Random Thoughts on Christmas Carols, The Radio, Church and Advent

I made it all the way to December 14th.

It’s a new record.

I managed to avoid “The Christmas Shoes” on the radio for 14 whole days.

It’s one of those songs that tugs at your heart strings, ed and I inevitably cry every time I hear it. And Friday, shop I couldn’t avoid it. I couldn’t get to the radio quick enough to turn it off. So I listened to it.

But what made it worse was the song the radio played right after was the same type of song, treatment only this time it told the story of a little boy with a terminal disease who probably wouldn’t live long enough to see Christmas, but does and then dies. Put “The Christmas Shoes” and that new song together on a day when little children were murdered in Connecticut, and needless to say I was a big sobbing mess.

By Saturday I was mad. Those two songs don’t tug at heart strings, they manipulate emotions. Now don’t get me wrong there is definitely a place and a time for songs of sadness, lament and raw emotion. But in this case, these songs do it for the wrong reason. And maybe that’s not the fault of the songwriters, but it is definitely the fault of the radio stations who play them over and over and over again. (How many covers of “The Christmas Shoes” are there now? 20? 30? 100?)

On Sunday we sang advent songs about joy. No Christmas carols yet. And I get the theological reasoning for it, I really do. But it seems really strange that I can hear Christmas carols, hymns about the birth of Jesus, on the radio for an entire month, and yet in church we’ll only sing Christmas carols on two occasions, Christmas Eve, and the Sunday after Christmas as part of the 12 days of Christmas. (edited to add: there might be a few Christmas carols at church this Sunday because it is the children’s pageant). Note: I’m not saying “down with Advent.” I think Advent is vitally important to the life and worship of the Christian community and it’s one of my favourite times of year. I just can’t help but spend a few minutes thinking about the oddity of the secular having more airtime for Christmas carols than the church. (Now of course I get that in the grand scheme of the Church year Easter has been and should be a bigger deal than Christmas and that Christmas being the high point of the church year is a relatively new phenomenon).

Speaking of Christmas carols, a friend of mine posted what has to be the strangest, creepiest, incongruous music video ever. It’s Twisted Sister’s rendering of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Now I don’t have a problem with the musical score, it’s the video itself. It represents a complete disconnect from the lyrics. Do they even know what they are singing? And then add to the fact that in the middle of the bridge they throw in a few bars of “We’re Not Going to Take It” and it has to be the weirdest Christmas music video ever.

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Some Days My Emotions Need Manipulating

In the last couple of weeks, capsule I’ve had more than one person say something to this effect:
Contemporary worship music is emotionally manipulative.

And it’s true. The question is whether or not manipulation is necessarily a bad thing.

As many of you know, stuff I’ve been attending an Anglican church in this last academic school year (see my posts on my Adventures in Anglicanism). Through this, I’ve come to reorient myself to speak of worship as the entire service, rather than just the music portion. So, in what follows, I’m going to try to be careful to say ‘worship music’ and not ‘worship.’

This particular church is fairly traditional in its choice of songs, though it has attempted on several occasions to bring in some more contemporary hymns.
I’m not anti-hymn. Hymns, when done well, are extremely powerful. But there has been more than one occasion in which I can’t help but wonder if they’re so concerned with being ‘reverent’ in how they play the songs that they lose the emotion and feel of the hymn. On several occasions, the solemnity with which they have played the processional hymn, for example, has managed to turn it into a funeral dirge.

But at least they’re not being emotionally manipulative.

I popped into seminary chapel last week. There, they were doing some fairly standard ‘evangelical’ praise music. It started with just the guitar and lead vocal. By the chorus, the keyboard and backup vocalists had joined in. At the end of the song, the instruments dropped off, and only the voices sang. There was movement in the music, and the team created a sense of awe of wonder and excitement. I was emotionally manipulated. My hands were raised. My eyes were closed. In that moment, my emotions were driving my worship.

And it was a good thing. I hadn’t realized how dry I was. I hadn’t realized how, in the last couple of months, my worship had become all about my head. There had been no heart in my worship.

25 years ago, Les Miserables opened in London, and was roundly panned by critics for being ’emotional drivel.’ The producers, upon hearing the reviews, were gearing up to pull the plug. They called the box office to find out how many refunds were being issued for tickets. They couldn’t get through. Finally, they got through. The entire run was sold out! The audiences had loved it. The ’emotional drivel’ was, for the audience, an ’emotional connection.’ In a short time, the production moved to the West End, and then around the world. 25 years later, a sold-out concert at the O2, broadcast on PBS and available on DVD, continues to evoke a strong emotional response from viewers. Fans know that, when that final round of “Do You Hear the People Sing” starts, their hearts swell, and they leave the theatre with a song on their lips and their toes tapping. It doesn’t matter that the play ends with most of the heroes dead, and the revolution squashed. For a brief time, the audience entered into a story, connected with characters, and were changed by the experience.

So it is with worship music. For a brief time, we enter into the story of redemption, and are transported into the throne room of God, joining the saints and angels in praising and proclaiming the awesomeness of the Lamb. The music lifts us out of our day to day busyness and compels us to be changed, even if only for a little while.

I left the seminary chapel with a song in my heart, and found myself spontaneously worshiping God throughout the rest of the day, singing snippets of different praise songs and hymns at the most random of times.

So did the contemporary worship music emotionally manipulate me? Yep. And that was a good thing.

Worship Music

Keith and Kristyn Getty are gearing up to lead the music at the TGC conference this spring. Collin Hansen has an interview with Keith, sovaldi and at the bottom is a link to Keith and Kristyn’s website, ed which currently has three mp3’s available for free download, capsule as well as the corresponding sheet music.

The songs are:

Behold the Lamb (Communion Song)

The Power of the Cross

Come People of the Risen King

The Hymn you love to hate Meme

Inspired by last week’s CCM Praise Songs We Have Trouble With Meme, sildenafil Doug Chaplin over at Clayboy has started The Hymn You Love to Hate Meme.

Here are the rules:
1. Choose a hymn that you love to hate. It must be in a widely used and current hymn-book.
2. Say why.
3. Tag three people.

My first instinct would be to nominate O Canada, Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful etc, but even though they’re in the hymn books they’re not really hymns. (And it always cracks me up that the American patriotic songs end up in Canadian hymn books).

But, instead, Chuck and I are each going to nominate one.

I’ll Fly Away.

I love this song, I really do and it’s so upbeat, and I love how the Statler Brothers cover it (Johnny Cash‘s is pretty good too), but it’s a song full of blatant Platonic dualism.
And it’s not just the flying away chorus, but the second verse says:

When the shadows of this life have gone.
Like a bird from prison bars has flown

Can’t get more platonic than shadows and escaping birds.

They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.

Decent song, except for the one line:

And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride. (third verse)

We’re called to save each others’ pride?! Aren’t there certain rather prominent theological traditions that consider pride to be the root of all sin?

So now, I tag Rod (and by extension, Chad), Eric Ortlund and the great multitude over at Near Emmaus.

CCM Praise Songs We Have Trouble With- A Meme

Rod over at Political Jesus tagged me to participate in a blog-post meme.

The rules:
Please try to name ONE (I know, viagra there are so many to choose from) CCM praise song that you find unbearable and at least 2-3 reasons why, pointing to specific lyrics if you must.

Rod chose Days of Elijah. (I get his reasons for choosing it; but the worship pastor in me wants to cry out “But, it’s Robin Mark!”)

My choice:
His Banner Over Me is Love by Kevin Prosch.

1. This is a song based out of Song of Songs. I tend to not read Song of Songs allegorically (as a picture of Christ and the Church), and really like the fact that we have an entire book in the Bible devoted to praising the goodness of sex. So when a church sings this song, I really want to scream: “Do you know what you’re singing?” Two lines from the song: His Banner over me is love//He brought me to his banqueting table. These are highly erotic and sexually charged. I should be singing this song to my husband.
2. The tune is catchy and the song gets stuck in my head. Written in the nineties, it has a lot of repetition and I remember one church service where the worship leader sang this song for 15 minutes. (Of course, having found the youtube video of it to embed in this post, I now have this song stuck in my head. Thanks Rod.)


Okay, I can’t choose just one (hazard of having been involved in worship leading for many years). So here would be my runners-up:
1. Sing For Joy (If We Run To Him, He Will Run to Us). It feels way too much like God’s actions are dependent on our “doing” something first.
2. In the Secret.
3. You Said.

2010 in Review — Top Posts

Last week I posted my favourite posts of 2010. Today I list the top posts based on page hits.

10. Big Tent Christianity. My contribution to a synchroblog back in August.

9. Why Christians Shouldn’t Worry About the Neuropsychology of Religion. A guest post by Charles Hackney.

8. Training Up Pastors — Issues for Female Pastors. Part of the Training Up Pastors series that I wrote.

7. Training Up Pastors — Going to Seminary. Another installment in the Training Up Pastors series.

6. A Letter to the Church in North America — Canada. This was part of a synchroblog I participated in.

5. Canadian Christian Blogs. I have put a permanent link to this ever-growing list of fantastic blogs up at the top of my blog.

4. Vampires, stuff Werewolves and Christians, doctor Oh My! I loved this post. Of course any time I can bash Twilight, it’s a good day.

3. Clark Pinnock — Obituary and Write-ups. This was just a post linking to some of the great tributes to Pinnock after his passing.

2. Genesis 1-3: Asking the Wrong Questions?

1. Christians and Immigration. I wrote this post as part of a synchroblog. It continues to get hits every week through weird google search terms like, “how canada churchs can helps me imagrate to canada”.