Tag Archives: gospel

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Why I Started an Internet Radio Station (and How it Could Shape a Better America)

I promise you, this title isn’t just clickbait. I really did start an internet radio station, and I really believe it can help make things better in these (barely) United States of America. But to explain how and why, I need to start at the beginning.

 


 

First, for about as long as I could remember listening to music, I wanted to have a career in radio. I have vivid memories of being a kid and huddling up at night with a blanket and a handheld transistor radio, listening to the radio at night. It wasn’t just the music itself — although the music was definitely a huge part of it — but it was also hearing the voices of the DJs as they called out the songs and spoke to callers and whatnot. It was like I felt like by listening in, I was included in their informal gathering, getting invited into a party that I could attend anytime I was feeling lonely or like an outcast. Listening to the radio became an important coping mechanism, and when you’re nine years old and you’ve just moved to a new city, you need as many healthy ways to cope as possible.

As I grew older and moved through middle school and then high school, I continued to appreciate the way that local radio stations helped to define the shared language and culture of my generation. The songs, the stories, the slang, it was all tied to what radio station you listened to. And because I grew up in a city with a smaller black population, the radio helped me learn how to code switch. When I was with my white friends from school, it was all Z100. With my black friends, it was 1480 KBMS. The music and culture gave me a shared experience with which I could, through the awkward fits and starts of adolescence, find ways to fit in.

For a time, this worked really well. But I ran into problems when it came to expressing my faith.

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Lifting Up Jesus Isn’t Always What You Think It Is

Sometimes all it takes to properly contextualize a verse of Scripture is to read the next one.

This is John 12:32 (NIV):

 

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

I grew up hearing preachers and worship leaders quote John 12:32, and the application was, “we need to lift Jesus up on our praises! Honor him with your songs and your prayers, and God will use that to draw others around you into relationship.”

Now, let me be clear. I don’t think that’s wrong in the sense that it’s untrue… I believe we SHOULD lift Jesus up on our praises, and I believe God *does* sometimes use our public displays of affection as ways to engage others into relationship with him.

It’s a tricky thing, though, because, while Jesus did encourage people to pray and give privately to avoid showiness, he also publicly blessed the woman who showered him with expensive perfume. There’s a tension to be managed… it’s less of an either/or than a both/and situation.

Cause a lot of times, outward displays of piety come off as phony and calculated, like we’re doing it more to impress others with how holy we are. Or worse, trying to impress God! To Jesus, these displays are ridiculous and sad, akin to Ted Cruz trying to court Indiana voters by referring to the “basketball ring.”

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The End Is Near, Still. Yup, Still Near. Any Day Now. So … What Are We Gonna Do?

So, I grew up a music nerd.

Specifically, I grew up as a Christian music nerd, and while I know the term “Christian music” can be problematic, let the record reflect that in the beginning of this sentence, the word “Christian” is modifying “nerd,” not “music,” which means that really what I’m saying is I was a music nerd who was also a Christian.

(Lest anyone doubt my nerd credentials, I present as Exhibit A: that previous sentence.)

I listened to a lot of contemporary gospel, and to what people later in the 90s referred as “CCM” (contemporary Christian music) which means that because my parents were harbingers of diversity — or, more accurately because they were New York transplants in the Pacific Northwest and needed to retain elements of blackness in order to retain their sanity — they exposed me to the best Christian music from both white and black artists. My love for the music of Andrae Crouch is well documented, but there was plenty of Russ Taff and The Imperials, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Winans, Reba Rambo & Dony McGuire, Commissioned, Michael W. Smith, Sandy Patti, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Rev. Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir… on and on.

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The One Where Jelani Introduces Himself.

I recently started writing for a publication called Off the Page, from the creators of the popular Our Daily Bread devotional series. It’s a new forum for me to start talking about my favorite examples from pop culture and to show how the Bible can be relevant to everyday life. Anyway, I thought it might be important for any new readers to get a sense of who I am if they’re new to my writing, so I wrote this piece as an introduction.

 

You know how sitcoms always have that one episode full of flashbacks?

Growing up, I always loved those to watch those episodes, mostly because they always included scenes I hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t grow up with DVRs or video on demand, so the only way I could ensure that I saw every episode of my favorite series was to make sure I was in front of the TV at the same time every week — which rarely happened. (And that was assuming my behavior was good enough to warrant TV-watching-privileges that day.)

So yeah, those clip shows were always showing me what I’d missed along the way.

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If You Love American Music, You Have Andraé Crouch to Thank

(Editor’s Note: Yes, the title is a bit clickbaitey, but hang with me. I’ll back it up.)

 

Yesterday, Andraé Crouch slipped into eternity, present in full with the Lord, in perfect peace.

I’ve been half suspecting, half dreading that this day would come for a while now, and yet now that it has, I still feel completely unprepared — probably because it’s hard for me to imagine a musical landscape where Andraé Crouch was not still creating such soul-stirring, inventive, revolutionary music.

Part of the reason why it’s always profoundly bothered me when I hear someone make the blanket declaration that “Christian music sucks” is that it never tracked with my reality.

Because how could it? Sure, my parents played Earth Wind & Fire like any self-respecting Black people did, but my childhood musical diet consisted mostly of Christian music, from luminaries like The Winans, Walter, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Imperials, and then much later, Commissioned (then eventually as a teen and college student, Fred Hammond). But towering above them all was Andraé Crouch, a man who I would later come to realize was a musician’s musician — that is, the kind of musician that other great musicians consulted, collaborated with, and gathered around.

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Reconciling My Opposite Perceptions of Joel Osteen & Israel Houghton

Life is full of irony.

For example, one of my favorite worship musicians that I respect tremendously, happens to serve the congregation of a church led by a pastor that I have very little respect for. Because they are both very prominent personalities, and because their ministries are often recontextualized for purposes that extend far beyond Lakewood Church itself, it’s easy to forget that Joel Osteen and Israel Houghton are, in a very basic sense, ministry coworkers.

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We Belong

So for the past sixteen months or so, I’ve been serving as the interim worship director for a church plant just west of Portland, called Kaleo Covenant Church. How I ended up there is sort of a long story for another time, but it will suffice to say that it’s more than just a gig for me. The pastor there is Troy Hoppenrath, a man whom I enjoy serving alongside immensely, in no small measure because of his crazy stories, the manic energy that only a former youth pastor can bring to the pulpit, and what I perceive as a fearless willingness to take ministry risks (case in point: me).

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The Sentient Song Fallacy — Why Christian Music Sucks

If you’ve ever wondered why it is that Christian music sucks, I have a hypothesis.

But first, I just have to say —  “The Sentient Song Fallacy” — doesn’t that sound like an episode of The Big Bang Theory? Get at me, Chuck Lorre! I’m a budding screenwriter, I do some stand-up, and I can even act a little bit. I promise I won’t go on any drunken tirades about tiger’s blood.

Anyway, here’s my definition:

The Sentient Song Fallacy is the erroneous idea that a song can be Christian.

Jam of the Moment

Jam of the Moment: #putyourloveglasseson

Beckah Shae

#putyourloveglasseson (Single)

Shae Shoc Records

____________________________

 

There are so many things that I love about this song.

And let me be clear. This song is probably not going to be considered by anyone as “great art.” It is not rife with moral ambiguity, or a profound sense of personal identity, and it doesn’t make any statements about any of the defining issues of our day, unless a general lack of love qualifies.

(Actually, now that I’m thinking about it… yes. Yes, it does.)

Because this is a song about love, wrapped up in a modern R&B/hip-hop shell and adorned with the most original and gimmicky song title in years, complete with Twitter hashtag for maximum trendability.

And maybe on a subconscious level, part of what I respect about this song is that it knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t try to do more. The style of the song, especially the hypnotic rhythm of the chorus, suggests a lyrical paradigm that doesn’t ask much of you, other than to nod to the music, and agree with the general premise, that we all need to put our love glasses on — whatever that means.

See, I’m already getting ahead of myself.

First, I really dig Beckah Shae’s voice. She has the voice of a modern R&B diva — playful but assured, smooth but still powerful. It carries enough punch that you want to hear what she has to say, but not so much that you can’t enjoy the delivery.

The playful vibe is augmented by her husband Jack “Shoc” Shocklee, who has a good feel for production. His synth chords and 808 beats are evocative of classic hip-hop, but unlike the more famous Shocklee duo (The Bomb Squad of Public Enemy fame), he eschews the overcrowded sampling or overly aggressive beat subdivision. Rather, he establishes a groove and lets it variate throughout the song. His instrumentals might not be that interesting by themselves, but he wisely gives room for Beckah’s expansive voice to fill the aural space.

And also, let’s just be honest, I love the chorus itself. It is, very, very catchy and fun to say — almost the evangelical equivalent of the classic woodchuck tongue twister, with all the “love”s and “putcha”s moshing around in your mouth. This is the positive version of the ridiculous pimpin-pimpin-pimpin-murder-murder-sell-drugs song from that Don’t Waste Your Life promo video. Catchy enough to spread.

The last, and most important thing, of course, is the meaning of the song. In case the above hyperlink to Beckah’s blog failed to interest you, I will just tell you. The meaning of the phrase “put your love glasses on,” is to abide in Christ to such a degree that you begin to see the world around you more like how he sees it, through a lens of love.

And I’m not ashamed to say that I need more reminders to do this, to walk and live in this way. Someone inconveniences me, someone gets on my nerves, and I need to be like, “RIGHT… love glasses… got it.”

Really, this song is one of the best examples I’ve seen recently of “Christian music,” that is, music by believers in Christ intended to virally spread His worldview. It’s not soul-wrenching emo, it’s not going to bring anyone to their knees or be the rock-you-to-the-core catalyst for a dramatic life conversion (at least, not that I can tell).

But it’s sticky, and according to Seth Godin, idea diffusion means that the sticky ideas rule. Well, in this case, sticky songs rule.

Which is why, “#putyourloveglasseson” is today’s Jam of the Moment.

 

 

Jam of the Moment

Jam of the Moment: Only Help

Tye Tribbett, Fresh, “Only Help”

So I’m going through some things.

Like, the kind of “going through” that you might hear from one of the saints who’s been around the block a few times and is waiting on the Lord to get their breakthrough… that kind of “going through.”

One of the things I’ve noticed is that when I’m going through something big, or maybe not even anything that’s a super-big deal, but if I’m just in a bad mood or whatever, the music I’m playing tends to fall into one of two camps.

Either it’s…

1.) I’m really not doing okay and I want to listen to something languid and full of melancholy and ennui that expresses a measure of the blah feeling that is plaguing me… or,

2.) I’m going to be a grown-up, practice what I preach as a professional Christian and worship-leader-type, and listen to something that will encourage me and/or help me to worship, despite whatever I happen to be feeling.

Many times I’m quite aware that the right thing to do, the thing that will promote the most edification and be the best for me long-term is option number 2, but sometimes I just can’t stand doing option number 2, because sometimes it just feels so doggone FAKE. It’s like, no… I don’t feel like being a happy, shiny, good Christian. My life sucks right now, and *I* suck right now, and I feel like garbage, so I’m not trynna hear all that bless-the-Lord crap.

Into the void comes, “Only Help,” this tune by Tye Tribbett, from his 2010 release, “Fresh.”

I love it because when it starts out, it’s a great confessional tune. Like David the psalmist laying his soul bare before the Lord, Tye holds nothing back:

I can almost tell you each time I’m gonna fall
Devil always paint the same picture, sweet frame and all
I wanna change
And you would think by now I’d catch the scenario
Sorta like a old sitcom playing the same show
I wanna change

I’m listening to this and I’m like yep… that’s me. THAT’S ME. *I* feel that way, yes, thank you. Thank you for voicing these feelings!

But he doesn’t stop there. As a response to his own futility and brokenness, a desperate plea of praise and adoration wafts out…

I lift my hands to You

You’re my only help.

And just like that, Tye Tribbett has done what few songs can do for me… help me to get from where I am, to where I need to be.

 

What a tremendous gift.

 

And apart from the emotional and spiritual dimensions to the song, I like how the accompaniment really sets the mood. The verses are sparse, with a few bass notes and a few chords and sound effects scattered about, like hardwritten scribbles in a journal.

But when the chorus comes, the vocals usher in a soft, floating ascent into a different musical space, and even though it’s auto-tuned, it’s anything but cold or antiseptic. And at the end of the tune, the Hammond organ swells and takes over, providing the only accompaniment, and after the vocals fade, it keeps going, like a testament to the rock-solid faith of saints who have gone before and made the same plaintive cry… yes, Jesus, you are our only help.

I had to put that one on repeat for awhile.

And that is why it’s today’s jam of the moment. You can listen here, buy it here.

(And by the way, if you’re really blessed by this song, don’t just use the first link. Use the second link, too.)

You can listen  to Tye Tribbett talk about the song here: