Thinking Out Loud

October 31, 2011

An Indescribable Universe

I am very thankful to the publishers who saw fit to send me manuscript editions — collector’s items to be sure — of books not yet published; but today I am reviewing a book that is available in two very different editions, however, the manuscript copy I have possibly resembles neither.

This is rather critical, since the book, or more correctly books in question rely heavily on an amazing set of pictures; and I have no idea what the page layout is of each, though I can make some basic assumptions. 

The book(s) under review are titled Indescribable: Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe by Louie Giglio and Matt Redman.  The simpler of the two is a 192-page paperback edition, retailing at $14.99 U.S.  The second, the one you’d really want to own, is the 224-page, full-color hardcover illustrated edition, retailing at $24.99 U.S.

The book(s) take on a subject as big as all the universe, and I believe are based somewhat on the extremely popular Indescribable video which forms part of Passion Talk DVD series, and which EMI-Christian Music Group is offering for a limited time for only $7.99 U.S. in recognition of the book’s release.

The authors had me at the introduction; quoting Paul Hawken:

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years.  No one would sleep that night, of course… We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God.  Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

The book also highlights the subtleties of scripture that we often miss.  In a chapter outlining the behavior of different types of stars, Matt Redman, a worship song composer and worship leader notes:

Literally every place the Hubble Space Telescope has looked, it has found something fantastic. Making one splendor-filled discovery after another, this instrument is turning out to be one of the world’s best worship leaders, introducing us to scenes of such compelling majesty that to bow low before our Maker is the only fitting response.

In I Corinthians we read, “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another, and the stars and other; and star differs from star in splendor.” (15:41)

There are a number of similar passages where you say to yourself, ‘I’ve never thought about that particular scripture verse that way.’   It’s now easy for me to understand the popularity of the DVD series, and Indescribable in particular.  This is a book that would make an excellent gift for anyone, but could be especially helpful to a skeptic, and especially formative to a younger individual.

June 24, 2010

Worship in the United States vs. Worship in the United Kingdom

Two countries.   Much shared history.   A common language.   Similar politics.

But when it comes to church or when it comes to our expression of Christianity, are we in North America more alike our British cousins or are we more unalike?

Living in Canada gives a few of us a unique window on both our neighbours to the south and our friends several thousand miles to the east.   To many of us here, Adrian Plass, Selwyn Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, etc. are names we have at least heard, if we haven’t also read their books or sung their songs.

What amazes me though is how little my contacts in the U.S. know of Christianity in England.    Where this turns up most is in a cursory examination of worship music in both countries.

Because we’re still a few weeks away from getting the biannual numbers from CCLI — the next six month report comes out in August — we’ll have to settle for a look at the February 2010 stats.

Here’s a look at the Top 25 worship songs in use in the U.K.

Without getting too deep into statistics — we’ll leave that to the sportscasters — you see on this list a couple of Graham Kendrick classics along with the beautiful “I Will Offer Up My Life” by Matt Redman and a number of pieces that follow the ‘hymn style’ of verse/chorus, such as “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “Be the Centre,” and the classic “All Heaven Declares.”   The American #1 most-used chorus, “Mighty to Save” by Hillsong doesn’t even appear on the list.

Here’s the U.S.A. list for the same period:

For some of my American readers, this list seems rather dated, or perhaps even rather tame.  Your church has already moved on to newer songs.   I personally think that the U.S. church has adopted a rather “disposable” attitude toward its worship music in the last five years or so.   Anything before 2006 is considered a “golden oldie.”

That’s rather sad in a way.    The British churches contributing to their list seem to hang on to a good song a little longer.

I also feel bad for American churches who aren’t using “Once Again” by Matt Redman, but also wish that the British list contained at least one song by Paul Baloche.

I think every church service should contain at least a couple of songs from these lists.   This is the worship music that connects us; these songs are being sung across denominational lines.   Too much new and unfamiliar music weakens the worship time.   I also hope your church does at least five or six different worship songs each week.   There’s a trend right now to only doing a couple, but I think it leaves both seasoned worshipers and seekers a little shortchanged.

If you missed it, last week I had another couple of posts on worship music in light of a recent book, and you can read those here (June 11th) and here (June 17th).  (If you think I’ve gone conservative, rest assured that the author of that book wouldn’t have even posted these lists!)

I think it is incumbent on worship leaders to stay aware of what’s happening in worship on a worldwide scale, and know about other material that is available to them.   If you click on the links, you’ll end up at the site which also allows you too look at lists in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

Brooke Fraser has a total of four songs on the N.Z. list, including #2 and #3, but the Africa list has more familiar songs that you might expect.

If I could only sing 25 songs in the next year, I’d be content to make the Africa list my songbook.

Today’s forum:  What do you think of the song selection at your place of worship?

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