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?

Advertisements

Weekly Worship Thought – Sing a New Church

We sang a text for the first time in worship on Sunday. “Sing a New Church” is written by Delores Dufner, OSB and sung to the tune NETTLETON (Come Thou Fount). I found the comments section on the previously linked page interesting, as well as this post, “Bad Poetry, Bad Theology.” It seems that some Roman Catholics have a problem with the lyrics in this song.

From what I can gather, the problematic text is the refrain,

“Let us bring the gifts that differ,
and in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.”

I can appreciate the theological hesitation. And I think it is always beneficial and good to discern the texts we sing in worship. It is not a trivial thing to pastorally care for the sung theology of a local church. It seems that the primary hang up is the idea that the church can sing itself into being.

From a Lutheran perspective, I can understand the objection. The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith” (Small Catechism). There is no church, and no church can be sung into existence, unless it is the Holy Spirit singing.

l66co3n4gxu-andy-leePerhaps “new” is the most problematic word. I understand the argument that there is only one church. Perhaps “sing a renewed church into being,” better captures the idea in a less heretical way. A new church is a renewed church, which is another way of saying reformation. And certainly the work of continual reformation in the church is performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is not to say that we, God’s people, don’t have a part in the reformation of the church.

It is the prayerful labors of God’s people, centered in word, meal, and baptism, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that make God’s church renewed. I don’t think the church can enter renewal and reformation through passively willing it. I definitely think that singing has something to do with how the church becomes renewed and reformed.

What do you think? Are the lyrics orthodox or heresy?

Weekly Worship Thought – Pillar of Cloud

photo-1446857985102-74988d169c8cLast week I started a reflection on the text from the hymn “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” The text was written by William Williams in the 18th century (read more about him here). The second stanza reads, “Open now the crystal fountain where the healing waters flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” The biblical imagery is stark. The fire and cloudy pillar refer to the symbolic objects that God used to lead Israel in their exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 13). You might not realize it, but the Paschal candle in our sanctuary (the tall, white candle with the cross on it, near the baptismal font) is designed to recall this biblical image. It is a tall, white pillar, like the cloud that led Israel. Just as the cloudy pillar symbolized God leading Israel into their liberation from Egypt, so does the Paschal candle stand at the baptismal font, reminding us of God’s endless provision for our freedom in Christ.

Weekly Worship Thought – Baptism

463245793Baptism is one of the rites that has been handed down to us through the centuries of Christian faith. In baptism we are connected to the countless stories throughout the Bible of people transitioning into newness of life: Noah and his family surviving the flood, the Israelites fleeing captivity through the Red Sea, and later crossing the Jordan River into the promised land. The imagery of baptism points us to death and resurrection. We go under the waters, dark and mysterious like the tomb, and rise from the experience dripping with a new life. Our tradition at Faith is to give people a new, white blanket and wrap them with it after their baptism. This symbolically shows that we are now “clothed in Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)

Hold Our Gifts Loosely

HandI try my best not to be snarky on Facebook. Honestly, I do. But sometimes I’m caught on an off day and my inner snark-beast is awakened. By the way, you can always tell when I’m joking or having fun because I’ll add a winking smiley face with my comment. 😉

So a colleague of mine posted this on their Facebook page several weeks ago:

“Rest easy my friends, to think that the Holy Spirit would pour out gifts on the church only to steal them back a few decades later is just plain ridiculous. Even half decent people don’t work like that, why would we even consider that God would?”

I had a sort of immediate, knee-jerk reaction to this post. To clarify, the post was referring to spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts to us such as artistry, teaching, administration, hospitality, and discernment (see Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4). These would be different than the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc., Galatians 5:22-23) that are produced in us through the Holy Spirit. It goes without saying that God gives us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). Obviously God’s spiritual gifts are good for us and are ultimately good for the body of Christ.

I have two difficulties with this thought. One, that we assume to know what God will and will not do. Two, that instead we should hold our gifts loosely.

First, only God is God. We are not. God can do whatever God wants. To assume that we know what God will and will not do is fundamentally troublesome. I would confess a reluctance to say I have a certain understanding about how God works. We can know what God will do as much as we can know what a consuming flame or torrential wind will do. There is an untempered quality to God. This is the major point of the book of Job in the Old Testament (one of my favorites). Job loses every good gift God had ever given him. Job questions God’s motives and why bad things are allowed to happen to good people. God’s response? “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, since you are so well-informed!” (Job 38:4) God lets his own snark fly with a, “Who do you think you are?” (my translation)

Then we have stories that Jesus told like the parable of the talents that prepare us for how the economy of the kingdom of heaven works. Matthew 25:29: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The one who hid his gift had it taken away.

Second, we should hold our gifts loosely. A quote from Nancy Beach:

An_Hour_On_Sunday_Zondervan_large“We aim to ‘hold our gifts loosely.’ Such an attitude grows out of a deep awareness that I did not choose my gifts, and they really don’t belong to me. A gracious heavenly Father distributed the gifts, ‘just as he determines’ (1 Corinthians 12), and intends for us to use these gifts to build up the church. My gifts – and yours – actually belong to the local church. As we learn to hold our gifts more loosely, we become far more open to feedback that helps us not only improve our skills and contribute more effectively but also grow closer to one another and advance Christ’s cause. It’s not all about me; it’s all about the church!” (An Hour On Sunday, Zondervan, 2004, p. 112)

All Are Saints

 

All Saints’ Day is a widely celebrated event in the Christian world. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints. It is also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas (from which we get the word “Halloween,” from “All Hallows Eve”). All Saints is celebrated on November 1 by parts of Western Christianity, and observed the first Sunday thereafter in our church. It is a day to honor all the saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us in the faith.

Among the people of God, those who possess extraordinary faith have always been looked upon highly. From faith-confessing martyrs in the first century to compassion-filled servants in the twentieth century, it would seem that some believers have been given an extra portion of Christ-like strength and humility. But how does the Bible define the saints? The term often used by Paul in the New Testament to identify the church is hagioi. This term indicates separation for and dedication to God.  It is not, however, the amazing accomplishments of one’s devotion that allows entrance into sainthood. It is the singular redemption obtained through faith in Jesus Christ that creates saints out of all believers. All believers, great and small, are saints.

When Paul used the word “saint” in his writings (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1) it was rarely used to describe individuals. It is primarily used as a picture of the elect people of God who are sanctified and redeemed in Christ.  There is also confusion as to the final destination of the saints after this earthly life. Do some experience the fullness of God’s presence while lesser ones are left out? Roman Catholic dogma and a blend of other religions have left some believing in a hierarchy of saintliness in heaven. The biblical account leads us to believe otherwise. All God’s people, or saints, are assured of a restful paradise until the renewal of all creation. Joining God in paradise is not the final destiny for the saints – the bodily resurrection is our essential hope in eternity.

There are also several passages that clarify that it is not personal accomplishment that achieves sainthood. The dying criminal hanging on the cross near Jesus confessed faith in him (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus promised him entrance into paradise that very day. Similarly, the church in Corinth is addressed as the sanctified in Christ who are called to be saints (1 Corinthians 1:2). From the content of Paul’s letters we see Corinth was laden with immorality and factions. However, these spiritual troubles do not preclude the church from being a collection of the saints of God. The understated truth is that sainthood is less about achieving personal piety and more about simple faith in the redeeming work and power of Jesus. It is enough to be found in Christ and covered by his grace.

A saint is not a higher-order Christian. Through baptism, we have joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, making us saints now and saints to be in paradise. Our goal on earth is to join with Christ in the recreation of the world now, which anticipates the ultimate recreation of heaven and earth and the bodily resurrection of Christ’s faithful followers.

Philosophy of Worship, part 4


Philosophy of Worship4. Worship should employ a wide range of styles.

There are as many styles of worship as there are tastes of music. Since we are the church [in a catholic sense – the universal church] we should use as many styles of music/art that we can. Of course this is all relative to the demographic of each congregation. If a congregation is contextually made up of X people [X = African, Korean, Native American, gangstas, cowboys, etc.] and serves a community that is primarily made up of X people, then X style of music/art should be used. Context is key.

But we are still a universal body of Believers. And something/sometime in worship should speak to and prepare the worshiper for that day when all tongues will be united in one song. What will the style of the song be? What language will it be in? We don’t really know [and perhaps it doesn’t matter], but we should be preparing ourselves for just about anything as we approach that day.

The church is not only made up of our brothers and sisters across the globe, but also across time. We need to be historically connected with our brothers and sisters who served God to insure that the message of Christ made it to us. We can do this by singing the songs they wrote and preserving the art they produced in service to God.

In my opinion this is one of the reasons why the church is in such sad shape today [from a modern/American perspective]. Good chunks of the church have failed to recognize and celebrate their past. Sacred liturgies, prayers, songs, rituals, calendars/seasons, creeds, etc. have been abandoned. We have dissected ourselves from the root from which we grew. We can learn something from those who walked before us. They worshiped the same God we do, they confessed the same faith, and they struggled the same struggles we do. And their songs/art are expressions of what they felt walking on the same path we find ourselves walking on.

Philosophy of Worship, part 3


Philosophy of Worship3. Worship should seek diversity and encourage it.

God is diverse in taste. God loves spicy Latin worship. God loves chicken fried Southern worship. God loves fancy-shmancy upper class worship. And the diversity represented in the world also represents the diversity of worship styles and forms. Biblical case for God’s love of a diversity of styles of worship:

Acts 2:1-12

The majority of participants in the Pentecost experience could have communicated in and understood Greek. But, God wanted them to hear the words in their own language. God wants to speak and communicate with us in our most native and heart-felt tongues. God wants us not only to hear and understand, but to feel and know. And I think just as God spoke through them in a variety of languages, God desires to be spoken to and worshiped through a variety of languages both verbally and musically/stylisticly.

Don’t forget though that worship is not dependent on style. We should be able to reach a place of authentic worship despite the style of music/form being used. If you say that you can’t worship without a certain style/form, then you’re really confessing to the weakest type of spirituality…one that is completely limited to our own desires.

A diversity of styles should be encouraged in worship in order to teach people to adapt in worship. What if we were all forced to worship in a culture other than our own? Would you be lost spiritually, not able to find a way to connect with God? Or would you be able to adapt?

Philosophy of Worship, part 2


Philosophy of Worship2. Worship should seek to glorify God – not us.

Worship that glorifies us sounds like this:

  • The worship was ok today, but I wasn’t really into that one song.
  • What was up with that guitar today, it was way too much.
  • The message was good, but the pastor’s shirt wasn’t really workin for him.
  • The style of the music just wasn’t what I like, I wish they did more _______ [your prefered style].

Worship that seeks to glorify God gets past all the trappings of our human nature. Instead of centering on what the worship does for us, we think about what we offer to God. When the main concern of services/gatherings of worship is “what did I get out of it?” or “what did I like about it?” we become the focus of our worship. The point of the service is to please ME.

Worship that seeks to glorify God, seeks to please God. God’s pleasure is the primary focus of the worshiper. God’s story is the primary place of attention. The point of the worship experience isn’t for me to get fed/hyped/filled/pleased. The point of the worship experience is for God to receive a sacrifice that is pleasing. What pleases God?

Some practical steps toward seeking to glorify God in your worship:

  • spend time in prayer before entering any worship experience…pray for the eyes of your heart only to be set upon God
  • don’t sing the words to every song in corporate worship…read/reflect/pray through what you’re actually saying to/about God
  • frequently worship God in styles of music/liturgy that you’re not familiar with…the less one-dimensional we are, the better

Philosophy of Worship, part 1

Philosophy of WorshipWhen I was in seminary, I took a course called “Philosophy of Worship.” The course project was to compose a document that described my personal philosophy of what worship is and what it’s for. It’s one thing to write such a thing for class – it’s a totally different thing to make decisions, pick music, plan services, teach volunteers, and serve a church while following that philosophy. However, I think I stick to what I believe about worship in the majority of my actions.

I wanted to share some of my core convictions about worship in order to stimulate thought and discussion. These convictions in no way sum up my philosophy of worship, but are just learnings and thoughts I’ve collected along the way. And I in no way have it all figured out…

1. Worship is for God – not for us.

Worship is essentially an offering/sacrifice. And for something to be offered/sacrificed, it has to be given to someone else wholly [without holding any back]. So when I worship, everything becomes God’s – my heart, my life, my song, my thoughts, my will…etc. It is all for God, not for me.

The problem is when we get too wrapped up in what worship does for us. I don’t deny that we get stuff out of worship – encouragement, fellowship, peace, joy, Spirit-filled…etc. It’s even clear in the first Testament that God rewards the faithfulness of worshipers. Genesis 22…Abraham got something out of his worship…a ram to take the place of Isaac. Even a portion of some sacrificed animals was kept and prepared as a celebration for the family. But our tendency is to get more wound up over the blessings of worship than the One we worship. We get more overjoyed by grace, rather than the God that provides it.

So worship takes the spotlight off us. God is the central character in the drama of worship. And the sacrifice of worship is for God, not for us. Any blessings we receive from worshiping God are purely a bi-product of the goodness of God. We shouldn’t worship God to get something out of it. We should worship God because God is worthy to receive glory, honor, riches, wisdom, power, strength…etc.