Posted September 25th, 2011 by admin with 3 Comments
A song is sort of like a baby: it’s part of you – an extension of who you are, where you’ve been, & who you are becoming. Though I’m sure that somewhere these people exist, I have the hardest time imagining someone writing a song for the mere sake of getting rich & famous, but like I have a hard time imagining someone getting pregnant simply for profit: the business of baby-making. Disgusting.
No, songs are like true worship – whether they be Christian or secular – in that they are “overflow”… they are natural, out-flow, RESPONSE… at least good ones are.
Well, I’m proud to announce that WE’RE HAVING A BABY!
In some ways we already HAD the baby back in January when my friend David Dalton & I decided it was ready to presented to the world. I still remember when David emailed me the ideas: I heard the first line and my heart burst forth “YES! I NEED TO SING THIS!“, not in the sense that this needed to be performed, but that I had already found life & power in the simple fragments which became the seed. When that seed hit my soil, lyrics & chord progressions, melodies & rhythms just sprung up. I was part of writing a song that my heart needed to sing. What a feeling.
Today – I’m not sure: I suppose this isn’t so much the song’s birth as it is his dedication/baptism… we disciplined & shaped him a bit over the past few months, & now it’s time to present him, dressed up & ready to face the world, & entrust him to God & the rest of the body of Christ.
Today “Your Mighty Hand” is released on iTunes, a feat we couldn’t have done without the help of many who believe in us, & I have to admit: I’m PROUD of this song. As a piece of art, it is a part of me: my baby, presented before the world… but in this case, that’s not the most important.
This is not just creative self-expression.
It’s not mere entertainment.
Look behind the radio-friendly production & hear the overflow of our hearts: I need God… I need more than simply a far off deity who is powerful enough to spin the world into existence but hardly gives a thought to me now… I need more than a sappy lover who pours out his/her heart in hopes that I’ll respond.
I need God: a big God – King of the Universe – to whom the storms & waves answer with a Word – who not only made it all, but sustains it moment by moment, lest we unravel into nothingness – who not only was active in the beginning, but moment by moment is actively at work in the here and now. I need God: a loving father – my daddy – who it not only able to work miracles on my behalf, but loves me enough to bother – who reaches out His mighty hand to grab me out of the pit & set me upon a firm foundation, even when the whole world beneath me appears to be crumbling away. God, I need Your mighty hand to save me – an anchor firm in raging seas… hold me… never let me go.
Given the faith walk that my wife & I are currently on, I need to be regularly remind of “Your Mighty Hands“.
So, here it is: our prayer to a big, strong, good, Daddy… and a song which will – God-willing – serve Christ’s body well in directing their eyes upwards during these troubling (& promising?) times.
I hope it blesses you as it has me.
Posted September 21st, 2011 by admin with 1 Comment
Today was a shocker.
Like many musicians growing up in my generation, two bands stood at the front of the pack, and it’d be hard to deny their influence on me: U2 & R.E.M.
I first heard R.E.M. my sophomore year in high school. My parents thought I was asleep, but I actually had my headphones in, hiding under the covers, listening to a late-night college radio show. They played “Catapult” – already an R.E.M. classic in fan-circles. I was rocked. It was raw – simple – melodic. They sounded like the greatest garage band on earth. I dove into their back-catalogue with both ears, & was blown away when “Green” was released – still in my top 10 list of greatest CDs of all-time – a flawless record. I stood in a line of over 500 people for more hours than I can count to buy “Automatic for the People.”
Best of all, when I moved to Athens, GA in September of ’96 the VERY FIRST THING I did after getting out of my car was walk into Blue Sky Coffee and bump into Michael Stipe – quite literally – knocking his coffee cup from his hand, & shattering it all over the floor. I was so befuddles by what had just happened that I didn’t realize WHO he was until almost 20 minutes later. In his credit, he was an absolute gentleman about the whole matter.
So, after a few minor mis-steps R.E.M. has surged back into the spot-light these past few years. Their last 2 studio albums – “Accelerate” & “Collapse into Now” – have been on level with some of their best work, and every R.E.M. fans dream, a pair of incredible career spanning live CDs… it’s just been good to be an R.E.M. fan these past few years.
I can’t deny the obvious influence they’ve had on me: one listen to Saint Lewis’s songs “All in All” or “Call me to Live” shows Peter Buck’s signature guitar tones all over them, & I know their acoustic stream-of-consciousness work has inspired at least one Set on Edge song, “I’ve gone somewhere…”
So today they made it public: R.E.M. are calling it quits.
You’ve made a very good go of it, guys. A re-union will always be welcome. Thanks for the great music. I’ll miss you.
Posted September 19th, 2011 by admin with 2 Comments
I remember the first time I heard John Mark McMillian’s debut indie CD, HOPE ANTHOLOGY vol.1 (you can buy it for a reasonable price HERE). It was later Summer ’02, & I was coming off of a multi-month Wilco-induced musical high brought on by the brilliance of YANKEE FOXTROT HOTEL and John Mark’s artsy indie-folk was just what the doctor ordered. A couple years later I was one of the early-adopters who introduced “How He Loves” as a corporate worship song (thanks in part to the encouragement of Kelanie Gloeckler) years before the “sloppy wet kiss” controversy burned like wildfire through the church, much to my surprise: my only concern was the song’s wordiness, but it moved me to tears every single time I led it – even listened to it – so I didn’t really much concern myself with the debate.
So, to be very honest: I’m a “fan”. I think John Mark has consistently pushed the church in uncomfortable – yet important – new directions, both lyrically (for instance, a whole CD on Resurrection!), and in creative expression. Needless to say, I was both hopeful and skeptical of the new CD. He’s no longer an independent musician – he’s got a label to answer to, and besides: every artist mis-steps at least once in his/her career. Seemed to me, it was about time…
I am happy to say that ECONOMY is everything it should be. As the first CD he’s written/recorded/released signed to worship label, Integrity Music, it’s far more intentionally corporate than anything he’s released to date, yet the production – though more sonically layered and less minimalist – sounds unabashedly independent, much like Daniel Bastha‘s latest. I think it is a huge win that Integrity gave them such a great degree of freedom in this area. When I say that I mean that as an artist who has always been label-wary, this eases my heart: you mean you can get signed, & maintain creative license?!?! HALLELUJAH!!!
ECONOMY begins, wisely, in familiar territory: “Sheet of Night” could fit on either THE MEDICINE or SOUNDS OF BREAKING DOWN. It’s a good, solid JMM rocker. “Seen a Darkness” begins to hint at what’s in store: Coldplay-esque piano hooks doubled by “ooh” vocals create an almost orchestra-like backdrop to an already great song. Then they really caught my attention…
“Our Hearts Bleed” is the beginning of John Mark 2.1 & is one of my two personal favorites here: though it’s undeniably his work, the addition of piano brings a whole new color to the palette. The song has a playful, joyful, country-rock flare, which just puts a smile on my face. It displays a playfulness that I’ve not heard on any of his CDs prior. I like it.
“Love You Swore” is the first clearly corporate song on the CD – simple, singable, universal, memorable, and – wonderfully vertical: “Harbor me in the eyes of the storm – I’m holding on to the love you swore.“ If yours is a church that doesn’t mind singing “whoah whoah”, this song is a home-run.
Lyrically “Murdered Son” reminds me of a less brutal version of Joe Day’s “What have we Done“, and continues the CDs corporate streak as a beautiful, vertical alt-country ballad.
The title track is everything I’ve always loved about John Mark on his past CDs: dark, edgy, minor keyed – unique tones – and imagery that makes you think. He proclaims, “I believe You can overcome my economy – You can dig me out of the grave!“ What is “my economy” – well, it’s made up of the things I’ve earned, & the wages of sin is death, but in God’s economy that is not the end of the story, is it?!
“Who is This” is a lyrically simple corporate rock song with a lot of space for James Dukes electric guitars to glow, and he makes great use of the whole wide array of effects pedals to make magic. This song perfectly demonstrates the beauty of of ECONOMY: it is simultaneously a vertical worship record, and a bold artistic statement. You don’t come across that often.
“Daylight” is tied with “Our Heart Bleeds” as my favorite. The piano is back, this time with hand-claps, dramatic pauses, huge drums, and a neo-Rolling-Stones-like guitar groove that would revolutionize classic rock radio. A monumental song, and one of John Marks absolute best.
“Sins are Stones“, yet another corporate song – this one reminiscent of the old classic Christmas hymn,”O Come Let Us Adore Him”. The melody is quick to catch, and with lyrics that would’ve been right at home on THE MEDICINE – all about our resurrection from the dead, the song climaxes with a lilting “O my soul praise Him.”
Lastly, is the raw, acoustic number “Chemicals” – and when I say raw, I mean that you can honestly “feel” the room it was recorded in. Though it’s not really a corporate worship song, it’s a refreshing close – down tempo, relaxing, & not too serious. It leaves you wanting to go right back up to track number 1 & start the whole thing over again.
I’ve was sent this CD to review & have been living with it for a few days now, but it just now struck me: there is absolutely nothing that I don’t like here. NOTHING. As great a year as this has been for new music – especially worship music – that’s still just unheard of.
If you are non-committed, casual listener, & just want a taste of what’s here, I’d start with “Our Hearts Bleed” & “Daylight”. Worship pastors who want stretched?: grab “Love You Swore”, “Murdered Son”, “Who is This”, & “Sins are Stones”. But fans of just all around good music? – that’s where this one really shines: here’s your prize for the year. ENJOY.
John Mark & Integrity – thanks for giving us this one. I have a feeling it’s going to be a blessing to me for a long while to come.
Posted September 5th, 2011 by admin with 3 Comments
I have been part of a church for the past 7 years that many would consider “seeker sensitive”, which – for the uninitiated (I suppose this doesn’t need to be defined, but just in case) – essentially means that it’s “church” done in a way that is aware that and sensitive to the fact that non-believers or “seekers” are present in the service. As I see it, there are many blessings that come with this:
However, a number of conversations with friends this week stirred a number of questions in my mind. I mean, there ARE seeker churches that I’d have a very hard time plugging into, & that’s because I’m not convinced they can still be considered “church”.
For instance, I firmly believe that our corporate worship can be both pleasing to God & be stylistically done in a way that musically connects with a large percent of our congregation – nothing at all wrong with that. However, pleasing men & women’s tastes should never be confused with pleasing God, & when it becomes primarily about the later, we are no longer worshiping – we are merely entertaining. I would rather fault on the side of “worship pleasing to God” any day on that one.
The Bible gives many examples of proper responses to God in the Scripture – and there are very many – a wide variety a ways we can express ourselves to Him. None of those involves sitting in a chair, dead-pan, & emotionless. As a pastor, would I not be failing God & you if I didn’t encourage you to respond to God appropriately in worship, just as I could also plead with you to respond to the Gospel? Though your response to the Gospel may determine your eternity, worship is the only thing God asks of us on this side of eternity which continues on – arguably as our primary calling – into the next!
So, I am thinking out-loud (well, into cyber-space): seeker or not, if a “church” limits proper Biblical expression of corporate worship – in essence teaching believers to disobey Biblical directives about what pleases God in worship – is it still a church? And, if so, where do we draw the line? Are there other “plain teachings of Scripture” that – even in churches attempting to be seeker sensitive – we still need to stand firm on if we are to remain the real deal?
What do you see as the “essentials” to what makes a body of believers a Biblical “church” & why?
Do you have any struggles with current trends & why?
(No specific ministry names, please – such comments with not be approved. I love the church and churches and want to encourage rather than tear down.)
Posted September 1st, 2011 by admin with Comments Off
Why do Christians often set our sights so low?
Though it’s steadily improved, one must admit when listening to “Christian music” that far too often the message has been elevated so far above the medium that – though the core idea behind some of them may glorify God – the over-all song doesn’t do so well at reflecting God as creator (i.e. – THE ultimate Creative).
As many of you may already know, about a year ago I put a kid’s CD in the player in my children’s room – within minutes I was in a bad mood, soon after to return, remove the CD, & put in something out of my personal collection. This may explain – in part – why my 5 & 3 year old have such great taste in music (they love Burlap to Cashmere, Aaron Keyes, & Unhindered, among others!).
Also hearing complaints at our church about our children’s ministry always using the same songs, I had an idea: write & record a batch of children’s songs that stylistically reflected up and coming adult trends in music. Thus, Hope Farm Kids was born.
As any project, it’s taken significantly longer than I suspected, but we’re finally wrapping things up. The final CD covers genres from electronica, alterative, indie-rock, dance, folk, post-punk, country/hip-hop (yes, you did read that correctly), & pop, is co-written by a broad spectrum of cultures & ages, & performed by individuals from every station in life from 6th graders to old-school bar musicians.
Here’s a sample from our project which we’re currently mastering, written by myself, McKendree Augustas, & Wade Josey… I hope you enjoy it! Even if it’s not perfect, I can stand to listen to it AND my kids like it too!