Tag Archives: praise and worship

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

Jam of the Moment: Blessed Be Your Name

 

 

(editor’s note: this post was originally written about a year ago, and I”m just now getting around to posting it.)

Artist: Ashmont Hill
Album: Ashmont Hill
Song: “Blessed Be Your Name

Despite being a worship leader (and thus, professional Christian) whose job includes assessing and incorporating popular praise-and-worship choruses into our weekly church music set, I don’t listen to much of that style of music at home.

There are many reasons for this, but most just have to do with the banality of most forms of evangelical church music. Much of it has sounded the same stylistically over the last decade: corporate pop-rock with other cultural expressions casually included in the fringes.

Also, because the ways that church musicians discover and implement music tends to be pretty self-contained and insular, many times it’s not just the same sound that you hear in churches all over, but the same actual songs.

There are many good reasons for this, actually, and I do not wish to elevate originality as the prime directive as to what makes for good worship music in churches. There is a lot to be said for helping people to feel comfortable, and few things are more comfortable than being able to sing a song that you know and like, particularly if you are in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment.

(Considering how generally unchurched the Pacific Northwest tends to be, I would guess that, in this region, many if not most people who find themselves in church on a Sunday morning consider church to be, to some degree, lacking in familiarity or comfort. Which is not such a bad thing, I guess… there are inherent dangers in churches becoming too much like coffee bars or health clubs. But I digress.)

Add to that the overarching trend of more popular Christian recording artists doing their own renditions of these songs, and my reasoning for not listening to much praise-and-worship at home becomes clearer. Because of overexposure and because of our heightened sense of musical appreciation, people in my position often come to regard certain popular praise-and-worship choruses with a certain level of disdain, which can range from bored disinterest to full-on visceral loathing.

(As a matter of fact, last summer I had the privilege of getting together with a group of similar musicians, praise-and-worship leaders at multiethnic churches. And one of the first icebreaker questions was something along the lines of, “what song do you hate the most right now?”)

All of this is necessary backstory for you to understand the significance of my choosing this song as my jam of the moment.

“Blessed Be Your Name,” by Matt Redman, is an insanely popular song in churches. Right now it’s listed at #3 of the Top 25 CCLI charts for the U.S., and it’s probably been somewhere in the top ten for the last five years or so.

Because of this, I’ve heard and sang this song many, many times.

But the first time I heard this recording from Ashmont Hill, the family quartet named for their Boston neighborhood origin, it was as if, forgive the cliche, I heard it again for the first time.

Anytime any artist covers an already enormously popular song, there is a dual challenge involved.

On the one hand, you want to make sure that you’re putting your own mark on the song. The last thing you want is to sound just like everyone else, especially the person who made the song famous. Otherwise, why would people want to listen to you? They can just listen to the original.

On the other hand, you don’t want to make it so different that the song is completely foreign and unrecognizable. You want to honor and pay respect to the songwriter by including some of the elements that made the song popular in the first place. You want the song to feel familiar, and yet distinctive all the same.

In Ashmont Hill’s cover of “Blessed Be Your Name,” this delicate balancing act is achieved in spades. It’s high-octane rock, but with a definite gospel feel to it; the perfect convergence of top shelf session players, textured chord structures, and electric vocal arrangements. Especially for people like me who appreciate gospel music and contemporary Christian music (which is the nicer way of saying Black church music and White church music), this recording is a great example of a bridge tune, something that can help draw people from disparate backgrounds together.

I’m not gonna lie… before I heard this arrangement two years ago, I was through with this song. Didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to sing it.

But afterward, it came alive in me again. And considering the message of the song, that as Christians we have an opportunity and a responsibility to honor God despite our circumstances… I am grateful for its resurgence in my spiritual life.

Big ups to Matt Redman, and the brothers and sisters of Ashmont Hill, for bringing 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:

Uncategorized

If A Tree Claps In A Forest And No One Actually Hears It, Is It OK for Sufjan Stevens to Write A Song About It?

So, on a lark, I decided to Google the phrase “the trees of the field will clap their hands” because of the tune “Ye Shall Go Out With Joy” that the ICC worship team pulled out for the 1st Sunday of Advent.

What I found was a Youtube video of a song by Sufjan Stevens, a song called “All the Trees Will Clap Their Hands.”

Now, I understand the Scripture reference (Isaiah 55). And I kind of understand the lyrics, a little. What I don’t understand is what’s happening in this video. Or, more to the point, the meaning behind it. What’s the drinking, and the shower, and water, have to do with trees and clapping?

Hmm… after reviewing that chapter of Isaiah again, I’m convinced that it has to do with water, and the Word. But I still think I’m missing something. Either that, or this video is just not that interesting.

Uncategorized

PANIYM: The Presence of God

Is God in the house, or not?

As my friend Cole would say, it’s foolish to assume that God is present just because you experience a certain emotional reaction. It could be God, or it could be the skill with which the saxophonist is playing. There are times when God has been present and those on the scene were blissfully unaware until after the fact. And, in my opinion, there have been plenty of times where church folk have gone through the motions, acting like God was all up in what was going on, and He wasn’t … at least not in the way they thought He was.

Such tricky philosophical terrain becomes hard to manage with any sort of clarity, because who’s to say that God isn’t in the music itself, whether we’re aware or not? Colossians 1:17 says that in Him all things hold together. And Matthew 18:20 says that wherever two or three gather in Jesus’ name, that He is there taking part.

So maybe there’s a difference between having a general understanding of God’s omnipresence, and actually encountering the face of God, in a worship context.

Because that’s what the Hebrew word paniym means — face.

Maybe there’s a difference between simply invoking God’s name, and passionately giving your all to experience His presence on a visceral level.

And maybe it makes a difference when God’s people who are musically gifted can express that passion in their music.

And maybe it would make a difference if those musicians in the kingdom had a sense of community and relationship, so that there was less of a sense of competition, and more of a sense of cooperative synergy.

And what if one of those musicians was also a pastor, someone with decades of experience leading others into the presence of God? And what if being a pastor didn’t stop him from being a good musician, but in fact enhanced his musicianship because of the strength of the anointing of the Spirit of God in his life and on his ministry?

Well then in that case, you’d be talking about Paul Greenidge.

And this is my long-winded way of telling you that such passionate praise and worship events do happen, and one of them is happening soon, right here in Portland.

Paul Greenidge, one of the finest gospel pianists the world has ever seen (don’t think that’s hyperbole — trust me, it’s not) is finally… after years and years of waiting, having a live concert recording.

And it’s called… what else?

PANIYM: The Presence of God.

I’ll be posting links when the recording is available for purchase, but those of you in the Portland area can experience this firsthand, Saturday May 10th, at 7pm, at Irvington Covenant Church.