Lyrics of Faith

My current favorite artist is Jeremy Riddle (Varietal Records).  In these lyrics, he took the poetry of William Cowper (English poet and hymn writer from the late 1700’s) and created his own song. Powerful lyrics, just powerful. I’ve been meditating on these words for a few weeks now– the providence and sovreignty of God, tenderness, blessing, suffering, faith, perseverance… and our duty, as God’s children, to trust Him, to wait on Him humbly.

 God Moves in a Mysterious Way

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Deep in unsearchable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break; in blessings, in blessings, in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.  Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.  His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.  Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain. God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.

In His own time… In His own way…

-Jeremy Riddle, 2007

Weary of me all the time

I used to love contemporary praise music.  It often helped me express emotions and longings that lay hidden beneath my confident and smiling exterior.  The lyrics were honest, human, heartfelt and intimate; characteristics I sometimes felt were lacking in the older songs and hymns.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I don’t see contemporary praise songs that way anymore— lately they strike me as dangerously narcissistic.

Phrases such as “You are my desire,” “For all you’ve done in my life, I just wanna thank You Lord,” “I’m desperate for you,” “I long to feel Your Presence, for you are my joy” and “won’t you fill me up”— they all seem to speak about me, what I want, what I feel, what God can do for ME.  Frankly, I’m tired of me.

 Perhaps I’m just growing up and growing out of my adolescence (it’s about time, seeing as how I’m turning 33 this year), but I don’t think God is here for my joy and happiness.  I don’t think He’s here primarily to work miracles in my life.  I don’t think God is primarily MY personal savior, either.  He is so much more… ever so much more.  God is God, God of the whole world, all the nations, working in history to bring His Kingdom, redeeming all of humanity and all of creation, moving among His people (not just individuals, but His gathered people!).  Why can’t we sing about these things more often?  Why is it always about ME and MY life?

 I should probably pause for a moment here and admit that this a very recent change in my point of view. It was just two years ago that I was handed an article written by Brian McLaren, who expressed some of these same concerns about contemporary praise songs…. and I was offended by some of his sweeping judgments.  At the time, I was a regular worship leader in a contemporary worship service and was pouring my whole self into pulling music and scripture together to create meaningful and faithful worship.  I took his opinions as a personal attack, which was unnecessary.  And I do not mean to attack anyone in this little blog post.  I am just wondering about all the “me” centered language we use in worship, and I’m wondering what would happen if we shifted the focus to “us” as the Body of Christ and to “us” as the worldwide people of God.  What if we took our eyes off of ourselves for a few Sundays?  Maybe my problems and pain and struggles would preoccupy me less if I kept my eyes on the bigger picture and praised the God of universe, not just the God of my life.  In certain seasons of life, during times of great personal sorrow and loss, there is a time and place for introspection, but this should be the exception and not the rule.  We are part of something larger and more grand than our rather insignificant lives.

Two years ago, I would have said, “Now wait a minute, are you saying it’s bad for me to praise God for what He’s done for me?  Why can’t I burst out in song when He has made me glad?  Why can’t I sing about all the ways He has been good to me, because He is a good God and He has done awesome things for me!”  Of course I’m not saying this is bad or wrong.  Of course we should sing PERSONALLY about all the ways God has shown up in our lives.  I just think, perhaps, we have gone overboard.  I think we are in danger of becoming self-absorbed worshippers instead of God-absorbed and Kingdom-absorbed worshippers.

To be sure, I still long for intimacy with God.  I’m a feeler to my very core, and I want to sing intimate songs to my Savior and for my Savior.  He is certainly at work in my life and in my spirit.  I want to testify to that; I want to cry out for more of that.  The psalms are filled with songs such as these.  But feeding my narcissistic tendencies, my self-absorbed and self-centered sinful nature is not healthy or godly.  I’ve come to believe that there is something dangerous (perhaps even evil) about repeating and repeating and repeating the idea, week after week, that God is here for ME.  Doesn’t that almost place me above God or over Him in some way?  Doesn’t it subtly communicate the idea that God is mine, that I possess Him in some form, that He exists for my comfort and happiness?  Wow, that’s insidious!  I belong to God, not the other way around!

 Next week, I hope we can sing as a gathered community of faith, the WE songs and KINGDOM songs, the GOD songs.  I’m weary of myself.  I belong to something bigger and Someone far more glorious than little old me.

Drummer Boy

It is now March and my son Benjamin still begs me to play the “Rum-pum-pum-pum” song on our stereo.  Christmas has been packed up in boxes and put back in our closets.  Our tulips and daffodils are poking through the soil while the spring winds blow.  I would have expected him to move on to a new favorite song by now. What is it about the Little Drummer Boy that enthralls him, I wonder? 

 Maybe it’s just the music, the drums and the marching band beat.  Ben is all boy, and this particular song gives him ample opportunity to run around pounding things with drum sticks (or just his fists).  Or maybe it’s the children’s voices.  We have about four versions of this song on different Christmas CDs floating around the house, and on at least two of them, a choir of children sing the Drummer Boy song.

Is it possible, however, that something else in this song piques his interest?  At age two, does he hear the words and get the story?  I’m sure there are many versions of the story published as children’s books, but the one we have here at our house tells the story this way: a young boy is traveling with the wise men to Bethlehem, to see the newborn king.  His job is to take care of the camels.  His hobby is making drums and playing them.  When this traveling group arrives at the stable, the boy watches as the wise men present the baby and his family with expensive gifts.  Our drummer boy begins to feel uncomfortable and wishes he had something to give the baby king.  Then baby Jesus cries, and he won’t stop.  The boy looks at Mary and she seems to understand that he wants to play for baby Jesus… she nods to him.  He plays his drum and Jesus stops crying, actually smiles.  Then he leaves his drum, which he made himself, for the baby. This is his gift.

A couple of things stand out to me about this story.  First, and most obviously, the boy’s gift is humble.  It’s not valuable in the same way the wise men’s gold and frankinsense and myrrh are.  It was probably dirty from the trip and well-worn from being played.  It was earthy, made from skins and twine and wood. And it was given by a poor boy, employed as a camel care-taker.  He wasn’t grown, educated, successful or wealthy.

Secondly, this gift was two-fold. He did not simply give his music; he also gave his drum, made with his own hands. Though neither were of any material value, these gifts were “of him.”  He didn’t pick them up at a store or spend his savings to get something worthy of a baby king; instead, they grew out of the essence of who he was.  In one sense, he gave himself to Jesus. That was all he had.

The last thing that intrigues me about this story is that the boy’s music affects baby Jesus, actually changes him!  He’s crying, grumpy and upset; but this poor boy’s music makes him happy and brings him peace. Is there a lesson here, about our interactions with God?  Is it possible for us to actually make an impact on God’s heart… to bless Him in some way?  I am often in danger of viewing God as rather stoic and removed from the whims of emotion.  The Bible paints no such picture. 

I am sure my two-year-old son has not analyzed the story in this detail or on this abstract level… it’s simply not possible. I continue to ponder, however, what it is that draws him to this song.  In my pondering, maybe God will prompt me to think differently about what I give Him and how I give it… and why I am always so concerned about the worthiness of my gifts instead of the tender heart of my King.

The Secret of Harmony

I’m sure this is not a new thought. Much has already been written about the relationship between the Christian life and music… but it came to me again this morning, as we gathered for worship and sang the songs of faith.
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Sometimes I sing harmony in the Body of Christ.It takes a special skill to sing harmony. One has to listen to the melody line carefully and take care not to overtake in an effort to offer another part. Whoever carries the melody line has the lead. It’s important to watch them, their body language and facial expressions, so that our harmony blends with their leading notes. A natural blend is the goal of any combination of harmony and melody, whether it’s a dissonant blend or one resolved. Melody should not completely overtake harmony, or we miss the depth of sound and the interest that harmony offers to the story. At the same time, if harmony overtakes melody, the message of the song is lost along with the leading voice. Therefore, my voice must rise and fall with theirs; and not by my own direction.Harmony takes humility. It’s not the part of stardom or spotlight. It’s behind-the-scenes. It’s supportive and submissive. Even if I believe a certain phrase should be sung differently, I follow the lead voice in service to the song. I mirror their expression and phrasing. If I force my own agenda or expression, the song loses its power and focus. It says less and accomplishes less when we all try to lead.

This does not mean, however, that I don’t get to offer anything of my own to the song. My attentiveness to blend and my support of the lead voices, can greatly enhance the song in a way that is uniquely my own. I may choose a dissonant harmony that creates a temporary conflict in the song, begging for resolution. Support does not always mean we make a pleasant sound. Dissonance is vital because without it, a song does not move forward. Dissonance creates possibility and energy; it opens doors to new places. But dissonance with no resolution communicates very little—it pleads for something more. And the voice of harmony is often the one who holds the power of resolution… not always, but often. Am I willing to take my note down a half-step toward resolution?

When we rise together, melody and harmony as one—when I match their tone and we experience that perfect blend of sound; we communicate a completely different story than one voice ever could alone. It may not be the way I would have chosen to sing it, had I been singing a solo; but it may very well carry a deeper message because of the joining of our voices… because I chose to sing harmony.

There will come a time when I will be asked to carry the leading voice. And my leadership has the potential to be more powerful if I have learned the secret of singing harmony. Have I learned to watch others and join them as they tell the story of the song, to blend with them and match their expression? When I carry the lead, will I choose to listen to those harmonizing with me and welcome them into the song? Will I listen when I sense that they hear a phrase rising and falling in places I did not? Have I learned the secret of harmony?