Archive for the 'Music' Category

Christmas in July

This summer I have found myself in a bit of a spiritual funk. That’s the technical term when you feel like you’ve just spent thirty nine and a half years wandering in the desert following Aaron and Moses and feeling as spiritually dry as the forsaken desert surrounding us.

I selected some music to help move me out of the funk and into the promised land. The music I picked: Christmas music. Seasonally it seems inappropriate, but for the purpose of turning my mood around, it is just what the doctor ordered. It helps remind me that my faith is the birth of something new in me, and it is constantly being re-born.

Merry Christmas. Don’t get too hot outside…

Jason Gray: Seeing In the Dark

I heard Jason Gray on Under the Radar a few months ago and decided to check out his album A Way to See In the Dark.  A few of the tracks that really caught my attentions:

  • Remind Me Who I Am:  The song serves as a reminder that we all sometimes feel far from God, and lose our identity of who we are in God’s eyes.  For me this brings about thoughts of how much I am loved — even when I do not feel it.  These words are particularly haunting at times: “If I am your beloved, can you help me believe it?”  
  • Without Running Away:  The opening simple shaker and acoustic guitar sounds light and free, but the words are dark about the hopelessness that sometimes infects our heart.  The music almost seems interrupted by the refrain “to run the risk of fearlessly loving, without running away.”  At times our lives are likewise interrupted by the fears and pain that Gray describes in the song, and sometimes we are hindered from loving as Christ taught us because there are disciples with swords drawn, cutting off ears.  This song easily turns itself into a prayer for inner peace, to see through the distractions of the world, of our own hearts, and welcoming the love of God into our hearts.
  • Fear is Easy, Love is Hard:  I think the title just about says it all.  It’s not about relational love, but loving all, especially those who we are estranged from, or who are different from us.  The natural, pre-wired response is fear.  The response we are called to give by Christ, however, is love.
  • The Other Side: A fast moving song about how the challenges of today always seem bigger in the present than they do once we are looking at them in hindsight.  It’s a reminder that we have had challenges in the past, we will have them in the future, and that through them all, the love of God will be with us.  I love the change in tempo and accented beat that takes place between verse and chorus.

A Way to See In the Dark is currently a steal on Amazon at $5 for the MP3 album and $7.92 for the CD version.

I also noticed that Jason Gray is going to be touring with Andrew Peterson in the coming months.  If you have a chance to catch this duo on stage together, I highly recommend it.  Your heart will be lifted.

Music: Memories

Sing “This Little Light of Mine” … and do it with a frown on your face.  Go ahead. I dare you.  I’m pretty sure it can’t be done.  Music is infectious, and the infection has many causes.  In the case of This Little Light of Mine, I think it has to do with associations we make with happy childhood memories.  Maybe it’s vacation Bible school or a children’s Sunday School.

We attach memories to music, and revisiting the music helps us remember things.  It connects us to emotions and memories, but in the case of sacred music, it also connects us to our theology.

Consider any song your remember from worship.  There is something there that is beyond just a catchy tune.  The lyrics teach and preach.  We humans also have a knack for getting tunes stuck in our heads.  The lyrics (or at least a chorus or two) often go along for the ride, carrying their message into our subconscious (or sometimes directly into the forefront of our conscious) mind.

What about music that is Scripture?  Check out Matthew, chapter 1.  There is a lot of important background in the list of the names of the genealogy leading to Jesus’ birth.  There are kings, good and bad, women, sinners, saints, triumphs, and defeats.  It is so important, but how would anyone memorize all that?  Check out Andrew Peterson’s answer:

I’m a huge fan of Andrew Peterson, primarily because his songs are deeply rooted in Scripture.  Matthew’s Begats is among my favorites.  Whenever I go to one of his concerts where this song is performed, I am amazed at how many people sing along from memory.  They memorized a catchy tune, and the genealogy of Christ came along for the ride.  For the younger members of the audience I relish the thought of when they start to do a study of the Old Testament of the Bible.  They have a huge head start on seeing the connection of those stories to the coming of Jesus in the New Testament.

Human memory is a funny thing, too.  I always loved the hymn It is Well With My Soul, and memorized the chorus, but could never seem to commit the verses to memory.  … Until one day when I heard the version sung by Jeremy and Adie Camp on the Amazing Grace movie soundtrack.  Listen below:

At first I wasn’t sure I liked it, but it found its way to getting stuck in my mind.  I found myself humming along and eventually singing along in the car.  The next time I sang it in church I noticed I didn’t need to look at the words.  They were finally in my memory for good.

Is the meaning of the message changed?  Perhaps it is.  It may have a different tempo, certainly the different instrumentation yields a different tone, but the meaning of the lyrics are nearly constant despite musical changes.  The theology echos through the centuries.

Of course there are all kinds of music, with all kinds of messages capable of getting stuck in our heads.  Isn’t it a glorious blessing when we can take a message from our Creator with us wherever we go, and sing along?

Music: Incarnation

Perhaps stating the obvious, music plays a great role in the experience of worship.  There are many reasons it is important, and many ways it influences us.  Some of those I will explore in future posts.  In this post, I’m looking at the way that music serves as an invitation for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives.

I sing in a small choir in our church.  Sometimes we sing something that I’ve never heard before, but more often we sing songs that I’m at least somewhat familiar with.  Some of them I know peripherally, having heard sung as a hymn a few times, or perhaps I heard it on the radio.  Some I know a little more, perhaps having heard them many times on the radio, maybe I even own the CD, or regularly sung along in the car (perhaps to the giggling of the driver in front of me watching in their rear view mirror).  Something different happens when I sing the same song as part of a choir.  I often learn a part other than the melody.  I pay attention to enunciation, pitch, and listening to the volume of those singing around me.  In a nut-shell: I become much more aware of the dynamics of the song, and the meaning that gets conveyed when we, as a choir, sing it in a certain manner.

Usually after our choir performs a song in a worship service, the song is still stuck in my head and my heart for a long time.  I find myself meditating on the lyrics.  I start to think about the meaning of the lyrics, connecting it to scripture, and listening intently for what God speaks to me through the song.

I enjoy attending live musical performances.  There is something unique when a song is sung by the person who wrote it.  Knowing precisely what they meant when they penned a certain lyric, or wrote a melody in a certain way, they are able to put a certain emotion in to it that is rarely duplicated when it is covered by another musician.  There are exceptions, to be sure, but I usually feel a much deeper connection when the author of the music performs it.

Some time ago, Josh Wilson asked his fans to send in video clips of themselves singing along, dancing, or playing an instrument to one of his songs.  He collected these clips and carefully edited them into a new rendition of his song.  Take a look:

Once I got past the fact that this song is powerful in its own right, there was something else that drew me to this rendition of it: the communal nature it inspired by having a collaboration with so many musicians and fans.

I suspect that each one of the people who contributed and saw their own face on the final work felt an amazing connection with the lyrics, more than they did by simply listening to the song alone.  The love of God must shine a little brighter through these individuals than it did before.

Both of my sons, after watching this video, wanted to make a contribution as well.  Even though we were not a part of the video, we still felt in communion with the song and its message, just by knowing that “regular people” were involved in the creation of the final work.  The power of the internet is making new types of collaboration possible that could not have been dreamed of even a few years ago.  We can expect to see this type of connectivity and distance-independent communion grow.  Speaking of communion …

Music can lead to communion.  When we participate in the art of music, we join together to create something greater than any one of us could create alone.  Moreover, where two or more are gathered in the name of Christ, He will be with us also.

Music can lead to incarnation.  When we internalize the message of God, found in music inspired for worship, the presence of the living, resurrected Christ comes to live within and through us.  This is where the true power of the experience inspired by worship music comes to fruition.  Once God is in our heart, we are not the same.  We cannot be the same.

Thank God for the power of the musical arts to bring the great incarnation to life in us.


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