Prayer for Easter 4

The Lectionary Text for today includes the Shepherd’s Psalm (Psalm 23).  I am singing and playing on the worship team at my church tonight and we’ll  be singing the House of God Forever by Jon Foreman (video below). Here is a prayer based on this season and the Psalm (the prayer is my own and you shouldn’t blame Jon Foreman for it).

Death’s Dark Valley–

If we doubted  that’s where we were,

this week’s events have shown us.

We mourn for those in Boston,

for West Texas,

for Syria and other war-torn places,

for the suffering of those we know and love.

We mourn and ask, “How long?”

We wonder where you are.

 

Resurrected Shepherd

lead us to quiet waters,

Bring us to green pastures,

restore us and make us whole.

May we know your presence with us

here in Death’s Dark Valley.

Guide our steps and keep us from wandering.

Prepare Your Table for us

though we are surrounded by enemies

We long to taste your goodness and mercy.

May we dwell in your house forever.

 

Hope in the face of a child, reflecting on Zechariah’s Song

When John the Baptist was born, Zechariah sang:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:68-79).

God there are moments when we dare to hope–

as we attend a wedding and watch on as friends begin a new life together;

when we are surprised by new opportunities;

when onto us a child is born.

We hold on to the precious potentiality and wonder what will become of it.

Zechariah saw your angel and heard the news and recoiled because hope hurt too much,

But you were at work–restoring all things.

John came kicking and screaming, the voice that would cry out–

Prophet of the most high who would proclaim your Redemption.

We too hold on to Hope knowing that this world is not as it should

We wait–hope, doubt panic, trust–in your return and long for your second Advent,

even as we remember your Incarnation.

Thank you Jesus our anchor and firm Hope

Amen

10 Artists to Stop Boycotting Christian Contemporary Music For (Just in Case You Were)

A week ago I offered my criticism of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) and as many have observed, basically critiqued the sorts of songs that get airplay on Christian radio. This week, it is my pleasure to shine a light on some of the good, the true and the beautiful  in the CCM industry. Despite what some people have thought from my post, I am not a hater. I have listened to CCM all my life and I still go back in my catalogue to revisit songs and artists that are important to me and I am not ashamed of  (and a few guilty pleasures). But before I give you my list, I need to say something about my criteria for chosing Christian artists:

  • Christian Contemporary Music is not a genre but a marketing category. There are Christians making beautiful music in every genre, but CCM involves Christians making music for Christians. Some of the Christian artists below eschew the name ‘Christian artist’ but they write Christian lyrics and appeal to a generally Christian audience.
  • Once upon a time, the Christian music scene was centered in Nashville with several record labels that were there. Nashville is still very important, but with the ubiquity of  iTunes and online music, independent musicians from all over are making great music. Independent artists have revolutionized the industry. Much of the ‘Christian music’  which hits high rotation on my playlist are friends and acquaintances: Andrea Tisher, Ordinary Time, Tom Wuest, Peter Lagrand, Brian Moss, Koa Siu and  Ahna Phillips. I have not included them in this list but if you want music which is honest, raw, beautiful, good, deep follow these links.
  • An important question you need to ask when you survey the CCM industry and my pasty list below is, “Where the black people at?” Remember CCM is a marketing category.  Christian Artists who are African Americans are generally marketed as Gospel artists which is another genre with a storied tradition. The lines are not always distinct (artists like Mandisa, Israel Houghton, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, etc. have wide appeal)but generally CCM is a white industry marketed to white people (i.e. white people generally grace the cover of CCM magazine). This doesn’t make it all  bad, but it does mean that in  profile of  artists below I’m only looking at a  small slice of Christian artists. If there are not some Gospel artists in your playlist you are missing out on some of the best music anywhere.
  • I have chosen to not profile any Christian Hip Hop artists for one simple reason: I don’t like what I see and hear. I think there is some great hip hop being made by Christians which is conscience raising and socially engaged, but generally this isn’t the type of stuff I see in the Christian hip hop scene.  I am willing to be educated on this point, but please don’t just tell me how much you like Lecrae or liked Gospel Gangstaz back in the day. Give me something current, beautiful and life altering.
  • I focused on artists currently working whom I appreciate. There are legends that I have not named here but without a doubt embody what is good in CCM. This is by no means exhaustive.

So without further ad0, let me give you my 10:

  1. Derek Webb– Founding member of Caedmon’s Call, singer, songwriter and self-described-agitator Derek Webb is one of the artists I think offering a prophetic challenge to both Christians and the wider culture. Consider his strong words about the judgmentalism which often characterizes Christian public discourse in What Matters More:  
  2. Gungor– Michael Gungor makes beautiful music. He and his group Gungor wed creativity, artistry and lyrical depth. Check out Ghosts Upon the Earth if you want a well constructed worship  experience (Michael shares vocals with his wife Lisa).  This song however, is a favorite in our house (the kids love it and love this video): 
  3. Sara Groves-Sara writes  thoughtful and vulnerable music.  I read an interview with her where she was talking about technology, Albert Borgman’s ‘focal practices,’ Eugene Peterson. The thoughtfulness she brings to her songwriting means that you get a lot of substance. She also is not afraid to be honest about her own struggles. I love that there is an artist at the center of the CCM  creating songs with insight and honesty.  Here is Sara performing Obsolete
  4. John Mark McMillan– My favorite John Mark McMillan songs touch heartache, pain and anger  but also compel you to trust God more. Think of his How He Loves (also covered by the David Crowder Band). This is a song written after a painful experience (the loss of a friend) and his own personal grief and angst but it  compels you to trust the love of God.  Here is John with his poignant song, Murdered Son
  5. Christa Wells– In my earlier post I bemoaned the lack of lament in Christian music. Christa  is the exception in that she’s written some of the most gutwrenchingly honest lyrics in Christian music (including Natalie Grant’s hit Held).  I love  How Emptiness Sings
  6. Phil Keaggy– For what is now decades anytime somebody criticizes the CCM industry for its lack of artistry and musicianship somebody brings up Phil Keaggy. Keaggy is recognized across the  music industry as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. Releasing bothvocal and insturmental albums, Keaggy has also lent his amazing guitar work and songwriting to many artists in the industry.  Here he is playing Salvation Army Band (worth watching just to see him play):
  7. Sandra McCracken– Derek Webb’s wife is fabulous folk infested artist  and songwriter writing hymns and songs which are both beautiful and sensitive. Can’t say enough good things about her, Can’t Help Myself.  
  8. Stuart Townend– Together With Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend stands at the forefront of the New Hymns movement. You know him as  for modern hymns (with Getty)  like In Christ Alone, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, and Beautiful Savior .  For decades the criticism sometimes leveled at contemporary worship music is that it is too subjective and not meaty enough. Townend’s response was not to join the throng of critics but  to write new hymns which have deepened the worship of churches across the globe (despite a few problematic lyrics). Here is Townend singing Come People of the Risen King
  9. Switchfoot likely hates that I put them on my list of Christian artists (I hate myself for including them) with their crossover success. But they got their start at Sparrow records and write from a overt Christian perspective. I remember being impressed with them early on when I  went through a stage bemoaning the vacuity of many Christian lyricists (I’ve never fully recovered). I  ran head long into Sooner or Later (Soren’s Song), a song which  references Soren Kierkegaard and wrestles with faith and doubt. They get my undying love for introducing their audience to the prophetic voice of John Perkins in Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)
  10. Brian Houston– I discovered this artist 10 years ago because he was the opening act at a Delirious concert I went to. Hailing from Belfast and always hovering on the cusp of greatness, Brian writes music that can be classified variously as folk, folk rock, blues, rock, roots. His most recent album is the Gospel-ly infused Shelter (available on iTunes) and is worth purchasing. Check him out online (you  won’t find him in your Christian book store). Note if you do a web search for him, you will invariably get a lot of hits for Sydney pastor Brian Houston. That Brian Houston does not get so high a recommendation from me. Here is a video of Brian (the musician not the pastor) performing Jesus Again: 
There are several artists I would add to the list, but I only promised 10. Feel free to share with me your favorites or offer your rebuttal!

Where are the songs? And why should I reflect on music when Christian Contemporary Music is so bad

So one major problem with this blog is that it is called, “thoughts, prayers & songs.” Certainly with my book reviews and various reflections, you get a taste of my ‘thoughts.’  Often I reflect on prayer and I try to publish ‘prayer’ posts every Sunday; Yet I seem to be deficient in the ‘song’ department. I am thinking about how to best address this and may work in a regular (weekly) musical reflection, but I don’t know the exact shape that that is going to take yet. As this blog has reflected on personal vocation, theology, Church words and practices, I want to make sure whatever ‘song’ reflections I offer, fit the flavor of what you’ve come to expect from your friendly neighborhood Matichuk, so I will be looking for ways to do that and wouldn’t mind a few suggestions.

I might need to post something on the Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) scene.  I am highly critical of much Christian music for the way it is marketed and the low ebb of creativity which seems to be an industry standard (the same may be said for pop music in general). I also hate how when I listen to Christian radio in my car, the station announcer always brags about how ‘safe’ the music is. “Safe for the whole family,” as though I should be comforted that the meaningless pap being pumped through my speakers would never subvert any institution or move anyone to do anything risky.  Bad music, with a Christian veneer might be safe, but it isn’t good.

Of course my relationship with Christian music is more complicated than my quick judgments. The truth is, I grew up in the 1980’s  and 1990’s and was pretty well raised on Christian music. I know more Petra, DC Talk and Newsboys lyrics than I care to admit. When Amy Grant struck it big in the mainstream with Baby,Baby, I remember friends and I wondering if she had lost her faith (and who was that eye-candy-guy in the music video?).  And while I can criticize many lyrics for being trite, the music for being too over produced and formulaic, and the marketing (“If you like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Creed, you’ll love Third Day”-really?),  the fact remains there are a number of artists whose music and lyrics have spoke to me and whose music touched my heart.   In the middle of the rubbish heap of CCM are some real treasures.

And there are a number of great artists both inside and outside of the CCM industry whose lyrical depth and musicianship make them worth listening to. It is easy to criticize the bad (I did it above) but I want to shine a light on the good. So as I look for a way to bring some ‘song’ to this blog, feel free to flag noteworthy musicians for me (note: some occasionally readers of this blog are noteworthy musicians).