Confession: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always hated singing in church. Some say “hate” is a strong word. I’d say it’s probably not strong enough.
Being a pastor’s son, I was always in the children’s choir. I didn’t want to be exposed as a fraud, but I didn’t want to sing either. So one of my middle school buddies taught me that if you just mouthed the word “watermelon” over and over, it would look like you’re actually singing real words. I don’t know if that actually worked or not. It probably looked ridiculous (“why are those two kids in the back row saying ‘watermelon’ instead of singing?”) But I did it anyway and escaped having to learn the words and sing along.
About a year ago, my wife and I sat in our living room and cried.
We couldn’t afford to send our son to preschool. My wife had quit her job so she could stay home with the kids and finish up her degree. We were getting used to our new financial situation and we crunched the numbers over and over. No matter which way we sliced it, there was no way we could afford the tuition.
We’d been so excited when we enrolled our son in preschool. We knew that it would help him socially and academically and we found a great school that loads of our friends recommended. We couldn’t wait for him to start. But as the first day of school approached, we knew we couldn’t afford it and we were pretty shattered. As a man, knowing that I couldn’t provide that for my kid was a terrible feeling.
When I was in second or third grade I decided to try out for the talent show.
I had an incredible plan. I was going to do a hip hop lip-sync and dance performance. I had a blue Nike beret that I planned to wear sideways. I had shoes that lit up when I busted sweet moves. I had some fake Oakley sunglasses. I had some wacky home-made Hammer pants that had unbelievable neon designs on them. I couldn’t believe how good this was feeling.
When I was a kid I used to go and spend time with my grandma in the summer. Every Sunday she’d haul me to church with her. And because I never wanted to join Sunday school with a bunch of kids I didn’t know, she’d let me sit through “big people church” beside her.
The first church I remember her taking me to was an old traditional Methodist church. With all the stained glass and the built-in pipe organ and the semi-gothic architecture, I remember feeling like I was in a castle. But that was where my excitement ended. The rest of the time I was confused by when I should be standing or sitting, and why the guy up front was wearing robes, and why everyone was reciting Scriptures together like a chorus of elderly monotone robots.
If I have to listen to the “Frozen” soundtrack one more time, I might stab my eardrums with giant icicles.
It’s my daughter’s fault. That little girl is wearing me out.
Every time we get in the car, she is slowly but surely wrecking my well-manicured Spotify account. “Because you listened to the Frozen soundtrack twenty-three trillion times,” Spotify tells me, “you might also like music from the Veggie Tales, Thomas & Friends, and Caspar Babypants.”
It blows my mind that my two year-old daughter can memorize the lyrics to all those “Frozen” songs in the first place. It also blows my mind how much she wants to build a snowman. But no matter how much I try to sell her on the finer points of The Beatles or Wilco or Arcade Fire, I still hear the same request from that little voice in the backseat: “Fwozen music!”
There’s an interesting thing I’ve observed in my children. They engage with music differently than I do. Like a quality wine or dessert, I like to savor good music. I only listen to my favorite album once a year. No joke. And if I find a new jam, I’ll wear it out for a few days then throw it on my “favorites” list and forget about it. But my kids are different. They can sing the same song over and over and never get sick of it.
I never made a connection between all this and leading worship until recently, when a boy in our congregation approached me after church.
Even for those who try and avoid celebrity gossip, the recent Miley Cyrus debacle was hard to ignore. I couldn’t look at Facebook the following day without seeing half a dozen posts about it. The Internet media had a feeding frenzy. The general public learned what the word “twerk” means. Parents and youth pastors everywhere decried the event and mourned the moral decline of our country, which is apparently “headed to hell in a hand basket.” And thankfully, my buddy Chris was telling people that “Jesus loves Miley Cyrus,” too.
So by Monday night, I figured I had to check it out. As my wife and I talked about our friends’ Facebook posts, she pulled up images from the VMA’s. At first we laughed at the absurdity.
“Well, this is the least surprising news of all time,” I said, considering the endless string of messed-up child stars that litter the tabloids, “She’ll be coked-out and checked into rehab inside six months, guaranteed!”
But as we investigated the pictures and the press coverage, I grew more disgusted. Truth be told, she kind of looked like a flat-chested thirteen year old in a toddler’s bathing suit pretending to have sex with a middle-aged Beetlejuice. The whole scene was a little nauseating. But then it hit me, and I got really sad.
Confession: Of all the songs we sing at my church, I like about five of them.
Meaning, actually like them. Meaning, they’re songs I might listen to outside the four walls of my church.
No doubt this will come as a surprise to a lot of my church-mates and friends, who see me on stage as a volunteer worship leader. Let me explain.
Several years ago I was talking with a buddy, and somehow we got on the topic of heaven. I still remember his musings.
“I know we have to, like, praise God all day long and everything. But I wonder if after that I can do some cool stuff too, like turn into Spiderman and swing from buildings! I just can’t see myself singing to God for all that time…”
Outwardly, I laughed, and said something how it will probably be a bit more exciting than that. But inwardly, I echoed his sentiments. The fact that the Bible was exploding with references to “praising God” was always a little annoying to me. I never saw what the big deal was. I hardly liked any church music, so singing it forever sounded more like a punishment than a reward.
Some friends of mine at Lift Records have released a benefit compilation for “Safe Water in Guyana.” My recording of “Blessed Assurance” was featured on the album, which is now available via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.
I hope you’ll consider purchasing the album and spreading the word. Clean drinking water is a luxury that most of us North Americans take for granted, while much of the third world suffers from contaminated water that spreads disease and sickness. May we be reminded of our fortune as we pour ourselves a glass of water from the faucet.
There are several ways you can help. The first step is to check out the music. You can write (honest) reviews on iTunes and Amazon. If you dig the music, share it with others who might like it. You can also call your local Christian radio station and request “Blessed Assurance,” as radio promotion is still a key way listeners hear about new music.
You can learn more about Safe Water in Guyana directly on their website.
I used to hate the idea of using formulas within the realm of songwriting and creativity. Then I realized all my favorite songwriters used some sort of process. Turns out a little structure was nothing to be scared of.
You can read the entire article here. Feel free to post comments about your own songwriting process below or at either of the two blogs. Big thanks to Wisdom (at All About Worship) and Ira (songwriting.net) for giving me the chance to share about one of my favorite subjects.