Archive for Praise Music

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, and I inevitably cry every time I hear it. And Friday, 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, 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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Some Days My Emotions Need Manipulating

In the last couple of weeks, 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, 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, and at the bottom is a link to Keith and Kristyn’s website, which currently has three mp3’s available for free download, 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, 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, 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, Werewolves and Christians, 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”.

Not Feeling It

“Amanda, you really need to check out this song, it’s great!”
“Oh, yeah?”
“Yup. It’s about going deeper with Jesus.”

So, I checked it out, and ugh. All I can say is ugh. I told my friend that my response to hearing the song was “ugh”, and she just didn’t understand why.

The chorus of the song:
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh
It’s like I’m falling in love

The friend spent the next half hour telling me that if someone isn’t “feeling” Jesus then there is probably a problem in that person’s walk, or worse, she may not even be a Christian.

Great! Just like that my salvation was being called into question.

It used to be, in our modern understanding, that reason was a faculty free from sin. Reason could be used to find God and know God. Today, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Feelings are the basis for all right decisions. My gut tells me this is the right thing, or the wrong thing. And if we don’t feel Jesus then obviously something is wrong. (We are very much hedonists, “it feels so good, so I must do it.”)

But do I really want to be (still) falling in love with Jesus? When I first became a Christian, it was amazing. I prayed all the time, heard God speak, and felt Jesus move in my entire being. It was the ultimate spiritual high. Now, here I am 15 years later and my faith isn’t like that anymore. I think that’s a good thing.

Take Chuck and I as an example. In our early dating days we couldn’t get enough of each other. We ate dinner together every night (it helped that he lived in the apartment building right next door). We did everything together. And then we got married and had the honeymoon experience for the first year of our marriage. It was exhilarating, but also stressful. I was constantly worrying, “what if he doesn’t like me?” “What if he realizes he’s made a terrible mistake?” “I’ve got to do everything I can to keep this passion going, because once the passion is gone, he’ll leave.”

Now here we are, nearly five years married, and I like this stage of our relationship much better. There is much less worry. Sure the emotional high isn’t there, but the love is deeper, it is comfortable, it is powerful. I don’t want to go back to “falling in love” with Chuck, because the falling was dangerous and stressful and emotionally exhausting.

We do best just hanging out with each other. We don’t even have to be doing anything specific, just being in the same room while doing different projects, or vegging out on the couch is our favourite way of spending quality time. There is contentment. We’ve done the “falling in love” thing and now we’re at a new stage…a better stage. He is my husband. I am his wife. Feelings don’t change that reality.

So what about my relationship with God? I’ve done the “falling in love” thing. Now what? Do I get butterflies every time I approach Him? Do I worry that He’s not going to like me? Or that He’ll find out what I’m really like and then leave? Do I worry that God is going to come and say, “listen I’ve made a terrible mistake?” I think where I am with God is so much better than the “falling in love stage.”

So what if I don’t feel all warm and fuzzy right at this moment? Feelings are fleeting. They are flawed and affected by sin and worry and by what the world defines as good or bad feelings.

Maybe that’s why I find myself drawn more and more to the ancient creeds of the Church. As I recite the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, they may not talk about feelings, but they talk about who Jesus is. He’s not going anywhere. I am His. I recite the Creeds and I know with my whole being that He is there, even if I can’t feel him. Through the creeds, I enter into something bigger than my little feelings. I enter into 2,000 years of Christians walking with Jesus.

It is so much more than falling in love. It is about giving my allegiance. In giving my allegiance, I give myself, wholly, to the Risen Lamb of God. It is something I believe in, with all that I am and all that I have.

WE BELIEVE in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.


I Think I’d Rather Be An Alien

So I was listening to a Christian radio station while I worked (and am still working grrrrr) on my paper for Gospels class, when this song caught my attention. All I could think was: What the heck?

The chorus (over and over and over again):
I’m human
You’re human
We are human

Now, there is a whole lot of theology fail in that song. But, the best way to respond to this song is like this:

Kirk: “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s Human.”
Spock: “I find that remark… insulting.”

If you really want to hear Natalie talk about the story behind Human, you can see it here. Sigh.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Christian author Eric Wilson has written an article entitled: Is it Time for Christian Fiction to Die?
He writes:

Why, as Christian novelists, have we removed ourselves from a place of influence in the “marketplace” of the everyday reader? Do atheistic authors put their books in the “Atheist Fiction” section? Does Stephanie Meyer label her books “Mormon Fiction”? Aren’t we actually “selling out” if we write what will sell to a certain church demographic instead of writing what God puts in our hearts? …
…If our own writings fail to also wrestle honestly with life’s difficulties, it seems to me that we gloss over the bloody, earth-shaking war that Jesus fought on the cross—and we undermine the triumph of His resurrection.
True, the publishing number-crunchers feel the need to meet profit margins. Yes, we writers of the faith are called to honor God in our storytelling. Does this mean, though, that we should censor all the raw elements? Isn’t the Bible itself filled with depictions of violence, sexual misconduct, deceit, and bigotry? Some of its stories have happy endings. Some are dark cautionary tales. Few, if presented as modern fiction, would make it past the industry’s “gatekeepers.”

The Scholar’s Showdown has finished, and the winner was: NT Wright! (Woot!)
Scot Mcknight has announced that as of September 1st, Jesus Creed is moving from Beliefnet to Patheos.
Collin Hansen over at TGC interviews four pastors and asks: Should pastors separate the Christian wedding ceremony from the civil rite?
I think we should sing this in church on Sunday! Just kidding. Although, it would be a hit with 8 year old boys.

Contemporary Christian Music — Canadian Style

This is Part Five in the Canadian Christianity Series.
Part One: Canada — The “meh” Factor
Part Two: Canadian Christians and the Arts: Perspectives on Film with Shane Pennells
Part Three: Canadian Christian Blogs
Part Four: American Christians in Canada
In this post I want to highlight some Canadian Christian Music. I have previously lamented the lack of Christian radio here in Canada, but with the internet there is an abundance of ways to enjoy Christian music, whether it be finding a Christian radio station online, or downloading the latest hits from youtube or iTunes.

I must say though, that once again, my selections are predominantly male. Why is that? It could be because I find it easier to sing along with male vocals (the perils of being an alto, I guess).

So what are you listening to? Any recommendations for good Canadian Christian Female Artists?

Ben Cantelon — Based out of Brampton, Ontario

Matt Maher — Originally from Newfoundland
my favourite: Christ is Risen

See also:
Alive Again

Starfield — Winnipeg, Manitoba
My favourite: Son of God

See also: Filled with Your Glory

Jacob Moon — Hamilton Ontario
I don’t think anyone works as hard as Jacob. Every week I would see adverts for him playing in churches, colleges, coffeehouses and charity fundraisers.
Check out his cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions”

Thousand Foot Krutch — Peterborough, Ontario
See: Move (2006 GMACC video of the year)

Hokus Pick — Vancouver, British Columbia
I loved these guys in college. They had the geek-rock ala Barenaked Ladies thing going for them.

I know, I know, admitting I like country music loses me some cool points. But too bad!

High Valley — La Crete, Alberta
I got to first here these talented guys when they opened for Michael W. Smith last year in Hamilton.
Here they are performing with Paul Brandt:

And of course, I already blogged about Paul Brandt receiving an honorary doctorate this spring from Briercrest. So here is the video for my favourite: Home.

So ends this week’s Canadian Christianity Series. What would you like to see in the next Canadian Christianity Series?