Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More kid stuff

OK, so I think I told you about a week ago that I was done tracking the kids’ CD. That was true, and then I wrote two more songs for it.

So I tracked one of those yesterday, and I’ll track the other one tomorrow. I’m very excited, because the one I tracked today allowed me to fulfill my lifelong dream of pretending to be a hip-hop artist. Many of you know that I dabbled in the hip-hop world way back when. As successful as that foray was, it was to be short-lived. Since that time, I have longed to return. But, since I’m still very white, and since I’m even less cool than I used to be, I knew I had to be careful. I needed some help from someone who could increase my hip-ness. It was one of those times when it pays to be an old guy who other people “grew up listening to.”

This guy is one of those people, and he had told me before that he’d be glad to help me if I ever needed it. Well, he’s more famous and more talented than I, and way better at sounding like he belongs on hip-hop songs, so I called him. The video below chronicles a tiny little bit of our session. You won’t get to hear the whole song. Only enough to show you how I am totally channeling Kanye, only without the congnac-inspired public jackassery.
Anyway, enjoy. The song is called “juicebox,” and you’ll hear it soon enough.

In other news, below are a couple of pics that we took for the new record.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Music about boogers for the glory of God

“Going Secular”

That’s what we used to call it when a Christian artist all of a sudden appeared on mainstream radio (or even – gasp! – in a music video on MTV) with a song that didn’t mention Jesus, or maybe only talked about God in the vaguest of terms.

He’s going secular!

She went secular!

I think they’re trying to go secular!

It sounds ludicrous to me now, but at the time it seemed like juicy, scandalous news. It was sort of the ultimate sin in Christian entertainment (every time I say those two words together, I either giggle to myself or shudder a little).

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, this sort of thing was big news in the evangelical Christian community. And it was all really controversial and divisive, too, because you never knew where people were going to stand on it. Was “going secular” tantamount to denouncing one’s faith? Was it a divinely-inspired way of doing ministry to the world outside of the CCM culture? Or was it something in the middle? Something more organic and unintentional? Like, simply, a particular artist was making music that was so good that it suddenly demanded to be heard by people, regardless of faith or lyrical content?

I honestly don’t know. It was probably a case-by-case thing. I’m sure there were some folks who “went secular” because they stopped believing in Jesus (or at least stopped believing in Him in the same way). And I’m sure there were some who just got embraced by the “secular” world without even trying or changing a thing.

Personally, I’ve never cared for all those labels and divisions. I wish people could just make music and not try to pre-categorize so much. There’s a lot of really inspiring, God-pleasing music out there that never makes it onto the shelves of your local Christian retailer.

Where am I going with this?

There’s something sort of distinctive about my soon-to-be-released kids’ record, and that same something represents what seems to be happening in my career as a whole right now. So I figured now was a good a time as any to talk about it.

Confused? Gimme a little of your time and I’ll work it out for you.

Can you handle a little backstory? I really think this will help.

OK, so maybe 15 months ago, when I first started thinking about the possibility of doing a record strictly for kids, my first thought was that I would just write whatever came to my mind, with no regard for how overtly “spiritual” any of the songs needed to be. The thread that would hold the songs together would simply be “things I want my kids to sing and learn and enjoy.”

So the songs, as I started to write them, had the potential to end up being about obeying God; or they could be about eating boogers.

Hey, I want my kids to understand both of those basic principles. They’re not necessarily on equal ground or whatever, but you get the idea. I mean, if you raise up a little scripture-quoting, sin-overcoming saint who eats his boogers, that’s a fail in my book. Nothing ruins a witnessing opportunity like a booger snack.

Random Stranger: “I really appreciate you stopping on the side of the road in this heat to fix my two flat tires. Why would you do something like that?”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Well, Jesus said He came to serve, not to be served, and I just want to live like Him, because He loves me and saved me.”

Random Stranger: “Wow, tell me more about this Jesus! I am really interes… Hey! What are you doing?!?”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Nom-nom-nom…”

Random Stranger: “Are you eating your…?”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Nom-nom-nom… gulp. What? Sorry, what was that you were saying?"

Random Stranger (running away now, deeply disturbed): “AAAAH!”

Your Super-Godly Kid: “Where are you going?”

Random Stranger: “I don’t care how nice or articulate you are! I don't want your Jesus, you booger-eating wacko!”

See what I’m saying? And that’s exactly how it would happen, too.

The point is that I wasn’t going to try too hard to write songs in certain categories. I just wanted to cover the whole gamut of kid topics. I’ve always approached writing from a very organic perspective. Out of the 300-400 songs I’ve written in my life, maybe 30-40 have been writing with a great deal of planning-ahead intentionality. Mostly I’ve just written things that seemed important or relevant or urgent. Jeremiah talks about a “fire shut up in my bones and I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot.” Like that.

Well, at the same time as all this was going on (in other words, over the last 9-12 months or so), I was starting to get more opportunities to write other not-overtly-Christian music. I won’t go into all the details or reasons, but I was being presented with good, money-making reasons to write everything from country to instrumentals to jingles. Being a person who just really enjoys being creative (and a person who loves changes and challenges and such), I got into all that. Some of it even paid some of my bills and got me some fairly significant “interest” from people who pay significant money for such things.

So suddenly I was writing all kinds of music – and having a great and fulfilling time doing it – and most of it wasn’t the kind of stuff that I would normally put on my CD projects.

There’s a whole other story I could tell here about how, sometimes when I’m alone in my thoughts, I kind of get a little self-pitying about the fact that I’ve been pouring my guts out for 15 years, writing music for Christians, and I’ve never had any real interest from the mainstream Christian music culture. Believe me, when people who don’t know Jesus start to value my talent more than people who do, it makes things weird.

But that’s not entirely relevant to this story, nor is it all that helpful. Maybe I can blog about it some other time. For now, I digress.

Well most of you know what happened with my instrumental work. I have been getting some affirming and financially viable interest in that field, which I’m really thankful for. Many of you also know that I’ve written a fair number of jingles and had varying levels of success in that field as well. And a few of you have heard some of my country tunes. Nothing big going on there at this point, but I have gotten some pretty great feedback from "industry" types as I've pursued that aspect of my art.

The point is that, with regard to the content of the kids’ songs, I found myself writing all kinds of stuff. And maybe 6 months into the process, I realized that I had a ton of music that I really liked, but only some of it was overtly “Jesus music.”

So I started thinking about the Gospel and relationships and how the world perceives Christians and evangelism and such.

And I came up with a plan. Here’s where I might lose some of you. I hope not, but I’m prepared for the possibility.

I’m going to do a different kind of kids’ CD than many of you might expect. Hopefully, I’ll end up doing two CD’s. That’s the plan right now. The first one is pretty much done. Many of you have heard a couple of the songs. We’re already well into the mixing stage. Artwork design is being finalized. If things go as planned, it will be out within 4 weeks or so. But this CD isn’t going to have much God-talk on it. In fact, to the casual listener, it will probably fit right in with this guy and this lady and these people. I have no idea if it’s as good as what those artists do, but it will cover some of the same kind of ground.

What I hope to do is to get this music into the hands and iPods and cars of people who would normally have no interest in my music. People who have no interest in the Gospel or Christianity or Jesus. People who would never let their kids listen to music that promotes what is, to them, “religious propaganda.” I’m not trying to trick anybody or whatever. I’m just trying to do something with my career that is rarely done by “Christian artists.” And that is, to get non-Christians to listen to it. Can you imagine? What a crazy idea!

If I can get people to listen to this CD, maybe I can build a little trust with them. Maybe you (if you are the person who tells them they should get it or buys it for them or whatever) can build a little trust with them.

“Hey, thanks for the tip on that music. My kids really like it, and I like it too. Does that guy have any other music?”

I have no idea if the CD is good enough to endear my art to people in that way, but I think my plan is worth a try. Like I said, I’ve actually been getting some of my best responses, as a writer and artist, from non-church goers lately. Go figure.

I’m not turning my back on any of you. Just letting you know that if I have a chance to share what I do with people who don’t know Jesus, I’m going to do it.

Something else. A few paragraphs ago, I said I’ll probably end up doing 2 CD’s. That’s actually my plan at this point. See, I still have a bunch of kid songs that are very much God-talk, and I want to show those to the world as well. But, if I can get people to listen to the first one – and hopefully, love it – then it will be much easier to convince them to listen to the second one.

That’s the theory, anyway.

Don't freak out about this strange plan. As far as I know, I'm not selling out or hiding my faith or any such nonsense. I'm simply trying to reach a wider, less religious audience with these songs, in the hopes that I (and those of you who buy it and share it) can build relationships with children and parents for the sake of the Gospel, and then share more songs (and more conversations and more life, etc) with them.

Maybe this doesn’t make sense to anyone but me and the few trusted folks who I’ve counseled with thru this process. But hopefully you can trust me that I have a big-picture, long-term plan for trying to share the Kingdom with parents and children who may or may not know (or even want to know) about Jesus.

I say all that to let you know that you can feel free to pass the CD (or select songs, or a link, or whatever) to co-workers and friends and family and whoever, whether they are interested in Christian music or not, and you don’t have to worry that people will think you're throwing religion at them. Unfortunately, that’s the way people think these days. Trust me, non-believers love it when we just give them stuff, without any sort of agenda other than to bless them. If you like the songs, let them be that kind of blessing to your friends.

I’m not trying to propose that we should stop doing overt, controversial things in order to reach the world. If you’ve ever listened to my lyrics, read my blog, or been to my church, you know that I’m okay with overt-ness and controversy. But maybe we can mix in a little of this kind of thing as well.

I’m open to thoughts and discussion on this. I’ve sought wise, trusted counsel, so I feel okay moving forward with this plan, but I really would like to hear from anyone who has thoughts, agreeable or not.

Oh, and two last things. To all of you who were eagerly anticipating a new CD to teach your kids Bible verses and such, I apologize. I really do think your kids (and you) will be pleased with this “going secular” CD. It’s fun and wholesome and I’m really proud of it. Again, if all goes well, the “Christian” one will be out fairly soon as well. I’ve written about 70% of the music already, and I actually even recorded a fair bit of stuff for it, back when I was planning to put all these songs on one CD. I don’t think it will take anywhere near as long as this one took. I’m thinking of actually paying some people to play on it rather than doing it all myself.

And to any of you who are wondering if I'm ever going to make any more "normal" CD's, I can only say that I absolutely plan to keep writing and recording thought-provoking, God-praising music for grown-ups.

I just have to get this crazy kid thing out of my system first.

In closing, I give you this reassurance: of all the genres to “go secular,” children’s music is probably the least scandalous. In fact, sometimes I’m more worried about Christian children’s music than I am about secular children's music. I mean, if we’re honest, which one of these guys is weirder?

It’s a tie, at best, right?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Worship thoughts Pt.3: Why "Corporate" Matters

OK, sorry for the delay in getting to this. Busy busy.

I finally finished tracking the children’s record a couple of days ago. Keith is starting the mix, and hopefully we’ll be printing and releasing the sucker very soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, continuing on in my multi-part series on worship and worship leading (the other stuff I’ve written so far is here and here), today we’re going to talk about gathering together in a “corporate” (communal, group, lots-of-people-in-one-place, etc) context, and why the “corporate gathering” is important and unique in the realm of singing and God-worship.

This will probably be the least music-related of all my worship thoughts. Many of you know that I have very specific views on the Church. This will speak more to that than it will to music, specifically.

Let me be clear from the outset and say this. When I use the word “corporate,” I don’t have any particular size of form or method in mind. I am simply referring to the fact that it’s always been good and right for believers to get together and worship God, as a group, sharing the same time and space. I have opinions about “institutional church” (whatever that means) and “traditional church” (again, whatever that means), etc. But I’m not going to go into that here.

How do I know that corporate gatherings are good and right? Well, we sure have lots of scripture passages devoted to how to meet and live and be together. Aside from the rather famous passages like 1 Cor 12-14 and Romans 12, one could argue that aside from a handful of New Testament books, the entire New Testament was written to read to a large group. And by “large,” I just mean more than 2-3 folks.

And as for singing together, the word “sing” appears, as an instruction and/or command, more than any other word in the Bible. And –especially in the Psalms – you have loads and loads of text and subtext devoted to song leaders, music leaders, and worship leaders. If there are leaders, then the assumption would be that there are followers. And that adds up to a group.

So, I doubt anyone here has serious arguments against any of this basic doctrine of group-gathering-for-the-glory-of-God, but in case you do, post something in the comments or email me and we can hash that out. Despite how opinionated I sound, I really am willing to engage some disagreeing dialogue. Bring it on and maybe we'll all come out smarter.

For now, I’ll move on to the specific topic at hand. I’m a worship leader, rather than a Bible scholar or an ecclesiology expert, but today I’m going to attempt to speak outside of my normal wheelhouse a little.

Basically, here’s what I’d like to propose. Simply this: that the “just me and God” view of worship is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, a little dangerous. And because that view is inadequate, the best thing for Jesus followers to do is to continue to meet together – often and with intentionality – for worship of the Lord (which includes singing) as one body.

Make sense? I'll explain a little further, just in case.

At various times in the early years of my spiritual journey, I heard two principles over and over again.

The first was usually posed as a rather loaded question, and it went something like this:

“If you were alone on a deserted island, and all you had was your relationship with Jesus, would that be enough?”

Sometimes it was the same question, only all you had was your Bible on the deserted island.

When asked this question, you were supposed to be able to say yes. And so of course any time you felt like you weren’t at a place where you could say yes to this question, you were supposed to feel sufficiently guilty/convicted, and said guilt/conviction was supposed to compel you do some stuff that would get you to a place where you could say yes.

Let me give you some free advice before I dive into this. If anyone ever poses a question to you that is supposed to be a litmus test for your spiritual legitimacy, make sure that question has nothing to do with a deserted island. In fact, make sure it has to do with something that is actually practical and real and applicable to life. Why? Well, I have never known anyone who has ever spent significant time on a deserted island, and I would venture to guess that most of you haven’t either. And I don’t anticipate that I, or anyone else that I know, will ever spend time alone on a deserted island. If I did think this possibility was in my future, honestly, I would probably be worrying a lot more about how to make an ocean-worthy raft out of bamboo or how to start a fire with my bare hands or how to survive consuming only palm fronds and saltwater.

I’m not at all ashamed to say that the possibility of being on a deserted island compels me to learn how to be Bear Grylls more than it does to memorize Bible verses or meditate on Jesus with more intensity. Perhaps this makes me a bad Christian. If the point of being on a deserted island is to die and go very quickly from the island to heaven, then I suppose I get the logic. Otherwise…

The point I’m trying to make is that the proposition of spending life in some sort of societal vacuum is sort of ridiculous and inconceivable. It’s certainly unlikely and impractical. So why were people always asking me if I loved Jesus enough to pull it off?

I don’t really know the answer. I think it probably had something to do with the fear that all of us were simply claiming Jesus as our Savior out of some kind of peer pressure or family tradition. I understand that fear. But – and here’s a little more free advice – if I were you, I’d always be a little wary of developing a spiritual ethic around fear of what people might do. Legalism is nearly always the only fruit that that seed will bear. And in this case, I think that fear drove some folks to over-individualize the idea of conversion and sanctification.

All I’m trying to say is that the "deserted island" question – and the answer it was meant to provoke – serves to pull us toward a conclusion that has little value in the life that most of the world lives or will live or should live. Are we going to have times of solitude, some voluntary and some not, in our lives? Absolutely. Can those times be good and growth-intensive periods for us? Definitely. Will we need to have certain spiritual strengths in order to persevere thru those times? Yes. But “just me and God” is certainly not a picture of the primary way that we are to relate to and grow with God thru the course of our lives.

And I would argue that it’s not the primary way we are to express ourselves in worship either. Some of you will disagree with me on that point, and that’s okay.

Before I move on, let me quickly address the second principle that I repeatedly encountered as a young believer.

It went like this:
“If you were the only one who would ever get saved, Jesus would have still died on the cross, just for you, to get you into heaven.”

I promise I’m not trying to be controversial here, but this is, strictly speaking, not a biblical idea. Sorry. Is it absolutely wrong or heretical? I don’t think so. But it’s just not biblically supportable. Yes, Jesus died and rose again to save sinners. But just as important (if not more so) is the fact that Jesus died and rose again to establish His Church and to empower His Kingdom.

The simple fact is that the Bible never says anything like “if it was only you, He still would’ve endured the cross.” That idea can be inferred from scripture, but it’s not a clearly expressed idea in the text.

I don’t know for a fact that He wouldn’t have died to save just one person. And I’m not even saying that it’s a bad philosophical proposition. I’m just saying that we don’t know it to be true. And worse, there’s really not a lot of reason to tell people that. Again, I understand why people went around saying it. I suppose they wanted us all to know that we were specifically known and loved – as individuals – by the Lord God. I agree with that, and the Bible agrees as well. After all, we were knit together in out mothers’ wombs and fearfully made and such.

But the downside to that way of thinking is that it further drives us – like the earlier principle – into a view of our faith as some sort of purely (or at least primarily) individualized endeavor. And that’s just not the case.

You see, we were meant to see ourselves as a collective, “Chosen People.” As a royal priesthood, a holy nation, etc. I am not The Body of Christ in the world. We are. I am not the Bride of the coming Jesus. We are.

We were meant to need each other. We are actually made to need each other. Many of you have heard this before, but in the early part of Genesis, everything that God did was followed with “and it was good” or “and it was very good.” The first “not good” moment was when the Lord looked at Adam and said “it’s not good for a man to be alone.”

And that’s been true ever since. What was Jesus’ prayer in the garden before His crucifixion (John 17)? “… that they [we] be perfectly one,” as He and the Father were one. And what did Jesus, in that same prayer, say would be the most legitimizing factor of Jesus as Messiah and King? Our love for each other.

So, why does “corporate” matter? It matters because when we meet together, we are drawing upon an aspect of our relationship with the Lord that cannot be accessed without the Body. It matters because it gives us a chance to love each other and serve each other and give each other money and put others before ourselves. It matters because, when we sing together, we are saying that we all agree about who God is and who we are. It matters because it forces us to sing along even when the style of music isn’t our favorite. It matters because it challenges us to use our hands and bodies and voices in ways that aren’t the most comfortable to us.

This leads me to my final point. When we all get together to worship, it’s okay if some people stand and some people sit and some people raise hands and some people dance and some people don’t do anything. That’s okay. But it’s not the way it should always be, all the time. Sometimes we should just all do the same thing, as a way of saying “this isn’t about me, this is about us.”

And our level of expression before the Lord shouldn’t always be rooted in what is “comfortable” or “natural” to each of us. Sometimes we should do the exact opposite of what is “natural” simply because the Kingdom of God is a place where first things are last and humble things are exalted. Sometimes we should resist our urges to be “who we are,” simply because you are not your own.

We should always always always be open to the Lord calling us out of our comfort zones, privately and publicly. If you say “well, I will never lift my hands in worship because that’s just not my way,” you’re in trouble. I don’t know any other way to say it. Be careful with that kind of talk. It has no place in the Kingdom. Other than outright sins, Jesus followers aren’t allowed to have “I will never” in their vocabulary.

And that is what is so dangerous about the “just me and God” mentality. It insulates us from the differences between us and other Christ followers. We need to be around other people to remind us that the Body of Christ is made up of many parts, and all the parts need each other. We need to be around other people to see them dancing while we are standing still; to see them sitting in sober silence with their eyes closed when we are singing at the top or our lungs.

When we worship together, we do something emotional and vulnerable together. When does that happen in life? We need that. It shapes us and molds us and reminds us that other people are just as important as we are. And that they are just as messed up as we are. And if we’re open and willing, it reveals to us more of God’s power and Kingdom thru His people.

So, it’s absolutely okay for you and me to sit alone in our closets and worship in isolation with the Lord. In many ways, that taps into a hugely valuable (maybe even essential) aspect of our relationship with God and His Spirit. But if that’s the only way – or even the primary way – that we relate to God, we are missing out on the fullness of what He has for us in worship.

And if you’re a worship leader, this overarching view of the Kingdom -- and the gathering church -- is key to doing your “job” well. Singing together matters. Lifting our hands together matters. Giving our money together matters. Praying together matters. Agreeing together matters. Being emotional together matters.

Corporate matters.


Monday, October 5, 2009

It's not that gross unless you start thinking about it.

I spent the day in the studio working on the kids' record. Got some great stuff. So close! Hopefully I can have some definite news soon. I'm planning to take some photos this week for the CD art. Despite the fact that no one buys CD's anymore, you still have to have CD art so that there is a picture to look at when you play it on your iPod, Zune, or other device.

Anyway, in the meantime, here's something.

On Friday night, I did a concert for some nice, hospitable folks in Fairfield, TX. It was a reall great night. Michael Steele sat in on percussion.

We had an adventure. I could probably write about it and make it funny, but I had my flip video wth me, and got some good footage. So here's a little something that I threw together over the weekend.