breaking my Christian music drought

It’s time I blogged about something positive. Enough of criticism and over-analysis – it’s not good for me. Here’s something I like.

Firstly, I discovered my very own next-door-neighbours are bloggers (it’s amazing who you meet on the internet) at hebel and Spally’s Journal.

Secondly, they’ve broken the Christian music drought in my life and directed me to something I just might listen to: the Welcome Wagon’s new album Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices.

Welcome-Wagon

I’m a little slow to the Welcome (band?)Wagon. I’d heard of them but thought of them as mainly a Sufjan spin-off. But this album has its own sound and maturity to it. It reminds me a little of Fleetwood Mac, sometimes Band of Horses, Iron & Wine and yes, often of Sufjan. Vito (remember him? Vito’s ordination song?) and Monique sing together as a husband-wife team. I like that. Some of the songs are more folksy, some even a bit country. There’s a sickly sweet version of God be with you till we meet again (and I thought it was a funeral song), but it seems to work in the arc of the album structure.

That’s because the other thing I like is that the album has what they call a ‘liturgical structure’. It fits together and takes you on a journey, through a narrative, and it’s about Jesus.

Vito explains: “This album has a somewhat liturgical structure, ordered loosely like a worship service. It begins with the existential and cosmic dread of ‘I’m Not Fine,’ immediately followed by ‘My God, My God, Parts 1 & 2,’ a prayer that rails against God’s seeming absence from this world and our lives.  The words are adapted from the prayer of Jesus while he hung on the cross.

“It continues with the assurance of redemption , which then extends to friendship with God and with one another.”

About those last two titles . . . “Rice & Beans (But No Beans)” is a whimsical ditty about how community helps us thrive in difficult circumstances: “Phone cut off, worn through shoes / Check may bounce, rent come due / At the end of the day I’m glad to have a friend like you.” And then there’s “High,” a 1992 classic from The Cure. Vito sings it mostly as a love song to Monique – “When I see you take the same sweet steps you used to take / I know I’ll keep on holding you” – but says “it could be any kind of love or friendship. It’s a key part of who we are and what we do in our church service. After the confession of sin, we say the assurance of pardon: ‘Because we’ve been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, we can also be reconciled to one another. The peace of the Lord be with you. Greet those around you with the sign of Christ’s peace.’ I think of this part of the record as an affirmation of the ability to love – your husband or your wife or your friend or whatever, because you’ve been reconciled to God in Christ…”

Still, we need a “Remedy” – here, a cover of a 2007 David Crowder song of the same name (“The broken and used / Mistreated, abused . . . / He is the remedy.”) And “Would You Come & See Me in New York?” is a tribute to Vito’s late father – and to “any people you wish could be with you, even people you might never see again in this life. There’s a certain sadness to it.” Ditto “My Best Days, Parts 1 & 2,” which acknowledges life’s struggles, culling its lyrics from John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 19” (“Those are my best days / When I shake with fear”).

Ah, but then an explosion of celebration, as the album rolls into a string of tracks bursting with hope, joy, and resurrection: “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Ascending” (adapted from several 18th century writers, including Charles Wesley), “Draw Nigh & Take the Body of the Lord” (from a late 7th century manuscript by Irish monks), and “The Strife Is O’er” (from a 17th century German Jesuit collection). And then, as any proper church service does, it ends with a benediction and a postlude, respectively: “God Be with You Until We Meet Again” and “Nature’s Night,” the latter which Vito calls “a quiet snapshot of what this music sounds like when it is being born in the Aiutos’ home.”

You are the one
Who has saved us
You are the one
Who forgave us
You are the one who has come
And is coming again
To make it alright
Oh, to make it alright
You’re the remedy
Oh, in us
You’re the remedy

There’s another review of the album here at mockingbird

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singing with Mary

I know I’ve got issues with Christian music. I whinge. But it’s not all bad.

My husband and I were familiarising ourselves with Rob Smith’s new song Great Things to play at church on Sunday. Honestly, it’s not my favourite type of music, I wouldn’t normally listen to this. But the song’s power isn’t in the guitars or the melody (or else it might have lost me!). It’s powerful because it’s Mary’s song.

It’s not actually a new song at all. It’s a re-singing of a song Christians have been singing, in various languages, in various styles, for centuries. It’s Mary’s song.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

When we sing this song, we’re not singing alone, we sing it with generations who have tasted God’s mercy and know his concern for the humble. We sing with them. And people will continue to sing this song for centuries to come, with instruments that haven’t even been created yet. We sing with people who are yet to be born, with people across the world, through the ages, with Mary.

The most beautiful singing of Mary’s song is Arvo Pärt (sorry Bach. better luck next time with BWV423). He wrote it in 1989 (musically, can anything good come of of the 80s? apparently yes) but it doesn’t sounds like it’s out of the 80s. It sounds ageless, fitting for a song thousands of years old.

Magnificat anima mea et exultavit quia respexit ecce enim. Quia fecit qui potens est et sanctum et misericordia. Fecit potentiam dispersit superbos deposuit et exaltavit esurientes et divites. Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus sicut locutus Abraham et semini. Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

Thank you Google Translate, good enough for me:

Because he hath regarded: for behold, my soul doth magnify the glad and hath rejoiced. For he who is mighty and holy and mercy. He has shown strength hath scattered the proud and the rich he took down the hungry, and hath exalted. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of, as he promised to the seed of Abraham, and the. My soul magnifies the Lord.

What I recommend is that you don’t watch the video. Instead, lie on the floor (do it!), close your eyes, listen to the music. As the choir sings, meditate on God’s faithfulness, his compassion and his love for the poor and humble from generation to generation.

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what’s with christian music?

What’s with Christian music?

I’ve tried listening to Christian radio so many times, really I have. I’d love to support Christian radio because I think it’s a great outreach and could be a great encouragement. But the music! I inevitably find myself flicking over to Triple J. Then, when I remember that I’m too old for Triple J (the kids these days love their dubstep), I retreat to Radio National or ABC Classic and join the retirees, where no doubt I’ll stay until I’m a retiree myself.

Moshe Kasher had this to say about Christian music at the Melbourne Comedy Festival last year:

Growing up I was a DC talk lover, I even enjoyed a bit of Hillsong. As a child, our Sunday afternoons were filled with ‘People just like us’ or ‘Revival in Belfast’ (fyi, if you’re ever on a family camping holiday and need to secure a good possie, just crank up the Christian music and all the other families will stay well away. It works every time).

The closest I get to listening to Christian music these days is Mumford and Sons. Is Marcus Mumford waiting for his wife or for Jesus? I choose Jesus. ‘Roll away your stone I’ll roll away mine’ – how much more Christian can you get?

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be.

Beautiful. And complete with archaic use of gendered language. Sounds pretty Christian to me.

I’m perplexed about Christian music. Christians should be the best songwriters. We followers of Jesus, we know the author of life, we are new creation ourselves, we have God’s creating Spirit dwelling in us. How is our music so bland? There are more than four chords! There are more than three emotions (not just ‘happy’, ‘trusting’ and ‘worshipful’)! We’ve become like that bar in Blues Brothers, with ‘both types’ of music. There are more than two types of music! What has happened to us?

Is it a cultural thing? Did we evangelicals establish our orthodoxy so many hundreds of years ago that creativity is a little scary for us? Are we conservative by nature? Or is it the Christian music industry that channels musicians in the same artistic direction? Or are we so busy evangelising and studying that we don’t have time for art?

Or do I just have different taste?

If you have any music suggestions I’ve love to hear them.

There is one Christian piece that I do love. What wondrous love is this. I couldn’t find a version on youtube with the old lyrics which hadn’t turned it into a dirge (just because it’s an old song doesn’t mean it needs to be dour. People in the past had fun too!). These guys have changed the words and sing it with a bit of joy.

These are the 1835 lyrics:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

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