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I Can Only Imagine

By | Posted at 12:08

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine / When that day comes / And I find myself / Standing in the Son
I can only imagine / When all I will do / Is forever / Forever worship You
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine / What it will be like / When I walk / By your side

— MercyMe, I Can Only Imagine

That's a powerful song — one of my favorites. I noticed the entirety of it is now online at www.mercymelive.com, an official part of MercyMe's web site. Rather than using RealMedia or Windows Media, MercyMe was nice enough to use Streaming MP3, so even GNU/Linux users can enjoy it without any issues. Streaming MP3's are also downloadable, here's the address: www.inorecords.com/columbia/icanonlyimagine.mp3.

While you are at it, if you like the song, take a moment to request it on your favorite radio station per the instruction on the site I linked to. Apparently this song has somehow managed to start playing on secular stations — I think it is worth letting those stations know we appreciate it!

Standing Still

By | Posted at 18:31

Christians and Secular Music

By Tim Butler | Posted at 19:55

I've considered this debate a number of times. First on ChristianSource about a month or two ago, and just today I considered it again when Jake wrote about it. In my opinion, in our consideration of this issue we ought to judge the artist not on what they don't say but what they do say.

The artist might not mention the words “Jesus” or “God” every other breath, but do they advocate a Christian lifestyle? Do they avoid advocating sinful activities? Are the things they say in harmony with the Bible? I see no reason why a Christian band can't sing secular songs so long as this is the case.

In the discussion on ChristianSource, I brought up one of my favorite groups, Sixpence None the Richer. They are a group of Christians that created a mostly secular band. Not entirely mind you, even the name is derived from Christian thought — it's from C.S. Lewis' masterpiece, Mere Christianity. But at least for the most part, their songs are secular songs, songs about various problems and events in life. In that discussion, I wrote:
At the time when they hit the top of the charts in the late 90's with “Kiss Me,” they were attacked by many Christians for betraying their Christian
fan-base with pop music. As a Focus on the Family article noted at the time,
the song wasn't really un-Christian at all, it just wasn't a religious song.
Just like talking about Linux here on ChristianSource doesn't betray our
Christianity, talking about matters other than faith doesn't necessarily
betray an artist's Christianity. Other songs on the same album did have more
“noticeable” Christian tones, I might add.

In actuality, while Sixpence has a Christian fan-base, they have actually never aspired to be labeled a Christian band. They will readily admit to being Christian, however. Part of this, I think, is because we have boxed our artists in. We say “if you're a Christian artist and you sing about any non-Christian stuff, you're a traitor that used Christianity to make you money.” Thus, bands like Sixpence avoid the label even though it applies to them very much (and is placed on them by retailers and the like).

They've attracted Christians with songs like Breathe and Dizzy, that are very Christian. For example, here is part of Dizzy:
I'm like Peter crying crowing burning my ears still you come near, you take my hand
and place in my palm an eternal chance I give you myself
it's all that I have
broken and frail
I'm clay in your hands
and I'm spinning unconcealed
dizzy on this wheel
for you my love

It's really a touching song, as are many of their other ones, but many are secular, most notably their big hits Kiss Me, There She Goes, and Breathe Your Name. Since Kiss Me became popular in 1999, I've heard many people complain about how Sixpence was going secular. Never mind that several tracks on the CD had noticeably Christian lyrics (and less obvious paraphrases of Pauline letters). However, Sixpence has always had this mix of secular and “sacred” music — all the way back to their first CD.

This isn't an isolated incident either. Michael W. Smith often suffers similar attacks, for instance. Perhaps its out of fear that he will follow in the steps of the musician he formerly played under, Amy Grant, but I remember a few years back reading about how MWS was betraying Christians and going secular. I think people were upset about the few secular songs on Live the Life that actually made it on pop radio. Again, never mind that much of the music on the CD was Christian, MWS must be evil to do secular songs!

The problem is that Christianity isn't just about singing praises to God. That's very important, but Christians still deal with the rest of life. As long as we do, why shouldn't our artists sing about it too? Put another way, I might ask if we ought to consider the parts of the Bible that deal with the rest of life “non-holy.” I'm sure everyone would yell “blasphemy” if I suggested such. Yet, here we are saying Christian music that deals with secular, but not necessarily bad, things is somehow wrong?

It's time we stop putting artists in the box and consider them Christian not by the frequency of keywords but their testimony and the overall message of their music. Hopefully if the bagger at the grocery store says he is Christian we will accept that unless we see proof otherwise. Let's do the same for Christian artists.

Friday -- Oops! -- Saturday Five

By | Posted at 18:46

2. Who is your favorite artist/band now? That's a tough one. Right now, I guess I'd have to say Steven Curtis Chapman. However, that fluctuates with my mood. My favorite is always one of these four: Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, or Sixpence None the Richer/Leigh Nash.

3. What's your favorite song? Well, probably God is God by Steven Curtis Chapman. If you haven't heard that song, it is really worth getting Declaration, just for it. In short, it is SCC's reaction to the story told in Through the Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot. Very powerful and moving — especially when accompanied by the music video.
And the pain falls like a curtain On things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most
I just don't know And the questions without answer
Come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move
Afraid to fall
Oh, but fall I must,
On this truth that my life had been formed from the dust

God is God and I am not
I can only see a part
Of the picture He is painting
God is God and I am man
So I'll never understand it all
For only God is God

4. If you could play any instrument, what would it be? Not being musically inclined, any instrument would make me happy. :-) Seriously, probably the keyboard/piano. The electronic keyboard can pretty much sound like whatever you want, and the piano is just classy. Best of all, you get it all as a 2 for 1 value… call now! Otherwise, I'd shoot for the acoustical guitar.

5. If you could meet any musical icon (past or present), who would it be and why? Well, being a short sighted fellow, I'd probably want to meet Steven Curtis Chapman. He seems to be a really interesting person and I should think it would be nice to get to know him. If I'm willing to detach myself from my particular favorite music, I'd probably go for Handel or Mozart.

Take a look at my full music picks and playlist, here

Review Time!

By | Posted at 19:37

Many people know who Sixpence is, even if they don't know the name. Most likely, unless you lived in a cave during 1999, you have heard their hit “Kiss Me.” If so, you're probably wondering why I wouldn't be interested in a band with a bit more depth. Well, the thing that few people realize is that Kiss Me was simply a light intermission between a much more serious set of tracks on the CD it comes from. Hardly a light and airy band, Sixpence's speciality is deep, reflective lyrics.

Also, while the band is pretty much mainstream, there is a good reason why you'll find Divine Discontent at your local Christian bookstore — two of the songs offer direct praise and worship to God, and much of the rest of the CD is, at the least, full of Christian influence. That's one of the great things about SPNTR, from the beginning in 1993, they have blended secular and CCM into something like the musical representation of how Christians should be (that is, not light seperated into some little container, but a light to the world).

Anyway, enough introduction. The CD starts off with “Breathe Your Name,” which is the CD's light 'n airy track. I understand this has been playing on the radio for some time. At any rate, it's a catchy little tune that partly seems to be referring to human relationships and partly about faith in God. I guess it depends how you look at it.

Tonight isn't as light, but is still somewhat different from the band's normal style, it does however address one of the band's main topics: indecision. The next track, Down and Out of Time, is moody and attention getting, much more like classic Sixpence. I'm too tired right now to recall the official interpretation of its meaning though, so you'll just have to look that up.

The real highlights, however, are much later on the CD. Dizzy is great, just as it was at their concerts (none of which I've been to, but House of Blues had a full recording of one back in 1999). The lyrics look at comparison between the composer and King David, the apostles Thomas and Peter. Its a slow, melancholy tune that I didn't like at first, but now is one I really appreciate.

There is also some other great stuff, like Paralyzed, a much less slow paced song about a Journalist and his best friend who was killed in Kosovo. Apparently the story got picked up by Matt Slocum, the amazing person behind many of Sixpence's lyrics, not to mention the band's co-founder, and Leigh Nash, the other co-founder and vocalist, when they were being interviewed by the said journalist. He told them about his friend, and they felt lead to do a song about it.

Another highlight is “Melody of You,” a song Slocum describes as a modern day Psalm. It flows from one description of God to another in a very eloquent way. Lyrically, it might be the most impressive piece of work on the CD. Then there is “Tension is a Passing Note,” which is nearly as good… a part of it goes “But Tension is to be loved… when it is just a passing note to a beautiful, beautiful cord.” Based on the all too often experience of SPNTR of major tensions with their recording labels (among other things), it notes how tension can improve you. In fact, Nash and Slocum have said as much about their band in recent interviews.

The CD leaves us with “A Million Parachutes,” Matt's reflection during a snow storm (“parachutes”) of his friends that he was no longer in contact with. It's a great way to end a great CD, although we can only hope our “friends” at Sixpence don't stay out of contact for five years before the next CD.

Whatever the case, you really should give this CD a listen. While I think their self-titled 1997 release was probably a better album (I'll review it sometime soon), this one is still very impressive in its depth and blending of issues as wide ranging as record label troubles and God.

Jesus is Life, yeah, Oh oh oh oh!

By | Posted at 18:09
I just feel like doing as SCC did at the concert and saying “C'mon everyone - sing along - Jesus is life, yeah, oh, oh, oh!” And then there is this touching song based on Beyond the Gates of Splendor:
And the pain falls like a curtain On the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most
I just don't know
[…]
God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He's painting
God is God and I am man
So I'll never understand it all
For only God is God

C'mon everyone - “Wake the neighbors, get the word out/Come on…crank up the music…climb a mountain and shout/This is life we've been given made to be lived out/So la la la la live out loud/Live out loud, yeah.”

This might sound like a happy go lucky lyric, but I think it has a deep meaning. We need to live out loud. To make it clear we are God followers, and to worship God because God is God - he knows what's going on even when we don't. We need to have that magnificent obsession.

See I could write a whole meditation all based on the titles of these songs. :-) Seriously though, SCC uses his gift in music to tackle some very serious issues - and we should do the same when listening.

Nichole Nordeman

By | Posted at 18:36

The CD seems a bit Jewel-esque to me for some reason. I'm not exactly sure how, but it has some of the same lyrical qualities, IMO. Anyway, I really like this CD, and am anxious to get some time to sit back and listen through the whole thing again. The CD just flows together beautifully, and I was pleased to see the songs Nordeman did not sing at the concert were just as good as the ones she did. It also survived the fact that hearing the songs in a concert built up my expectations for the CD - yet I was not disappointed at all, infact I was thrilled with the CD.

Anyway, go get this CD. I highly recommend it. Nordeman's songs will definately go on my list of favorites.

La La La La Live out Loud...

By | Posted at 14:35

Probably most folks reading this are going to know who Steven Curtis Chapman is, but just in case you don't… He's one of the most popular CCM/Christian Rock artists out there, up in the ranks with Michael W. Smith (Smitty is probably better known since he has done some stuff outside of the Christian genre as well). Anyway, SCC is apparently also the award winningist (is that a word?) Christian artist, nabbing 40+ Dove awards and numerous Grammy's as well.

The concert started out with Nichole Nordman, who I had never heard of before I got the ticket for the event. I'm certainly glad I heard her though - she is extremely talented in both singing and songwriting. This was someone who truly fit well opening an SCC concert. I really liked her songs “Holy” (from the new CD “Woven & Spun”) and “Seasons,” in fact, I now have her newly released CD sitting on my desk waiting to be played.

Things just keep getting better. After about 30 minutes of music from Nordeman, Chapman came literally bouncing out onto the stage singing “Live Out Loud” from his Declaration cd. He went on for about 45 minutes or so, going through “Speechless” (one of my favorite songs of his), Fingerprints of God (which the band “helped” him sing), The Change, and some other great songs. Then he took a small break in the music and talked for a bit. He talked about God, and his family, and adoption - all kinds of stuff, all seasoned with a light touch of humor. SCC is an extremely good showman, and all of the pauses in the music were almost as enjoyable as the music itself.

He did a few more songs, and then there was an intermission half way through the concert. After the intermission, Chapman did some more songs from his new CD, and then did something really different. As part of a tie-in with the new movie Beyond the Gates of Splendor, he told the true story that movie is based on, with music from his new CD.

In short, the spectacular story is that of five young missionaries who venture down to the Amazon to try to make contact with the fierce Auca tribe in the 1950's. No one had ever made friendly contact with the tribe, but after dropping off gifts for a number of days, the band of missionaries successfully established contact. Unfortunately, it was short lived, and a day later radio messages stopped being broadcast by the team. A few days later a U.S. Air Force rescue team dispatched to locate them confirmed all of the missionaries dead - implailed with spears, their bodies tossed in the river or left on the beach. Amazingly, the story doesn't end there - one missionary's sister came down and started to learn the fierce tribe's language. Three years after the original slaughter, the tribe invited her to come talk to them about her message.

The result is nothing short of spectacular: the tribe that has a 60% homicide rate rejected “their bad path” and converted to Christianity or the “good path” as they call it. They renamed themselves “the people,” renounced their former ways, and set out to follow God's carvings (the Bible). And the missionary then remained there, living with the people until her death in 1994. In the mean time, her nephew (Steve Saint) was “adopted” by one of the tribesmen that killed his father, and he too became good friends with the tribe. Fast forward to 2002: Mincaye, the Indian, and Steve Saint (whose father Mincaye murdered) are on the road together with Chapman. After Chapman finished telling the story in song, Steve Saint comes out and talks for a little while, and then Mincaye himself comes out and gives his testimony (which Saint translates to English). Very powerful, and all wrapped up by a moving duet with Chapman singing in English and Mincaye in his native tongue.

Anyway, after that SCC sang a few more songs (including his older Great Adventure and the one he wrote a few weeks ago for the 9/11 rememberance service in NY) and wrapped up the concert with a reprise of Live Out Loud. Then, for the encore, Chapman did three or four more songs, including my favorite - “Dive.” What an amazing scene - thousands of Christians in an arena singing with Chapman about diving into river (God's Holy Spirit). Finally, after a quite ending, Chapman closed the concert with a prayer.

In all, it was WONDERFUL. Barring the fact that my ears rang from the loud music until the next morning, it was fantastic. SCC was great, and both him and Nordeman did a great job of keeping the focus on God. The added testimony of Mincaye added something amazing to the evening. To use the words Chapman said “[the presentation will] make you leave this place different.” It certainly did - seeing the amazing power of God in such a visable way. Certainly Saint had to overcome the fact that he couldn't see the big picture that God could, or as one of the songs put it:
God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He's painting
God is God and I am man
So I'll never understand it all
For only God is God

UPDATE (21 April 2012): I happened to stumble upon this set list for the concert I wrote about just under 10 years ago. Interesting.

SCC Concert

By | Posted at 18:27

Well, I'm a bit too tired to describe it in length tonight (stay tuned for the full details tomorrow), but I attended Steven Curtis Chapman's “Live Out Loud” concert tonight - and it was GREAT! Anyway, tune in at 11 for the scoop. :-)

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