Last year I blogged (here, here and here) about a need for worship songs that I could sing with integrity. Adam Walker Cleaveland blogged about this very same thing years and years ago, and then again more recently – inciting some controversy as to one of his choices. Let’s revisit some of Adam’s practical suggestions for composing fresh emerging church worship music:
- gender-inclusive language (esp. in our language for God)
- a shift from a I-YOU-me & God focus, and a refocusing on the community
- a passion for the biblical themes of social justice, peace and a desire to speak for the oppressed
- maybe just some more songs straight from scripture (or from saints and desert fathers), letting God’s work speak for itself, instead of pressing our own interpretation onto it, and onto the congregation that will sing the song
Jonny Baker is always blogging faithfully about alternatives to the “Contemporary Christian Music” worship scene on the one hand and inflexible traditionalism on the other – as does Dan Wilt. And a few years ago Brian McLaren penned on Open Letter to Worship Songwriters. You should read the whole thing, but I’m going to distill some of Brian’s practical suggestions, starting with biblical themes he’d like to see (re-) emphasized:
- Eschatological themes in their purest sense; focusing on God’s world-remaking work, wooing us poetically to see God’s New Covenant World through new eyes
- Songs of Mission, telling the story of Good News for the poor & broken
- Mining lyrical treasure from Church history, “from the Patristic period to the Celtic period to the Puritan period.”
- Songs celebrating God’s character and God’s role as Creator
- Songs of lament
- Mixing it up to have not just ‘songs’ at all, but “poetry, historic prayers, silence, meditative reading, etc.”
With this in mind, over the next few days I’m going to highlight worship artists who are producing quality worship for the Church in emergence. I’m not going to really be ‘reviewing’ the albums with the cool, dispassionate ear of someone seeking to evaluate a passive recorded-listening experience. Rather, I’ll be overviewing them for their lyrical content, ethos, and congregational ‘singability’ – how they might actually enrich our worshipping life together.That said, our first artist spotlight will be…
Zehnder: Going Up
No, silly heresy-hunters, ‘Zehnder’ is not some new emerging church meditation practice, it’s a last name – belonging to twins Tim and Tom Zehnder. Called “musicians, disciples and theologians – all in one” by their senior pastor at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, Zehnder produce original worship music on a regular basis for groups as varied as their local church, Yale’s Faith as a Way of Life program, and Bread for the World – I met the brothers Zehnder at a Hunger Justice Leaders training by Bread this summer in DC.
Zehnder’s sound is upbeat, pure Los Angeles – strings and harmony and multicultural instrumentation. Clearly it’s a couple of white guys, and yet they manage to incorporate Latin, Reggae and Soul sounds honestly. They sound impressive, and yet – I think this is a testimony to their humility and desire to produce music for the whole Church – it’s not intimidating. When listening, you think “My church could sing that.” Both in the technical sense (“We could pull that off”) and in the desire sense (“I’d like to sing that.”)
Zehnder draws from Scripture, African spirituals, traditional hymnody, and their real-life experiences. Some lyrical examples:
“And oh the grief, to say goodbye,
Sing out waiting thorugh labored sigh.
Swing white-hot fury to black despair,
Dare you to find your God in there!
I believe, help my unbelief. I believe, help my unbelief.”
– from I Believe, written in the aftermath of their father’s death in 2006.
The Nicodemus in me can’t believe how
The Nicodemus in me is too long in religious categories
The Nicodemus in me still runs to the rebel rabbi
In the middle of the night…”
– from Spirit Born, available as a free MP3 download here.
You can find out more info about Going Up here. Here’s a music video for Song of Peace, from one of their previous albums:
Calling emerging worship artists!