Letting Go of “Letting Go”: A Christian Music Supercut

If you spend an afternoon casually listening to a Christian music radio station, you will likely encounter repetition.  Stations use relatively limited playlists and promote the songs and artists they perceive as popular.  I am not keen on the lack of variety, but I understand the purpose of the redundancies.  Secular pop stations are using basically the same format.  Perhaps, consolidation of interests is a good thing for a market of finite consumers with finite resources.  You are vaguely aware of and somewhat consenting to this repetition when you turn on a Christian music station.

What really abrades me, though, is the undue recurrence in themes, imagery, and word choice.  Basically, all of contemporary Christian music reduces to a mere handful of thematic genres.  But the Christian life involves a range of emotions and experiences, which are addressed by the certain truths that comprise the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). 

Recently, I attempted a reconciliation with Christian music.  I have been too cynical, scrutinous, and dismissive toward it.  Yet, in about a week of listening to a few Christian music stations during my commutes, my agitation returned.  I noticed a handful of songs repeating the same language, and it was not language common to our Christian confession like divine names or biblically significant images.  What I heard over and over again was an admonition to “let go”—indeed, a precarious piece of advice for someone operating a vehicle.     

More than a mere handful of songs use this clichéd expression.  I found dozens of songs using it, and it is so common that there are alternative meanings for the phrase.  For your listening pleasure, I’ve gathered a few examples in this Christian music supercut (YouTube Link). 

 

I am not looking to wage logomachy against the artists using this expression.  Rather, I want to call attention to this inept and shallow phrase.  Is it a befitting phrase for Christians to use in their dialogue with one another?  Should we counsel each other to “let go” of sinful behaviors or lingering emotional pain?

I readily admit that I am too casual about my own sin.  The entire process of my repentance is long and drawn out.  I am slow to recognize a sin, hesitant to call something sinful, and often blenching at the prospect of confessing it.  The least helpful encouragement I could receive is a passive instruction like “let it go.”  “It” has a terribly habit of coming back.  The scriptures give us active directives against sin.  We are called to deny ourselves, put away sinful behaviors, put to death the flesh, and repent of wicked works.        

Let’s not be picky about language just to entertain ourselves or impress others.  However, we should be critically exacting with the words we use to encourage others and ourselves in pursuing Christlikeness.

A Church Covenant Set to Music

A helpful way of conveying the importance of local church membership is a church covenant.  At my current church, Auburndale Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky, prospective members agree to the church covenant as part of the process of joining our church. We regularly remind ourselves of our commitment to each other at our monthly members’ meeting by reciting the covenant together.

Now, we have the covenant in a sing-able format.  During the month of January, as our offertory music, we will sing a verse of the covenant each Sunday.  To hear a demo version of the covenant, use the SoundCloud widget below.  The sheet music is available here.

In the fall, I worked on setting this covenant to music.  This work was challenging because the covenant is lengthy and in prose.  The first step was to organize the covenant into metrical lines, (i.e., a consistent pattern of syllables per line).  This resulted in four stanzas, each consisting of eight eight-syllable lines.

I had several difficult decisions to make in arranging the text.  I wanted to preserve the original text as much as possible, but some editing and trimming was necessary.  I also decided against forcing rhyme upon the text.

Next, I searched for a tune.  Using the online resource Hymnary, I found several interesting tunes.  St. Petersburg, composed by Dmitri Bortnianski in the nineteenth century, struck me as the best option.  Those familiar with the Trinity Hymnal may know this tune. It is a fairly easy melody, but also stately enough for such a meaningful text. I had to duplicate the last four measures of the melody to fit the text.

I hope that during this season, when so many are considering new commitments and resolutions, that we will remember the commitments and resolutions we have already made to each other as believers and members of Auburndale.

Upcoming Psalm Singing Service

On Sunday, October 21st, Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, will participate in a unique Psalm-singing service.  Pastor Brian Croft is continuing though his 2 Samuel series, and on that morning, he will preach David’s song of deliverance from 2 Samuel 22, a song that reappears in Psalm 18.

Auburndale Baptist will use The Trinity Psalter’s metrical version of Psalm 18 to sing portions of the Psalm set to familiar tunes.  We will sing through most of the Psalm in the service and read through a portion, as well.

We have planned this service in this way in order to communicate the importance of God’s word and to focus us on the truth of God’s word that is to be preached that morning.  For other thoughts, including rationale and resources for Psalm-singing, check out “The Psalms:  Truly Persistent Songs.”

Here are a few resources for preparing for this service.  To see the sheet music for each section of our Psalm adaptation, click the links below.

  • Psalm 18:1-6 (set to the tune of “Jesus Shall Reign,” #587 in the Baptist Hymnal, 1991)
  • Psalm 18:7-16 (set to the tune of “O Come, O Come, Emanuel,” #76 in the Baptist Hymnal, 1991)
  • Psalm 18:16-26 (set to the tune of “Take Up Your Cross,” #494 in the Baptist Hymnal, 1991).  Note:  we will read this portion during the service, instead of singing it.
  • Psalm 18:27-35 (set to the tune of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” #144 in the Baptist Hymnal, 1991)
  • Psalm 18:36-45 (set to the tune of “Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Array’d,” #574 in the Baptist Hymnal, 1991)
  • Psalm 18:46-50 (set to the tune of “All People that on Earth Do Dwell,” #5 in the Baptist Hymnal, 1991)

To hear demo versions (warning: I’m no professional) of the songs, use the SoundCloud widget below.

I’m looking forward to singing Psalm 18 corporately.  I hope the Lord will bless these efforts and greatly affect our hearts with his word.

2,000 Minutes, Featuring The Beatles – Three Debates

Check out the first three installments of 2,000 Minutes, Featuring The Beatles. 

The Favorite Beatle Debate

The debate begins with Lennon, the artistic visionary without whom The Beatles never exist, but I cannot pick him over the Beatle with the greatest individual musical gift.  Harrison’s guitar playing, and particularly his lead guitar playing, is the best talent possessed by any of the fab four (other than McCartney’s handclapping).  Yet, I’m drawn to McCartney’s lead vocals.  He significantly outperformed Lennon on Revolver, which I argue is the band’s creative peak.  But in his post-Beatles interviews, Lennon’s descriptions of McCartney are scathing.  I can’t make him my favorite Beatle, especially since he committed the crimes of “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” against my ears.

I promised myself I wasn’t doing this, but Ringo Starr is my favorite Beatle.  That Starr was the Beatles’ favorite Beatle—he’s the only band member to have all the other band members appear on his post-Beatles solo records—is reason enough for me.  Another factor in this decision is his banter with Harrison on “Boys” from Please Please Me (“Alright, George”) and “Honey Don’t” from Beatles for Sale (“Rock on, George, one time for me”).

The Favorite Album Debate

Four legitimate candidates qualify for this discussion:  Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and “The White Album.”  Only on the basis of my thirty listening hours, I would place, perhaps controversially, Sgt. Pepper’s at the bottom of that list.  Its irreverent silliness, which, I know, is intentional and is some sort of cultural meta-criticism, wears on me.  I knew that I was listening to something great, but sometimes, I reminded myself of the album’s reputed greatness to tolerate it.

I’m amenable to Rubber Soul because it began a quality artistic phase for the band.  I could also accede to an argument for the “White Album,” based upon sheer quantity.  Revolver, however, is The Beatles’ album I enjoy and respect most.  I’m casual toward “Love You To,” but I’m affectionate toward every other song.  It was the best 105 minutes of my Beatles music immersion commute.

The Favorite Song Debate

I’m prepared to be hated for this decision.  None of the early songs (i.e., before Rubber Soul) thrill me, but I respect them and the many classics I’m neglecting from their later albums.  I found “In My Life” from Rubber Soul enchanting, especially that muffled bass note at the end of the verses’ lines.  “And Your Bird Can Sing” from Revolver makes me want to join a Beatles tribute band, but, alas, is really too brief for consideration.  I love the integration of the brass instruments and electric guitar in “Got to Get You into My Life” from Revolver, and I’m surprised that the single didn’t receive much attention until it was included on a compilation album in the mid-70s.  Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the White Album came seriously close to winning this debate.

Abbey Road’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” however, is the best song I heard in my thirty hours of commuting last month.  The track could fit on an album by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Nirvana, Radiohead, or any contemporary rock band.  If a song recorded forty years ago sounds current, it’s because the song has shaped its genre decisively.

The last time all four Beatles worked together in the studio, they were finishing “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”  The abrupt ending of “I Want You” leaves the listener exacerbated—“it’s over?”  Yes, The Beatles were over, and, probably, should have gone on much longer.  “I Want You” was the end of The Beatles, but has reverberated, as so many of their songs, through rock history.

 

Cross-Linguistic Redemption: A Response to the Pilgrims’ English-Evangelization of Native Americans

I like to describe myself as a recovering logomachist and aspiring logophile. During my elementary and secondary years, I discovered an interest, admittedly nerdy, in language, grammar, and vocabulary. Unfortunately, the interest manifested itself in wicked ways; I loved to critique and, even, ridicule the language of others.

I’m grateful to God that he softened my heart and has gradually sanctified me from this sin toward others. Now, I try to interpret others charitably and politely ignore shortcomings (of which I possess a substantial share).

Yet, my love for language has not subsided. That love now manifests itself in less abrasive, perhaps dorkier, ways. I’m not ashamed to admit that I keep a running log of words that I learn and daily tweet entries from that log.

Recently, I’ve appeased my logophilia with Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. The work is chockablock with intriguing tidbits. A passage I recently encountered touched upon not only my linguistic interests, but theological ones, as well.

Bragg describes the migration of the English language to the American continent and then its evolution under the unique cultural development in the westward expanding United States. In the course of this discussion, the Pilgrims, and their posture toward existing Native American languages, surprised me.

Citing Scott Attwood, Bragg notes that the Pilgrims promoted the learning of English among Native Americans, but few attempted to “learn native tongues.” Then Bragg offers an explanation for this trend:

They were of course men and women with a mission. Those who see the skull beneath the flesh will conclude that to ignore or virtually to ignore the language of so many peoples, with whom you would eventually fight, over whom you will finally rule, is the first step in plotting their subjugation. Others would say that the zeal of the Christian was such that the word of God and spreading the word of God so that souls could be saved and salvation brought to those hitherto outside the Christian fold was a paramount imperative. The Native Americans had to learn English to understand about God and be saved.

From Bragg’s account, it seems the Pilgrims—Protestant Christians who dissented from the state controlled Church of England—set up English proficiency as a sort of prerequisite for entrance into God’s kingdom. The Protestants who proceeded the Pilgrims in the 18th century utilized a different method. From David Brainerd, serving the Housatonic Indians in New England, to William Carey, evangelizing Hindu adherents in India, and Adoniram Judson, declaring the gospel in Burma, Protestant missionaries toiled to learn native languages and translate the Bible into those languages.

This latter method seems biblically, historically, and practically superior to the Pilgrim missionary endeavor. Two scenes form the New Testament argue for the propagation of the gospel in native languages. The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and the extraordinary gifting of Christ’s disciples to minister in a significant number of languages, is an indication that Spirit of God intends to conduct his mission multilingually. In addition, Christ receives praises in the book of Revelation for his cross-linguistic redemption of people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). Diversity of languages is credit, not a barrier, to Christ’s redemptive work.

The Pilgrim interaction with Native Americans seems historically short-sighted, as well. In John’s vision of the multilingual heavenly throng, the English language is one of the “every … language” engaged in God’s praises, and to the apostle, English would have sounded as intelligible as the Native American tongues that Pilgrims ignored. Certainly, God has accomplished much through English-speaking Christendom, but we must remember that English speaking believers have been engrafted into the olive tree of God’s people (Rom 11:17-18), and our engrafting is a relatively recent occurrence in the history of God’s people. We must avoid a proud evaluation and exaltation of our language.

Practically, the Pilgrim methodology seems inefficient. Teaching thousands of unbelievers a new language is a daunting, time-consuming task. Perhaps, many would refuse to learn the language or suspect it as the language of conquerors. The learning of a native language is certainly difficult, but once missionaries gain some proficiency in the new language, they can promote the gospel to a large number of unbelievers.

If Bragg’s depiction is accurate, then the difference between the Pilgrims and later Protestant missionaries lies in their divergent purposes. The Pilgrims were not singly concerned with the evangelization of Native Americans. They came to the New World to escape persecution and establish surviving, then thriving, communities. We enjoy a different historical situation, one more similar to later Protestant missionaries’ context than the Pilgrims. I hope modern Christians are less susceptible to the Pilgrims’ arrogant appraisal of English. We can support those who desire to learn English for the personal benefit. However, the “English-only” cause championed among some social conservatives is a value extrinsic to our identity as Christians.