“Reckless” Thoughts

It happens every now and again. Someone releases an amazing song, but there’s that troublesome lyric. Some people are for, some against, there’s a robust discussion, feathers are ruffled, people disappear back behind the parapet slightly more ingrained in the view they already held. My thoughts here are not intended to ruffle feathers, but to explain why I won’t use the song Reckless Love in the specific setting of Corporate sung worship.

Cory Asbury is a gifted songwriter. Reckless is a song crafted and executed with a high degree of skill. That it has caused any debate at all is testament to just how good the songwriting is.

Art and the Message

Music is art, songs are artworks. Art is a tool for communication. Sometimes the words are doing the communication, sometimes the music, often both. In my experience of Corporate worship we actually tend to be quite limited musically in how we communicate loud/quiet, happy/sad (which is why “Sin” by Kings Kaleidoscope had such an impact on me. The dissonance! But I digress). Words on the other hand are our bread and butter, inspired by the richness of the God-breathed scriptures.

Unorthodox Words

There are similes, metaphors, literary devices. We can quickly understand that The Kings of Leon’s sex was not literally on fire (though that would have been notable for very different reasons); that God’s love is devoted like [but not literally as] a ring of solid gold, and of course that at the moment of salvation God’s eye did not diffuse a literal quickening ray to release us from literal chains. These things draw vivid word pictures (thanks again Kings of Leon!) and can help to articulate aspects of Gods multifaceted truth.

Similarly sometimes using arcane, unorthodox or interesting words can be useful. I find this most often at Christmas, when we thither until our footsteps bend and millions  worldwide consider out loud together that Mary’s uterus was not in the least bit abhorrent to the Lord.

In the context of a worship song, they give you a little jolt- what am I singing? Why does this song use a different word? What is the author trying to say here? These are the tools and the craft of the trade. I am very much for using songwriters working like jewellers crafting their words to create a setting that presents the gems of God’s glorious gospel brightly, emphasising shape and colour from multiple angles.

What of Reckless love?

So to the question; is God’s love reckless? By any biblical definition that matches my understanding of our word in English (ancient or modern), I don’t think it is.

Google defines it as: “heedless of danger or the consequences of one’s actions; rash or impetuous.”

Dictionary.com: “utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless

Wiktionary.org notes the etymology: “From Middle English rekles, reckeles, rekkeles, (also recheles), from Old English rēcelēas (“reckless, careless, negligent”), equivalent to reck +‎ -less. Cognate with West Frisian roekeleas (“reckless”), Dutch roekeloos (“reckless”), German Low German ruuklos (“careless”), German ruchlos (“careless, notorious”).”

As far as the song goes, can you sing:
“Oh the Careless\negligent\rash love”? No- God planned and prepared it
“Oh the headstrong love”? No- we don’t get to describe God as headstrong. God is I AM; He does as He pleases.
“Oh the utterly unconcerned about the consequences Love”? No. Christ counted the cost in great anguish in the garden of Gethsemane

By all of those definitions of the word reckless, it is inapplicable. Obviously I’m not saying that Cory Asbury is trying to mislead anyone. He’s exercising his craft, attempting to articulate the multifaceted mystery of God’s love. He’s saying that to human eyes it is a reckless, abandoned, seemingly over-generous, un-repayable love.

In fact he says as much in his facebook post explaining the terminology: “When I use the phrase, “the reckless love of God”, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless”. Which is where me and the song fall out, because if God is love and his love is reckless…

So my personal view is that it’s simply the wrong word and that an otherwise impeccably crafted song fails in a key area. That’s life this side of heaven after all; we see in part.

 

Is it suitable for Corporate Worship?

I can’t speak for you or your congregation, but we have chosen not to use this song. Here are some questions I’ve asked:

  • What does worshipping a God for his “Reckless” love communicate to people without the maturity to test it against scripture? I’m thinking particularly of non-Christians, but also new and immature Christians.
  • Do I think it might confuse people as to God’s nature? (I do).
  • Does it simply require explanation (which we often do when we sing things like “The Lion and the Lamb”)? As above, I could not explain how it fits in anything but a tenuous sense.

As a worship leader, I’m thinking of these things chiefly with a pastoral hat on. At the Newday worship training earlier in the year Terry Virgo spoke about how we are gatekeepers and that we put words in peoples mouths. I want to do that with care before the Lord. No -I don’t expect to get it right all the time. I accept that we might pass up on some good songs because I am shepherding conservatively. I pray that God keeps me and leads me in this, and keeps me from stifling the prophetic.

Whatever you choose to do, may God bless it!

 

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Once We Were Not A People

It’s been a while, no? I thought I’d post another of my songs up here but they take me so long to record! It’s a song that has pretty much run it’s course at church, seldom used, so I’m posting a badly played, badly mixed demo up here mainly for posterity.

We were doing a series at Northwest Church about the doctrine of the church. One lunch time whilst at work I got inspired and looked up a whole chunk of verses about the church and the one that resonated most was:

1 Peter 2:10

” 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Not a people Chord Sheet (PDF)

Band:

Bad Electric Guitar/Acoustic Guitar/Vocals: Ben Lewis
Bass: Louise Lewis
Drums: Tim Brittain

© Ben Lewis 2009

The Rock Star Worship Leader

When first given the opportunity to lead worship, I confess to being starry eyed at the thought. In the last couple of decades Worship leaders have become confusingly similar to the rock star* fraternity (although there’s nothing wrong with Rock Stars who are being Rock Stars to the glory of God). I was young when I started out, I loved music and from where I was stood it looked like this was the pinnacle. In fact at times it looked so high that my thoughts often swung in the other direction; God couldn’t possibly have called me to such a high and privileged role? I imagine that this confusion will get worse as there’s a generation of kids who will be leaders in our churches in the next two decades who have been weaned on the stage-focused hype-fest of X-Factor.

Whilst worship leaders certainly play their part in the confusion (you know- the diva behaviour, the strutting, the weird affectations) I think we (the catholic with-a-small-“c” Church) often load the role of Worship Leaders with unnecessary cultural baggage and certainly I felt the weight of this mantle on my shoulders. Worship Leading in particular is an odd shaped area of service (and service is a helpful word in this context!) as it is loaded with high importance in our Churches whilst not being a specifically defined role in the Bible. Now I’m learning to  see it in terms of biblical leadership.

Some leadership has specific qualification in scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-13 and Tit. 1:5-9), but if Christ has called me to do something, he can certainly equip me (Heb 13:20-21).  Similarly, feelings of inadequacy are defeated by His sufficiency.  The crux of what I’m learning is that every call from God is a high call. I used to think that worship leading was not as holy as being a missionary or that working for the church trumped being an accountant. But that missed the point; whatever it is that God has called you and me to do specifically is a very high calling indeed (Phil 3:12, Eph 2:10). This has become all the more apparent whilst I’m on a break from worship leading.

So worship leaders read Romans 12:3 and be humble! Churches be thankful for people in all areas of service, and to the guys who don’t get any plaudits but pack up after the meeting at my church, thank you.

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Structuring a worship team: are you with the band?

[Portrait of Oscar Moore, Nat King Cole, and Wesley Prince, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946] (LOC)

[Portrait of Oscar Moore, Nat King Cole, and Wesley Prince, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946] (LOC)

I’ve been involved in “church music” for over a decade, and I’ve seen a few different approaches to structuring worship teams. I stumbled across an interview with Pastor Joel at Mars Hill the other day and it led me to think about why I have always preferred a distinct worship band as opposed to a more nebulous team:

Bobby Gilles: Kenosis is one of several Mars Hill worship bands. For people unfamiliar with the difference between these bands and the typical worship team format of many contemporary churches, can you explain? Why do you have a name like “Kenosis” rather than “Mars Hill Ballard worship team” for instance?

Joel Brown: Essentially since the beginning of Mars Hill, we have run our worship teams on a more band-focused model. Initially this wasn’t an intentional decision. When you take a bunch of recently converted local musicians and ask them to lead the music, they just do what they know, and what they knew was how to play in a band and write songs about what they were experiencing.

While it’s not the only way we structure things today at Mars Hill, we do see a lot of benefits to leading this way. If your musicians are experienced, arrangements have the potential to be more dialed in and uniquely tailored to a specific church or location. Though the word is overly used today, this can sometimes help music to have a more missional intentionality. The band then is ministering to a specific people at a specific time and place rather than strictly playing covers of music that someone else created somewhere else for someone else.

We use band names to bring distinction to who we’re talking about. In some ways it can look like it’s meant to draw attention to the ‘artist’ and off of Jesus or the songs to Him, but it’s honestly more of a practical thing than anything else.

As Joel intimates, It’s a structure that people can easily relate to whether as musicians or listeners. I love that there is a sharp clarity to it (I’m in the band) without losing the ability to collaborate with other musicians. Most of all though working as a band enables a strong musical understanding to be built as a focused team. Every practice builds on the foundation of the one before- creating a repertoire, defining a “sound” and learning to arrange music together. This creates trust musically and gives the band space to participate in more ways than just playing an instrument: space to create, sing, dance, pray, enjoy, commune (with God and fellow man) and in each of these things worship our creator.

The bit that has always grabbed me as with the interviewer is that the Mars Hill bands are named like, you know, “real bands”. It’s perhaps the least important point, and yet it makes a tremendous difference to how people perceive what we do. I dread people asking me what my band is called because my band has no name; it’s name is simply an entry on a church rota: “Ben’s Band”. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to suggest them and I will put them to the band!

The rest of that excellent Joel Brown interview by Bobby Gilles can be found here: http://mysonginthenight.com/2012/02/13/mars-hill-pastorkenosis-leader-joel-brown-on-worship-writing-hymns/

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You Who Flung Stars…

Jet in Carina: WFC3 UVIS

Source: Hubblesite.org

An oldie, and yes, the ellipsis is part of the title. Pretentious? Quite possibly.

This was the first song I wrote for my band at Northwest Church; I wrote it in 2008 and we recorded it as a band in the November of that year. I wanted to encapsulate the Bible and the Gospel in a song, “from Genesis to Revelation” (as Junior Murvin famously sang); I can’t remember where the inspiration came from for the music.

We have used this song in both the recorded arrangement below and also a quieter down tempo version we did for Christmas 2010. It seemed to work quite well either way.

You Who Flung Stars Chord Chart (PDF)

© Ben Lewis 2008

Band:

Electric Guitar/Vocals: Ben Lewis
Guitar: Bryn Morgan
Bass: Louise Lewis
Drums: Tim Brittain
Backing Vocals: Claire Hickman/Zoe Cooley
Trumpets: Dan Garbutt
Studio/Mix/Mastering: Andy Smith (Influential Studios www.influentialstudios.co.uk/)

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