The Gospel According to Kesha (Part 1)

Prologue

Anyone that knows me will find my willingness to blog about mainstream popular music curious. If auto-tune is being used to the point of it sounding like an effect then I am typically not a fan. My musical tastes have not changed much since the 90s. So let me begin with the story of how I came to discover Kesha’s latest album.

Shortly after “Rainbow” was released, Kate heard about it and played the song “Praying” while we were driving in the car one day. I listened to it with my musically analytical brain and found it interesting (“Huh, this pop song is about prayer and she jumps up an octave. Interesting.”) Fast forward a few months and I learn that Ben Folds is a producer on the album. Now I’m intrigued. Ben Folds is one of my favorite artists and I’ve seen him with the Houston Symphony the last two times he came to town. So, I listen to the whole album to hear for myself what is going on.

The album has grown on me. This is the first of three posts about the spiritual themes I picked up on in three consecutive tracks from Rainbow: Hymn, Praying, and Learn to Let Go.

Even the stars and the moon don’t shine quite like we do
Dreamers searchin’ for the truth
Go on, read about us in the news
Pretty reckless, pretty wild
Talking s*** and we’ll just smile
Don’t you see these f***in’ crowns?
If you know what I mean, you on the team

This is a hymn for the hymnless, kids with no religion

Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing
Flying down the highway, backseat of the Hyundai
Pull it to the front, let it run, we don’t valet
Sorry if you’re starstruck, blame it on the stardust
I know that I’m perfect, even though I’m f***ed up
Hymn for the hymnless, don’t need no forgiveness
‘Cause if there’s a heaven, don’t care if we get in
This is a hymn, hymn, hymn for how we live, live, live
This is a hymn, hymn, hymn for how we live, for how we live

After all we’ve been through, no, we won’t stand and salute
So we just ride, we just cruise, livin’ like there’s nothing left to lose
If we die before we wake, who we are is no mistake
This is just the way we’re made
You know what I mean, you on the team

This is a hymn for the hymnless, kids with no religion
Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing
Flying down the highway, backseat of the Hyundai
Pull it to the front, let it run, we don’t valet
Sorry if you’re starstruck, blame it on the stardust
I know that I’m perfect, even though I’m f***ed up
Hymn for the hymnless, don’t need no forgiveness
‘Cause if there’s a heaven, don’t care if we get in
This is a hymn, hymn, hymn for how we live, live, live
This is a hymn, hymn, hymn for how we live, for how we live

This is a hymn for the hymnless, kids with no religion

Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing
Flying down the highway, yeah, we do it our way
High as outer space, we don’t hear what the rest say
Sorry if you’re starstruck, blame it on the stardust
I know that I’m perfect, even though I’m f***ed up
Hymn for the hymnless, don’t need no forgiveness
‘Cause if there’s a heaven, don’t care if we get in
This is a hymn, hymn, hymn for how we live, live, live
This is a hymn, hymn, hymn for how we live, for how we live

Songwriters: Cara Salimando / Eric Frederic / Jonny Price / Kesha Sebert / Pebe Sebert

Hymn lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

(Photo by AugeeKim, Wikimedia Commons)

Lyrical Analysis

News flash: Millenials don’t trust the church. There are lots of reasons: Millenials don’t feel heard or appreciated, their culture receives the blame for the world’s problems, and they exhibit a general disdain for institutions. Their perception is that church is more filled with empty words that action (HT: RecklesslyAlive.com). From the perspective of this generation we get these words: “a hymn for the hymnless.”

But why a hymn? A hymn is specifically a song of praise or adoration typically directed toward a deity. Why is this a hymn? What makes it for the hymnless? Saying the song is for the hymnless implies that it is for the disenfranchised and the outcast. In the gospels, Jesus was typically the champion of the hymnless. Jesus came to defend those who were marginalized and on the edges of society. He restored hope to the widows, cleansed lepers, and ate with sinners. Jesus was the hymn for the hymnless.

Kesha explains, “So when I sing the words to this song, I do so as a reminder to myself as much as anyone that we can’t let the haters and the negativity win. We are all ‘dreamers searching for the truth,’ and we know the unexplainable universal goodness in people — their innate love and light and compassion for one another — will bring us together to do great things.”

There is also a thread of simul justus et peccator in these lyrics. “I know that I’m perfect, even though I’m f***ed up.” Our mistakes and flaws don’t define us. We are saintly sinners and sinful saints.

“Yeah, we keep on sinning. Don’t need no forgiveness. ‘Cause if there’s a heaven, don’t care if we get in.” This lyric reveals how disenfranchised popular culture has become with the Christian church (especially the evangelical wing). Whatever carrot the church is dangling in front of the culture is meaningless – even “heaven” (the meaning of salvation in evangelical Christianity being wrapped up in avoiding eternal damnation). Even if the true idea about heaven and salvation is more to do with connection, wholeness, and healing from God, the church has lost the ability to convey that message due to the prevailing cultural perception.

My theory is that in the context of North American Christianity the church has lost the substantive content of its spirituality and the medium has become the message to the surrounding culture. In the popular culture, a hymn is no longer a song of praise used to unite an assembly in lifting their voice in adoration. Hymns, sin, forgiveness, and heaven are now metaphors used by pop songs. The spiritual reality beneath them is vanishing. How will the church embrace the hymnless today?

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Weekly Worship Thought – The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

(this was tweeted by Shane Claiborne yesterday)

THE IMMIGRANT APOSTLES’ CREED
by Rev. Jose Luis Casal

I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.

Weekly Worship Thought – Counter-cultural Worship

You probably see the same things on social media that I see. Ever increasingly, when it comes time to compose the prayers of intercession for weekly worship, all I have to do is open Facebook to see what we should be lifting up in prayer. Disturbing posts like this have become all too common in my feed:

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-12-46-31-pm

According to Nairobi, one thing worship does is stand against the prevailing attitudes and assumptions of the culture when they don’t align with Jesus’ gospel.

14237698_10154491382356804_4811150322787948244_n“Worship calls us to alternative visions, questioning and critiquing culture. Praising God may be at odds with what the surrounding culture deems worthy of praise. Worship needs to challenge us to live into the freedom we receive in Christ, a freedom from all that defies God. The counter- cultural lens asks us to reflect upon what in worship does not look and sound like the cultures we take for granted.” (“Can We Talk?: Engaging Worship and Culture,” p. 3)

Worship at Faith this Sunday will be counter-cultural by having the assembly sing in 4 different languages (Shona, Arabic, Chinese, and English). Out of the 8 pieces of music that will be used in worship, only 1 was composed in the United States. The other 7 all come from different corners of the world.

God’s kingdom has no borders or official language, besides the language of love.

Weekly Worship Thought – Silence

mv5bmjy3otk0nja2nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntg3mjc2mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_I saw the film “Silence” last week. The new Martin Scorsese movie is getting a lot of buzz in the religious world. It raises many spiritual elements in a thought-provoking way: faith, doubt, iconography, apostasy, evangelism, and suffering to name a few.

I read the novel by Shusaku Endo (on which the movie is based) about five years ago. One of the most intriguing characters in the novel/movie is Kichijiro. He is the guide that the priests take back to Japan to show them the way. He ends up being the Judas-type character of the story. But the more I think about it, Kichijiro is like the church. As much as we whole-heartedly repent and turn to seek God, we just as earnestly jump back into our old ways. I’m reminded of the line from Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”

This film has stuck with me. Most movies I see don’t leave much of an impact, but I find myself still reflecting on this one. I recommend it if you get the chance. This is not a popcorn and soda type of movie though. It is sobering and very artistically done.

What’s on my iPod?

I am a musician. I have played music in one form or another for many years now. I have played or sung in orchestras, symphonic bands, youth choirs, brass ensembles, worship teams, jazz ensembles, and rock bands since I was in middle school. I like music so much, and I felt God’s calling to worship so strongly, that I have made serving the church through worship and music my career.

Sometimes I have to deal with music so much at the church that I don’t want to listen to music when I’m in the car or at home. I am currently not in one of those times. I’m in a place now where I’m listening to music as much as I can: in the car, in the shower, and at the office. I’m sort of falling in love with music again.

I believe that everyone has a musical heart-language. For most, the music from childhood or adolescence becomes “your” music. This music becomes forever engrained as the soundtrack of your life. Some people struggle to open their ears outside this musical box and don’t get why “kids these days” listen to what they do. Not me. I have pretty eclectic taste in music, but my heart-language will forever be 90s era grunge rock (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, etc.)

Since I’m on a music kick these days, I thought I’d share some of the albums that I’m listening to the most these days.

Aja – Steely Dan

steely-dan-ajaMy friends were hip to Steely Dan before I was. It didn’t take much to convince me of their greatness. They have some of the smoothest music and greatest guitar playing ever recorded. Their music is hard to classify, although I call it progressive rock. It has hints of jazz, funk, and rock. This album from 1977 still sounds relevant today. Also, I was recently at the Cajun Creamery in New Orleans when I saw guitarist Walter Becker ordering ice cream. I was so star struck I ordered two of the same flavor in my four scoop sampler.

Southeastern – Jason Isbell

1035x1035-120413-jason-isbel-1800-1386174327Holy moly this guy can write songs. This is the fourth studio album by American singer-songwriter Jason Isbell released in 2013. He gets classified in the alternative country genre. His voice has a southern drawl that I find to be so familiar. He sounds like people I grew up with. His lyrics are gritty, not shying away from cancer and child abuse as topics. You can tell when someone is singing something they know from personal experience. If you like twang without the pretentiousness, you’ll like this.

A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

xlda790-radioheadRadiohead is one of my favorite bands – perhaps the greatest British band of all time (up there with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin for sure). It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand what singer Thom Yorke is saying. This is their latest album that released this year. While writing this article I discovered my amazing wife Kate ordered me this album on vinyl as a surprise! To promote this album Radiohead deleted all content from their website and social media accounts. Go figure. This album features strings and choral vocals arranged by band member Jonny Greenwood and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Greenwood composed the soundtracks for the Paul Thomas Anderson films “There Will Be Blood” and “Inherent Vice.”

Weekly Worship Thought – Worship and Culture

NAIROBI STATEMENTOne of the projects I’m currently working on is a fresh, practical application of the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture. If you’re not familiar with this document from the Lutheran World Federation, you can find it here. This statement has 4 main ideas:
  1. Worship is transcultural.Certain elements of Christian worship transcend all cultures, binding us together across time and place. By lifting up the transcultural elements of our worship, we can keep the holy things central in our assemblies. Here are some examples of things that transcend all cultures in worship:
  • Scripture is read.
  • The waters of Holy Baptism wash us.
  • The meal of Holy Communion is shared.
  1. Worship is contextual.Certain elements of Christian worship adapt to the context they are in. The basic idea behind being contextual in worship is using what you’ve got where you are. In other words, the worship of a big cathedral church in a metropolitan area need not look the same as the worship of a small church in rural Montana. It is OK that they do not look, sound, or feel the same. Here are some examples of how worship can adapt to different contexts:
  • There is no single or preferred sacred language. The language of the local people is always appropriate in worship.
  • Music is reflective of the surrounding culture.
  • Local customs can be adapted for use in worship (think “Go Texan” Sunday).
  1. Worship is countercultural.Praising God may be at odds with what the surrounding culture deems worthy of praise. Some parts of our worship will stand in defiance to the world. Here are some examples of how worship can meet opposition in the surrounding culture:
  • Jesus welcomes all with open arms, where the surrounding culture may seek to reject those who don’t fit.
  • God speaks in silence, where the surrounding culture prefers noise and hurry.
  • Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way.
  1. Worship is cross-cultural. The church is gathered into one from many times and places. Throughout scripture God is encountered in the “other.” Our worship should give us chances to experience the strange/stranger and find God’s presence in everyone. Here are some examples of how worship can cross over cultures:
  • We can imagine more of God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own.
  • We can hear the gospel in cultural stories besides our own.
  • We can exercise humility and sacrifice by singing the songs of cultures besides our own.

Stay tuned for more as I continue to think about this…

There Are Two Marriages

2013-04-07 06.21.28These are my friends, Meredith and Anja. I officiated their marriage ceremony on Saturday, April 6, 2013.

In Texas.

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in love.

I am grateful for the words of Tony Jones, from whom I borrowed for my introductory remarks during the ceremony:

Actually, there are two marriages in America.

On the one hand, there’s legal marriage.  It’s sanctioned by the state, and it’s available to any two adults who desire to enter into a legally binding contract with one another (some states limit this contractual opportunity to opposite-gendered persons).  Legal marriage affords the married couple as many as 515 benefits that are not afforded to non-married persons, and it is officially incentivized by our government.  And legal marriage has nothing to do with sexual intimacy.

On the other hand, there’s sacramental marriage, which is defined by communities of faith.  This marriage accrues neither governmental benefits nor tax incentives.  However, sexual intimacy is of great interest to this marriage, since the sacred texts of all religions have lots to say about sex.  Sacramental marriage is about what God wants — and that is, of course, a matter of interpretation and debate among Christians.  Nevertheless, it is sacred in a way that legal marriage is not and, as such, it is the more important version of marriage.