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1VOICE Worship Experience

1VOICE Worship Experience

Posted by on Sep 9, 2011 in Christian Music, Worship Music | No Comments

I am extremely excited to be a part of the 1VOICE Worship Experience – a worship night for Chicagoland, tomorrow night, Sept. 10th from 7-10 PM.

Practices have been absolutely amazing. Even for your Christian friends who typically hate Christian music, it’s going to be pretty ridiculous.

Come say “hi” afterward if you can make it.

Check out the details for 1VOICE here.

Wanting a Racially Diverse Church that Prefers White Music

Wanting a Racially Diverse Church that Prefers White Music

Posted by on Sep 2, 2011 in Church Music, Worship Music | No Comments

When I first moved back to the Chicago suburbs, I attended a black church for a little more than a year. It was an amazing place. The people were passionate. The pastor provoked you to growth. The music was performed with excellence.

And my wife and I were the only white people in the room.

Our pastor often spoke of our vision for “becoming a church that looked more like the rainbow – more like what heaven would be like.”

I led worship a couple of times. Everyone was polite. A very few number of people told me that’s how they wished we would worship every week. But it was clear the vast majority didn’t care for it.

So, I met with my Pastor and asked him about his vision for the church and the role that music plays in it.

As I began to explain my thoughts, he interjected with, “You know Eric, if I change the music to what you like, I’ll have a bunch of people say, ‘they’re the only white folk in the room,’ Why are we changing to please them?” I was caught off guard, forgetting that pastors are so often bombarded with requests to change service specifics to their personal preference, he assumed that’s what I was after.

I told him I absolutely agreed, and that wasn’t what I was asking for. But that we might have to give up on our vision for becoming a racially-diverse church. Because in reality, what we’re asking for is a racially-diverse, culturally homogenous church.

We want white people that love Gospel music. We want black people that love Hillsong.

If we actually want a racially-diverse church, we need to expand our musical repertoire. If we don’t want to do that, we have to be ok with the Sunday segregation.

Jesus Loved Idioms. Hymns Ignore Them.

Jesus Loved Idioms. Hymns Ignore Them.

Posted by on Aug 26, 2011 in Christian Lyrics, Songwriting | No Comments

Christ used parables to speak to people where they were, in ways they could understand. He references the blacksmith, and the farmer – using analogies that our pastors have to explain to us today, simply because most of us have never struck iron, nor plowed a field.

In the same way, some of our songs use language and wording that we no longer relate to. We do this out of reverence to tradition, rather than using modern idioms that speak to people where they are, in ways they can understand.

Is Your Worship Team Made up of Musicians or Artists?

Is Your Worship Team Made up of Musicians or Artists?

Posted by on Aug 18, 2011 in Church Music, Worship Leading | No Comments

Do you know whether you’re a musician or an artist?

No, it’s not a loaded question. “Artist” isn’t the better answer. But, it’s a different one.

For example, let’s say someone at your church tells you they play the flute and are interested in being a part of your praise team. Obviously, you say “no”, because the flute is a stupid instrument….just kidding. But, it’s important you understand what this person means by “they play the flute”. Does this mean they can proficiently play sheet music? Or that they can play recorded parts by ear and improvise within a scale, even in songs where the recording does not contain that instrument.

Those are 2 completely different players. And you have probably have some of each on your team.

The “musician” will spend time on their own before practice perfecting how the recording band plays every solo. They will work to match their drum beats and fills to the recording. They will strain to hear the female vocalists on the CD and try to precisely match their harmonies.

The “artist” hears things. They want to change things. Not because it’s better. But, because it’s theirs. They have a desire, not to recreate, but to create.

And when you force one of these people to be like the other, there is going to be tension.

I Wouldn’t Get Attached to Your Favorite Worship Song

I Wouldn’t Get Attached to Your Favorite Worship Song

Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 in Worship Music | 2 Comments

Composed by Matt Larson, Christian Indie Musician

I wouldn’t get too attached to your favorite worship song – be it a modern “worship” tune, or good old fashioned traditional “hymn”.

Now hear me out on this. There are some very well written songs that move me deeply. But, what limitations do our songs have – if written in a sinful world – while at odds with our sinful nature?

There is an amazing sense of audacity in our sense of what pleases God, and what will please Him for eternity. We think a lot about our creations – mostly because we think a lot about ourselves. We believe that if we write a hit song = Jesus is honored (and probably forever). But, again, I ask my original question – “What limitations do our songs have?”

Still you say, “How could ‘How Great is Our God’ or ‘Amazing Grace’ not fit in well with the songs of heaven?”

Well, when you imagine worshiping in heaven, are you singing in English? Is the song in a major key? Is it composed in a verse-verse-chorus-verse structure?

We are constrained. Our worship is constricted and small. Sin has distorted our view of God. We live in this distortion, and cause it. Anything created here is not perfect, and will not be in God’s presence.

Christian Music Lyrics as Memory Aids

Christian Music Lyrics as Memory Aids

Songs are memory aids.

It’s how you learned the alphabet. It’s how you learned the 50 states. It’s how you, to this day, still remember the theme songs from every single 90s television show….“Whatever happened to predictability?”

The question is, what are we memorizing with our Christian music today?

Lynrd Skynrd front man Ronnie Van Zant reportedly never wrote down lyrics, and is attributed for the paraphrased quote, “If you need to write them down, they’re not worth being remembered.”

Are we as careful with writing our christian music lyrics as we are with our musicality? Or once we figure out a progression, do we just sing some broad God-language words over it?

Because theologically, it’s the most powerful tool we have.

Let’s Get All Oedipan in Church Today

Let’s Get All Oedipan in Church Today

Posted by on Aug 4, 2011 in Music Theory | No Comments

Ok, I’m fully aware that some of you aren’t going to be able to come with me on this today. But, as the first-time parent of a 6-week old, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a whole lot recently.

The idea of “recreating the womb.”

My little daughter is extraordinarily fussy. Doctors and child psychologists all recommend roughly the same things in terms of comforting her. All in order to simulate the feeling the child had in the womb. Specifically motion (an infant is submerged in liquid for the 9 mos. prior to birth), and noise (a white noise similar to the sound you hear when under water along with the ever-important and loudly booming mother’s heartbeat)

A mother’s heartbeat is, on average, 70 beats a minute. As an infant, that rhythm makes us feel safe. My question today is, do we ever outgrow it?

Ok, maybe I’ve fallen off the deep end here, or grasping at straws. But, at the very least, isn’t it interesting to know that a growing majority of electronica artists have chosen 70 bpm and its variants (140 bpm) as their default standard beats?

Perhaps because this is the beat that gave us our first sense of rhythm?

Perhaps because we have never outgrown that rhythm making us feel safe?

The Church Music Wars: Anything Not Banned is Permissible?

The Church Music Wars: Anything Not Banned is Permissible?

Posted by on Jul 29, 2011 in Church History | No Comments

The Bible speaks to orderly worship as it was acted out in the early church, but not in quite enough specifics to end the debate entirely.

So, the question remains, what is permissible? As language, culture, communication, rhetoric, tradition and music evolve, do we evolve with it?

This is the question at the heart of the Church Music Wars today. And the question that brought about similar contention between historical church leaders Martin Luther and John Calvin. Luther argued that “anything that is not banned is permissible.” Since the New Testament doesn’t negatively address unison singing, specific instrumentation or writing entirely new songs, they should be permitted. Calvin presented the opposing opinion, arguing that “anything the Bible does not expressly promote is banned.”

At first blush, Calvin’s argument seems theologically safer. What do you think?

“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” by Carl Trueman

“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” by Carl Trueman

Posted by on Jul 27, 2011 in Psalms, Relevant Reverence | 2 Comments

I often get in e-mail debates from Christians who have listened to my album, “The Fallen Cry” (sung from the voice of the fallen) and seen my claim that these songs are indeed appropriate for a church setting – and they go off on me. I am rarely/never able to convince these people of the merits of these songs for the purposes of corporate worship.

But, I recently came across a writing from Carl R. Trueman, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, that states my argument much more eloquently than I ever have. It’s worth the read.

“Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.

In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.

Indeed, the biblical portraits of believers give no room to such a notion. Look at Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, and the detailed account of the psalmists’ experiences. Much agony, much lamentation, occasional despair — and joy, when it manifests itself — is very different from the frothy triumphalism that has infected so much of our modern Western Christianity. In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship. Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative? If not, why not? Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

I did once suggest at a church meeting that the psalms should take a higher priority in evangelical worship than they generally do — and was told in no uncertain terms by one indignant person that such a view betrayed a heart that had no interest in evangelism. On the contrary, I believe it is the exclusion of the experiences and expectations of the psalmists from our worship — and thus from our horizons of expectation — which has in a large part crippled the evangelistic efforts of the church in the West and turned us all into spiritual pixies.

By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. By so doing, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity, and confirmed its impeccable credentials as a club for the complacent. In the last year, I have asked three very different evangelical audiences what miserable Christians can sing in church. On each occasion my question has elicited uproarious laughter, as if the idea of a broken-hearted, lonely, or despairing Christian was so absurd as to be comical — and yet I posed the question in all seriousness. Is it any wonder that British evangelicalism, from the Reformed to the Charismatic, is almost entirely a comfortable, middle-class phenomenon?”

–Carl R. Trueman, from “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus: 2004) pp. 158-160.

What if We All Sang to Each Other?

What if We All Sang to Each Other?

Who should our Church songs be written to? Not “who should they be written for?” But, who should we be singing to?

God? Ourselves? Each other?

In a congregational worship setting, we largely sing songs about the grandeur of God. Less often, our songs are prayers – personal confessions of weakness written broadly enough for a congregation to be able to internalize. Much less often, our songs consist of exactly what Jars of Clay has created with their latest album, Shelter.

They wrote lyrics that are meant to be sung AT each other. Go check out the lyrics to Jars of Clay’s latest album, Shelter, and see what you think.