Thinking Out Loud

May 13, 2016

The Small-s spirituality of Human Voices

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 am

Maybe it’s because I grew up in church, but I believe there’s something transcendently spiritual about human voices blending in harmony; choir-ing if you will. While the lyrics weren’t theological, I was somewhat drawn to reading about a Prince tribute that took place recently in Toronto.

Toronto Life reported:

Last Monday was like any Choir! Choir! Choir! session: anyone who wanted to sing showed up, spent a couple of hours learning their parts and recorded a video to end the night. Except, instead of 200 people in the back room at Clinton’s, there were 2,000 choristers filling the seats of Massey Hall. Like they did with “Space Oddity” after David Bowie’s death, choir leaders Nobu Adilman and Daveed Goldman led the crowd through a three-part arrangement of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”

 

May 7, 2016

The K-LOVE Pledge Drive

K-LOVE

When Grove City College Psychology Professor Warren Throckmorton reports on Mark Driscoll’s troubles or Gospel for Asia’s financial situation we link to it. But when he talks about K-LOVE it gets personal; we listen to that station in our car on a regular basis. So I was surprised on Thursday night to discover I was arriving to this nearly a week late, though I got the payoff of being able to also read the 50+ comments that followed. (Click the title below to read at source.) What follows are the highlights. If you’ve heard the station but don’t know much about the parent organization, you might want to pause to check out this Wikipedia article on the Educational Media Foundation.

Warren ThrockmortonK-LOVE’s Pledge Drive: Money Behind the Music

The Christian radio empire K-LOVE (complete list of stations) is in the middle of their Spring Pledge Drive. To be blunt, the constant solicitations are annoying.

After hearing a claim recently that K-LOVE’s CEO Mike Novak’s salary is over half a million dollars, I decided to do some exploration of K-LOVE’s finances. K-LOVE is one of two radio enterprises run by Educational Media Foundation (Air One is the other). Because EMF is a non-profit, their finances are available via their 990 form. The organization is quite large and took in just over $152-million during 2014.

Concerning the salary claim, it is true that CEO Mike Novak got a hefty sum of $531,256 in 2014. Numerous employees, including one of the DJs got over $200k in compensation. K-LOVE pushes an “easy” giving level of $40/month on the air and their website. It takes 1,107 people making that monthly pledge just to pay Novak’s salary. By comparison, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, Sophie Delaunay, got just over $160k for running an organization that took in twice what K-LOVE received in donations.

K-LOVE also spent $267,463 on “pledge drive coaching.” The return on investment was phenomenal in 2014 in that they raised over $32-million attributed to the effort.   [emphasis added]

Then follows some screenshots and a discussion of compensation of board members. On the subject of compensation he added in the comments:

Having said that, I am sure you can find non-profits CEOs who get more. My point in posting the info was to alert donors that K-LOVE won’t close down if some widow on a fixed income fails to give $40/month.

More transparency in the actual appeals would be refreshing. “We need your easy monthly $40 gift because we have a heap of debt and we are wanting to aggressively expand into areas which already have Christian radio stations. We need your contribution to help push local Christian stations out of the market.”

But it was this conclusion that really got to me:

K-LOVE’s net revenue over expenses for 2014 was over $64-million. At $40/month, that means 133,761 donors could have given their money elsewhere and K-LOVE would have covered operational expenses. While it clearly takes lots of money to run a high quality media operation, it may come as a surprise to donors who sacrificially give $40/month that K-LOVE is doing quite well financially.

I am not saying that K-LOVE is doing anything wrong (although I think they could make it more clear that staff board members are handsomely paid). My intent is simply to provide potential donors with information that is not provided by K-LOVE. It may be that your local church or food pantry needs that money more than this mega-station.  [emphasis added]

Again, in the comments he repeated:

…I just want people to know that if they are considering their local church or KLOVE, the church probably needs it more.

While I don’t want to get into the reader comments, this one from FormerCCMRadioPerson gets back to the heart of what Christian radio is all about.

The huge difference between EMF (KLOVE’s Parent Network) and other networks is that they [KLOVE] own tons of signals, but only have 3 different Formats.

EMF runs the nearly-same feed of KLOVE, Air1, and Radio Nueva Nida on their vast network of signals. So if you hear that a local long-time Christian radio station is selling their station [to] KLOVE, that means the local DJs (and other local workers) just dropped to zero. No local presence. No local weather, ads, connections with churches, outreaches, whatever. It costs precious little to keep those EMF stations on the air. If KLOVE starts up a signal in rural Montana it’s the exact same thing that they’re listening to in Chicago, Miami, and Fairbanks.

Also inflating EMF’s claims is the vast amounts of “translator” stations they run. These are tiny FM repeaters with a 5-15 mile radius that are far easier to license, and they take virtually nothing to maintain compared to their full-powered signals. Many of those KLOVE signals (and Air1) are translators — some of which are owned by IHeartRadio (aka “Clear Channel”) through an arrangement.

None of this is to say that a CEO deserves more or less, but it does mean that EMF/KLOVE’s uniformity makes it far different from comparable companies like Clear Channel or CBS.  [emphasis added]

Again, click the article’s title next to Warren’s picture to read this at source with all the comments.

 

April 24, 2016

A Movie for All the Ragamuffins

Ragamuffin Rich Mullins Movie

Last night we finally got to watch the DVD of Ragamuffin, the story of Christian singer Rich Mullins. For two-hours and 15-minutes, we sat through the ups and downs of his life. The movie was, from beginning to end, saturated in the unique Rich Mullins sound. I said to my wife, “I’ve probably never listened to the sound of the hammered dulcimer this much ever.”

Her reaction to the music was to be totally impressed that the actor playing Rich did his own vocals for the movie, which added some authenticity.

Rather than replay the story line, let me say this instead: This is a movie for

  • Anyone who has ever felt like a misfit; that their history or their calling is simply different from everyone else; that there’s nobody to talk to about what they do because nobody does it, or talk to about how they see the world because nobody else sees the world the same way.
  • Someone who has struggled with their relationship, or lack of relationship with their father; with or without perhaps the added burden of thereby trying to comprehend a loving heavenly Father.
  • A person who is constantly wrestling their own inner demons; be it some particular pain, or addictive behavior.
  • Those who have been let down, disappointed, abandoned, or somehow severed from relationships due to circumstances or even death; whose history seems to be one of people constantly leaving.
  • People who feel the core essence of Christ’s teachings isn’t so much about outward conformity to religious standards, but rather a security in the knowledge that God loves us.
  • Fans of Christian music who want to see the realities of the industry, warts and all, and how God uses people in spite of their brokenness. 
  • Thinkers who want to press further into the idea of grace and how sinners can and do experience the grace of God.

And that is just to name a few things this movie touches.

Rich Mullins’ life intersected with other people you know, from Amy Grant to author Brennan Manning. His music, from “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” to “Awesome God” impacted a generation of Christians.

This is a tough movie to watch. Rich’s life is not an ideal; not really a role model we can hold up to today’s Christian youth. It’s a very dark story; not your typical Christian movie. There were also some continuity issues — the conflicting hair length of the actor has confused many reviewers — which interrupted the flow of what was otherwise a beautifully crafted piece of cinema.

But for us, last night, it was must-watching. Knowing a little about Rich Mullins’ life ahead of time, the movie did not disappoint.

You can read more about the movie, and watch a trailer, at an article I wrote in 2014 when Rich was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

April 23, 2016

Three Decades In, Steven Curtis Chapman Declares “We Believe”

Filed under: Christianity, music, reviews, worship — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Next year will mark 30 years since the Kentucky-born guitarist released his debut, First Hand. He’s taken home more hardware from the Dove Awards than any other artist: 58 to date. Hard to believe then, that his 23rd album, Worship and Believe (Essential Worship/Reunion Records) is his first worship-themed CD. From the first note, it’s definitely a SCC album, but the new genre fits like a glove.

There are 15 tracks on the physical CD, but only 11 songs. The last four cuts are live versions — recorded at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas — of studio tracks heard earlier. (The deluxe digital version tosses in two more live versions.) Having said that, there are a few of the studio tracks that have the immediacy of a live concert. There’s a freshness to this album, rare in a market that is often over-saturated with worship releases.

Chapman’s joined by Matt Maher, Rend Collective and Chris Tomlin, with an overall sound reminiscent of many of Tomlin’s recent releases. The compositions are songs of bold, confident declaration in the greatness of God, such as “We Sing for You,” “We Believe” and “Amen” and sung with a conviction that matches the lyrics. He describes the latter:

The ‘Believe’ part of the album’s title is a reference to Zondervan’s BELIEVE, a 30-week church curriculum series from Randy Frazee; a partnering which came about after Chapman traveled with Frazee for The Story tour.

These are many songs here that I think your church will be singing in the future. Enjoy!


with files from YourMusicZone.com, Wikipedia, iTunes, Charisma Magazine and the artist’s website

No review copy was supplied because, “Nobody does record reviews anymore.”

April 11, 2016

The Downside of Major Music Corporations Owning Christian Labels

This post first appeared in April 2012 at Christian Book Shop Talk

All music products follow a natural cycle from top sellers to the delete bin. In the book industry, we call them remainders, with CDs their deletes. Not sure which is worse: Being ‘leftovers’ or ‘write offs.’ The end result is the same.

There are two surefire ways to make sure your songs don’t die after the album sales die: One is to make a comeback every five years; the other is to make sure the songs are remembered and perhaps even rediscovered years later to be covered by other artists.

If you’re an upcoming band or solo artist, you want to get signed to a label, and you want to get signed to a good label, and a good label is one that will work hard to aggressively promote your music and aggressively protect your copyrights, right?

Well, maybe not. Those royalties will certainly buy a lot of groceries and nobody wants to see their music blatantly ripped off. But I don’t think any musician lying on their deathbed is preoccupied with performance royalties or mechanical royalties.

They would much rather see their music outlive their lives.

I’m returning of course to the issue raised the other day concerning EMI-CMG, the Christian music group of EMI. Is getting signed with this label the top prize, or might you do better, in the long run, to sign with a more ministry-focused organization?

Today I decided to listen online to the song “More” by Mylon LeFevre. Classic Christian rock. “More of Jesus, less of me…” Beautiful harmonies.

But instead, I got the far too recurring black screen telling me the song is not available in my country. Apparently people in Canada are tripping over themselves trying to profit from Mylon’s material. (If I wrote this on one of my mainstream blogs, I would get back, “Mylon who?”) It’s a shame really, because the song is most worthy of a cover version.

I’m sure somebody at EMI thinks they are just doing their job; bowing to whatever copyright oddities permit the song in the U.S., but ban it in Canada, Japan, Serbia and three other countries you’ve never heard of. And in fairness, the notice also implicates Warner Music Group, who aren’t so much of a player on the Christian music scene, but probably own a song or two that you and I would want to recall.

The bottom line is this:

  • Christian music exists for a different purpose
  • Christian songs ultimately belong to the body of Christ
  • Christian artists answer to a higher boss

For years, the CCM industry yearned for “crossover,” we wanted to see our products rack up the numbers in K-Mart and Target and be equal players in the larger industry. So independent record companies like Sparrow sold out to the majors.

Perhaps it’s time to stop chasing success and start crossing over in the other direction; time to take back our music. And if you are a music artist on the cusp of signing with a ‘major,’ think twice about where you want your music to be long after the songs are deleted and the band breaks up. Available or locked in a vault somewhere?


Update: Today (at least) you get to hear the song if you’re in Canada. And for those of you who didn’t know what song I was speaking of; here it is:

April 4, 2016

Not Your Parents’ CCM

I realize we ended last week with both a Thursday and Friday post about worship music, and this isn’t a worship or music blog, but today’s topic just kinda landed on the doorstep over the weekend…


 

And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
 Revelation 14:2 NIV

There has been much talk about what the next wave of Christian music will consist of, and in particular, what the next generation will do with the enormous catalog of modern worship songs it is being handed.

Many idealists would prefer that the next generation simply accept the status quo, and that nothing drastic changes; even though that generation greatly shook up and shattered the paradigm handed it from their parents. However, a simple study of musicology reveals that for the past thousand years (and beyond) every period in music history is a reaction to the period which preceded it.

What follows is my opinion only, but there has to come a point when millennials reject the current styles in either large measure or in some small measure. People who agree with this notion usually say something like:

  • There will be an entirely new form
  • There will be a return to the hymns
  • There will be more of a blended worship approach
  • There will be new songs, but a return of four-part harmony
  • There will be fewer vertical worships songs and more songs of testimony
  • There will be less instrumentation; a minimalist or even acapella aproach
  • There will be more interest in Episcopal or Anglican forms; or chants and Taizé
  • There will be an emphasis on preaching, and less music, so it won’t really matter
  • There will be a decline of congregational participation, and a return to performed solos, choirs, etc.
  • There will be a situation where the congregation becomes passive, and music videos are simply watched

But I think a change is already in the works; it’s been happening for a few years now and it consists of

  • A rejection of Nashville as the music agenda-setting capital of the Christian world, with the next generation church embracing a more European sound
  • A rejection of the guitar as the primary contemporary worship instrument, with worship leaders playing keyboards, especially synthesizers.

(Apologies to Third Day and Big Daddy Weave; et al.)

Hillsong Y&F - Youth RevivalI believe that nothing expresses this better than the new Hillsong Young and Free album, Youth Revival. I’ve been listening to cuts from this over and over again. It puts a smile on my face. (I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s also the band I hear at North Point Online before and after the Sunday live service feeds.)

I realize that this opinion may not sit well with Chris Tomlin fans. I’m just sayin’ that if you have a choice between guitar lessons and piano lessons for the kids and you’re a forward-looking parent, I would go with the piano. As a keyboard player who never once got to play at a campfire, I realize the instrument has some limitations, but I think the next generation is looking for something completely different than G, C, Em, D7 or its many variations.

Hillsong Young and Free stand somewhere between Hillsong Kids and Hillsong United. I get the whole Radio Disney thing. Nonetheless, I believe they best represent the change already taking place.


 

Sadly, the three videos originally posted here have been removed from YouTube and there are no substitutes available as of May 14, 2016.

February 13, 2016

When the Work of the Local Church is Neglected

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

It was 1989. The big city Christian bookstore closed at 6:00 PM on Saturday nights. At 5:30 he walked in and we got into a conversation where he let it be known that his reason for shopping was that he needed to buy an accompaniment tape as he was booked to be the “special music” at church the following morning. He wanted to listen to a few songs and “get some ideas.”

This wasn’t a small country church. This was a church that would have about 1,500 people in each oftwo services. The next day.

img 021316He had left it to the very last minute.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when something similar happened at another Christian bookstore about an hour from where I live. The people needed six copies of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.

They needed them for Saturday. The owner of the store wondered if I had any ideas.

Yes, I do! Plan ahead!

It amazes me how people can show up for work on time, pay their bills before the due dates, and never miss an oil change on the minivan, yet seem totally ill-equipped to do anything related to the church until it’s the last minute.

Historically, the typical stereotype was the Sunday School teacher who pulled out the lesson plan after supper on Saturday and spent ten minutes “going over it.” Is it too idealistic of me to imagine that somewhere there were Sunday School volunteers who began the process mid-week and actually allowed their minds to consider the lesson and fresh ways to present it? I certainly want to think that.

There’s a law in economics that states that everyone’s property is no-one’s property. What that means in this context is that many in the local church have simply never taken ownership of the life and ministry efforts of their local congregation.

img 021316aOne of the worst musical habits I picked up involved a group of instrumentalists who would be tuning their guitars or bass guitars and then, at a certain point, stop and exclaim, “Well… Good enough for gospel.”

Good enough for gospel? Is that what we’re aiming for? Simply good enough?

I was in church the next morning when the guy sang his solo. He did good, but not great. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew the story; the half-hearted, last-minute approach that had gone into preparing to minister in music that day.

 

 

February 1, 2016

Know Where You Believe

 

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-DesignYesterday I got to visit a church in our community which offers a contemporary and a traditional service which run concurrently, with the contemporary service getting a video feed of the sermon when it begins. It was my second visit.

Opinions on music in the local church can often divide people, but this church found a way to satisfy both groups at once. Yes, the one auditorium demographic skews much younger and the other much older, but there is considerable overlap. I spoke to many people after the service; one was a couple (she’s turning 80) who much prefer the more modern service. The other was a guy half their age who much prefers the hymns and the organ.

hymnboardThere is a value to inter-generational worship, and much has been and is being written about this elsewhere on the internet. But both of these worship settings provide that accomplish this, even the demographics are more pronounced in each one.

The thing that got me however was one comment that certain people in the traditional service hold to an opinion that you aren’t truly able to worship God in the modern service, and look down on the younger worshipers condescendingly.

No, it’s not about the music.

The contemporary service meets in a gym.

Therein lies the problem. There are still a number of people who feel that you can’t truly worship God in a civic center, a community hall or a gymnasium; you need a sanctuary that has been set apart for this purpose.

(Given the choice I had when I walked into their building, I chose the gym because I felt I could make a better connection there; that the overall tenor of that service would resonate with me much, much more. I don’t mind the hymns so much, but to listen to the organ would have proved counter-productive and even a bit of a distraction.)

The story of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 is more than simply Jesus encountering a woman with a bad reputation; it raises theological issues as well.

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

She was raising one of the Samaritan distinctives: Where should one worship? She’s really choosing to enter into a debate on the thing that separates Jews and Samaritans instead of focusing on the things with which they agree. She’s not looking for a basis of agreement, but looking to argue doctrine. (She’d love the internet!)

But Jesus sidesteps the question entirely.

Stephen, in his one and only recorded sermon, reiterates this:

48  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?

I just couldn’t believe that the person described in my conversation yesterday seriously believed you can’t worship in a gym, but this mentality still exists in 2016.

If you agree with me that it doesn’t matter, take a moment to prove it. Turn away from your computer or mobile device, or close your eyes, and take a moment to worship God right where you are.

January 30, 2016

When Worship Leaders Actually Minister

This week, we had much discussion about a pivotal event in my wife’s worship leading career, that came about after I rediscovered this blog post in the archives. Even then, it was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


December 26, 2015

Heaven Came Down

Filed under: Christmas, music — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:01 am

Enjoy some music by the band Life Wide Open that’s become my favorite Christmas song over the past few years:

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