Saturday, November 28, 2009

What Music Feeds Your Soul? Part II

The beginning of the end of my interest in Christian music began with the tragic death of Rich Mullins. Rich was on the Wheaton campus during my senior year. He’d written a play about Saint Francis and was using Wheaton students to stage its first performance. If I’m remembering correctly, his fatal car crash happened within only a few months of my graduation. I had seen Rich around, mostly in the dinning hall. He and Mitch played a short concert one night during dinner once. A few of my housemates have some really funny stories of their interactions with him. By all accounts Rich was as raw and as sincere of a human being as I would have guessed from seeing previous performances when I was in middle and high school. I personally did not try to engage him. I’m too shy, but more truthfully, I wasn’t as interested in his music anymore.

I attended a Vineyard church throughout my four years of college. The Vineyard and its worship music consumed most of my attention. Instead of Rich Mullins CDs I was buying up recordings by Matt Redman, Kevin Prosch and Martin Smith’s Delerious. From my first trip to England, I brought back the Delerious’ “Cutting Edge Band” two discs before they were marketed in the US. None of my friends in college had heard anything like those songs. I felt more enthralled and optimistic about the relevancy of my faith than ever. My vision for the church at large and worship music was dynamic and eager. I had considered for a time that I might graduate early and go straight into church planting. I’d even gone forward at a pastor’s conference and had John Wimber himself lay hands on me and bless my commitment to planting a church by the age of 25, “buster” churches is what they were calling them, as opposed to “boomer” churches.

Here is an odd little fact: the Evanston Vineyard was leading Matt Redman songs well before he became associated with the Passion conferences. I led “Better is One Day” for the first time in Oklahoma City at Bridgeway church sometime after I moved there in 1998. Charlie Hall then subsequently introduced that song to Louie Giglio. It is such a good song that it would have made it into churches across America by some other means, but it is interesting for me to try to understand why I’ve been quietly in the background watching at the turning points of these things.

Much of my frustration with Christian music is a result of watching Charlie himself get pushed around by the business side of this industry. It is really his story to tell, so I won’t say much, but I can remember my first Passion event in 1999. Some 13-14,000 college students gathered in Ft. Worth. Charlie’s face was projected on these enormous screens. It was the size of his televised goatee that was most impressive. Here was a friend, our church’s worship leader, someone so familiar and warm spread large and turned so unfamiliar and strange. I was immediately confused by the implicit cult of personality. It was nothing that Charlie was himself doing. It was the spectacle of the production that troubled me.

I want to be clear about something before I proceed: I don’t believe anyone I’m naming here was doing anything intentionally wrong. I’m not writing this out as a blame game. I’m trying to explain why it is that I’ve gone so far out of my way to critique popular culture and the church in historical, biblical and theological ways. Most of us have simply been naïve in our efforts to honor God with our gifts. Now it is with urgency that we should be ruthlessly evaluating our past and projecting a hopeful vision of what God honoring music can and should grow into. When I say that I’m frustrated with Christian music, it is not an idle critique. I hope I am and can continue to be a part of the change.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What Music Feeds Your Soul?

Great to hear from some of you. Thanks for saying hello. I dig it!

My last month since rushing to the emergency room has been a bit interesting to say the least. To be blunt, I almost died. And this, of course, has affected my thought life considerably.

I’m not 100% better. I still have some exhaustion that is worse than usual since I still don’t have full use of my lungs. My biggest issue is the shortness of breath that creates a strange sense of restless anxiety. The Apostle Paul urges us to take every thought captive. Well, I’ve been working to take every breath captive. Perhaps you’ve seen me taking slow, deliberate breaths—‘cleansing’ breaths. I take off my glasses, rub my face and stretch my neck to the left and right rolling it around gently. This slower pace keeps me mindful of the fragility of life, of how serious it was. Shortness of breath. Shortness of life. The strange gift of sickness. Breathing never felt so good—especially breathing outside. A few full breaths of Autumn air are the best of cleansing breaths.

Here is one alarming experience post ER: I’ve found it hard to enjoy much of my favorite music. In the past four or five years my musical interests have moved further into the obscure. It is obscure to most of my faith community anyways, an emphasis on sounds over lyrics, musical explorations rather than musical statements, music as experience first and communication second. I’ve found myself stuck in the progress of my own side project. It's the place where I experiment with all that I can’t use in corporate worship music. Developing a taste for this has caused me to lose my taste for other things. It is difficult to carry on a conversation with several different voices. If you are interested in one conversation, no doubt you will need to turn away from other conversations. And right now, I’m finding that the conversation that I’ve given my attention to is not “doing it” for me.

I am the last person to make heavy handed secular/sacred distinctions. I don’t choose not to listen to a particular kind of music because it is “worldly.” I do not want to live out an oversimplified, naive or a fearful posture toward society. I write in these blogs to describe a redemptive enthusiasm for the world. This is a fundamental reason why I’ve been interested in paying attention to bands like Animal Collective, Broken Social Scene, Sunset Rubdown etc. I want to find the good, even the beautiful in these parts of our world, to discover an artistic integrity somewhere in the murky waters of popular culture.

Yet, right now, for this season at least, I’m in search of music that explicitly and gladly names Jesus. Other than a bit of Jazz, I’m turning to worship music. I dug my old 100-disc binder of CDs out of the closet this morning. I haven’t listened to or look at these CDs in years. What does my soul good: Fernando Ortega and John Michael Talbot. Both have voices that are sincere, fragile but still full and strong. Integrity. I trust them. Two of my favorite worship CDs are John Michael Talbot’s “Come Worship the Lord” Volumes one and two. They are live recordings of him leading the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage in Eureka Springs Arkansas. A nylon string guitar, an upright bass, some tambourines, a synth playing trumpet-like leads and a congregation of voices, that is all that is needed to create a holy, spirit-filled raucous.

Why has it been so long since I’ve found other CDs like this? It is no doubt a result of my own musical direction and interests, but I do believe that there is a vacuum of good Christian music available. I actually believe part of my movement toward the obscurity of independent music is a result of the disappearance of Christian music that has any integrity.

I’ve been hacking away at these questions and have almost a fully completed essay on this topic, but I don’t think it’s best to dump the whole thing here on the blog all at once. So, I’ll be posting a portion of it at a time. I still want to work out a few things and I invite any of you readers to offer your own thoughts on this. What do you listen to? What feeds your soul and encourages you?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My LIttle Secret Made Public

I'd love to hear from you.

If you are reading this, its nice to know every once in a while who is reading. Such a weird way to keep in touch with people. I'm here in West Michigan so far from so many beautiful people.

Oh, and I've also decided that I need to get a new design for the layout. I don't know what possessed me to go with something so...creepy.

I can feel another blog coming on.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Book is Coming! The Book is Coming!

I just saw over at David's blog that he is posting excerpts from the book over the next six months in anticipation of the books final release. You can read a little bit by Eugene Peterson HERE.

The book is called For the Beauty of the Church. I'm the no-name rookie author who got a chapter included by the skin of his teeth.