Friday, February 29, 2008

Footnote on Sara Groves

Thanks for all the great comments on my previous post on Sara Groves' music. Here are a couple of highlights:

From Linda: what am I doing for Jesus? I only get one life ... we all have a specific purpose ... what if I miss mine? Or have I missed something already? This is all causing much introspection and re-evaluation of where I am headed and what I am being called to do ...

From Beth: I am speechless. I heard the song on the radio this morning and the interview with Sarah, but the faces of those children in the video are what captured me. In 2006 my husband and I adopted three siblings, through the state. I can see their faces and their pain in the faces of those children. Makes me want to go to Rwanda and bring home 10 more.

From Anonymous: I am going through a heart-wrenching struggle with an upcoming divorce and the hurt and anger that I feel has been overshadowing my hope that the Lord can use this to make me stronger and allow me to minister to others. Thank you for bringing out the meaning of this song for me.

These moving comments are a pretty good illustration of why I wanted to share Sara's record in the first place. So, here are a couple of extras links for you:

- Hear more Sara Groves on mySpace music.
- Listen to this blog-exclusive excerpt from our radio interview. (Sara talks about "spiritual buffalos.")
- Link to our audio highlights from The Morning Cruise.
- Buy the CD or DVD, Tell Me What You Know. Buy the record - you can't experience the whole thing with a download.

Last note: Other than "I Saw What I Saw," my favorite songs from Tell Me What You Know will probably never be heard on radio (that's just the nature of the beast):

Track 6 - "Honesty"
Track 7 - "Abstraction"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stopped by a Song

In the moments I get to be alone with my thoughts (which are few), I've been brooding over whether to share my impressions of the Bike Ride for the Homeless, post some recent lessons from Isaiah 58, or compose a short essay comparing Philip Pullman's and Mary Shelly's concepts of the zombie and their implications toward an analysis of the soul. (Brace yourself, it's coming.) Too little time for any of these lately.

Then I got stopped in my tracks by a song.

It happens every now and then, usually unexpectedly. When you're in my profession, songs roll over your ears like dollars through a teller's fingers. They are currency - valuable, but familiar and objective. When a song reaches out from the speakers, through the ears, past the broca, into the heart and then back up to the lachrymal glands, I've got to share the experience. In this case I was tracking through Sara Groves' latest CD, Tell Me What You Know. We're playing her song, "When the Saints," which is not getting a lot of airplay around the nation because you have to listen to more than just "the hook" to be grabbed by it. Our listeners allow us to mix in some meatier songs, so the song is doing quite well on our air. But it's another song, track 8, that I'm gushing about.

"I Saw What I Saw" was inspired by Sara's work with the International Justice Mission and a recent trip to Rwanda. Unlike previous quick forays into disaster relief and social justice, Sara says that on her Rwandan mission, she realized how much we miss knowing Christ until we know him in his suffering. We come to know Jesus this way by entering into the suffering of the poor and oppressed. A major theme in the Christian life, we hear little about redemptive suffering in the context of comfortable American evangelicalism.

Sara's song grabbed me, reached my soul, wrung me out. I thought of going to India just after the 2004 Tsunami: walking the beach in Muttom, seeing the photograph in the foyer of a wife and mother who were silently swept away, as a grieving husband invited us into his tiny house; surveying the rubble, reading the pain on the faces of the villagers who were skeptical of our being there. I wondered if my two trips to the southern tip were the "quick hit" type of mission, or if in my heart I really entered into their suffering. I think it's a bit of both. "I Saw What I Saw" took me there and stood me before my Lord with empty hands.

Everything about this song penetrates the hard shell of familiarity: the simple, plaintive chord structure led by Sara on piano, the always-perfectly complementary countermelody of John Catchings' cello, and the deliberate, falling melody over marked rhythms and pedal tones, balancing a tense, stepwise, upward movement in the chorus, a setting for these hope-filled lyrics:

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what I am afraid

and what I know of love, and what I
know of god

If I say anymore, I'll just ruin the song. You have to watch the video. Oh, and I'll be talking to Sara next week for the show. Make sure you listen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How Great is Our God

Maybe you expected it; I didn't. For me, the Chris Tomlin shows were as good as a revival service (real, transformative revival, not blubbering blasts of hot air). I stood in the back of the Manatee Convention Center with my two sons and lifted my voice and hands as high as they could go, which for a middle-aged Presbyterian isn't far. But that doesn't matter: it was enough to embarass my sons and help me connect with God in genuine worship that humbled my heart before a holy God.

Tomlin's songs have even more weight in concert than in recordings. I suspect Chris's passion to share his songs with the church, along with the intentional "vertical" focus of the event have something to do with the potency of the experience. But there is more. I maintain that the power and efficacy of Chris Tomlin's music is directly related to its theological underpinnings.

Today in our Joy FM staff meeting, we watched a DVD of Louie Giglio speaking in Atlanta in the How Great is Our God tour. His message was not just exciting because of the passion of his delivery, not just compelling by the detail of the macroscopic and microscopic scientific detail he uses to illustrate the greatness of God. Louie's words resonate the voices of dead giants, like Spurgeon, Watts, Augustine, Paul and thus the voice of God Himself (if not the Vox Dei, at least the Verbum Dei for those who miss the Latin!). In other words, with the precision of a surgeon, Louie Giglio cut away the thin, weak, dependent, indulgent god of American evangelicalism and in that idol's place enthroned the Most High God, Starbreather and Sinbearer. The message theme was tuned to Psalm 33, with Psalm 139, Isaiah 40 and Colossians 1 harmonizing:

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:17-20

This is what I call "Big-God theology." It's sadly lacking in the experience of most contemporary Christians. For us, when the message ended the entire room was speechless. Words are flimsy against a weight they cannot hold: so the greatness of our God over against our infinitesimal humanity. We eventually groped to pray, and our prayer was very Christ-centered. It had to be. Our only hope before an immense and holy God is His own salvation, given in Christ, received and stood-upon in faith by those who claim his Name. He holds together our frail frame (literally - watch the DVD) and keeps us from disintegrating before His Father, who is superlative in holiness (Isaiah 6).

All I'm trying to say is that THIS is the theology behind songs like "Indescribable," "How Great is Our God," "His Grace is Enough," and "God of This City." And this theological undercurrent provides streams of inspiration for Chris Tomlin's songs.

Even though our time with Chris behind the microphone was a blast (click to listen), he may be the one artist with whom I have personally connected more on stage than in person. That's because we are both (we, the audience and the artist) connecting with One whose presence engulfs us and circumscribes our experience, shifting our perspective and potentially changing us from the inside out.