True North: a New Look at My Old Stomping Grounds

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You know those guys who wear orange vests and carry glowing orange sticks so they can direct you where to park when you are going to a concert in the the city? Well, on Sunday morning, those same guys stand in the parking lot of the local elementary school amid waving flags that read “True North Church,” directing worshippers where to park as they arrive for the morning service. I pull my car into a spot near the front, wishing I could have parked further in the back, in a place less open.

I follow a trail outlined in volunteers in neon green t-shirts that read “I Can Help!” into the lobby of the school I attended as a sixth grader 13 years ago. The lobby is crowded, filled with tables with signs reading “What’s Next?” and “Compass Kids Check-in.” Off to the side, there are refreshment tables with water jugs and light snacks. Two volunteers stand along side a computer monitor at an information station, disseminating information. I remember that the lobby looked similar during my sixth grade enrichment fair, though the tables displayed replicas of classic American landmarks, like my own Golden Gate Bridge, rather than God’s word.

Screenshot (48)I enter into the gym, which seems to be transformed into a sanctuary of sorts. There are eight rows of blue folding chairs in the middle, facing a stage decorated with dark black fabric. There are six rows of the same folding chairs angled at the stage to the left and right of the center set-up. The stage is home to a large drum set, a drum set encased in a clear walls. There are other instruments on the stage, as well, including a keyboard, two guitars, and a bass. Above the stage, aligned left and aligned right are two large monitors that rotate through the following five slides: “Welcome Home,” “Download the True North App,” a compass kids advertisement, a website advertisement, and an Instagram handle.

Most of the congregation appears to be in their 20’s or 30’s, and most attendees are couples. There are a few families throughout the church, but many take their children to a classroom just down the hall from the gym. Those sitting in the folding chairs talk over coffee. Most of the seats are still open, and groups of young people stand around the room in animated conversation, conversation full of laughter and leaning. I am the only person sitting alone.

I feel a little awkward, but I brush this feeling aside. It’s most likely because I am unfamiliar with the service and the set up.

Music plays, the current song a song by Echo Smith.Multicolored lights flash designs on the white cinder block walls. The overhead lighting is off.

At 11 am, a countdown begins on the screens, and Judah, the creative Pastor of True North, begins talking to the congregation, inviting them to share in the worship experience that True North has to offer. The displayed experiences on the screen show baptisms, youth group, church set up, and Compass Kids classes. The soundtrack of the video is so loud that I can feel the music vibrating in my chest and through my feet.

The service begins with three songs, and all the members of the congregation stand and sing along with the projected lyrics. Hands are raised. Feet tap. Bodies bounce up and down, as though they are channeling a spirit outside themselves.

The music stops, and we all sit down. A video begins playing, introducing the More Initiative, a tithing initiative that will help the church develop its own permanent location. Then, church announcements are shared, a baby is dedicated to the church, and the baptism schedule is discussed.

That’s when the congregation is invited to stand and greet each other. As I do so, Judah, a former classmate of mine, approaches, taps me on the shoulder, and then opens his arms for a hug. “I’m so glad you made it,” he shares. Then, he sees I am sitting alone. “I will sit with you. You shouldn’t have to sit alone.”

He sits in the empty folding chair next to me as his brother, the pastor, gives a sermon on faith and purpose. He interacts during the sermon with “yes” and “come on” with every sentence he finds insightful.Screenshot (49)

The service ends with a song, and then the lights come on. “Well, what did you think of all this?” he asks, motioning around what feels like a set design in the cafeteria-auditorium mix.

I think for a moment, and then I am reminded of On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz, a book that shows us “how to see the spectacle of the ordinary.” I wonder what he can tell me about all of the items they set up. I was still struggling to see the space as more than the place I used to eat my lunch in the middle of the afternoon.

“It’s different,” I said. “Very different. I’ve never seen a church with screens before. I think that if more churches had those, people would come more often. We’re so used to looking at screens.”

He laughs. Then he shakes his head. “People think that, you know. They think if their church just had this stuff, more people would come. But this stuff really isn’t different than anything else. I mean, yea, we put the lyrics on a screen, but other churches have the lyrics in accessible song books. I just see it as my job. I’m the creative pastor. God is the ultimate creator. Everything I try to do is just a way to channel his creativity. I try to make the normal be more of an honor to Him, but our church in Haddonfield, it doesn’t have any of this and it has 160 loyal attendees every Sunday at 10. It’s not about what you have. It’s about the experience.”

He points to the seats. No, I look again. He’s not signaling to the emptying seats but motioning toward the people filling them. “This. These. These people are the church. This building isn’t the church. Church isn’t about a building. You know, my mother-in-law can’t seem to wrap her head around a church that’s mobile.” He’s explaining that while a church provides a foundation for many, a church doesn’t actually need a foundation. I’m reminded of the Francis Nurse’s claim in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, in which he says, “My wife is the very brick and mortar of this church.” The congregation is the foundation; the people are the ones that can be relied on for guidance, for direction, for comfort, for prayer. The building itself doesn’t do anything. The building is just a place for the church to come together.

I ask about the band whose music served as book ends during the service. I say something about how it must be cool to have rock music at church that people enjoy singing along to, but he corrects me, albeit politely, informing me that there are many misconceptions about that, as well. Worship bands aren’t just about the music. The participants are church leaders, directing and engaging worship, channeling the spirit for others.

I nodded, taking in his perspective, seeing the pieces less individually and more as components of one whole. And then, unexpectedly, his words became more than words. An old friend, a friend I hadn’t seen in years approached, “Lauren? Is that you? How’s it going? It’s been a while!”

We talked for a bit, and he said he was glad to see me there. He told me that attending this church has been one of the best choices he made. I saw the church as the people in it.

The cafeteria was more than just a cafeteria for me then, if only just a moment or two.

It was a unique experience, and I would be interested in returning to try and see more of these things for myself.

Images courtesy of @truenorth_church (Instagram)

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A Prodigal Catholic Returns: Field Notes, Transcriptions, and Scene

On Sunday, March 22, I made the decision to go to church. It was the first time since I was 16 that I went without a death or memorial service dictating obligatory attendance.

I entered the church and moved to the far left. Why? Comfort. That was the area I always sat in when I attended church as a CCD requirement. I looked at this location as a way to join the general population without feeling like I would be in the spotlight or the priest’s direct line of view. I genuflected and entered the pew as though I were a regular and looked around, taking in the scenery. I sketched the church to familiarize myself with the different aspects of the church and altar.

In the time remaining before the start of the mass, I jotted down some notes and observations about those surrounding me. I knew I shouldn’t feel too guilty, as it wasn’t as though I was ignoring the priest or something, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. I thought everyone would suspicious of the woman hunched over a tiny blue notebook, scribbling furiously before church began.

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Transcriptions

Pages 1 and 2 of Notes

Timagehere are 90 rows of pews in the church. Two straight, altar-facing rows line the sides of the tiled center aisle. A baptismal font and a table holding the offering stand halfway up the center aisle. There are two angled rows on either side of the two straight rows. The front of the church is raised three steps of above the rest..

At the center of the raised section of the church is a large, white, marble altar.  Behind this, hanging on the red brick wall is a large crucifix. To right right of the crucifix, if looking at the front of the church, is a statue of Mary and Joseph. To the left of the crucifix is the tabernacle holding the Eucharist. Above the gold tabernacle is a lit candle in a red jar; this candle hangs from the the ceiling on a gold chain. The lectern is diagonally between the altar and the tabernacle. Three large chairs are in a neat row diagonally between the altar and the statue of Mary and Joseph. The center chair is the tallest, and the two smaller chairs frame it.

Page 3 and 4 of Notes

A majority of the attendees seem to be about 50 or older. About four or five families with kids sit around me. There are big gaps in between groups of people, and thereimage seem to be about 20 in my section and the row of pews to my left. There are several rows in front of me that are completely empty thought a few people on the other end of the pew in which I am sitting.

In terms of dress, it seems as though everyone under about age 21 is wearing a hoodie or sweatshirt.

In regard to the families, there are three dads alone with children. The largest family in my immediate vicinity has three teenager daughters.

The left side of the church is more full than the right.

The church balances out a bit as many people arrive after bells signaling the time is now 5:00. The back half of all rows in the church is nearly full. There are still only two or three people sitting in each of the front rows.

The procession of religious leaders in the church is led by two young boys who appear to be in about 3rd or 4th grade, and they are dressed in altar server robes.

At this point in the service, there are two people still kneeling and praying. They both appear to be over 30. One of the women is alone; the other is with what appears to be her husband.

About five minutes into the service, families are still arriving. A family of four sits a few rows in front of me. The woman and the man kneel to pray, but the two children with them do not.

Pages 5 and 6

The few adults that are still entering the church stop to bless themselves with holy water as they enter, but the children who enter walk by the basin without stopping or turning back. The adults then genuflect but the children do not.

imageFather Gormley and Deacon O’Brien say the mass.

The first reading is read by an older parishoner dressed in a suit. He reads quickly and steps down.

The responsorial psalm is sung by one singer. She is accompanied by one guitar player.

Five people in my section of the church have missiles open and follow along with the songs and readings.

Three teenage girls enter together without an older adult after the first reading. Only one of the three kneels and bows her head in prayer before sitting in the pew. The others sit right away.

A father and elementary-school age daughter enter while the gospel is being read.

The priest, who is wearing robes of purple, black, and gold, gives the homily. His voice is booming, and he has stepped down onto the main floor. While he speaks, many parishioners, especially those sitting near the front, look down. They do not look at the priest.

The two teenagers sitting in front of me are not accompanied by adults.

Page 7

After leaving church, I discussed the mass with Mark, who attended with me. He is Baptist and has never attended a Catholic mass. I asked imagehim to share his thoughts on the service and how it compared to the services he was used to.

He said the mass had less scripture reading than his own church services. It also moved quicker. There were less prayers, but he isn’t used to the recitation of specific prayers that the mass involves. He had expected more people to sing than were actually singing.

The space was difference because it was bigger than his own church. His church also doesn’t have a crucifix at the front. They have a plain cross.

In terms of the church attendees, he was surprised by the casual dress. He said no one at his church would come in anything less formal than khakis and a collared shirt.

Scene

The bells above the church toll five times. As the family enters the foyer, they see the procession of altar servers, deacon, and priest moving up the center aisle. The mother pushes her children gently ahead and points to the left of the church as they glance over their shoulder. They turn after crossing through the doorway, skirting past the basin of holy water, and make it to the diagonal column of pews before realizing their parents are a little further behind them.

The parents had stopped to make the sign of the cross over themselves before finding a seat. The daughter seems a bit flustered by this. She’s tapping her foot as she waits for her parents to catch up.

When the parents meet them at the start of the column of pews, the mom points her children in a direction again, using her index finger to indicate an empty pew halfway to the front of the church. The children walk, their foot steps heavy. They sit down as soon as they enter the pew and rather than walking down until they reach the spot in which they’d like to sit, they slide all the way down. The buttons on the back of their jeans making a slight grating sound.

The dad, genuflecting on his right knee, shakes he head side to side, as though he his disappointed in their distracting movement. He scoots into the row, followed by his wife, who drops the cushioned kneeler. Both she and her husband kneel, heads bowed over their folded hands, saying their prayers.

After a minute or two, the couple settles back into the pew alongside their children. The mother looks to her right and gives the kids a look, perhaps to suggest they should be paying closer attention to the reading. The look must have worked because then all four are facing the lectern, and all I can see are the backs of their heads.

Reflections

Returning to church while knowing this blog post would be forthcoming was more troubling than expected. I felt like I had to choose between trying to be aware of my surroundings or listening to the readings, songs, and homily. By the time the mass got to the first reading, I resolved not to write down anything else and instead opted to make jottings if I had any when the service was over. I think this went well enough, and I didn’t feel like I was being rude.

Something I’m really interested in after attending this mass is generational differences. The clothing, actions, and apparent attitudes of the assorted age groups seem to vary drastically. I wonder what opinions of their counterparts these various age brackets would have. I also think this gets back to the tradition aspect of religion and church.

I will also be going to a Baptist church service before the end of the month, so as interesting as I found it to have a discussion about comparisons, I’ll be interested to make some comparisons myself.

Schedule Revision: Field Notes, Interviews, and Lookings

Last week, I posted a tentative schedule for my research plans. That schedule was certainly ambitious, and while I have been having a wonderful time meeting with and talking to interesting people, I am now backlogged with so much information. I have been trying to process it and analyze it all in drafts of transcriptions, but I am finding I need a bit more time to work through things with a level of thoroughness with which I feel comfortable and prepared.

Therefore, I have revised the schedule to include new anticipated post-interview blog post dates and updated some TBD dates for interviews.

Screenshot (47)Also, I have three other blog posts in the works, and I am really excited about each of them. Over the course of the next week, you can expect to see the following:

  1. An account of my boyfriend’s first trip to Catholic mass
  2. A presentation of the religious freedom act and this lovely blogger’s opinions on it
  3. An overview of Knox Online Seminary, a page which Facebook so kindly suggested to m

Stay tuned, and thank you for reading!

Kendrick Lamar: Rapper or Vessel?

The senior cheerleaders on the team I coach were the first ones to introduce me to Kendrick Lamar. They asked if we could put his song “i” into our pep rally mega mix. I listened to the free clip available in the iTunes store and said it sounded good. When the girls brought the mix cd to practice, my heart almost exploded into my chest. There was some language coming out of the speakers in our high school gym that was much too explicit for me to have approved. I labored for hours to censor the swear words out of the mix without distorting the sound too much. I was sweating, but I was successful. All of the students loved the song and the routine.

Now, with this experience in mind, imagine my shock when I saw that Revelant Magazine tweeted a link to an article titled “Kendrick Lamar: All I am is a Vessel, Doing His Work.” Um, there’s no way bknation_Kendrick-Lamar-hoodie.jpgthat this could be the same Kendrick Lamar who was rapping about the the mother “effers” who doubted him. Why would someone who uses that language be calling himself God’s vessel?  My mind went back to media debate from a few years ago, started when Kathy Griffin won an Emmy and declared she wanted to thank everybody but God. Huffpost Live discussed this claim and the thanks to God that celebrities give after winning awards, a video in which Gospel music producer John Murray states,  “I just want your work to be at least church appropriate. If you can’t necessarily perform your work or at least go to church without feeling like a hooker in church, I think maybe you shouldn’t be thanking God.” I felt like Murray should be sharing this statement with Lamar.

Then, I clicked on to read Relevant’s article. The article was short, only two paragraphs in length, but it linked to a profile of Lamar the New York Times published today. The profile, seemingly purposed to address the spiritual and politic implications of his new album, To Pimp a Butterfly, shares the key aspects of his spiritual journey and relationship with God. As it turns out, Lamar considers himself to be “saved,” thanks to a grandmother of one of his teenage friends in Compton, California approached him in a grocery store parking lot following the murder of one of Lamar’s friends and asked if he accepted God. He goes so far as to call the woman an “angel for [he and his friends].”

Just because Lamar considers himself to be save, he maintains his humanity and recognizes that he is more susceptible to sin. This new album was a way for him to explore, reflect, and share the stories of his struggle. Joe Coscarelli, the author of the Times article, writes “[Fame] brought only more opportunities for sin and self-doubt, an internal chaos reflected not only in Mr. Lamar’s intricate stories but also in vigorous jazz- and funk-inflected production that builds on the smoother West Coast sounds of his debut.” Okay, so now, maybe  I can see how he would be working as a vessel. He’s sharing his constant struggle to do the right thing. Just because he isn’t what one would consider saintly doesn’t mean that he can’t be working to serve God.

As the picture to left of this picturuseyoue, which I conveniently found in my Facebook newsfeed when brainstorming for this post (coincidence?), reminds us, a servant of God doesn’t have to be perfect. If God found a purpose for Noah, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, and David, it doesn’t seem so absurd that he might find a purpose for a rap artist who liberally uses the “F” word. Perhaps Lamar is correct, and he can share the stories on his album because it’s part of God’s plan. Lamar is quoted in the Times article as saying, ” I know that from being on tour — kids are living by my music…My word will never be as strong as God’s word. All I am is just a vessel, doing his work.” Lamar doesn’t seem to be too prideful for his own good; in fact, he seems humble and understanding that he is a part of something bigger than himself. He seems like he wants to contribute anything that he can.

Knowing this, I went back and took a closer look at the lyrics from the song, “i.” The intro verse of this song reads, “I done been through a whole lot: trial, tribulation but I know God. The devil wanna put me in a bow tie. Pray that the holy water don’t go dry.”  The first sentence demonstrates that all of the difficulties Lamar has gone through but asserts that he has never wavered in his belief that God was with him. The second line that mentions the devil, according to Rap Genius contributors, alludes to funeral attire, as bow ties are often worn by the deceased. Because he hails from such a high crime area, it seemed likely that he would meet a fate similar to the terrible one of his friend. He looks to God though, the “holy water” to protect him and prays.

A majority of the song continues, arguing that as long as you love yourself, you can then love the seemingly dark place that is the rest of the world, as it is “illuminated by the hand of God.

As I write this, I have the song playing, and my mom is still complaining about Lamar’s language and her inability to understand any words besides the “bad ones.” I, on the other hand, have realized that maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. After all, in addition to being religious and working to change the rap industry, Lamar doesn’t drink or smoke. He does say of himself, “From my perspective, I can only give you the good with the bad.”

If we can overlook some of his word choice, we can definitely see the good.

Dear Lauren: A Research-Related Surprise! Love, iTunes.

As you may know, this week, I’ve been working on a series of posts about religion, Christianity, and music. The first post touched on my experiences with music in church. The second post reflected on my impressions of three recommended worship bands. With this post, I’m examining how I’ve unknowingly been a fan of some Christian music for years and the implications of my discovery.

The Discovery

iphone-what-if-its-notNow, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but my iPhone is like an additional appendage of my body. I take it everywhere with me, and I almost always have at least one app running throughout the day. Saturday night was no exception. While I was getting ready to go to a designer bag bingo fundraiser, I set my phone on the bathroom counter and turned the volume up as my iTunes Music app shuffled through my library. Relient K came on as I was steadying my hand to put on eyeliner. That’s when I heard the line.

“But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.”

Good thing I hadn’t started drawing on my lid yet, because if I had, I’m certain I would have poked my own eye out in surprise. That line sounds extremely Christian, I thought as I put the eye pencil down on the counter. I started the song over and listened. Other lines from the song “Be My Escape” that struck me included the following:

  • “He’s told me the way and now I’m trying to get there.”
  • “I’m a hostage to my own humanity”
  • “I fought You for so long. I should have let You in.”

This may or may not surprise you, but in high school, I went through a major alternativRelientKRelientKe, pop punk music phase. Relient K’s Mmhmm was among one of my favorites. I had always thought “Be My Escape” was a song about a desired relationship, a song about a guy waiting to finally get the girl. Was I naive? Or just blissfully unware?

Perhaps because I’ve been researching religion and spiritual journeys lately, the lyrics so obviously reveal the speaker’s connection with God. I’m going to claim that I was unaware. As it turns out, Relient K is classified as Christian rock band.

The Findings

Formerly unbeknownst to me, Relient K’s second album, Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Gospel album. Soon after, the band broke into the mainstream music scene in 2004 with the release of Mmhmm, an album that went on to peak in the top 15 of the Billboard 200 chart.

Adownload (1)fter sitting back and reading through lyrics of my favorite songs on Mmhmm, my favorite of the band’s albums, I feel like the band is having a conversation God rather than discussing love come and gone. For example, the song “The One I’m Waiting For” sounds, at first listen, like a song about a young guy wanting the popular girl and being rejected. “And she’s so confident that she’s what everybody wants. But nobody wants her to know that.” This girl is admired, and the singer is left in the cold, alone, tapping his foot in anticipation for the rest of eternity. “And I’m still waiting for you to be the one I’m waiting for.”

However, a more nuanced listen might suggest that the guy in the song isn’t just waiting for the girl to like him; he’s waiting for her to change, waiting for someone who would be worth waiting for. Waiting. For. Could “the one I’m waiting for” mean more than just waiting for her to be good enough for him? Could it mean waiting for her to be the one worth waiting until marriage for? Ah! Abstaining–there’s a definitive Christian value.

This discovery sparked further discoveries, as I scrolled through my iTunes library to see if anything else in my library related to Relient K.

I came across Anberlin‘s “Paperthin Hymn,” which shares the line “When life is in discord, praise ye Lord.” H220px-Paperthin_Hymnmmm.

I went to work on researching Anberlin and found that many of the band’s members call themselves Christian but that Anberlin doesn’t recognize itself as a Christian band. However, they also imply that some of their songs may have Christian messages. In an article cited on Beliefnet, lead vocalist Steven Christian (I promise, that’s his real name) shares, “I just simply write about life experiences, and when God comes out, then God comes out … But I’m also not going to inhibit that or I’m not going to try to create that feeling just to sell records to more Christians or talk about God less just to sell more records to the general market.”

The notion that their songs may also be interpreted as religious is also supported by the fact that the band was Tooth & Nail Records, a known force in the Christian music scene.

Much like Anberlin, Switchfoot, creators of the song “Meant to Live,” which declares “Dreaming about Providence and whether mice or men have second tries. Maybe we’ve been livin’ with our eyes half open. Maybe we’re bent and broken. We were meant to live for so much more,” is also often described as a Christian band. The members, also like Anberlin, work to reject this classification. Lead singer Jon Foreman, as cited on CTK Blog, states, “I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.”

Once again, I receive clarification that, yes, that so much more we are meant to live for might mean Heaven. It might mean God. The band writes and believes as they see fit, whether they have a label or not.

I not only possessed Christian music, but I enjoyed it.

The Meaning

If anything, my findings about some beloved songs from my high school days seems to have proven a few things for me.

1. Christian music isn’t something only for the highly devout. It doesn’t live in churches. It lives and breathes in our society. It’s enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike. It can interpreted as being about God. It can be interpreted as being about a relationship. It can be interpreted as the listener so chooses, meaning it appeals to a wide audience, and that’s key for success.

2. Christian music doesn’t have to be evangelical. It doesn’t have to be working to convert or change its audience. It can simply be about the artist sharing his or her feelings and his or her concerns. If others happen to enjoy it and relate, that is just a bonus.

3. Christians can clearly still have an edgy side. Guitar riffs, loud drums, and somewhat abrasive sounds can be found on each of these bands’ albums. It’s not something made for the stereotypical old church lady, a small Sunday school student and a teenager. It  can just appeal to the teenager.

And even though I’m not a teenager, it still appeals to me, and I will continue to rock out to it as I drive with my windows down.

No Way! Rock bands? In Church?!

Can you make a list of all the things the above images have in common?

I tried, and I came up with the following: a stage, lights, a backdrop, drumsets, guitars, microphones, and a massive crowd. It seems as though all the pictures depict rock concerts, and, as a sit behind I computer screen, I’m wishing I was part of the fun.

If I told you one of the pictures was different from all the others, would you be able to spot the difference?

In case you can’t, the picture that displays the insignia “FOB” is a photo from one of Fall Out Boy’s, yes–the mainstream pop punk band, shows. The other three are pictures from Hillsong, Citipointe Live, and Jesus Culture worship concerts. Yes, you read that correctly. Three of the photos are photos of worship bands, and yes, I did say I wish I was a part of the fun.

This past Monday, I decided I would do a series of posts on music in the Christian community after being inspired by the blogger weallseektruth’s suggestion that I listen to some popular worships bands, specifically those mentioned above. To get myself in the right mindset, my first post in the series shared my experiences with worship music and hymns up to this point.

I have since listened to several songs by each of the artists, and I would like to share my impressions of this new-to-me genre in hopes to connect with anyone who is as curious about it as I was.

1. Hillsong United

2e53fb39858620e0ae421c57d605b485Hillsong United is global megachurch, Hillsong’s, resident worship band. The band has 13 current members, ranging from guitarists, keyboardists, and percussionists. Of the 13 band members, 5 are singers, though they are not called singers but,fittingly, worship leaders. Since 1998, the band has produced 19 albums.
Their most popular song on Spotify, with over 19 million plays, is titled “Oceans (Where my Feet May Fail)”. It was the band’s first radio single and held the top spot on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart for 26 weeks.

In terms of the lyrics, the song is about putting trust in God, even in the face of the unknown. The bridge, which is sung six times consecutively, reveals the singer’s unwavering faith that there is nothing to fear when following God’s calling. “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” Not only is there nothing to fear, but together, the trust and the challenge, the lyrics assert, will make the speaker’s faith stronger. Repeating the bridge 6 times might seem like too much to an average listener, making the song almost 9 minute long, the repetition serves to prove that the speaker’s trust and dedication.

The song, sung by worship leader Taya Smith, features soothing guitar, powerful drums, and repetitious tambourine strikes. I, however, actually prefer an acoustic version the band recorded for Relevant Magazine that I found on Youtube . It’s so calming that I listened to it for about 20 minutes on repeat while reading yesterday.’

2. Jesus Culture

Jesus Culture isBand-033 a 7-piece band that has released 7 albums in the last 7 years. They expression their purpose on their church’s website, as a band meant “to bring people into an encounter with God’s love through worship and to disciple them to transform society.” Each band member works to live a lifestyle of worship and hopes that the music will provide listeners with a unique experience of God’s work.

Their most played song on Spotify, with nearly 4 and a half million plays, is “Love Never Fails.” This song is one about God’s grace and mercy, expressing that God’s love is never-ending, even in the face of tribulations. The repeated bridge in this song proclaims, “You make all things work together for my good.” Jesus Culture seems to be focused on reminding listeners that God has a plan and that there is no need to fear. God and His love will take care of all.

My favorite aspect of this song is that it is a live recording, and so the crowd singing along in the background is audible. It is a reminder that worship is a community experience, meant to be shared. While it may be presented in a “concert-like” experience and sounds like a sing-along, it’s more than that. It’s the sharing and perpetuation of a message in the form of celebration and song.

3. Citipointe Live

CommissionThumbCitipointe Live  hails from Citipointe Church in Brisbaine, Australia, and hope to see God glorified across globe. They look to “influence the world for good and for God.” They are a 5-piece band who have produced 9 albums since 2004.

Their most played song on Spotify, with 285,878 plays, is titled “Commission My Soul,” from their 2009 album under the same name.

Commission My Soul” shares a strong evangelical message, though in the lyrics, the speaker addresses God as the other songs did. It seems to be working to give purpose to one’s own life by helping others. “My life a living sacrifice,spirit empower me to set the captives free. My life is an offering.”

I have to say, I actually prefer the lesser played song, “On Top of the World,” which seems more similar to the other band’s works, declaring the greatness of God’s love with a strong upbeat rhythm, community singing, and lots of clapping from worship participants.

Final Thoughts

I found myself enjoying the worship music much more than I ever thought I would when I first starting hearing of the genre.  Maybe it was the comfort of guitars and drums.  Maybe it was the fact that It’s not overtly religious on the instrumental side; it’s very different from the single organ used for accompaniment in my church. It’s soothing and relatable while sharing valuable messages. At risk of sounding like a cliche, I felt at peace both physically and mentally while listening.

I’m now beginning to wonder, because it is so different, modern, and relatable, whether or not the intentions are both to praise God and make worshipping a more engaging experience than, say, that of the very tradition-focused Catholic mass. This is not to say that this would be a bad thing, but because many of the bands share similar goals about creating experiences between God and worshippers or listeners, it definitely seems like developing a new way of connecting is important.

Will it be something I listen to regularly as a soundtrack while I work? Probably not. I don’t think I’m around it often enough to reap the benefits of the community experience in which it seems so deeply rooted. I have, however, saved certain songs, especially Oceans (Where My Feet May Fail), for when the spirit moves me.

True Life: I Don’t Sing at Church

Sister ActNuns, choreography, pop renditions of hymns: we’ve all seen the iconic movie Sister Act, a film that injected a declining California Catholic church with the fun of Vegas-style entertainment. Maybe if Whoopi Goldberg had been my music teacher, the title of this post would have been different.

About a month ago, my family went to mass together for the first time in years. We sat in the pew, and I took one of the Breaking Bread 2015 hymnals from the shelf in front of me. I scoped out the board of hymnal number and bookmarked the page of each song that we’d hear during the service that day.

After each song was announced, the lone singer across the church rose and the organist pounded the keys to begin. Using the book as a guide, I sang along. And, allow me to clarify: by sing, I mean mouth the words practically under my breath. To be absolute, I never sing at church. It requires a level of confidence I just have never been able to muster. I glanced around at the surrounding pew occupants. I was in similar company. Everyone’s mouth was moving, but I didn’t hear any notes. No one was responding with the Responsorial Psalm.Sister Act 2

Not until the Gospel acclamation, when I heard someone behind me belting the words, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluiaaaa.”

Curiosity got me, and I turned around in search of the powerful voice.

That voice was small but mighty. The person behind it was young, probably no more than 8 years old. He held no hymnal; he used his hands for emphasis. He seemed to be moving because he was so moved. His mom, who must have noticed me looking, put her arm across his shoulders and smiled at me. I panicked. Did she think I was judging him? I didn’t want to give the wrong impression, so I made sure to smile back before I turned around again.

I wish I could say I was so inspired that I sang the next hymn aloud, but I did not. I had heard a powerful voice, but it wasn’t my own. I wasn’t yet moved to sing.

Then, over the weekend, blogger weallseekhope’s post about worship popped up in my reader as though to give me some musical education. I’d heard the word used as a verb, but now it was being used as a noun. Jasmine equated worship with music. She talked about a worship team, and I became curious again.Was my church the only church of voiceless singers (I mean mouth-ers)? Were there more people as passionate about singing for God as the little boy who sat behind me last month? She informed me of the following:

…we do worship during church service, usually before the sermon, to prepare everyone’s heart to listen and receive the message.

Color me intrigued. It appears music in church can more than the transitional segue for mass than I have always classified it as.

She also recommended that if I wanted to see first hand what she meant by worship that I check out bands such as Hillsong United, Citipointe, Jesus Culture, and solo artists like Kari Jobe.

This confession, then, is the first in a series of posts about music and religion. My next will share my impressions of the recommended bands and artists. If you have another that you think I absolutely must check out, please leave a name or link in the comment section!

And, of course, I can’t end a post that opened with Sister Act without a grand finale. What have you sung for Him lately?