Tag Archives: Music

Call and Response

Call and Response (CaD Ps 134) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Psalm 134:1 (NIV)

My nephew Sam and his family came to visit last Sunday to hear Uncle Tom’s message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and hang out with me and Aunt Wendy for the day. Sam mentioned that in their hour-long drive that morning they’d been listening to the music of an artist that his father introduced him to back in his childhood.

I love all kinds of music, and I consciously endeavored to introduce our daughters to all kinds of music. I even made compilation CDs of different genres and wrote liner notes to introduce them to some of the classic artists and songs of the genre. One of my favorites was Papa’s Got the Blues. In the liner notes, I described the connection between the blues and black gospel. One of the devices that both used is “call and response.” The lead singer calls out in song and the congregation/crowd responds with a word or phrase.

While the device is widely used in more recent musical genres, it is ancient.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 134, is the final in a series of “songs of ascent” that the editors who compiled the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics put together. The song is a fitting end to this section. It is comprised of only three-lines that were an ancient version of “call and response” that was sung between pilgrims who had spent the day worshipping at the temple and are leaving at nightfall Levites working at the Temple.

Members of the Hebrew tribe of Levi were responsible for the care, upkeep, and activities of the Temple (except for priestly acts that could only be done by descendants of Aaron). The lyrics of the song picture exiting worshippers blessing the Levites who will remain at the Temple to perform their duties through the night. The pilgrims sing:

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
    and praise the Lord.

The Levite(s) then bless the worshippers as they exit:

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

The reality is that “call and response” is actually a broader spiritual theme in the psalms and in the Great Story. Many psalms begin with a “call” to God anticipating the “response” to the song, prayer, and petition. In 1 Samuel, God “calls out” the boy Samuel who is confused until the priest instructs him to provide the response “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” In the Jesus story, a blind man incessantly “calls out” to Jesus and Jesus responds by healing him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the spiritual notion of “call and response” which works in both directions. God’s Word and Spirit may “call out” to me. Am I listening? Will I respond? How will I respond? At other times, I am like the songwriters of the psalms, calling out to God in faith that God will respond. Either direction, there is an interaction that is relational.

“Here I am!” says Jesus in Revelation 3:20. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice [calling] and [responds, as in] opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Songs of Assurance

Songs of Assurance (CaD Ps 121) Wayfarer

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1 (NIV)

One summer of high school my friend Neal and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a desert in Mexico. It was something like 117 degrees that day. There were several vans of youth along with a few cars making our way toward Acapulco when one of the vehicles had an issue. Our local guide stayed behind to wait for and deal with a mechanic and our youth pastor told Neal and me to stay with him. I remember thinking, “This has got to be one of the strangest moments of my life.”

I don’t remember being afraid, exactly. Our guide was a native who was more than capable of making sure we’d manage. Neal was a great companion to have if you’re stuck in the Mexican desert. He’s a walking stand-up comedian act and can make any circumstance entertaining. Nevertheless, this was well before cell phones and there were a lot of “What ifs….” that ran through my mind.

I thought about that afternoon as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 121. It’s another “Song of ascents” that pilgrims would sing on the road to Jerusalem as they made their way to one of the annual festivals. The rugged mountainous terrain around Jerusalem could be somewhat dangerous for pilgrims as thieves and robbers were common. There’s a reason Jesus used a man beaten by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. His listeners would identify with that. It was a concern for any traveler in those days.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of this song as you imagine yourself with a caravan of other pilgrims walking toward Jerusalem. In the distance you see Mount Zion and Solomon’s Temple which, for them, was God’s earthly residence. So, looking to the mountains and asking “Where does my help come from?” would have been associated with the destination of their pilgrimage. Being safe on the road, not getting injured, being protected from harm walking by day and camping outdoors at night, this song was a repeated proclamation of faithful assurance in their “coming and going” to and from Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded by the lyrics of this song that sometimes I need words of assurance and affirmation along this life journey. They don’t magically protect me from harm, but they do help me to keep fear, anxiety, and insecurity in check. They remind me of God’s faithfulness no matter my circumstances.

In our bedroom, Wendy and I have a piece of encaustic artwork I bought for Wendy this past Christmas. Three little birds stare at us when we get up each morning and when we lie down each night. Behind the artwork is another frame with the lyrics of a Bob Marley tune: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

“I rise up this morning, smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds perched by my doorstep.
Singing a sweet song, with a melody pure and true.
This is my message to you:
Don’t worry about a thing ’cause
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

I’ve always thought the song to be Marley’s reggae riff on the same encouragement and affirmation Jesus gave to His followers:

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”
Luke 12:6-7 (MSG)

Just like the Hebrew pilgrims singing Psalm 121, I have my Bob Marley psalm of assurance that reminds me both day and night.

(By the way, our afternoon stranded in the hot, Mexican desert sun was uneventful. Another van full of youth saw us by the road, pulled over to make sure we were okay, and handed us an ice-cold gallon of orange juice. Every little thing was alright.)

Songs With Purpose

Songs With Purpose (CaD Ps 120) Wayfarer

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Psalm 120:5 (NIV)

One summer of high school I got a job pollinating corn. It was the closest I got to working in agriculture. It was a hot, sweaty boring job walking through the fields. Each day I came home I was yellow from head to foot with corn pollen. I worked in the field with my friend Brian, and I will always remember it as the summer that I learned about work songs. Our crew would sing together as we worked and Brian, being a bit of natural comic, made-up work songs (think Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song) for us to sing as we made our way through the tall rows of corn. I still remember one song…

We work all day, and we work all night.
Three-ninety hour, hey! And that’s all right!
Day-O! Day-O!
Work for the dolla, everybody holla!
Sing Day-O!

My ol’ lady say, she say, “Bring home da pay,
Don’t you be gamblin’ it all away!”
I say, “No way, I’m gonna bring home da pay.
No way! I’m going gamblin’ today!”

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the part about hoecakes and a septic tank. I’m sure you get the idea. What connected with me that summer was that certain songs have a specific purpose in the human experience.

What that silly experience taught me that summer was that creativity often flourishes amidst repetitive, monotonous physical labor. My body was doing this repetitive act and my brain needed something to do. To this day, I find that some of my best message preparation and creative inspirations come when I’m engaged in some repetitive, mindless, physical activities like taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes.

The other thing I learned is that singing together as we worked helped create a sense of camaraderie. I couldn’t see my friends and co-workers through tall, thick corn stalks. Singing together made me feel less alone and reminded me that everyone on my crew was in this thing together. It was a fun way to pass the time in a boring job.

With today’s chapter, Psalm 120, our chapter-a-day journey brings us to a series of songs with the liner note: “a song of ascents.” The ancient Hebrews had seasonal religious festivals that required them to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem where they would worship and make both sacrifices and offerings. It was a national thing, so large groups of people from villages and communities all over would travel together. And, since “pilgrimage” in those days meant hoofing it for miles and days for most people, they would pass the time by singing songs as they “ascended” towards Mount Zion and up the steps of the temple.

Today’s ancient Hebrew ditty is just a short song of lament in which the singer cries out to God to deliver him from being the victim of deceit. He feels stranded in his situation. When he says “I dwell in Meshek” (a far-away city north in Asia Minor) and “I live among the tents of Kedar” (a far-way city south in Arabia) he was metaphorically singing about feeling like he was in exile. Sort of like me saying, “I feel alone in a crowd.”

So why would one sing this song on pilgrimage? I can only speculate that the seasonal festivals were waypoints of the year in which one would focus on bringing to God both their gratitude and laments. Going to the festival and worshipping at the temple was the time for an individual to take care of business with God, even the business of feeling the victim of other people’s deceits.

In the quiet this morning, the chapter has me thinking once again about the powerful role that music plays in my worship, my work, my play, and my life. It has me thinking about the spiritual journey of Lent that I’m in, and how music might play a role in that in a way I’ve never thought about. What songs can help me focus on this virtual pilgrimage of spirit? What if I created a playlist specifically for this season with songs that help center my heart and mind? What songs should I put on that list, and why?

Music, Ritual, & Meaning

Music, Ritual, & Meaning (CaD Ps 118) Wayfarer

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:29 (NIV)

Music plays such a fascinating role in the human experience. Music has the power to express thought and emotion in ways more potent than the mere words themselves. Music has a unique ability to bring people together in unity, even complete strangers. It happens in sporting events, in religious events, civic ceremonies, and virtually every birthday party you’ll go to or happen upon. Music is typically a part of every funeral service. I personally can’t hear Taps without it stirring emotion in me.

Last week I mentioned in these chapter-a-day posts that Psalms 113-118 make up series of songs known at the Hallel in Hebrew. They are the songs sung throughout the Hebrew feast of Passover. Today’s chapter, Psalm 118, is the final song. The lyrics were originally written to be a song of Thanksgiving that the king would sing with the people after a great victory. The “king” does most of the singing the way this song was structured, singing verses 5-21. In verses 22-27 the people rejoice over what God has done. The king then sings the final two verses.

What I found interesting as I read through and mulled over the song in the quiet this morning, is that it’s traditionally believed that Jesus and His followers were eating the Passover meal together the night He would be betrayed and arrested. If this is true, it is very possible that when Matthew records “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” it was Psalm 118 they were singing.

With that in mind, I went back and read the lyrics again, this time I imagined Jesus singing the part of the king and His followers the part of the people. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He predicted it on multiple occasions and he pushed the buttons that put into motion the political mechanism that would seal His earthly fate. I read the lyrics, placing myself in Jesus’ sandals, knowing what was about to happen the next day and on the third day.

It gives the lyrics a whole new layer of meaning as He sings:

The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.

And as his disciples sing:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.

When, after the resurrection, Peter is brought to trial before the very same religious leaders who put Jesus to death, it is this lyric that Peter quotes back to his accusers (Acts 4:11). Could it be that Peter was, at that moment, remembering singing those lyrics that fateful night just weeks earlier when he himself rejected and denied knowing Jesus?

And then I thought of Jesus, knowing that He is about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, mocked, and crucified, singing the final words of Psalm 118 and it being the last song He would sing on His earthly journey:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find the irony (perhaps divine appointment?) of reading these songs during the season of Lent when followers of Jesus focus our thoughts and spirits on Jesus’ final days, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Music plays a part in the remembrance, just as Psalm 118 likely played a part in Jesus’ remembrance of God’s breaking the bonds of Hebrew slaves and delivering them out of Egypt. Music, ritual, and meaning are threads that connect the three human events. The Exodus, the Passion, and my celebration of the Great Story in this season.

Of Change and Health

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Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

Psalm 108:2 (NIV)

Do you ever have random conversations that stick in your memory? I was on a trip with a colleague. While aware that we are each followers of Jesus, we didn’t talk about spiritual things very often. My colleague comes from a very conservative, almost fundamentalist viewpoint on things and he surprised me by wanting to ask my opinion about the weekly worship among the institutional church where he was a member.

It happened that my colleagues tribe had recently made the switch from a very traditional worship experience that involved singing traditional hymns, many of them having been in existence for hundreds of years. The church was migrating to using songs of the present-day genre. He was clearly struggling with this.

I have shared many times that I have been a spiritual wayfarer who has experienced and participated in a rich diversity of spiritual traditions. I have been in the emotionally rockin’ pentecostal tradition, the corporate silence of the Quaker Meeting House, the high-church liturgy of Roman Catholic church, the call-and-response of the black church, the intellectual approach of mainline institutions, the simplicity and sincerity of rural worship in a developing country, and the down-home family environment of a “house church.” My attitude has never been to ask “Which is right?” In fact, I’ve never really worried about asking “Which is right for me?” I’ve always tried to be fully present where I have been been led and ask myself “What good can I gain from this experience?”

I am aware, however, that my colleague has a more black-and-white view of both faith and life. The change in music genres within his local gathering had him rattled.

Colleague: “I’m struggling with these ‘seven-eleven’ songs. It’s the same seven lines sung eleven times.”

Me: “You mean like Psalm 117 that only has two lines which were likely repeated in worship?”

Colleague: “It’s just so repetitive. Singing the same thing over and over.”

Me: “You mean like Psalm 136 that repeats ‘His love endures forever’ twenty-six times?”

Colleague: “It’s not right. They take little pieces of a great hymn and mess it up by changing it. It was meant to be sung in its entirety!”

As this point, I could have pointed my colleague to today’s chapter, Psalm 108, because the entire thing is simply a cut-and-paste mash-up of Psalm 57:7-11 and Psalm 60:5-12. In fact, there are multiple examples both in the Psalms and in the writings of the ancient prophets when entire sections would be cut-and-pasted into an updated work. There are also examples of this in other ancient Mesopotamian cultures. It was quite common.

I don’t really know how the conversation landed with my colleague. I could tell that he was disappointed (maybe even a little frustrated) that I didn’t agree with him and provide him an affirmation of his opinions. He never brought it up again.

In my life, I have found change to be really difficult for people in almost any circle of life. When you mix in both change and religious tradition it can take on an added layer of emotion. Suddenly the change gets escalated to a level of religious orthodoxy. Sides are taken. The discussion escalates to arguments. Then comes entrenchment. Very often the next step is the severing of relationships. Groups split.

Along my spiritual journey, I have always assumed that change is a natural part of creation. Most things in life cycle in one way or another. What goes around comes around. Styles come back around and get freshened up. Religious traditions and practices that were once abandoned as “old and outdated” come back in vogue to bless a new generation of Jesus’ followers.

So it is that as I watch the changes that constantly happen around me on multiple levels, I try to keep my emotional reactions in check. Instead of digging in my heels and demanding that my love of the perfectly acceptable way of doing things is understood, I try to divert my energy to asking “What good might be gained from this change?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded of a mantra that I was introduced to by my friend. It made its way around the internet and I am unsure of the source. I once used it in a message, but I don’t know that I’ve ever referenced it in one of my chapter-a-day posts. It’s always stuck with me:

Healthy things grow.
Growing things change.
Change challenges me.
Challenges force me to trust God.
Trust leads to obedience.
Obedience makes me healthy.
Healthy things grow.
..

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died (CaD Ps 72) Wayfarer

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Psalm 72:20 (NIV)

I have the Don McLean classic American Pie going through my head in the quiet this morning. It’s funny how songs connect to so many thoughts and feelings. The first verse stirs so many memories of being a paperboy at the age of 12. Frigid Iowa mornings being the first person to see the headlines, and trudging in the dark before dawn hand-delivering newspapers to the doorsteps up and down the block.

McLean’s lyrics go like this…

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

I think the inspiration for those words has already been lost to most people. As Mclean’s lyric reveals, it was an event that became known as “The Day the Music Died.” A small plane crashed in an Iowa field and tragically took the lives of three of the most popular rock-and-roll musicians of their day: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 72, isn’t as meaningful to the causal reader without understanding the context of both the song and its placement in the larger work we know as the book of Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics was compiled by unknown editors. They’ve been lost in the fog of history, but they probably did their compilation sometime around the time the Hebrews were in Exile in Babylon about 500-600 B.C.

The editors didn’t just throw the songs together willy-nilly. There was tremendous thought put into themes, authorship, chronology, and how the individual songs fit into the larger whole. The Psalms are actually broken up into five sections we call “Books.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’ve come to the end of Book II with Psalm 72. Most all of the songs lyrics in the anthology, thus far, have been penned by King David. Yesterday’s lyrics revealed David’s thoughts and expressions near the end of his life.

The final song of Book II is an abrupt transition. The liner notes reveal that it is “of” Solomon or “for” Solomon (perhaps both/and), the youngest son of David and the offspring of Bethsheba (yep, the woman with whom he had a scandalous affair). Psalm 72 is a coronation song, meant to be used during the public rituals when a new king is crowned. As if the meaning of this song coming immediately after David’s aged reflections in Psalm 71, and the fact that we’re at the end of Book II, wasn’t clear enough, the anonymous editors of the anthology added a line at the end of the lyrics:

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

Old things pass away. New things come.

David, the warrior-king, God’s minstrel, has passed on.

It was “the day the music died” for the Hebrew people.

Psalm 72 reads like an idyllic vision of monarchy. Like an inauguration speech from a new President, it is full of hope for a new leader who will rule with justice, end poverty, end violence, provide for those in need, be esteemed by world leaders, and be forever established as God’s person for the job. The vision is so idyllic that both Hebrew scholars and early followers of Jesus viewed the metaphors as layered with meaning both as a national anthem for the newly crowned Solomon, and a prophetic vision of the coming and reigning Messiah.

In the quiet this morning, my Enneagram Four-ness can’t shake the melancholy (go figure). A little boy delivering newspapers in the cold, inspired in the grief of a terrible tragedy. In tragics deaths of an Iowa winter, a seed is planted in that little boy which will one day creatively spring to life in a new song that will mesmerize the music world for generations.

What a beautiful image of creation, of life, death, and new life. That’s the theme. That’s the theme of the Great Story.

Creation, Garden, Fall, Salvation.

Birth, life, death, new life.

A time and a season for all things under the sun.

Old things pass away. New things come.

As the Mandalorians in Star Wars would say: “This is the way.”

So, no matter where the journey finds you today, in joy or grief, in melancholy or happiness, take courage, my friend. The best is yet to come.

I have spoken. 😉

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20:9 (NRSVCE)

I grew up a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and watched them every Sunday on television. It wasn’t until I was an adult with children of my own that I went to a game myself. I’ll never forget being in the nosebleed section at the top of the Metrodome when the Vikings scored. The entire crowd stood and sang the Vikings’ fight song.

What?! I had no idea they had a fight song. The television always cuts to a commercial after someone scores or else the commentators are providing their thoughts on the touchdown and showing replays in slow motion. I never realized that in the back ground a stadium full of Viking fans were singing.

Fight songs are a part of sports, though we don’t give them much thought. When Wendy and I watch Liverpool in the Premier League play, the fans are singing almost non-stop through the entire match. They have different songs about different players. When Wendy and I were choosing which Premier League team we were going to cheer for (yes, we thoroughly weighed our options), we found out that before each game the Anfield stadium crowd sings You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Watching it on YouTube sealed the deal for us.

Music and the struggle for victory go hand-in-hand. Music brings unity and camaraderie to the masses. Music sung by a crowd stirs emotion and channels energy. It can lift spirits. It can encourage a team to dig deeper and motivate them to strive harder knowing there are tens of thousands behind them and cheering them on. They know it because they hear the singing.

Today’s psalm is basically an ancient fight song that David penned for his people to sing for him. It’s basically two verses with a one line chorus in between them. In the first verse, the people bless the king and ask that God would bless, support, and fight for David. The chorus asks God to give the king a spiritual blank check and grant all his requests. The second verse is an anthem of faith that God will assure the defeat of David’s enemies and ends praising God (not David) for the victory.

Back in Psalm 18, David wrote an epic song giving praise to God for all of his victories. It’s written in the first person, from David’s point-of-view. In contrast, today’s song is clearly intended to be sung by the people, the masses, the entire nation. In that way, it is an ancient version of a national anthem.

In the quiet, as I meditate on it this morning, I’m struck that David wanted to ensure that when his people sang about his victories, they ascribed the victory to God. King David had to have remembered when twenty-some years earlier he defeated Goliath, and the women all danced sang:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands.”

1 Samuel 18:7

It was that song that began to turn King Saul against David and wreak havoc on his life for years. Now that he’s king, Psalm 20 stands as a testament to the fact that David wanted to use his authority to ensure any fight song sung by his people for him would be a prayer for God’s blessing and would ascribe praise for the victory to God and not him.

An interesting side note. While we don’t know what the song would have sounded like, it must have been catchy. Archaeologists uncovered a papyrus fragment (Papyrus Amherst 63) that contains Psalm 20 virtually word-for-word but ascribes the prayer and praise to the Egyptian god Horus. Same song. Different team. It’s still common for high schools to steal a famous fight song tune and use it for their own.

As the wise sage of Ecclesiastes wrote: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Start of a new work week. I’m cheering you on. Hope it’s a good one.

Music and the Blues

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord….
Exodus 15:1 (NRSVCE)

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I have a confession to make. I have always wished I had a gift in music. Sure, I did the requisite year or two of lessons as a kid, but nothing every really clicked for me. I sang in the church youth choir and continued to sing in church and school groups for years. I taught myself a bunch of chords on the guitar so I could sing a few Bob Dylan songs on my back porch on a summer evening, and serenade our daughters to sleep singing Forever Young. But, that’s not the gift of music.

I remember an episode of M*A*S*H I watched as a kid. One of the doctors, Major Winchester, was a patrician blue blood with a knowledge of all the fine things of life. He finds himself having to amputate the hand of a patient, only to recognize the young man as one of the world’s up-and-coming virtuoso pianists. The Major goes to great lengths to ensure that the man does not let the loss of his hand prevent him from playing. His response was that young man had a gift and he couldn’t let that go to waste. “I could always play the notes,” Winchester said, “but I could never make the music.”

Bingo! One of the best delineations between competence and giftedness I’ve ever heard.

So, I’ve never been a gifted musicians, and that’s okay. My gifts are in other areas. But it doesn’t stop me from appreciating music. I believe that God infused music with powerful properties. One of them is the way music ties us emotionally and spiritually to moments of our life journeys.

When I started to read the lyrics to the Hebrews’ victory song in today’s chapter I was immediately transported back to my high school youth group on a summer morning clapping and singing these same lyrics to an acoustic guitar.

As soon as I hear the Hollies’ classing Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress I am ten years old and in cabin 3 at Camp Idelwood on Rainy Lake, Minnesota. It’s a cold, rainy day and I’m stuck in the cabin with Mark Malone, Piper, Matt, and my sister Jody.

When I hear The Old Rugged Cross you might notice me smile softly and catch a tear welling-up in my eye. That was my grandma Golly’s song, and the music connects me forever to her.

You get it. I know you do. We all do. That’s the power of music.

Three Times a Lady: My first kiss.
Bridge of Troubled Waters: Road trip to Le Mars and 8-track tapes.
The Joshua Tree: Judson College
Psycho-Killer: Backstage. Pre-show. Kirk.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrews celebrate what God has done with a song. They lyrics are recorded and handed down generation-to-generation. What the tune originally sounded like is lost in the depths of time, but thousands of years later me and my friends at church were singing the same lyrics as we clapped and sang and worshipped God on a summer morning.

How cool is that?

I don’t know about you, but life has felt so heavy the past week or two. The weight of months of quarantine and social distancing, life out-of-whack, George Floyd, riots, violence. Ugh.

As I returned from my road trip on Wednesday I happened upon Bob Dylan and gospel great Mavis Staples singing Dylan’s song called Change My Way of Thinkin’. In one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard in modern music, they stop the music to act out a scripted vignette in which Dylan tells Mavis that he’s got the blues.

Dylan: I been up all night with insomnia reading Snoozeweek.

Staples: Snoozeweek? That ain’t no way to get rid of the blues. You’ve got to sing!

With that, they launch back into the raucous gospel-blues tune.

Here’s the song on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/track/0ssPo81sHtsS1VfFn4DtjH?si=ftZZt5b0SMKc7BYQjgSBUw

Thanks, Mavis. What a good reminder. And this morning in the quiet it reminds me that in connecting us emotionally and spiritually to people, places, and events, music also has healing properties.

Mavis Staples is right. Staying awake all night watching the news is no cure for the blues. We need music. We need to surround ourselves in the beat, the melody, the lyrics that will lift our spirit and help us extricate the weight of the moment by expressing it.

Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’ did that for me.

Think about it. Try it. Let me know what song or songs help you. I’m curious to know.

Rock on, my friend.

Papa’s Got the Blues

As our daughters grew up, I wanted them to appreciate all kinds of art and music. My own musical tastes run the gamut and I’ve found that every genre has a place in the soundtrack of my life journey, if even for a moment. I wanted that for them, as well.

As the girls grew I started making compilation CDs for them. I wanted to pass on a few of the things I learned and appreciated about my favorite genres of music, expose them to a few of the classic artists and songs, as well as share with them a few of my favorite tunes and how they connect to my life. It’s still an unfinished project. I have two or three CDs still on my task list to compile for them.

Most of the time I simply wrote out some liner notes for the CD in which I shared a paragraph or two about every cut on the CD. When it came to my Blues compilation, I had been playing around with learning an eBook publishing app, so I thought it would be fun to experiment and turn my liner notes for the CD into a graphic eBook.

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were in Mexico for the wedding of her sister, Suzanna. Suzanna lived with Wendy and me for a few years as she finished high school. During her time with us, I had shared my blues compilation, Papa’s Got the Blues with her, as well. The night before her wedding she went out of her way to tell me she still had the CD and loved it.

So, that got me thinking that it might be a fun thing to post that others might also enjoy. So, Merry Christmas! Here you go. Be sure to download the eBook and follow along. If you have Spotify, you should be able to find the playlist and add it to your own set of playlists, if you so desire.

Happy listening! Cheers!

Don’t Stop the Music!

For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Nehemiah 12:46 (NIV)

This past week, Wendy and I went to a craft brewhouse in Des Moines. About three times a year they have an event called “Hymns at the Hall.” There was a large gathering of people that night. There were young families with children playing board games. There were older folks (I guess you have to start including me in that demographic). It was a fascinating mix of people who gathered to eat, drink, and sing the old hymns of the faith together.

Along my spiritual journey, I have experienced that music can be the subject of tremendous religious passion for some people. I grew up with hymns accompanied by a pipe organ and traditional choral music. I witnessed the emergence and growth of the “contemporary” music industry. Music within the churches I’ve associated has shifted radically in one generation. Most children today have never seen a hymnal or sung in a church choir in which you had to learn to read music and sing harmony.

So here’s the thing: I have lent my ears to friends who bemoan the changes as watering down and diminishing worship. I have witnessed heated debates over the theological implications of certain songs. My observation is this: music continues to change and evolve as does music’s place in worship. With all of the change, there are three things that are constant:

  • Our general discomfort with change.
  • Music’s ability to stir spirit, emotion, and thought (sometimes it does all three at the same time) in individuals and groups.
  • Worthwhile things that are discarded by culture as “dead and gone” are eventually resurrected to experience new life.

We are nearing the end of Nehemiah’s account of the return of the Hebrew exiles from Persia and the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. In the previous chapter, the people made a legally binding agreement to rededicate themselves to the law of Moses, the responsibilities of the sacrificial system, and the contributions required to keep Temple worship going. In today’s chapter, Nehemiah calls all of the musicians together from the region and forms two great choirs to march around the top of the wall in worship and dedication.

At the end of the chapter Nehemiah observes:

For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Nehemiah 12:46 (NIV)

In other words, the music of worship and of the Temple had been silenced for many years. It had been silenced at least 70 years since the destruction of the Babylonian siege. It may have been silenced before that. Nehemiah was resurrecting a worthwhile thing of the past and breathing new life into it for the discovery of a new generation. The subtext of the statement feels as if Nehemiah is defending the action and explaining his rationale for those who are grumbling about the change (see my first bullet above).

As my friends and I shared our “Hymns at the Hall” on social media, we had friends and family who seemed to bristle at the idea of singing hymns and drinking beer at the same time. I quietly smiled to myself knowing that hymn writers such as Martin Luther and Charles Wesley often took melodies of well-known songs that were sung in bars and taverns and changed the lyrics. In the days of illiterate and uneducated masses, it was easier if they used tunes that everyone knew (and everyone knew popular bar songs). Ironic that the songs have found their way back home. As I sang I watched people being stirred. You can take the hymns out of the church, but you can’t take God out of the hymns.

In the quiet this morning, Alexa is playing Gregorian Chant and ancient choral music, which is what I prefer in my quiet time with God. Later in the day, I’ll switch to more contemporary worship music as Wendy and I work in the home office. This evening we might switch to Gypsy Jazz, blues, or the music of the Rat Pack as dinner is prepared.

I don’t get too hung up on music. For me, is not a “holy” or “unholy” “either, or” binary thing. Sure, any good thing can be coopted for profane reasons, but it’s easy to turn it off or tell Alexa to skip a song. For me, music is a “both, and” equation.