Thinking Out Loud

December 12, 2016

Hillsong United Live at The Forum: A Review of Let Hope Rise

let-hope-rise-dvdIf there’s a single takeaway from the 1-hour, 43-minute documentary Let Hope Rise, it’s that the members of Hillsong United are totally amazed and humbled at the band’s worldwide influence and popularity.

The film played in theaters in North America just a few months ago, and is releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray December 20th, just in time for Christmas. A concert at The Forum in Los Angeles provides the storyline, with scenes in the dressing room just before they go onstage book-ending the movie.

This is very much a documentary, not a concert film. There are a couple of songs which play in their entirety. Others are edited somewhat, or transition between the songwriting collaborative process and the finished product onstage. The focus here is to provide a behind-the scenes look.

Again, this is a film about Hillsong United, not the Hillsong worship program in general. There is a far too short, ten minute nod to the history and scope of the parent church in Sydney, but its worship teams aren’t in view here; neither is the younger band Hillsong Y&F (Young and Free) mentioned.

The members of the band obviously know each other well and trust each other. When they are about to go on at The Forum, the songs are basically so very fresh that one of the guys says of another something to the effect, ‘He’s about to walk on the stage and sing words he’s never sung into a microphone before.’

It was interesting that on the one hand, the band talks about the fact they work for the church and are not particularly well paid, but on the other hand are able to enjoy an oceanfront house in California to write songs. Back home in Australia, the members of the band appear to live quite modestly. Some have very young families, with their wives staying home to take care of the kids.

We had planned to watch this with a full stereo sound system but a last minute glitch caused us to relocate. At first I was disappointed, but the music both is and isn’t the focus; it is more about providing the inside look at the band using material filmed for the movie and archival footage the band owned.

Hillsong’s influence on worship music around the world is immeasurable and Hillsong United’s influence on youth culture and youth ministry is equally significant. Anyone who is a fan of United will probably want to watch this several times. Onscreen lyrics are provided on a few songs for those who even want to sing along.

Movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

October 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Sunset - Mark BattersonThis is another photograph in a continuing series by people known to readers here; this sunset was taken Monday night by author and pastor Mark Batterson.


On Monday I raked leaves and collected links; you could call it my own little feast of ingathering.

Paul Wilkinson’s wisdom and Christian multi-level business opportunities — “just drop by our house tomorrow night, we have something wonderful we’d like to share with you” — can be gleaned the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and in the Twitterverse

From the archives:
The problem with out-of-office email notifications:

Lost in translation: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers – but the Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” …Read the whole 2008 BBC News story here.

February 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bart Simpson - Love Wins

Link and the world links with you…  The cartoon? See item 4 below:

For Heaven's Sake - Feb 4 2013

August 7, 2010

Televangelists are the New Rock Stars

Taken from above the stage area around 6:30. By the 7:00 PM start time, most of the empty seats you see were filled.

The Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs may not score high in the statistical records of basketball and hockey respectively, but the teams make money and the ticket prices are astronomical, if you can find a ticket at all.    So having never seen the inside of the just-under 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre, we decided our only chance to see the facility was to crash the Joyce Meyer crusade that has taken place there over the past three days.

Actually, our other goal was to see Darlene Zschech lead worship, since the chances of our ever seeing Hillsong are about as remote as getting tickets to a Leafs or Raptors game.   (Which, as a guy who helped launch “Jesus Music” in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, and who could once walk into any Christian concert anywhere without a ticket, shows how far my one-time status has fallen.)

A “pre show” video introduced us to an upcoming women’s conference in St. Louis, a promo for a youth curriculum Joyce has developed based on her Love Revolution book that must have had the budget for a Disney music video, and a video biography of Joyce and husband David.   Instructions for audience decorum were then delivered by two mock airline stewards.   Cute.  Then came the t-shirt giveaway with shirts fired from the stage.  It would be interesting to know how many of those shirts will be on the backs of the recipients a few weeks from now.    Maybe.   Especially given that 70-75% of the audience was female.

The auditorium continued to fill.   The number of arena staff on duty (probably at least 400) gave a clue as to the incredible cost of staging a crusade like this.   Several times my wife mentioned her amazement that this was a free admission evening.  Of course, lineups for teaching tapes, books, Bibles and videos (and mugs) in the lobby were long, and sales were brisk.   And at each entry point into the seating area there were the ubiquitous white buckets and stacks of offering envelopes.

Then the worship began.

Darlene Z. was joined by a 10-piece band.   It was loud.   Very loud.   Not too loud for me, but loud for the demographic we perceived to be in attendance.   Especially in a country that is much more conservative in worship.   The sound — such as we’ve seen take place on the recent Hillsong album, A Beautiful Exchange — more resembled the youth band Hillsong United than anything the regular Hillsong albums have taught us to expect.

There was a rush en masse of younger people into what my wife terms “the mosh pit,” and the resultant video mix of band and audience shots on the giant screen certainly resembled a United concert. I’ll bet a few seniors in the audience will never again complain about the worship band in their local church.

Four songs in and then, as the band continued playing, Joyce Meyer walked out on the stage.   A reverential hush came over the audience.   The reverence one has for a rock star.   The quiet that comes when someone is about to make a significant pronouncement.  Joyce prayed for the audience and then the band finished the fourth song.

Mission accomplished, we sprinted for the exit.   I told the volunteer usher he could give our seats to those still arriving.   “You’re not coming back?”  He seemed shocked.   “No we’re not;” I replied.  I’m not sure why anybody would want those seats however.   My neck was already sore from turning sideways to see the stage, and our view of either Jumbotron was complete obstructed.   This section of arena seating seemed to lend itself to a kind of detachment from what was taking place below.

If there were about 17,000 people there — I think my guess is accurate — I hope the other 16,998 enjoyed the rest of the night.

It’s just not our scene.

February 11, 2009

Readers Want to Know More about Music Artists: Steve Fee and Steve Bell

Two musical artists mentioned in this blog continue to draw hits to the two posts, even though in one case, I have yet to hear the entire album.    Here’s an encore of both October 2008 posts, beginning with the longer review for Canadian folkie Steve Bell, and followed by the mention of Steve Fee whose “We Shine” song remains, months later, an edgy worship song I think more people need to experience, even though my comment was more a lesson in split screen YouTube viewing, which is probably a disappointment to all those tag surfers who end up reading it.

Canada’s Steve Bell’s ‘Devotion’ – An Album Review

Steve Bell is one of Canada’s foremost Christian music artists, in a sub-genre that might be termed ‘Christian folk music.’   For my U.S. and U.K. readers, the closest comparison I can offer in Christian music is Michael Card.  Steve’s catalog on his own Signpost Music label includes a live album recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, a tribute to the songs of Bruce Cockburn, and albums on which he shares the microphone with his daughter, or other artists on the label.   For my Canadian readers, Steve has played back and forth so many times in this country that he is simply no stranger to many of us.   So it was with anticipation that I looked forward to what was described as “Steve’s first ever worship album.”

The rest of this review is intended to qualify that statement.   This is a different Steve Bell album inasmuch as all the songs were penned by Gord Johnson, a songwriter from Steve’s home church, St. Benedict’s Table, described on its website as, “a worshiping community rooted in an ancient future.”   Gord takes some very simple and sometimes very familiar texts — such as the 4th century prayer which begins, “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid” — and makes some very beautiful music out of them.   In the liner notes, Steve explains that they took about forty of Gord’s songs to producer Roy Salmond, with the result being this album, Devotion.   So in some respects, this is not a Steve Bell album, even though it is.

But I’m also not so sure that it’s a worship album in the sense that many reading this would expect.   Most of the songs do have a vertical lyrical orientation, but these are not the simplest songs to adapt and sing in your local church.   (Although, the inclusion of the guitar chords in the lyric book would certainly help facilitate that…)  On the one hand, the melodies and rhythms are not the usual, predictable stuff that passes for modern worship today.   That may be a good thing.   For most churches that I know, these might be more difficult songs to learn.   However, they do sing them at Steve’s church, which makes me think that trying a few of them might be a worthy and attainable goal.

One of our favorites was the second song, Everything We Need, a longer (seven minutes plus) song that is almost chant-like in its execution, and hints at, but never fully maximizes as a two-part song.   (The counterpoints are deliberately muted in the mix, though they are clearly there.)  We thought this song was reminiscent of songs we’ve heard done at Taizé services.  The song Embrace the Mystery is a single stanza of only 17 words, while Who Condemns You Now comprises only 18 words.    Praise The Father, Praise the Son is a  minor melody which bears a resemblance to the pop classic Scarborough Fair.   These are good songs; they are worshipful, but it’s not fair to call this a worship album when the term is usually applied to a ‘certain kind’ of music, and this album is so refreshingly different.

In the end, we started talking about the concept of ‘performance worship.’   There are some songs out there that we, the audience, shouldn’t feel the need to join in on.  We should be able to appreciate what is taking place at the front of the church as being offered as worship on behalf of all of us.   That’s how things were in era before the present modern worship era.   Singers did ’special music’ which often were songs of testimony and often were songs of proclamation of God’s goodness, grace and mercy.

Maybe an album like Devotion is simply the beginning of the next step, the next era in worship.  Perhaps there is a time to allow the better musicians to create something that is beyond the reach of the audience; that we can just sit and enjoy and then say “amen” to.   Or possibly we need to stretch the boundaries of what we sing on Sunday morning and take a cue from Steve Bell, Gord Johnson, and the people at St. Benedict’s Table.

Fee (Steve Fee Band) – We Shine

We shine, we shine, with the light of God
And when we speak, we speak with words of love
And when we dance, we may get a little wild
Cause we’re the people of God, yeah, the people of God

This has recently become one of my favorite worship songs.   Listened to it three times today while doing a couple of hours of driving.

Problem is, I’m the kind of guy who has to have a lyric sheet in my hands while I’m listening — one of the major benefits of the 12″ vinyl album era, but a big downside to YouTube viewing.

Unless you take your cue from ABC Sports and do a split screen.

First, open any web page featuring the song lyrics, such as this one.

Next restore the window and resize it to fit the RIGHT side of your monitor from top to bottom.

Now open another browser, and click on a YouTube, or Vimeo, or GodTube version of the song.   Since I think YouTube (or MetaCafé) opens faster, I chose this one.  (Second time around you could choose this one.)

With the video running on the LEFT side of your screen, click the button for the lyric page you opened which should still be only the RIGHT side of your screen.   Since it opened last, you can page down as the song progresses.   Just think, kids; not that long ago, split-screen was radically new technology.

By the way, it turns out this is a really bad example, because there are several YouTube versions of this song that have the lyrics already superimposed.

Comment added to the February 11 update: If your youth group does Hillsong United songs, you’ll find this one fits right in.   If your church does Hillsong United songs, tell us where you worship, sounds like a pretty rockin’ place.

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