Billy and Bono

September 1, 2013

Last week, a clip from CNN featuring Billy Corgan made the rounds in the blogosphere, especially amongst Christians. There comes a point, says Corgan when you have to leave your youthful angst aside and mature into more interesting topics like God. He calls God the “third rail” of rock and roll – the untouchable subject (like religion is the third rail of politics), tells Christian musicians to stop copying U2, and says “Jesus wants better bands.”

His comments are interesting, if not wholly original. Many have lamented the monolithic culture and sound of Christian music – especially praise music, with it’s formula of four chords, chimey delayed guitars, and anthemic choruses. In a consumer culture, people stick with what works, and ever since the rise of Delirious, Matt Redman, and Chris Tomlin around the turn of the century, that sound has been the template for contemporary worship music.

There may be some very practical reasons for this, though. For one thing, U2’s sound (and its imitators) thrive on a certain kind of simplicity. The Edge’s guitar playing (especially on records like “The Joshua Tree” and “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”, which provide the template for the aforementioned sound) is the amalgam of well-employed technology, a minimalist and punk-influenced aesthetic, and a compositional approach to guitar playing that is 100% in service to the song. In fact, one could say that of the bass and drums as well.

I think this is one reason it’s come to be imitated by praise bands; it’s not a technically demanding style of music to play. That doesn’t mean it’s inferior, though. As Miles Davis supposedly once said, the most important notes are the ones you don’t play. Minimalism is difficult to pull off, and it only works in ways that are enduring when it’s married to truly great songs. While “The Joshua Tree” endures as a great record twenty years later, most praise choruses have an expiration date of a few years. We sing them every Sunday until someone rolls their eyes and says, “This one again?” And then they disappear.

We should ask: has this sound become the template because musicianship is a lost art? Are we playing this music because we don’t know how to play anything else? While Delirious (one of the bands that established the template) certainly had roots in U2’s sound, they also had roots in other sounds. They were at times reminiscent of The Police, Queen, and Radiohead. They were great musicians, and could stylistically dabble in many directions, resulting in a catalog of albums that (sonically, anyway) are diverse and interesting. Many of their songs were musically demanding, requiring a band to know more than four chords and requiring guitar players to be able to play melodies think musically. (Those songs rarely became their hits, though.)

And they’re far from alone. While I think Corgan’s critique rings true at a certain level, at another, it rings very false. He has obviously not heard people like Gungor, Mars Hill Music, Indelible Grace, and many others who venture into other sonic territory. The U2 sound might rule the radio waves, and might have a strong foundation in the CCLI Top 10, but it isn’t the only game in town.

I’ll add one more observation here, from a more personal perspective. At Sojourn, we’ve experimented with a variety of sounds and styles over the years. One Sunday you attend, you might hear Bluegrass music, the next, you might hear indie rock, and the next, it might be Americana. U2 has certainly influenced us too.

But one thing I’ve noticed often – especially from those who are outside of our church – is that any song that doesn’t fit the template is immediately dismissed. “It’s not congregational,” they often say. In fact, whole albums I’ve released have been blasted with that comment.

Since we’re talking U2 here anyway, I think most of us would agree that U2’s melodies aren’t congregational at all. We don’t all have Bono’s range and passion. But you know who sings them? Everyone at a U2 concert. In unison. At the top of their lungs. (I’ve talked about this elsewhere here at TGC.) The same can be said of some of the melodies of the CCM songs that are imitators. The range is too wide. The melody too bizarre. And yet, congregations sing them robustly because they love the song and they love what it invites them to sing about.

I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve recorded some songs at Sojourn Music that aren’t congregational; that’s part of the journey of writing indigenous music with a community of young, developing church musicians. But I think as often as not, the dismissal of our songs has nothing at all to do with the singability of the melody, and everything to do with the genre of music itself. We’ve come to expect certain sounds that define worship for us, and when we don’t get that british pop sound we say, “Oh yeah, that’s not congregational at all.”

To those critics, I often just want to say, “Really? Come to my church. You’ll be surprised what you hear. People sing!” I know folks at Mars Hill and RUF (singing Indelible Grace tunes) would say the same thing.

Many musicians and artists are working well outside the template that Corgan mocked on CNN. But they work against a reality that demands that sound. It has become it’s own 21st century traditionalism.

-Cosper

By Faith

March 7, 2013

By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight

By faith our fathers roamed the earth
With the power of His promise in their hearts
Of a holy city built by God’s own hand
A place where peace and justice reign

We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight

By faith the prophets saw a day
When the longed-for Messiah would appear
With the power to break the chains of sin and death
And rise triumphant from the grave

By faith the church was called to go
In the power of the Spirit to the lost
To deliver captives and preach good news
In every corner of the earth

By faith this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the Gospel shall prevail
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His Name

-Keith Getty

Christian Artists

October 17, 2012

Here is an article sent to me by Mark Rodgers of the Clapham Group. See what you think.

Bono Asks “Can Christian Artists Ring True?”

Posted on February 18th, 2011 in Featured by Clapham Group

Randall Wallace, one of our nation’s best storytellers (screenwriter for Braveheart), spoke the truth this last month at the National Prayer Breakfast. He reminded us that who we are is shaped by our parents, our culture and our choices. But at the same time, the truth is this: we are created by a loving God who, when we turn to Him, can help us become the person He created us to be. To overcome our failures and our frailty. To find blessing in suffering. And to bless others in theirs.

One person at my table earnestly said “I didn’t know he was a Christian writer.” I winced. Did my guest see Wallace’s We Were Soldiers, play his Titan Quest or tune in to his Dark Angel? I know what he meant, but Randall is more than he meant. Randall is what God created him to be. A truth-teller, no matter how hard the truth is to tell.

The conversation reminded me of one I had years ago with the singer Bono. It’s a topic this legendary artist has explored with others as well. In preparation for a meeting with contemporary Christian music (CCM) artists to talk about global AIDS, he wrote me a note: “If the truth sets us free and it does … Why aren’t Christian singers allowed to ring true?” What Bono meant, of course, is that the Church often stifles the creativity and voice of an artist to conform to its own sense of propriety and (in our American context) “family friendly” fare.

Later at the meeting, Bono remarked to the group that they probably couldn’t put Song of Solomon (one of only two books of the Bible which does not reference God) to song and sell it in a Christian bookstore. Why? Not enough Jesus’ per minute. Too sensual. Not “on message.” But as the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which, Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ”

If this is true, why aren’t some Christian artists allowed to speak to the whole of the human experience? To all of creation? As he usually does, C. S. Lewis put it succinctly when he wrote “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”

We need more stories and songs that “tell the truth,” as Walker Percy wrote in Signposts in a Strange Land, especially about the human condition. True stories that transform lives and societies. More Uncle Tom’s Cabins and less “little books about Christianity.”

Last weekend we had dinner with several seasoned as well as some emerging artists before going to hear The Civil Wars perform, who have been at the top of ITunes for the past several weeks. The duo’s lead singer, Joy Williams, was at one time categorized as a CCM artist. When they performed at an event we hosted recently, one person remarked how diverse the material was, despite the fact of Joy having been a “Christian artist.” Again, I bristled. Perhaps she was true to her calling then, and is just as true to her calling now. What is most important, though, is that she is true to who God created her to be.

Joy Williams and The Civil Wars rang true. Randall Wallace spoke the truth. Bono told the truth. Sadly, some “Christian artists” aren’t always allowed to tell the “whole” truth. Only some of the truth.

Till All Can Ring True,

Mark Rodgers

Reminders for Worship

September 20, 2012

The principle of walking in line with the gospel (Galatians 2:14) in corporate worship looks like this: In grace consider others enough to refrain from distracting them, and extend grace to those who you find to be distracting. Here are a few suggestions for how to think well of and for others in corporate worship.

1. Arrive early.

Not only does early arrival keep you from distracting others by coming in late after the service has started, but it also enables you to greet others and extend to them a welcome as they arrive. Ain’t no shame in coming early for some social time. God’s happy when his children love each other.

Also, arriving early (rather than late) helps us remember that the whole service is worship, not just the sermon. Even though we’d never say it, sadly we sometimes function as if everything before the sermon is some added extra or just the warm up for the preaching. The worship really begins when the preacher ascends to his pulpit. It’s fine if we miss the first few minutes of singing. No big loss.

2. Park far, sit close.

This is one practical way to count others more significant than yourselves, and look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). Parking far leaves the better spots in the lot for those arriving after you, and sitting close leaves the seats near the doors easily accessible.

3. Participate heartily.

“Heartily” is an attempt to communicate a balanced kind of engaged participation—not being a mere spectator and not being that guy singing with the out-of-control volume. The problem of over-participating speaks for itself (quite literally), but in regard to under-participating, note that you are actually robbing others of the value of corporate worship when you don’t engage. Your presence is a part, and your voice is a part as well. The experience of corporate worship is enriched when all the attendees participate.

4. Smile.

I’m not counseling you to fake it or put on airs. Corporate worship is a time for gladness and excitement, not dourness and mere duty. Try to make the most of your morning before attending corporate worship, and let your gladness be contagious. Like George Mueller, seek to get your soul happy in Jesus, and ask God for help to spill over some of your soul satisfaction on others.

5. Stay late and engage others.

Come on the look for people, transition Godward in the worship gathering, and leave on the look for others. Some of the most significant conversations in the life of the church happen immediately after worship gatherings. Relationally, this is one of the most strategic times during the week to be available and on the lookout for

new faces you can make feel welcomed
old faces you can connect with
hurting people you can comfort
happy people you can be encouraged by.
Sometimes you just gotta go after a service. We get it. That’s okay. There are special events, or unusual demands, or seasons of life with small, antsy children. But if you’re bouncing out the doors every week as soon as possible after the services ends (or even before it’s over), you’re at least not making the most of corporate worship.

7. Come to receive from God and give to others.

This is the banner over all the other charges. Come to corporate worship on the lookout for feeding on God and his grace, and on the lookout for giving grace to others. Come to be blessed by God, and to bless others. Receive from him, give to them.

We’re prone to get this backwards. We come to worship thinking that we’re somehow giving to God, and we subtly expect we’ll be receiving from others. We desperately need to turn that pattern on its head.

The God we worship is one not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). And when he came in the flesh, he did so “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Beware coming to corporate worship to serve God. But by all means, come on the lookout to serve others. Worshiping God and building up others aren’t mutually exclusive but come to their fullness together.

We give to one another as we together come to receive from God our soul’s satisfaction. We kill both the vertical and horizontal of corporate worship when we come looking to give to God and receive from others.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Twin Cities, and executive editor at Desiring God. He writes regularly at http://www.desiringGod.org.

One-Anothering

August 27, 2012

1. Love one another
2. Have the same mind toward one another
3. Greet one another
4. Receive one another
5. Be kind to one another
6. Forgive one another
7. Forbear one another
8. Use hospitality to one another
9. Prefer one another
10. Care for one another
11. Bear one another’s burdens
12. Pray for one another
13. Confess faults to one another
14. Exhort one another
15. Provoke one another
16. Admonish one another
17. Edify one another
18. Submit to one another
19. Minister to one another
20. Serve one another

Show Us Christ

June 17, 2012

Verse 1
Prepare our hearts, O God
Help us to receive
Break the hard and stony ground
Help our unbelief
Plant Your Word down deep in us
Cause it to bear fruit
Open up our ears to hear
Lead us in Your truth

Chorus
Show us Christ, show us Christ
O God, reveal Your glory
Through the preaching of Your Word
Until every heart confesses Christ is Lord

Verse 2
Your Word is living light
Upon our darkened eyes
Guards us through temptations
Makes the simple wise
Your Word is food for famished ones
Freedom for the slave
Riches for the needy soul
Come speak to us today

Bridge
Where else can we go, Lord
Where else can we go
You have the words of eternal life
credits
from The Gathering: Live from WorshipGod11, released 15 November 2011
Music by Doug Plank, words by Doug Plank and Bob Kauflin
© 2011 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)/Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Resurrection Hymn

March 13, 2012

See What a Morning

Verse 1
See, what the morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the graveclothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce Christ is risen!
See God’s salvation plan, wrought in love,
Borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man, for He lives:
Christ is risen from the dead!

Verse 2
See Mary weeping, “Where is He laid?”
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years, speaking life,
Stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound ’til He appears, for He lives,
Christ is risen from the dead!

Verse 3
One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty,
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with power and authority.
And we are raised with Him, death is dead,
Love was won, Christ has conquered.
And we shall reign with Him, for He lives,
Christ is risen from the dead!

Come, Lord, Come

February 24, 2012

Come quickly, Lord!

Come Praise and Glorify

January 23, 2012

Verse 1
Come praise and glorify our God
The Father of our Lord
In Christ He has in heav’nly realms
His blessings on us poured
For pure and blameless in His sight
He destined us to be
And now we’ve been adopted through
His Son eternally

Chorus
To the praise of Your glory
To the praise of Your mercy and grace
To the praise of Your glory
You are the God who saves

Verse 2
Come praise and glorify our God
Who gives His grace in Christ
In Him our sins are washed away
Redeemed through sacrifice
In Him God has made known to us
The myst’ry of His will
That Christ should be the head of all
His purpose to fulfill

Verse 3
Come praise and glorify our God
For we’ve believed the Word
And through our faith we have a seal
The Spirit of the Lord
The Spirit guarantees our hope
Until redemption’s done
Until we join in endless praise
To God, the Three in One

credits
from The Gathering: Live from WorshipGod11, released 15 November 2011
Music by Bob Kauflin, words by Tim Chester
© 2011 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Worthless Things

November 17, 2011

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.

Psalms 119:37