Wake Up, Sleeper

There is a song on Gungor’s “Ghosts Upon the Earth” album called “Wake Up, Sleeper”. It’s groovy, folkish, liturgical prog feel (as in what’s your favorite groovy, folk, liturgical prog band?) is interrupted about half way through by an electronic sounding baseline that seemingly doesn’t fit into the song. The first time I heard it, I was caught completely off guard. Not only was it unlike anything that Gungor had produced before it was almost as if I hadn’t really been listening to the song. But once the baseline kicked in I was alert to the song in a new way.

It took on new meaning. It took on new life. I felt an energy in the song that made me want to listen to nothing but this baseline ever again.

If it was an intentional attempt to have the music correspond with the theme of the song, it worked beautifully.

I only bring this up because I want to talk about porn (you didn’t see that coming did you?) Continue reading

Why I loved, then hated and started to love worship music again. Part 2.

Music is best when it provokes an emotion. Whether it’s anger, peace, joy, sadness. Good art has the power to change our views, surprise us and inspire. To look outside of ourselves. To connect with other people.

If you’ve been to a show to see a band you know what I am talking about. The feeling that arises when everyone is connected with the music. It’s an incredible feeling, one that explains why for me growing up I much preferred being at a gig with my friends than at Church.

The Ulster Hall was my church. The Barrowlands in Glasgow was my Cathedral.

It connected me with my friends and brought us closer. We had experienced something incredible together and we all had that in common. I don’t see those same friends as much anymore (mostly because I live across the Atlantic ocean than anything else) but they are the ones who when we do meet up even if it’s months or years in between, I am never nervous about seeing.

We have all sorts of connections from growing up that are stronger than time or distance.

That is special.

That is what worship music should do for Christians too.

It should connect a group of people around a common goal of seeing the world outside of ourselves. It should point to God and focus on the love He has for us and the world. It should inspire us to seek justice and to reflect something of His character into the world.

I have had similar experiences to the ones I described with my friends at concerts in church settings too and I can say they have probably been the most significant experiences in my faith.

There is nothing quite like worshiping God through songs that unite us, that remind us of our new lives and the purpose of sharing our new lives in a way that welcomes people rather than exclude them.

Most of worship songs today though focus on the “me” and the “I”. Which is important. How can we share peace with others if we are not at peace with ourselves. But to my shame most of those experiences walking out of a worship session left me feeling great about my relationship with God but rarely any different about my relationship with the people I shared it with. Never mind my relationships with people who were outside of it all.

Which perhaps was my problem. That I saw it as such. That there was us, or more honestly, me inside feeling good about God and those outside who weren’t interested. Rather than seeing us all as people equally in need to be told that this was not all there was.

It’s little wonder then that worship music became stale to me. That I started to feel awkward in worship settings. That I started to care more about whether I put my hands up at the right moment than connecting with others openly. That I made sure that I at least looked like I was one with God even if I wished to be doing anything else, anywhere else.

It had become so much about me that in the process I started to doubt myself.

I felt naked. Is this what happened to Adam and Eve? Had they become so concentrated on themselves that they forgot that they didn’t need clothes? Is this what happens when worship music goes bad?

Worship music should not make us feel vulnerable but empowered. Empowered to be honest with how we are doing rather than wanting to make sure people think we are Holy. Empowered to break through seeing worship as just about music but about how we interact with people, how we treat waiters, how we play sport, how we disagree, how we don’t judge and how we bring hope.

When this happens we can put worship music in it’s correct place. With a purpose not in of the worship itself but about creating unique ways of seeing further outside of ourselves to others.

This is why I am slowly realizing I am naked and being ok with it.

This is why I am falling back in love with worship music.

Why I loved, then hated and started to love worship music again. Part 1.

If worship music and I were in a relationship we would be Ross and Rachel. We are meant to be together but we’ve had our ups and downs over the years; even been on a break but ultimately everyone knows we’ll end up together.

Even writing this about how I am falling in love with worship music again, or at least the idea of worship music, I know that by next week we could have had a massive falling out.

Worship music for me was always about a song that could create an emotion in me. One that made me feel close to God or excited about God; made me feel like all the stuff that I know messes me up is forgiven and gave me hope.

There were songs that I loved to sing with other believers and honestly some of the times I have felt most at peace in this life has been with other Christians singing these songs. I remember listening to Amy Grant and Marantha! worship cassette tapes as a kid in the car. Going further back I remember Psalty. Worship in song form has shaped my faith in so many ways.

Then something changed. I started to grow tired of worship music and I started to tire of God. I am pretty confident that the correlation between my struggles with worship music and with God are linked. There are obviously a lot of other factors such as sin or life circumstances or my doubt (or my misbelief that doubt relates to the absence of God), but none of these were as loud in my life when my relationship with worship music was strong.

So what changed?

Well I did for a start. After a while Psalty just didn’t cut it. So he got thrown out (If your get that reference then you were a Psalty kid too) After a while I also became embarrassed by many practices in church some of which were music related.

Which was a big thing for me.

Music was something that was important to me. Music was the thing that most of my close friends and I bonded over. Discovering new music, going to shows and generally spending all our money on CD’s was our favorite thing to do together. We liked the same bands and we liked different bands but music was at the core of most of what we did together.

The problem with worship music was that it just didn’t match up to the music I was listening to. It wasn’t as good musically, most of the songs sounded the same and it all seemed so contrite. As a teenager most of my spiritual experiences were to be found in a dark club watching a band rather than in a Church with my hands in the air.

Worship music it seemed to me, became less about worship and more about performance. Worship leaders had to look good, kids at shows were there more to be seen than anything else and the lyrics were unconnected to anything that I was going through or feeling.

If I didn’t feel good during the worship part of a service then I felt left out as if I was an imposter. Music and faith was all connected in how you were doing. But what about the times when I didn’t feel like God loved me? How could I sing ‘Blessed be His name’ then?

Then there was of course the style of music. I hate most Christian music. There I said it. I know I am not the only one. But even the style of music wasn’t so much the problem as was the lack of creativity that it showed.

And here in lies the problem I had with most worship music. I believed and believe that God is a creative God. A God who is constantly creating and recreating life. In our individual lives, in our communities and in every part of human life. But I believe that Christianity excludes this character of God more often than not. If a Christian artist is relying on sounding like Snow Patrol or by changing the lyrics of Coldplay songs to express something then we are in trouble.

Now, I realize that much of this post is negative and it has probably made some people upset or angry and that is ok. It is ok because for a long time I felt that way too. For so long I fought against worship music in my mind until I realised that my unhappiness was actually a good thing. It was a good thing because my problems with it mainly came from the feeling that there must be more. That worship music should be creative, surprising and ground breaking.

My unhappiness was simply the process of me increasingly lining up more and more with who God is.

A God who loves to create.

So as I struggled with worship music in church and the subsequent struggle with who God is I realized that there was hope all along. That God had been trying to say something to me about who He is and who I am.

So I took worship music back. I started to look for music that was creative, yet still pointed to God in a way that helped me grow. I looked for music that was honest, even when that was ugly in comparison to how much of worship music portrays those who are feeling good about God as the norm.

I found artists like Gungor. Bands who didn’t rely on old formulas or old cliches. Bands whose sound changed with every album. Bands who were creative and equally comfortable writing songs about struggling alongside songs of praise to God.

About a God who wants worship to be something that doesn’t just deal with the nice, happy emotions but with the ugly, unspeakable ones too.

Worship that is real and honest.

Or as we’ll discover in Part 2, worship that is more than just about music.

When worship music sucks

Music is food for the soul. That’s what they say isn’t it? Yet I can come out of church and feel more hungry than ever.

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with worship and music in church. I own albums by some of the most well know worship acts around today, but more often than not this type of music is missing something for me. There is an easiness to it that I don’t find sits well with me. Worship music has become music by numbers. We try and write songs that could easily sound as if they are Coldplay and Snow Patrol songs. Which is alright unless you aren’t a fan of those bands.

Then you might as well be outside. Continue reading

Death, worship and remembering God is here.

Three things have been shaping my view of worship in the last while. Corporate worship, the music of Gungor and the death of a close friend. This may not seem like a list that easily connects to each other and perhaps they don’t, but let me explain.

A few weeks ago Brittany’s ‘wife’ Sarah was killed in an accident on the road in Michigan. The details aren’t too important to this but it’s safe to say it was completely unexpected and shocking. Now when something like this happens when you lose your best friend, your sister or your daughter it is hard to see what the point is. There are no words that can change the situation or make it bearable. It is simply painful.

Getting past that point is extremely difficult. To see exactly why God would allow the life of a creative filled, kind and joyous person to end so abruptly doesn’t make sense. Maybe it never will.

We want to find ways to ignore pain or make it disappear so sometimes we use words and actions to try and block it out. But often they do more harm than good.

To experience the sort of pain that we felt and still do, we need to have faith in a God that doesn’t hide away from our tears or our angry questions, but welcomes them. God is in the pain, we don’t need to suppress it to feel close to Him.

Which is why I have a problem with a lot of ‘worship music’. How does one come to worship God when life makes us feel like there is nothing to worship? Does our worship music help us grieve for example or does it simply strive to make us feel good in a moment.

And this is one reason why worship music will never satisfy us. Why a lot of peope feel uncomfortable standing amongst people who have their eyes closed and hands raised. If you are not in that place where you feel you can do that, and are made to feel like this is what worship looks like, it will leave you feeling lonely and far from God. It will demand that you question what you are doing wrong and will ultimately cause you to try and feel God through actions.

I am not saying that all corporate music is unhelpful or misguided. Amongst the most intimate moments I have ever had with God have been in a setting where I have indeed had my eyes closed and arms raised. Even very recently.

The loneliest I have felt and far from God, have also occurred in these places though.

Our definitions of worship have left us with a God who is in a tiny box that we are constantly trying to squeeze into. A box that blocks out the world and it’s darkness. A world where pain is present, right in our face and unbearable.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to squeeze in.

God is in the box, but the box is only so big and eventually the world will put so much pressure on the walls that we will die inside it.

And we are left with confusion at where God went.

But when we look at worship, simply as living on this Earth acknowledging the presence of God already there, then we don’t need to be frightened of pain and despair. It’s there that we actually find joy.

Not a joy that makes us feel happy or warm, but transcends how we feel in particular moments. There is joy at the funeral of your best friend. You do not feel it maybe but it is there and our sin and our doubts don’t change that fact. This is what Grace is about. Not simply a way to get us out of the pain, but which allows us to dwell in it.

Let’s sing and praise God. Let’s be over joyous and ecstatic. Let us let our inhibitions fall away and welcome God in. I want to smile and be happy in corporate worship.

But let’s not forget this is not the only place where God is.

He is in the pain.

He was there before we knew it.

And He will be there when we leave it.

Because no matter how we feel about corporate worship, no matter how good we feel when we partake in it or how shitty we feel,

This is not the end.