Saturday, March 31, 2012

4 Song EP: Psalm 46

This is post #2 of 4 on the 4 songs I wrote for school...

This is one of my favorites. The songs works and it recorded well. I have been toying with this song for a long time, so some of you may have heard it before - sorry.

Lots more banjo, no drums, lots of electric guitar and one of the best guitar solos I have ever come up with (which is not saying much if you know me :)).

One of my learning objectives was that I wanted to seek traditions outside of my own. The Psalms have not been a major part of my worshiping tradition in my home church. More than that, before coming to SPU I was unsure about the Psalms. I wrestled with David and Solomon and their roles in scripture. I mostly avoided them, not finding much value in them at all. I think my issue was that David and Solomon both started great but devolved into a mess of a family that ultimately cast the people of God into the stone ages and persecution and exile. I think I was hurt because the church taught about these folks as heroes. When I read the stories for myself, the biblical portrayal did not match the lionized version I had heard from the church. I blamed Solomon for the church's terrible portrayal and teaching. I got issues but I am working through them. Since coming to SPU, I have been inundated with the Psalms. I have gained from my classes a great theology regarding the Psalms and have grown to love them. This song represents my growth. I was first introduced to the Psalms as a major part of worship in our first class intensive at Camp Casey. In taking Dr. Wall’s class and being introduced to reading scripture theologically and christologically, I learned to re-interpret the Psalms through the lens of Christ. My new lens coupled with the reading of the Psalms to begin each class in Theology and Scripture has encouraged me to explore what the church has known for millennia.
            This Psalm is subtly Christological in its ecclesial focus. Psalm 46 is originally about God and an ancient city. The city and its inhabitants are secured by the Lord’s protection in the face of all danger. So secure that they can be still even though the earth melts. I have interpreted the city and people from the Psalm to be the people of God, the church, singing to God, coming in to worship, being still before the Lord, and relying on God to serve as our defender and protector in a hostile world.
            On a more personal level for this song, to me, conveys the biblical response to violence. It is sort of my way of affirming the passage, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord.” We do not have to fear or fight or struggle, the Lord promises to do so on our behalf. I do believe Jesus calls his followers to radical peace and an even more radical trust that the Lord will vindicate. The actual Psalm has more expressions of this element than I incorporated into the song. I didn’t want the song to be too politically charged in exchange for a more of a worshipful tone.
             To reflect the stillness highlighted in the chorus refrain, the song, overall, is simple and lacks percussion. The bridge builds tumultuously in that the electric guitar enters and crescendos to mimic the tension in the words. The earth is melting, the sea is surging, the mountains are falling into the ocean. The resolve of the music is to bear witness to our not being afraid because in knowing the Lord and we know the One who keeps us.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

4 Song EP!: Rise Up!

So, I wrote 4 songs for this project I had to do at school...

It is this class where I could do a project, literally almost anything, where I synthesized the material that I was learning. I decided to write and play some songs. These are not finished. I have my favorites. The next four blog posts will be about these four songs.

Here is a playlist with all 4 on youtube. You can easily listen to any of them. I am going to blog about what I was attempting to do and say in each song:

The first song is my LEAST favorite but it has been knocking around in my head. It is called "Rise Up!"

“Rise Up!”

With your left hand you clear my path, With your right you hold me close
Your Holy fire all around me will be my light home, it will be my light home

Rise up our God the Lord above, You are the great and Mighty One
You stay our enemies away, you pour out all you grace

You, O Lord our God, are a warrior as the sacrificial lamb
Lion of the tribe of Judah, You are the Great ‘I AM’, You are the Great ‘I AM’

Rise up our God the Lord above, You are the great and Mighty One
You stay our enemies away, you pour out all you grace

Pour out your grace. Lend us your peace.
Lord, make your face to shine within us deep
Please move your hand to keep us

Rise up our God the Lord above, You are the great and Mighty One
You stay our enemies away, you pour out all your grace

            This song serves as the invocation of the album. The terms are more general. The song is a song of praise for who God is. Some of God’s names and titles are mentioned here to draw our attention to the God of the Trinity revealed in Christian and Hebrew Scripture. The bold texts are the choruses or “the hooks.” These are invitations for the Lord to rise up both in our lives and in our worship. Singing the song in the manner gives permission to God to work God’s will in our lives as it is in heaven. The bridge is an allusion to the Aaronic Blessing found in Numbers 6.
            One of the most interesting things about this song is my attempt to incorporate and synthesize God’s specific gender attributes. There seems to be two movements in the church today. One is to make the God-head gender neutral. This is done (1) to keep the portrayal of God from being hijacked by the privileged and (2) because God is not a man/human and does not fit into our gender construction (Habakkuk 11, et al.). Another movement in the conservative evangelical church is to make the church more masculine. Often in the second movement, the critique is that church is geared too much towards women and a major part of this critique is worship music. Though I am not so much in favor of making the church manlier, this song does seek to embrace both sides initially and on the surface. But then, the song, shows that the God we worship and follow as example defies many of our masculine archetypes and rises above all gender construction created by modern society. This is achieved by using metaphor, scripture and contrast. An example of this is in the second verse where God is called a warrior but only as the sacrificial lamb. The chorus refrains that yes, not only is God mighty and fights our enemies but also pours out grace. Some other gender juxtapositions are Left hand and adventurous path/ right hand to hold close, Fire/Light and home. The bridge holds the place of synthesis in the tension of gender attributes between God and humans. The Aaronic blessing displays our complete reliance on God for all things, peace, blessing, safety, grace. Gender cannot save us or make our quality of life better or worse. It is a social construction that will toss and turn with the generations. The Lord alone is the righteous example, being both caregiver and protector.

In layperson's terms:
  • I have had this song in my head a long time. 
  • I love the intro, banjo thing, but 
  • the rest of the song falls flat for me, but maybe it will bless someone else.
  • I wrote it to try and write a more manlier worship song but my goal was not to make church more manlier
  • Instead, I tried to emphasize attributes of God in a juxtaposed and mysterious way, the way the scripture does, with God as both feminine and masculine according to our current gender constructions. 
    • Yes God is masculine but God's power resides in dying on the cross of shame, suffering, and death.
    • Yes, God is feminine, but God's femininity expresses itself by creating us sons and daughters who conquer sin, death and the grave in the spreading of the Kingdom.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Halfway through Lent!

We just passed the halfway point in Lent (March 15)!

And if you are like me, you have failed at your lenten practices many times over.

"God is light and in God there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5)/ "God is love" (1 John 4:8) 
It is at this point that I have to remind myself of a few things: (1) I do not practice and observe Lent to make God love me more and (2) I am a broken person who can't even live up to my own standards and practices let alone that of a infinitely holy God.

God is light. To walk in light is to have all brokenness and rebelliousness exposed. The darkness of my soul cannot exist in the light. Dark cannot exist in light. I have two choices, to find a way to get rid of the darkness or hide from the light.

Everyone has darkness and brokenness. Sometimes I want to downplay it. Sometimes I want to ignore it. Yet Lent is the perfect time, not only to work at exposing light into the dark corners, but coming to grips with our own brokenness. I had set goals for myself. I had given myself directives. Things that I wanted to do. Not scripture commands. Not something from outside demanded of me, but from myself. These are things I wanted to do and yet I haven't followed through.

This is just a symptom of something larger. We are all struggling with ourselves and I am the chiefest among those who struggle. I desire one thing but can't do it. I desire to eat only chocolate that is from a non-slave source and I can't. I desire to not eat out and I do. I desire to put away soda and I drink like a fiend. And these are just the standards I have set for myself, not counting God's standards I have not loved my neighbor as myself, I have not loved God with all my heart, I have gossiped, I have lied, I have not obeyed the laws of the land, etc... etc... etc...).

St. Paul writes about this in Romans 7. He is probably not writing about himself or even Christians, but people have identified with this passage for a long time, "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched person I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?"

Lent finds us here, right in the middle of Romans 7, exposing light to our darkness and realizing that we struggle. The struggle is a sign of brokenness. But the struggle and the darkness and the brokenness do not have the final word. There is relief. There is victory. There is Easter Morning. St. Paul answers his own question quoted in the last line above. He says, "What a wretched person I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7 leads to Romans 8 (go figure) which allows Paul to shout from the roof tops:
"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
There is something bigger than my darkness. There is something that fights my darkness. It is not light alone. Light exposes darkness, but exposing it is not enough. I know my own brokenness. I know my own failings. Exposure is not the final word. Love is the final word. Light can be cold and sterile but love brings warmth. Love brings action. "God’s love was revealed to us in this way: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins [brokenness, darkness]" (1 John 4:9-10).

The core Christian belief is that God came to us in the form of Jesus Christ. That in so doing, God took a human body. God took up the struggle. God took up the darkness. God took up the brokenness. By living, Christ brought life to light. By dying, Christ put darkness and death to the grave. By rising again on Easter morning, Christ has destroyed death and gave us a glimpse of a new order, a new creation, a new and everlasting life available to us here and now that once we enter into, we remain for ever. This is Christianity. This is the Good news! (2 Timothy 1:10). Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 ad), the bishop of Constantinople, said it this way, "What is not assumed, is not redeemed!”

I do not practice Lent to earn God's love. My failure at keeping my own standards, or any standards for that matter, does not cause God to love me any less. Lent is the perfect time time to have our darkness exposed to light. We will see our struggle. We will sense within ourselves a fight between good and broken. And that is ok... that is what Lent is for. But take heart, for those who desire healing and light and good, there is love.

If there is anything in this post that makes you want more or to go further or move deeper into this love, feel free to message me on facebook.