You Are True, Even in My Wandering

Lately, the music which has brought me to the point of worship has consisted of a lot of Les Miserables and Leonard Cohen’s famous Hallelujah… some songs by Fun. have elicited worship from my spirit, as has the music of Coldplay. Mumford & Sons is pretty much pure worship for me. But it’s been a little while since a song on a Sunday morning has engaged me in worship.

To be sure, this says infinitely more about the state of my spirit and where I’m at in my journey with Christ than it does of any of the musicians who lead worship music in our church. They do a tremendous job and have passionate hearts for worship. I’m just in a different place at the moment. A place where I have a need to explore emotions and ideas that “worship music” can’t go. Or doesn’t, most of the time. Worship music used to go there, thousands of years ago. Like Psalm 80, which is a worship song of despair. Asking God where he is, begging God not to forget people who are suffering. Angrily questioning why he is allowing pain. Why he is ignoring the prayers of his people, why he has “fed them with the bread of tears” and “made them drink tears by the bowlful.”

I am trying to imagine singing those words in a church service, and I just cannot fathom it.

Maybe if we had music like that to sing together — “Please return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see!” — we would have a deeper way to interact with and acknowledge pain. Maybe we would be more whole, as we understand a bit more of the totality of God — and the totality of our experience following him.

But I say all of that to say this: last Sunday there was a song that did resonate in my soul. Strangely enough, it was a very traditional tune by Hillsong called “Forever Reign.” Even the title sounds churchy, doesn’t it? But the second verse resonated at deep levels in my soul:

You are peace, you are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, you are true
Even in my wandering

After singing that, I pretty much ignored the rest of the song. I couldn’t tell you how it goes. But I can sing this verse over and over again.

Why is it so great? Because it reminds me of the bigness of God. It reminds me that as I wander and explore and ask questions and experience doubt and cannot force myself to settle for easy answers, that God is true. It reminds me that my wandering does not alter who God is.

There is a small but incredibly vocal group of people who loudly warn folks like me — those of us who explore the rough and rocky ground rather than being content to sit in the middle of the meadow — they warn us that our questions will lead to a slippery slope. That we will find ourselves abandoning truth and God and faith and everything good. They warn us to stay within the comfortable confines of conservative evangelical orthodoxy, to not press the boundaries of that orthodoxy. They warn us not to start questioning things like heaven and hell, salvation, gender roles, God’s sovereignty, inspiration of Scripture and the like, lest our faith begin unraveling in unsustainable strands, blown about in the wind until nothing remains but tiny remnants of what once was.

To them, I offer the lyrics of this song: God is true. God is true, even in my wandering. God is what I am tethered to, not any particular or specific belief system. God is what remains true, even in the midst of the most relentless barrage of questioning and doubts anyone, myself included, can hurl at him. God is who remains God. By wandering, I am not losing sight of him. That is impossible; he is everywhere. By wandering, I am discovering that he is hidden and alive and active in unexpected places.

In wandering, I am learning that he is true. He is true, even in the questioning. He is true, even in the attempts to shackle him with systematic theology. He is true, and I can never escape him because he is God.

Better Than a Hallelujah

I got into our van a couple days ago to take the recycling down, and my wife had left the radio on KLOVE. I instinctively reached up to hit the AM/FM button to switch over to ESPN radio — but then I heard the lyrics of this song that piqued my interest. After listening to it several more times, it is quickly becoming one of my new favorites:

I absolutely love the sentiment expressed in the lyrics and the encouragement toward raw, honest relationship with God… it’s beautiful. Leave it to Amy Grant.

Better Than a Hallelujah

I got into our van a couple days ago to take the recycling down, and my wife had left the radio on KLOVE. I instinctively reached up to hit the AM/FM button to switch over to ESPN radio — but then I heard the lyrics of this song that piqued my interest. After listening to it several more times, it is quickly becoming one of my new favorites:

I absolutely love the sentiment expressed in the lyrics and the encouragement toward raw, honest relationship with God… it’s beautiful. Leave it to Amy Grant.

Lyrics as a Lost Art of Poetry

I was skimming through a TIME magazine the other day – their 100 Most Influential People issue which highlights actors, sports figures, politicians, business leaders, scientists, and entertainers (creating quite a juxtaposition of culture). One of the folks they highlighted was none other than pop sensation Lady Gaga.

As I sit at my desk at work this morning, my Grooveshark playlist is serenading me with Piano Man, one of the all-time classic pop songs. And thinking of Lady Gaga and Billy Joel has got me wondering: is lyric-writing a dying art?

Compare and contrast, for example: The TIME article quoted the beginning lyrics of Gaga’s “Bad Romance” as proof that she writes “literary,” “clever” and “sophisticated” lyrics that grab your attention. That wonderful opening line is as follows:

”I want your ugly / I want your disease”

Hmmm… call me crazy, but literary, clever, and sophisticated would be towards the bottom of my list of adjectives I’d pull from to describe those lyrics. Of course, the lyrics only get better from there, with this riveting line: “I want your psycho / your vertical stick / I want you in my room / when your baby is sick.” And there’s always “Walk, walk fashion baby / work it, I’m a free bitch baby.”

Now that’s what I call sophisticated.

Maybe it’s because she mumbles a couple lines in French towards the end of the song that people think this is intelligent lyric-writing.

There’s other Gaga songs that are equally as cerebrally stimulating, too – her new hit “Telephone” which tells the epic saga of a girl who has gone out partying at the club with her friends and doesn’t want to talk to her boyfriend on the phone while she’s there. That’s the inspiration Virgil and Dante would have killed for.

I’m not denying that Lady Gaga doesn’t have catchy music. Far from it – the music gets easily stuck in your head and has some really catchy hooks. But sophisticated? Literary? C’mon. It’s more like a literary wasteland. It’s an intellectual candy bar. Gaga’s chorus to “Telephone” describes the perfect mindset in which to listen to her music: “I don’t want to think any more. I left my head and my heart on the dance floor.”

Now the contrast – and what got me started thinking about all this: “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. It is easily one of the greatest songs ever written, and it makes me pine for the days when artists spent their time writing lyrics instead of figuring out how to make sparks shoot out of their bras. It’s such a classic that it hardly needs written about, but please allow me to share just a couple of my favorite lyrical moments:

He says, ‘Son can you play me a memory / I’m not really sure how it goes / It’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it compelete / When I wore a younger man’s clothes’…

The waitress is practicing politics / As a businessman slowly gets stoned / Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinking alone…

The overall theme of the song is so rich and complex: the power of community, the power of music, the search for something meaningful and for meaningful connections with other human beings, the seemingly simple things that can ease the pain and loneliness for awhile.

And in some ways, I think this song is more about Jesus than some “Christian” songs out there.

To that end, I suppose I can understand why a lot of Christian pop music falls short these days: pop music in general falls short these days. Our pop stars are pale rehashes of what used to be, and their music is as well.

Yes, I know there have been some horrible lyrics written in the past. (And I know Madonna shot sparks out of her bra, too.) But what used to be the exception has largely become the rule. Lyrics used to express something. There’s a reason we have the adjective “lyrical” in our vocabulary, though I wonder what these next couple of generations will think it means.

Take wrestling with God just as one example. I can’t think of a single modern song that comes close to expressing that struggle like Something to Believe In (Poison, 1990) or Hey God (Bon Jovi, 1995).

Maybe I’m wrong here, though. Maybe I’m missing some really good, literary, poetic, “sophisticated” lyrics. What modern songs are out there that you love lyrically? How do you think current songs match up in general with older stuff?