Archive for the 'Music and Art' Category
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From the best Christmas album ever, Behold the Lamb of God, by Andrew Peterson.  (No, I’m not biased at all.)

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“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. – Jesus (according to Matthew 7).

Recently a group I am part of studied these verses and the surrounding context.  It is quite possible that this excerpt from Jesus’ sermon is one of the most oft quoted and oft misquoted of his proverbial sayings.  Contrary to our cultural pressure; it is obvious from the context that Jesus is not making an absolute prohibition against judging others.  It is equally clear that Jesus is calling for judgments that are fair, informed, and free of hypocrisy.

Shortly after this study I came across a new entry into the Museum of Idolatry.  It is a posting of a video… offered without comment, explanation, nor objection.  It carries the simple title: Marriage Dance?. The comments in response to the posting are but three, yet they acutely illustrate Jesus’ concerns about judging.

The posting and comments exemplify the insatiable need felt by many within the Body of Christ to judge others without restraint, without context, without relationship, and without a proper understanding of culture, and from a decided ethnocentric point of view.  In short – they judge by a standard they would never want applied to them.  They judge by a selfish standard of their own creation.

The dance is offered as an “artifact of apostasy”  - an example of “the Great Apostasy that is sweeping through the “Christian” Church.”  The misuse of 2 Thessalonians in this context will not be pursued, what will be asked is why the posting is entitled “Marriage Dance?”  What purpose does the question mark play? What is being questioned; there marriage status, their ability to dance?

The real travesty plays out in the three short comments.  The comments display and incredible lack of cultural insight and abundance of ethnocentrism – of improper judging.

Comment:

I couldn’t watch the whole thing, I turned it off before 2 mins were up. What is this doing in a church service? How is it edifying our Savior? I’m sorry but I would have walked out if I was there in person. The only good thing I have to say, it that at least they were married to each other (I hope). Still, not the thing to be showing in church!

It’s unfortunate this person cannot appreciate the manner in which people who are different from him/her express themselves to God.  Marriage was created by God.  The marriage covenant is one of the grander illustrations of the Trinitarian nature of our God… it also serve as an illustration for the relationship between our Savior and his Church.  Therefore, this dance could edify our Savior because it celebrates marriage.  And just why is this not appropriate for church?  How do you know it was a worship service?  Or is dance always inappropriate within a space used for worship?

Dance has a rich heritage in the African culture and nothing in Scripture prohibits it as an expression of God’s greatness.  The description of the video itself (which I suspect the commenter did not bother to research) gave the reason for the dance – “Married couples minister in dance: Giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage.”  Apparently thanks can only be given to God in a way that is culturally acceptable to Shar.

In response to this comment came:

You are so right, this is what is wrong with the churches today. It is suppose to be worship of the Most high God, not lifting up of the flesh.

Married couples giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage through dance is what is wrong with the churches today?  Seriously?  Again, no rationale is given as to why this is wrong, just the declaration that it is.  Though Floyd does add one clear objection – it lifted up the flesh.  This is an interesting (and rather cliché) objection. Since the Most High God created the flesh, created marriage, created the physical and spiritual bond… how is celebrating that “fleshly”  - in the improper sense.  Particularly when done in a tasteful manner.  Nothing in this video was inappropriately suggestive, or erotic.  Makes me wonder how Floyd would respond to… oh… say the Song of Solomon.  Talk about lifting up the flesh!

The final comment agreed:

Even worse than the obviously inappropriate, human-centered dance, is all the womens’ voices I hear cat calling in the background; makes me understand why Paul said women should be silent in the assembly. Boy, was he right.

This one made me laugh.  “Human (or man) – centered” is another cliché that is so over used it has become meaningless.  It’s basically code for “Anything I dislike.”  But Melba also shows a lack of understanding of the audience’s response.  No one was making cat calls.  They simply responded audibly to what they were seeing.

The bottom line is these comments show how easy it is to take our own cultural standards and assume them to be biblical… to impose on others the same cultural (as opposed to biblical) standards we hold… to assume the way we do things is the only biblical was to do things… to judge others who are different as inappropriate, as an examples of apostasy, as sinful – not on biblical standards, but upon personal preferences.

Appendices to address expected objections:

A – I am not accusing anyone of hypocrisy.  I do not know the poster or those who commented.  Nor do I intend to fully defend the Marriage Dance.  In fact, one could have come up with all sorts of biblical/legitimate objections to the theology and practice of a UCC church.

B – I found the dance posted twice on YouTube (here and here).  Each posting gives one line to describe the video.  They are “The Married Couples Dance Ministry of trinity united church of christ in chicago dance to BabyFace” and “Married couples minister in dance: Giving thanks and honor to God for the blessing of marriage.”  Neither video gave the context of the dance.

C – The issue here is not one of race, and certainly not racism.  The issue is judging others without the facts and from a false premise.

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Brotherly love

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the release of Joe Banua’s debut EP, “Broken” with about 1200 other folks at my church. Since then, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit in my iPod rotation, and I am constantly moved by the depth and passion of it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve known Joe for the past five years or so, and have had the pleasure of playing with him on the Sunday-morning worship team for much of that time. He’s an incredibly talented guy (he is able to play most every instrument we use in our worship services – and do so quite well), and his heart for the Lord and serving him with music is incredible. So it was totally incredible when an anonymous donor offered to fund the production of a professional EP for Joe, which he is now able to take with him during the week while he tours (and which has gotten a good bit of local radio play time).

In choosing the songs for the album, Joe first put together some quality acoustic recordings of ten or so of his songs, which he invited his friends & family to vote on, for inclusion in the EP. While there was one I was rooting for that didn’t make it (”Yeshua”), the ones chosen were quite good:

“Bring You Glory” – The first song released to Christian radio stations in the area, Bring You Glory is stylistically similar to Chris Tomlin’s recent worship songs, and is incredibly solid (and catchy). In all honesty, of the songs selected for the EP, Bring You Glory had been one of my least favorite from the acoustic set (as an acoustic song), but its translation to the studio reminds me of the difference between Rich Mullins’ acoustic demo for My Deliverer and its posthumous studio production.

“You Are Holy” – Not to be mistaken w/ Marc Imboden’s song of the same title (and the odd coincidence of knowing Marc, who lives about 15 minutes away), You Are Holy is a sweet interlude that always reminds me of the meditative time spent in our weekly Communion services.

“Broken” – From a songwriting standpoint, Broken is the best song on the album, and probably my favorite (though the last track is neck-and-neck with it). Broken explores Jesus’ love and healing, particularly focused on the broken and downtrodden.

These are the hands that were nailed to the cross,
These are the feet that run to the lost,
These are the arms that wrap around those who are broken.

These are the eyes that see through our sin,
Whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve been,
These are the lips that speak to the hearts of the broken…

Broken could very well have been produced as more of an acoustic-feel track and been ever stronger than the full studio treatment (similar example: Rich Mullins’ acoustic demos of Elijah were more timeless than the pop-style production of Reed Arvin), but even so it is an incredibly powerful song that truly deserved to be the title track of the album.

“Never Failed Me” – Joe’s exploration of the concept of God’s grace and our response to it, Never Failed Me speaks to God’s unfailing mercy, in a catchy, but laid-back, Southern Rock style.

“Feet of the Nations” – Probably the song that changed the least between the acoustic recording and the studio album, the polish provided in the professional recording takes a great song and makes it incredible. An examination of the common, every-day love of serving our neighbors, Joe brought tears to the eyes of a lot of folks when he first played this song last year in our sermon series on loving one’s neighbor. Interestingly, this song was written in less than a week, but lyrically is amazingly both tight and raw the emotion it brings across.

Dark and lonely, breathing slowly,
He’ll drift and fall asleep.
Wishing only for a hand to hold,
So he can finally leave.

Just another beating heart for him to feel,
Just another comforting voice for him to hear,

I will fall to my knees,
Down at his feet,
For the Lord has first loved me.
As the water flows down,
Oh that beautiful sound,
All the dirt, it is washed away.
And I give up my pride and let it be taken,
So I can wash the feet of the nations…

Broken is an incredibly powerful and moving album which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have. You can give a listen to some of it at his website here, or you can download the whole thing from iTunes.

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Over the past 20+ years, I have been blessed with a number of opportunities to lead/accompany worship in song – mostly (but not always) from behind a keyboard of some sort.  During that time, I’ve born witness to (and scars from) numerous “worship wars” dealing with style (primarily) and substance (on occasion).

Putting together a worshipful and effective musical worship service is not as simple as grabbing some songs from a hymnal/binder/web-page and running with it.  Lyrical content, style, instrumentation, flow and theme are some of the key elements that have to be considered in effectively leading corporate worship.

It is in this vein that I’m thinking about starting a new (likely infrequent) series: “Worship Music in Review”.  (If it flops, #1 might be the only edition.)

For this edition, I’d like to look at a currently popular song from Passion 2010, which is being incorporated into some churches’ worship services, Chris Tomlin’s “Our God”.  Before we go on, watch the embedded video (if you don’t know the song) and read the lyrics.

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In the past, we’ve discussed issues of violence, non-violence, just war, and radical Islam.  There’s a documentary, Holy Wars, that is starting to make the film festival/Oscar circuit that may be adding an interesting voice to the conversation.  Even if I may not agree with all of its conclusions – or those of its key figures – from what I’ve read this past week, it may actually be a demagoguery-free picture of what following Christ might look like, when confronting other religions and their followers.

I have not seen the film (since I live nowhere close to LA or NYC), but it’s something I’ll probably check out if it makes it to Indianapolis.

Basically, the filmmaker wanted to follow some adherents of Christianity and Islam for 18 months, exploring their views on the End of Days, and how it impacts and/or drives their faith.  During this time, he centered on two key figures – a Christian Missionary and an Irish convert to Islam – and how they sought to engage their opposing religion.  At the end of the 18 months, he arranged a meeting between the two men, the results of which were surprising to him and had an impact on at least one of the subjects of the film.  As a result, the director filmed for two more years.  The end product, which unexpectedly shed a positive light on Christianity, was rejected by a number of distributors, but is now gleaning a number of positive reviews and some Oscar buzz for best documentary.

http://www.vimeo.com/13422152

You can read more about the director and his vision, the Christian missionary closely followed in the film, his book about the experience, and a couple of reviews from the LA showing of the film last week.

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Counting Stars Now AvailableIt’s no secret that I’m an Andrew Peterson junkie. Seven or eight years ago, he was scheduled to come play a small concert at our little in-the-middle-of-a-cornfield church, and – having become a bit burnt out on mediocre music with the label “Christian” slapped in front of it like “New!” on a stale bag of pretzels – I was going to skip it. A friend of mine from the church (and the guy who does our web hosting) suggested I might like it, and compared him to Rich Mullins. Unwittingly, he had just about put a nail in the coffin of my ever showing up, since pretty much no musician I’ve found in “Christian” music has had a favorable comparison to Rich.

And then I was asked to help promote the concert, and to play some of Peterson’s music on the piano in the weeks leading up to the concert. This meant I would have to listen to the CD and put some work into it, which – in turn – sold me enough that Peterson wasn’t the average CCM hack, that I broke down and bought tickets for the family to go to the concert. And while he wasn’t (yet) up to par musically with Rich, he had a great deal of talent and heart, and an authenticity absent from most performers.

The next year, he returned to our church, doing his first Christmas tour for Behold the Lamb of God, the True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. After that, my inner skeptic was stilled, and Peterson had pulled me into his artistic vision of the story of Christ – both within Christmas, and in every day life.

Peterson’s music and lyrics are not really comparable, in style or quality, within the Christian music sub-genre (or even outside it, for that matter) with anyone other than the dearly departed Mullins. If there is a key difference between the two, though, it is this – Where Rich had a haunted/pessimistic/cynical streak, seasoned with a wild but weary maturity of bachelorhood, Peterson has a more optimistic thread running through his music, most likely grounded in his family, as a husband and father. Apart from that, much of the instrumentation, flow and production are incredibly reminiscent of Rich’s later work (as he gained freedom from Word Records’ heavy-handed production) – similar, yet different enough to completely stand alone, in it’s own right.

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I was going to save the video, below, for the Open Thread Friday this week, but as I’ve thought about it, and discussed it with a number of folks, I think it deserves a focused post of its own.

http://www.vimeo.com/11501569

Context, Context

Before any further discussion on the video, I think it’s important to have a little bit of context around it:

  1. The video was produced by the media staff at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, GA (where Andy Stanley is the senior pastor).
  2. The Sunday morning worship style being lampooned is the style used by NPCC.  They are making fun of themselves (not somebody else), while making a point.
  3. The video was specifically produced for last week’s Drive Conference, which North Point sponsors for church leaders and creative teams.

Kudos

First off, I’d like to applaud NPCC for 1) being able to laugh at themselves; 2) for being aware of the dangers of church-as-entertainment; and 3) for making this video available, since it has a message that should be heard, but also because it could be misused by their armchair critics who can roll out their favorite whipping boys w/ this video and use it as a misguided indictment on style, rather than a message that could have been produced for any “worship style” used by American churches.

Style vs. Substance

I think that quite often, the critics within the church – across the spectrum of styles – like to play off of a style-versus-substance meme, creating a competition where none need exist.  As I noted above, this video could have been produced to skewer ANY Sunday morning worship style – be it hymns-hymnals-and-pews, Contempervent (I love that term), high church, or incense-and-icons.  One can have substance in any “style”, but when it becomes a show or a rote pattern – tradition for the sake of tradition – it has strayed from the path.

I believe that all forms of artistice creativity can be used for the glory of God in worship: painting, music, dance, drama, sculpture, writing.

One danger is making it the focus of worship rather than a method of worship.  This is just as true of well-done interpretive dance as it is of skillful oratory.

Another danger is making it a distraction from worship rather than an enabler of worship, which is why if something cannot reach a certain level of artistic quality, it might be best not to insert it within corporate worship settings.

Sidebar on Giving

Next, one of the tangential points they bring up is around tithing.  I’ve always found it interesting that the basic message you hear in the church is “what you give is between you and God”, but you know that your giving is being tracked – by law – by the church, for the purposes of tax reporting.  So, the question becomes – what is being done with the tracked giving data?

I know some churches who make it common knowledge that the church treasurer shares NONE of the individual giving data with the leaders of the church.  That way, there is no danger of “playing favorites”, based upon someone’s giving history.  On the flip side, though, it also has a lesser degree of community accountability.

At the other end of the spectrum, I know of churches (and a larger number of non-Christian religious groups) who ask for your pay-stubs and/or W-2’s, in order to make sure that each family is giving its 10%.  To me, this degree of accountability seems to go against the “free-will” nature of giving, and the heart of giving, itself.

Most of the churches I’m familiar with, though, have no spoken policy on who – leadership-wise – knows the details of individual giving, and how those details are used.  In some ways, this ambiguity can be good, but can also be cynically viewed (as elicited in the video).

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Reader Aaron submitted a link to a wonderful blog-post by Carlos Whittaker (the Worship Minister at the Buckhead campus of North Point church in Atlanta), telling us:

I found this wonderful story about a spontaneous worship by a homeless man while a church was shooting a video. It was so uplifting and amazing how the homeless man is already saved and worshiping and realizes his purpose and place in life despite how many of us might complain about it.

In Carlos’ article, he describes a recent situation, where he was recording part of an EPK for an album he was recording, when a homeless man came up and sat down with him…

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Thanks for the tip, Aaron!

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One of the nice Thanksgiving traditions in my household (followed more, I think for Zan’s benefit than mine) is that it is officially the first day it’s OK to play Christmas music around the house/in the car.  As such, I spend a little bit of time browsing through my Christmas music, checking out the set lists I’ll be accompanying at church in the next month, and creating some play-lists for the car.

I also got to wondering what everyone else listens to in the way of music for this season in which we celebrate Christ’s birth (even though his actual birth date was more likely in September).  In that spirit, I’m sharing some of my favorite songs/albums in the hopes you’ll share yours with me (including links to check them out, if available).

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Albums:

  1. Andrew Peterson: Behold the Lamb of God:  By far, this is my favorite Christmas album, and it’s the only one that is exempt from the “Only between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25″ rule (above).  BtLoG, itself, aside from a couple of instrumental pieces, is not traditional Christmas music, but is all set around the story of the coming of Jesus – from the birth of Moses, through the kings of Israel and the writings of Isaiah, and into the events told in the Gospels.  In many ways, the music is one continuous 45-minute work that builds and tells a story, building on the emotion and yearning of the people involved.  Andrew (and a number of Nashville musicians) travel each December, performing this piece, along with some of their own music.  If they’re stopping near you, I’d highly recommend them!  [If you're interested, you can also listen to the entire thing - legally - here.]

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Recently, in the modern worship service at my church, we have introduced a “new” song – How He Loves Us, by John Mark McMillan.  Since it was on the new David Crowder Band album, I was familiar with the song, itself, and the lyrics, and thought they were quite moving.  Playing the song (I am the keyboardist in our worship band), I think the most difficult thing with How He Loves Us is that the picture it paints of God and the way the final crescendo focuses on His love and grace, I really want it to keep on going (and going), but (as a musician in a band) I’ve got to stay with the other guys and bring it to an end.

Somehow, in times like that, I think about Moses.  Not the Moses, leading the children of Israel.  The Moses leading a bunch of sheep in the desert, coming across a burning bush and discovering the presence of God – in direct communication with Him.  In his talk with God, Moses sounds so tentative and reluctant to carry our his mission, coming up with all sorts of excuses to stay out in the wilderness.  And I wonder – was it all reluctance to do what he was asked, or was it partially a reluctance to leave the direct presence and communion with God, there with that burning bush?

And I think about John – the “disciple Jesus loved”.  John, a kid who was probably only 15 or 16 when Jesus was crucified.  John, whose Gospel did not just seek to recount the events of Jesus’ life, but whose Gospel stands apart from the other three – an attempt to theologically explain Jesus through a lens of intense devotion and love.  John – the only disciple to die of old age.  How he must have longed for his short time on earth with Jesus to have never ended.

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