the various Christian publishers that are part of huge multi-nationals in perspective. Each stream begins with the corporate name of the parent company, and then you see divisions and individual book imprints (if it were music, we’d call them labels) color-coded as to the type of audience they primarily target.

Christian Publishing Imprints of Major CompaniesClick the image to read the article. A similar analysis can be found at this link.


Putting music sales in perspective

Each one of the following statements can be supported by a quick online search, but I chose not to clutter this with the links. Basically, the point is that country-turned-pop singer Taylor Swift had great success in the past week with the album 1989 which left everything else that’s happened lately in the dust…

  • In just 7 days, Taylor Swift sold more copies of 1989 than the combined sales of albums at # 2 to # 107 on Billboard.
  • 22% of all albums sold in the U.S. last week were Taylor Swift.
  • Just 3 weeks ago people were saying “2014 is expected to become the first year in modern history where no artist has sold more than 1m albums in the US.” *
  • With only about seven weeks left in the year, she is the first platinum album for 2014, and possibly the last platinum album ever.
  • In a broader perspective, the new album is the fastest selling record in the past twelve years.

*studio albums, since the Frozen soundtrack achieved this

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.

 

 

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