My Favorite New Albums of 2016 (So Far)

I hope everybody had a great Independence Day and holiday weekend! Insert obligatory “Can you believe the year’s half over? Where does the time go?” comment here.

If you didn’t guess I thought I’d share some of my favorite new albums that have come out in the first half of the year but I have to be honest: I’ve not been as diligent seeking out new music as I’ve been in years past. I mostly just listened to Bob Dylan for the first three months of the year but some artists I enjoy put out new material and there’s been a few discoveries.

The list in alphabetical order and a few thoughts on each:

Andrew Bird, Are You Serious? I used to listen to a lot of Andrew Bird in college and then I moved to California and listened to less Andrew Bird. This is a solid outing. The lyrics aren’t as inventive or experimental as previous albums which I think makes this album more approachable than others of his. Favorite Track: “Truth Lies Low”

Bifrost Arts, Lamentations: Simple Songs of Lament and Hope Vol. 1 Oh man! This album is so good. You’d think an album called “Lamentations” would be a major bummer, it’s not. I mean it’s not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination. Bifrost Arts is a collective a musicians that are writing songs for the church based heavily on psalm texts, ancient prayers, etc. Their albums feature chants, folk song, praise choruses. Favorite Track: “Wisdom and Grace (Psalm 90)”

Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book I’ve been pretty enamored with Chance the Rapper’s music since seeing him kill it on SNL late last year. The mixtape he released earlier this year is easily my favorite album so far this year. There’s not a single track on the mixtape that isn’t amazing. Chance is honest and transparent but every lyric and note is dripping in joy. Also it may be the only secular album to sing about “The exalted Christ”. Tyler Huckabee wrote a must-read review of the album over at Gradient: Chance the Rapper’s ‘Coloring Book’ is Exactly what 2016 Needed  Favorite Track: “Same Drugs”

The Gray Havens, Ghost of a King And my second favorite album. If the band name didn’t clue you in this music sounds like Tolkien wrote a pop Christian album. There’s only one track that feels like a misstep in its radio-friendliness except that it services the whole album by introducing a new musical theme. This a concept album that develops like symphony. Favorite Track: “At Last, The King”

Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle This is a very new album to me, I’ve only listened to it a handful of times since being turned on to it by NPR’s All Songs Considered mid-year wrap up of new albums. I like it a lot so far, it feels like a less polished Punch Brothers though the production quality and harmonies are top notch.

Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp I discovered this album from the same NPR show and have listened to several times over already. The synth pop has a 90’s vibe to it and the lead singer’s voice is super clear. There’s some fun jams here. I’m looking forward to spending more and more time with this one.

Kings Kaleidoscope, Beyond Control This was my most anticipated album of the year and I’m afraid it doesn’t match up to my expectations. But! That’s not to say it isn’t a good sophomore effort. Kings Kaleidoscope symphonic/indie/ska groves are second to none. You’d think a ten piece band would sound clutter but there’s not a false note on the album. My problem is with the lyrics – these songs are less congregational and more confessional so the lyrical polish from their first album is lacking.Favorite Track: “A Prayer (explicit)”

The artwork on Beyond Control is the best artwork though. How cool is this image?!

Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger If you like Paul Simon’s music you’ll like this. I do and did. Favorite Track: “Wristband”

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool I’m not a good Radiohead fan. I like “Creep”, In Rainbows is my favorite of their albums, I’ve not listened to King of Limbs yet… I’m not sad enough to love Radiohead the way you’d think a guy of my pallet would so take this with a grain of salt: This is a great album, it sounds like Radiohead playing with the lushest of string arrangements which is a very good thing. Favorite Track: “Present Tense”

Zachary Bolen, 1001 Alyssa and I were talking about how we wished there was music that dealt with the reality of drama of ordinary life without being melodramatic and overwrought. Here is an emotionally honest, simple album doing does just that. Bolen is the lead singer of Citizens & Saints but this album forgoes their electronic sound in favor of classic acoustic rock. This is also not an overtly Christian album – though themes of grace and mercy lace throughout. Favorite Track: “Give It Time”

Here’s a playlist with two tracks from each album:

If you want to find some more good music you can check out the NPR show I mentioned here: Your Favorite New Musicians of 2016 (So Far). And if you’re looking for other good new music here’s Paste’s write up of new music so far this year: The 25 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)


My Favorite New Albums of 2016 (So Far)

Play Ball! (Three Reasons Not To Sing In Church)


Once my dad asked me, “Tommy, when are you gonna start a band and be a rockstar?” Which was weird for me because, confession time, I have no desire to be a rockstar. The full extent of my musical ambition is sitting around the piano with my closest loved ones singing carols and hymns, maybe some American Standard or a Beatles tunes. Ain’t I just so very humble and Norman Rockwell-y?


In high school I was in a music class and another student said to the teacher, “One of the things I really hate seeing is old guys playing songs at open mics. If you haven’t made it by the time you’re 30 you should quit and work in real estate.”

In contempoary society we’ve relegated music to the professionals, to the people who have made it. Music making is for the rock stars, the unprofessional’s job is to listen and purchase. Which is a pretty recent development in history with the advent of new recording and broadcasting technologies. Just a couple of generations ago – and still in many non-western cultures – it is an alien idea that music is for professional performance and communal consumption.

Unfortunately, the idea of making music together is becoming more and more foreign. The following statements are common when I talk about singing in groups to individuals:

  • “The music is too difficult/loud/unfamiliar to sing along, I just like to listen.”
  • “I don’t like those songs so I change the words/sing my own song.”
  • “I’m tone deaf, I can’t carry a tune, the person next to me wouldn’t want to sing.”

I am most grieved when I hear, “The music is too difficult/loud/unfamiliar to sing along.” I must confess, though I said earlier that I don’t want to be a rockstar I do have a performance impulse. I’m an artist and sometimes my personal preference gets in the way of my pastoral responsibility to help us sing the gospel together. Sometimes I’m more excited about the sweet jam the band came up with, or the new hip song I’ve been listening to, or the entertaining emotional experience we’re creating.

These things are not bad in and of themselves but the goal of every worship leader shouldn’t be these cool arrangements, or hip song choices, or entertaining shows. The goal of every worship leader must be all of us singing the gospel together. Let me explain what I mean when I say “all of us singing the gospel together.

In Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul details how the individual Christian life should look, and then he moves through the chapters to talk about how Christian community should look. In the middle of these almost identical chapters there is a shift from the individual to the community:

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18b-20

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16-17

Paul’s foundation of how Christian community is supposed to begin is not listening to a good concert and lecture, but “one another” singing “among you” the gospel through all sorts of styles of songs. We don’t become better husbands, wives, parents, employees, or more Christlike by simply practicing 7 Easy Steps, we become better by starting with thankful singing.

Marketing agencies and the Bible agree that music is one of the best ways to teach people. Most if not all of the commercials we see are accompanied with music. This is because music goes deeper than any catchphrase ever could. We create mental, emotional, and spiritual bonds to the songs we hear – even more so to the songs we sing. The ad-men want you to be emotionally bonded to their product so that you’ll give them your money.

The Rugged Individualism that would change the words being sung by the congregation, or whole songs, to fit personal preferences is counterproductive to the New Testament goal of singing as an exercise in community buildling.

But far and above the first two comments the most common reason for not singing is also the most untrue. Because music making has been professionalized the myth of being unable to carry a tune or being tone deaf has gained prominence. But carrying a tune, like throwing a curveball, is a learnable skill not an inherrent talent given at birth to Music Geeks and Rock Stars.

When Alyssa and I found out that we were having an Atticus and not a girl* I was terrified that he might grow up and want to play ball. If that day comes I will be able to ask any number of ball throwing people in my life to show me how. I will be able to learn, despite my reservations and the embarrassment of learning a new skill. We’re not unable to carry a tune, we’re just out of practice.

“No, Tommy, I’m tone deaf!

To that I ask: “Are you able to distinquish melody, harmony, rhythm when listening to the radio or does music sound like static to you?” If music sounds like cacophonous nonsense when you listen you may be tone deaf but if you can distinguish music from noise then you’re unfortunately not tone deaf.

When we gather together on Sundays it is to proclaim the glory of God, to confess to one another, to be assured of God’s great grace for us in Jesus Christ, and to proclaim that message to those far from God. We sing together and the message of Christ burrows deep into our minds and hearts. On Monday when we’re prone to wander the Spirit sings those songs to our desperate hearts.

Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.


*Daughters are just as capable of wanting to go throw the ball around with Dad as sons.

Play Ball! (Three Reasons Not To Sing In Church)

You Are What You Eat (No. 1)

The only writing competition I’ve ever done well in, and I’ve tried a couple, was in the sixth grade. I wrote this story about a kid on the brink of death who starts having visions of angels – which he calls “White Outs.” Because… You know. Angels.

Guys that’s the kind of deep stuff that wins blue ribbons.

Now I don’t want to rag on 11-Year-Old-Tommy, he couldn’t help himself he was doing the best he could with the stuff that he had. I grew up in a convservative Assemblies of God church, where an appropriate evangelising tactic was The Casual Death Threat:

Do you know where you’re going to go when you die? Like if you got hit by a bus right now, like right now, what would happen to you?

Of course, my little mind was a bit preoccupied with deathbed conversions.

In highschool my friends and I discovered Monty Python’s The Flying Circus. Fourteen is the perfect age to discover Monty Python’s The Flying Circus.

(What do you think of that?)

Around the same time I began writing short stories. And, you’d never guess, they were mostly absurdities filled with non-sequiturs. My favorite was the adventure of Hobo Joe who was recruited by Adam West to join the Academy of Motion Pictures.

Guys, this is the kind of stuff that will make fourteen year old boys laugh.

Anyways everybody who has played on the Inland Hills worship band has heard me say:

polls_27952_You_Are_What_You_Eat_Posters_0620_877010_poll_xlarge“You are what you eat; what goes in must come out. It’s Newton’s Fourth Law.”

I preach this because we can’t help but wear our influences on our sleeves.

It would be unfair of me to ask a drummer who loves ProgRock to play a Hip-Hop groove (a sin of which I am guilty of), or to ask a classically trained pianist to play free form jazz (I repent!).

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t expand our aesthetic borders – for that matter our borders socially, experientially, emotionally… You get the idea.

A few years back a pastor asked me what a usual musical worship experience at my church was like. My response:

Elton John playing Hillsong covers.

eat-you-are-cover1Now if I were your prom date I can promise you’d have a real good time because I made you a mix-tape. The first of three because I’m just a little eager.

Even though I don’t believe in the sacred/secular divide* these songs would fall under the “secular” umbrella. And because I like to feel special I’m just gonna go ahead and say this is a pretty ecclectic list of tunes but there are some obvious threads running through it:

  • Mostly piano and percusion driven.
  • It’s predominatly pop, jazz, americana, and singer-songwriters.
  • Apparently I believe the best tunes were written in ’73-’85 and ’98-’05.

Oh! And I got you a flower, well a picture of a flower. It’s a tulip not a rose because roses are so cliché. 


* Wendell Berry writes: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred and desecrated places.” God is above our genres, and categories. Something can only be Christian if it sins and can be redeemed by the blood of the cross. As YouTubers BlimeyCow ask: “Did DC Talk go to Heaven when it died?” As Derek Webb points out when a song, or a book, or a bumper sticker, or a company is labled “Christian” it’s just a marketing term and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, beautiful, or true. And Christianity is always good, beautiful and true. I’ll need more space to discuss this.

Also when I did a Google Image search for “You Are What You Eat” this came up:Catfish_hybrid

You’re welcome. Go check out the artist’s Facebook page, there’s a lot of neat photo manipulations of animal that are cheeky and delightful.

Sarah DeRemer Art

You Are What You Eat (No. 1)

The Good Catastrophe (What Is Art For? Part Two)

I didn’t know it when I first wrote it but this is actually Part Two about art and fiction The first was “The Purpose Driven Babel.” If you haven’t that post yet read it, please do.

I get a lot of sideways glances when people find out I read fiction. It’s even worse when they find out what kind of fiction. Fiction? Who has the time? And so I mumble about how important it is to make time to read fiction to which they reply, “Tommy, I’m very busy I simply don’t have time.” Then there’s that look that suggests maybe I’m wasting time.

(“Waste” by Phish)

So, I did some number crunching. The average American:

  • Works 47 hours a week
  • Sleeps 45.5 hours a week
  • Anecdotally, I’m guessing spend 7 hours a week in the bathroom
  • Between three meals (1 hour for lunch and dinner, and half an hour for breakfast) 17.5 hours a week eating.
  • One Nielsen report suggests that the average American spends 11 hours a day with an electronic device – that’s 77 hours a week. 5a2b0b1d187882ae90882079932b7cce_650x

That’s 194 hours a week spent on work, essential utility functions of a biologically healthy life, and wasted on electronics.

There’s only 171 hours in a week. We have approximately -23 hours to invest in relationships, rest and recharge, and for religious activity. We’re not living, we’re simply surviving ourselves to death. Where has the time gone? We’ve lost almost an entire day to God knows what…

The reward for our efforts has made us sub-human, widget factories. We’ve become automatons, or worse, cyborgs with our lives partially lived on the internet. It’s easy to begin feeling like all we’re doing is moving the Atlantic to the Pacific using only a water dropper.


(“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster)

But this is not how it’s supposed to be. With our own hands we’ve built ourselves a prison of work, utility, and electronic devices. We’ve blocked out the sun with the gray brick, muted mortar, and cold iron bars of career, fast food, and retweets.

We’ve buffered our souls with shadow stuff.

JRR Tolkien writes in his essay, “On Fairy Tales,” that fantasy helps us recover, escape, and it console us. He is speaking strickly in defense of the fairy tale, but I believe the issue is more dire than that. Fiction of all sorts, poetry, music, painting, art needs defending against the tyranny of The Purpose Driven Babel.

Tolkien writes that fairy tales help us to recover what we ought to be, or, regain sight of how the world should be. Fairy tales bring into focus what our busy hands have made murky.

You don’t have to look far, maybe in your own recent history, for somebody who simply doesn’t have time for “escapist” entertainment but Tolkien would argue that you wouldn’t fault somebody for planning a prison escape.

When we clear away the muck and regain a clear vision we begin to see that all of our striving is an attempt at “…the Great Escape: the the Escape from Death.” As I wrote in the previous post, we obsess with making the most of the dash between the dates on our tombstone and leaving a legacy.

Tolkien goes on to argue the greatest benefit of the fairy tale is the consolation of the Happy Ending. And he coins the word “Eucatastrophe:”

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn”… this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not esentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale – or otherworld – setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace;…

There is a strange and wonderful world beyond our prison walls, and if you listen closely you can hear a string quartet of crickets and the sparrows sing. Out there the trees of the forest clap out of time to that Song, as the hills and the flowers of the field dance along. All creatures great and small – the iguana sunbathing on a high place, the centipede and its one-hundred squirming legs, a mother and child playing at the park, the heron by the lakeside – join the chorus and sing the Theme.


And we’re chained to the prison wall screaming, “All there is and ever was – shadows!

The only thing that can release us from these shakles is an outside force, a “sudden joyous ‘turn.'” It’ll take a Good Catastrophe to set us free. The Deus Ex Machina must break us out of our prison cells. The prosecution becomes our defense, “These ones are innocent and I – the prosecution, the defense, the judge – I am guilty,” he pleads on our behalf. He who knew no sin becomes sin so that we may be counted righteous– free men able to join in with creation singing that glorious Song.

Fiction, poetry, fine art, music, theatre – these are common graces that can help us recover our vision. It we let them they can remind us that there is a hope beyond this mortal life of toil and strife. That beyond our momentary struggle is beauty unimaginable.

Coming up next: “Incarne Asada (What Is Art For? Part Three)

The Good Catastrophe (What Is Art For? Part Two)

Kintsugi Review

There has been so much good music released since the start of 2015. A majority of my favorite acts have released new albums and for the most part they’ve all topped themselves.

I can’t say enough how good all of these albums are. Go buy:

Punch Brothers: “The Phosphorescent Blues”
Modest Mouse: “Strangers to Ourselves”
Sufjan Stevens: “Carrie and Lowell”
Death Cab For Cutie: “Kintsugi”

There seems to be a quarter-life existentialism thread running through each; the artists are older and I’m imagining that their core fanbases are as well. Lyrically and musically there’s an incredible thoughtfulness. These artists are no longer singing about rye whiskey, or skipping class to make-out in the backseats of their cars.

This week saw the release of the Sufjan and Death Cab albums. Far better writers, far worse, and every one in between has written about “Carrie and Lowell.” But I’ve not seen a lot of reflections on “Kintsugi” which is a shame because it’s Death Cab’s best album since “Transatlanticism.”

DCFC-Kintsugi-780x780I was midway through high school when “Transatlanticism” came out. It’s title track especially has become a touchstone for me. Ben Gibbard singing “I need you so much closer” repeatedly over a driving quarter note groove that crescendos to its breaking point “so come on” still breaks my heart 12 years later. Like all teenagers I had lots of emotions when I was a teenager. But something about that jam has stuck with me emotionally and spiritually.

I remember leading worship at youth group with my good friend, Dan Alcantara, for ten minutes singing the Death Cab mantra pleading with God to be “so much closer.” In college I had two emotionally charged long distance relationships and that song and the whole album were like a safety blanket.

But every album Death Cab has released since has been a mixed bag for me, never quite reaching the thrills of “Transatlanticism.” Over the past decade or so I’ve listened to them less and less, maybe checking in when I’ve been struggling with a severe case of the Nostalgics. So their new album wasn’t on my radar. Honestly, I only gave it a listen because I couldn’t handle all of the feels of Sufjan’s new album.

But I was blown away by it.

“Transatlanticism” is emotionally resonant only as a time capsule to my late teens/early 20s but “Kintsugi” has fully landed on more mature ears. Ben Gibbard’s voice sounds older and the lyrics don’t have the emotional punch of adolescent love but sound like letters written from life experience.

Their new album “Kintsugi” is an apt name. Gibbard divorced his wife, hipster darling Zooey Deschanel, in 2011 right after their awful album “Codes and Keys” came out and multi-instrumentalist/producer Chris Walla quit the band last year. This is the first album Walla didn’t produce and you can tell. Anyways, “Kintsugi” is a Japanese art form where broken pottery is pieced back together with gold, celebrating the cracks. Given it’s title I think more reviewers were expecting the album to be as raw as previous albums. But it’s not. It’s methodical, it’s accessible. There are obvious cracks in the lyrics, moments. But overall it’s an emotionally stable album of good to decent pop songs.

Being happily married, having a child, and an ever widening bald spot the earlier Death Cab material that I loved can sound foreign to me but this consistent, stable sound is more fitting to where life has me now.

My favorite tracks are “Black Sun,” “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life,” and “Ingenue.” The other tracks that don’t stand out as much, particularly “Hold No Guns” and “Everything’s a Ceiling,” don’t ever feel like filler, they’re good tunes. The only real misstep is “Binary Sea,” the Atlas lyrics are trite enough to be distracting to me.

Of all the albums released this year this one is the easiest listening, and the least artistically ambitious but it’s good. Worthy of sitting on the shelf with their best albums.

Kintsugi Review

Worship Review 3.29.15 – Palm Sunday Edition!

If I can be honest I’m not always excited about Sunday. There are times when life is just… Last week was a trying week and I wasn’t emotionally or spiritually in a great place to lead. So, I prayed before our morning rehearsal something like, “Hey God! I don’t really want to be here but I also don’t want to shortchange the congregation so this is all on You.” I’m suprised I couldn’t hear Him laughing up in Heaven, “It’s always on me.”

There are great Sundays and then there was this past Sunday. Great doesn’t even begin to explain yesterday. From the first note we played as a band in rehearsal I knew it was going to be a special morning. We saw six baptisms – three of which were spontaneous, the highest non-major holiday attendance ever, and tons of first and second time guests. God shows up in a huge way, despite me.

Let’s talk about the service.

DSCF7593(Photo Credit: Terry DeGraff)

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, which is a curious holiday to me. It’s so very… human. It’s a straw man holiday. People hear conflated rumors and attach all of their hopes to it.

During the Triumphal Entry the crowds were shouting praise to Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Here was a subjugated people hoping for someone to free them from their oppressors. The expectation was for a king who be a 100% quality guaranteed, new and improved, shiny and better Rome. They heard rumors of a king – like the old one but not the old one – and attached their hopes to him. Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations and he doesn’t meet ours. So on Palm Sunday we sing “Hosanna!” and come Friday, “Crucify him!”

We opened service singing Paul Baloche’s “Hosanna (Praise is Rising)”

It’s a great tune with some awesome lyrics. I’m very intentional about how I order a service and the placement of this tune was, for me at least, a bit out of order. When sung first it assumes victory and glory before struggle and cross. I’ll explain more. 

There’s a tricky lyric that I think is an awesome and difficult prayer:

Come have your way among us…

Maybe we think, like the people in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, that finally we’ll be vindicated, “Jesus is going to take care of all of the bad stuff out there that’s happened to me! Hosannah!” We assume victory and glory before struggle and cross. We think he’ll be our new and better Rome. But, when Jesus comes to have his way among us he roots out the sin that we so desperatly cling to. He doesn’t come to fix the world, he comes to fix us. When asked what was wrong with the world G.K. Chesterton replied with this:

Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly.

My goal when planning a service is not that people will feel good when they leave (although if they do, all the better) but that they’ll know that God is good. We opened up our block of singing with a song that really doesn’t paint us in a good light. We announce in our singing that we are:

  • Weak
  • Despairing
  • Broken
  • Sinners
  • Ungodly
  • Rebels

Our salvation, our rescue relies not on our sin management or the defeat of our enemies but rather on our God who reached down to us in the pit. It relies on Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us while we were still weak, despairing, broken, sinners, ungodly rebels. Our hope is that God doesn’t give us our heart’s desire but a God who dies. God is so good, even better than we could ever imagine. When we were lost and so far from God, wandering in darkness and covered in shame God came and found us.

Because of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who poured out his blood for us we’re forgiven forever – God in His great forgetfulness no longer remembers our sin, as far as the east is from the west… Which is a nice thought but so hard to believe. In the midst of life and all of our junk we doubt that Christ has once and for all put to death all of our death. On the cross he cried out his last and declared: “It is finished!

But grace is terrifying. “Surely there’s something I can do to help you, God,” I say. We don’t want Jesus, we want Jesus and then some. Ryan’s sermon was about different sub-Christian religions that claim Jesus. These groups never claim too little of Jesus; it’s always Jesus and then some. It’s never JesusLite, always JesusPlus. It’s funny how these groups all found their origin in America. Because, that’s how we in the West do. We need to work for what we get. Grace feels like socialism gone bad, grace is the antithesis of The American DreamAmerica: Land of Opportunity! If you work hard you’ll get what you deserve! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! God helps those who help themselves! 

Except he doesn’t. The cross is for screw ups like me. Grace is cosmic welfare and we’re all standing in line.

The sermon was about how these groups add to the gospel, so we wrapped up our service singing Hillsong’s “This I Believe (The Creed)” declaring, boldly, that we believe in the “name of Jesus.” We sang:

Our judge and our defender, suffered and crucified

No name but Jesus can save us. Not Joseph Smith, not Bringham Young, not Tommy Welty, not the name of our own efforts. No name can save but Jesus, only Jesus. He is our prosecution and our defense, when he cries “It is finished!” on the cross he acquits us ungodly rebels of all charges and we’re forgiven forever.

Worship Review 3.29.15 – Palm Sunday Edition!

What We Talk About When We Talk About Worship Part 4

We cleaned our apartment yesterday, found a thing to put our mail and paperwork in, decided where to hang that mirror that’s been leaning against our bedroom wall for six months, put away Christmas ornaments. We’re not the neatest family in the world but it’s amazing though how big our apartment is when it’s clean and organized. I feel like I can breathe when everything is in its right place.

In part three of this series I walked us through the scriptures that help define the different parts of a service. Today, I want to finish talking about service planning with some final thoughts on why church services should be intentionally ordered and planned to communicate the gospel.

I’ve been accused of being too clinical with how I plan a worship service. “Tommy, that’s just not me. I like to feeeeeeel God move in the moment. You can’t make worship a formula! It’s got to be spontaneous. If people do the same thing week after week they’ll be bored!” I’ve heard all of that from many  people. Those who are more kind with me will say, “I’m glad that your thing works for you but it ain’t me.”

I’ve not often been gracious in responding to detractors. So, first and foremost, I’m truly sorry. I get pretty jazzed when talking about this stuff. I don’t mean to sound so harsh. I understand that my tone doesn’t match my heart.

Worship should absolutely engage our hearts and emotions. I’ll agree that there is a threat of getting caught up in being formulaic and clincal in planning. And this threat would have worship stuck only in our heads, never moving from there to our hearts, hands, and feet. But, I don’t think the threat is all that grave.

I’ve been participating in worship leadership in some way pretty intensely for over a decade now and been planning, intentionally this way for most of that. I’ve not often seen a service feel like a theology seminar. I don’t find this threat all that dire because music is inherently emotional, regardless of order or lyrics. The combination of melody, harmony, rhthym for some reason gets into our ears and grabs our hearts and minds.

Outside of a rehearsal, a meeting of pastors and worship planners, discipling new worship leaders, and this blog I’ve not ever explicitly pushed or explained the order of a service. But, I think subconsciously people feel like they can breathe when they sense order.

I’m of the opinion that if all we do is attempt to engage is people’s hearts with exclusively emotional moments in worship and leave their minds to the preacher then we shortchange what worship (and honestly the sermon) could and should be. The music, prayers, and scripture readings are not the warm up act for the preacher. Treating the whole service as one event with many aspects verses several disparate pieces of a choose-your-own-adventure allows us to worship God holistically with our hearts, souls, and minds, not just with whichever part of ourselves we’re most comfortable with.

“Fine! But, doing the same thing is every week is boooooooooring.” Maybe. But, probably not. Every sonnet ever written has a strict form, but form doesn’t decide content. So there are infinite variations on the form each with intense emotional impact.

I love the way G.K. Chesterson writes about repetion in his book Orthodoxy:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

My greatest desire as a worship pastor is to see people who have toiled all week in their efforts, unable to satisfy their own desires let alone God’s, working under the hot sun of their own and God’s impossible standards feel the cup of ice-cold relief at the well of the gospel.

I can sometimes be harsh when talking about all of this and I’m sorry for that. But, an emotional experience for me isn’t enough to satisfy our greatest need. Only the gospel will do that. My hope through writing all of this is that those who read this will be able to enter their church and feel like they can breathe.

Perhaps, I should’ve written this first. Hey! Here’s your chance to start at the beginning:

What We Talk About Worship Part 1

What We Talk About When We Talk About Worship Part 4