Strangeness and Fictions.

<–What about Love?                                                  The Big Picture.–>

Truth is stranger than Fiction…for several reasons, according to the related quotes and permutations of the ‘original’ from Mark Twain.

What’s happened in the past two and a half years, so much of which is catalogued on this blog, doesn’t make sense.  And yet it’s happened, and it is reality–it is Truth.

Before the real drama started–i.e., before the Ss got hostile–I began writing a short story, my first foray into allegory.  At least, that was the plan.  It was entitled, ‘Foothold in Churchville.’  It was dual-inspired by John Buchan’s Witch Wood and, of course, the developments in A. Church and its locale (‘Churchville’).

Image result for john buchan witch wood

Imagine my surprise when I looked it up today, after 3 years in the archives, and read what I’ve included below.

There had already been red flags, warnings that the churchy majority culture in the area was not all it appeared to be, and the event which precipitated the writing of this story was not actually something that happened in A. Church, but rather its neighbour down the road, which had just kicked out its pastor.   The story was supposed to be about discovery of the ‘foothold’ (the biblically literate reader will know whose) and revival.  Then, I may have entertained some unspoken, subconscious fantasy that it was prophetic.  Perhaps it was, in a way…

A Foothold in Churchville (September 2013)

When Alban MacDiarmiad arrived in Churchville after a year abroad, he was incensed. When he’d come back for a periodic visit in the three or four years before, things had been different. Before he never had any reason to not be very happy to be back in the neighbourhood where he’d spent his summers and Christmases after his parents divorced. Their split had left him bitterly disappointed with both of them, and when the opportunity to live with his uncle for the remainder of his undergrad years presented itself, he took it without a second thought. After graduation, he went further afield to graduate school, and then further still across the sea. But his visits twice to thrice a year came soon enough. He would step out of some nondescript but nice rental car, breathe deeply but softly, listening for the sounds of the livestock in the scattered farms, the wind whipping across the fields (though now it drove through lines of corn rather than the white whirl of Midwestern snow), the smells of earth and animals and wildflowers filling his nose and lungs. So different from the fume-filled atmosphere of bustling university towns.

This time, he stood at the end of his uncle’s drive and scrutinized the landscape and neighboring houses with what approximated, for him, a scowl. It softened after a few moments, and after taking in all the view, it melted into a sad half-smile. While driving, the anger had risen to its peak as he neared the parsonage and church, a pair of white simple edifices blinking out from the green of woods and fields. In his cynicism, Alban thought of the whitewashed sepulchers. But his eyes moved again over the rolling hills, caught sight of the sleepy farm buildings in the twilight, and he knew that the sepulcher was not proper for the white patch even while the car seemed hesitant to approach.

When he’d first come to know this place, he’d found it the very image of bucolic peace and simplicity, an idyllic pastoral Arcadia, where all were family, looked after one another, even the cattle were happy, all the people praying and waiting faithfully for the rain.

But the golden veil had been quickly, almost cruelly, torn away, to reveal something no one, especially someone like Alban, could have expected. Something cold, apathetic; a bitterness, even resentment and hatred. And it was those few amongst the inhabitants themselves who had disclosed it; they had begun to take off the masks they didn’t even know they wore. It was like Tarrytown of once upon a time, but no headless Hessian roamed the woods in the autumn night. The devils, particular rather than unique to this vicinity, came out in the daylight here, even to, even beyond, the threshold of the church door.

With a sigh Alban pulled his suitcase from the trunk. These past couple of years, his uncle and cousin almost never heard him arrive, but the caramel-colored cat Pfudor greeted him on the front porch.

Welcoming committee,” Alban said, stretching out his free hand to the twitching pink nose. He put the purring fluff on his shoulder, and went in.

*

Though it was summer, and though the greetings exchanged between Alban, his uncle, and his cousin were warm, when the three of them had gathered in the living room later that night, more than one of them thought the room would have been improved by a lit fireplace. Even the cat, seemingly unbothered by the Midwest heat, stuck close by Alban. The three all sat on separate sofas facing the centre of the room, the better to see one another as they talked, though in point of fact, they didn’t talk much. Alban cradled a short whiskey and soda, while both the Rev. Rhos and his daughter Bridget chose to warm themselves with late-night sweet coffee. They spent several moments in silence, Alban half-smiling with relief that they were finally in the same room, and that the other two looked well…

Perhaps, Uncle,” Alban began, “you should tell me the latest.”

Well, where to start?” The minister’s face seemed suddenly tired, and Alban realized his uncle’s thoughts had been turned by his prompting. “I suppose I’ll say it straight out: Greg Mannix has been asked to leave.” The nephew looked at him intently, waiting for him to offer explanation.

Mannix? At Pilgrim Street church? If you’re telling me this way, I’m assuming it’s a bit—sudden?”

That’s the way I saw it.”

Don’t be mysterious,” Alban said. “He’s done good work there. Why should he be asked to leave? Or better yet, I’ll ask this—who wants him to go?”

I don’t know, and neither does he.”

Does he know the reason?”

Not that I’m aware,” his uncle replied. The reverend looked at his coffee, contemplating whether it was worth taking a sip to make a point. Finlay Rhos was not typically described as loquacious, but neither was he known for being laconic. Alban didn’t know what to make of his short answers.

How did he hear that anyone wants him to go at all?” After a few moments of silence, his cousin broke in.

You wouldn’t believe it if we told you,” she said.

Look,” said Alban, sitting up straight and waking the cat, “just get it all out. I can’t imagine this is all so dramatic as you two seem to think. You said something was going on, and now I’m here, and you can’t help beating about the bush. Has there been a scandal with Pastor Mannix?”

Yes, but not in the way you might think,” said Rev. Rhos. “Two weeks ago, the head of his council called and wanted him to meet with the elders.” He waited a moment. Alban smiled a little, nodded.

I suppose there’s not much unusual in that? Or was it not scheduled?”

It wasn’t,” his uncle replied. “But they met. And, ah, the elders told Greg he would have to leave.”

You said he doesn’t know why? I suppose they gave him an official reason…”

The official reason,” Bridget piped up, “is that three different people, families, whatever, in the congregation want him to.” After a moment of perplexed silence, her cousin answered with a laughing grunt.

Who?”

Like I said, we don’t know,” Finlay answered. “The elders said they had wanted to remain anonymous.”

And these—these irksomes, they gave no reasons?”

None that the elders gave Greg. But they would call it retirement, or moving on. No one will ‘know’ that this meeting ever happened.”

Then who cares? Why should he leave when he can’t even know the who and the why?” Alban asked, a sardonic smile creeping across his face. Bridget laughed a short, bitter laugh, but let her father answer.

Because,” the minister said slowly, “these families said they would leave if Mannix didn’t.”

What?!” the young man exclaimed, moving to the edge of his seat. “That’s absurd! I know the man’s not Edwards, but he’s a good pastor. He’s just,” Alban tried to think of a more elegant way to put it, but went with his first though, “he’s just a good guy. I’ve—I’ve heard him preach several times, been with you to his house for dinner–” He stopped and looked up. “What about his wife?”

She had a difficult time with it at first, but she’s doing better.”

They’re not going to give in, are they?”

You don’t think they should?”

Ha!” Alban burst out, then took a sip of his drink. The cat nuzzled his wrist. “Would you? Now seriously, I’m sure you’d say there’s a right way to get a pastor to move on when he’s done his work in a place.”

I’m sure.”

But this can’t be it,” Alban muttered, shaking his head. “So he is going to do it. He’s going to leave.”

The plot thickens,” said Bridget from the other sofa.

How can it?”

Pastor Straighton from Greys Hawley said that the three ‘parishioners’ who have called for Mannix’ resignation all phoned the chief elder on the same day.” Alban looked at her intently.

Then it was a conspiracy,” he said gravely.

Some might say that’s a strong word,” said Rev. Rhos from under eyebrows slightly raised.

It’s not strong enough,” Bridget murmured. “What else could you call it?”

That man has served that church faithfully, and his wife, until her illness, served it also—and this whole community teaching at your school,” here he looked at his cousin, who nodded.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have told you.” Alban sent Finlay a questioning glance.

I guess we know how—animated you can get,” Bridget ventured.

Animated? This is a gross injustice,” Alban growled.

Still, it’s not your worry. You don’t even live here anymore.”

Why’d you tell me, then? You let me have a hint of it last week when I told you I was flying back. I’ve been on pins and needles ever since.” He sank back into the sofa, drawing his glass near to his lips while he awaited an answer.

We told you because, because, well, to put it bluntly, you’re sensitive.” Alban’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t look like that; we’ve talked about this before.”

What he means is,” cut in Bridget, “is that something is going on here under the surface, here as in, this whole community. What’s going on at Pilgrim Street, Greys Hawley, and here at Ordo. They’re all connected, and we thought you would bring a fresh—fresh perspective, I guess.”

What do you mean by here in Ordo?” Alban asked.

We’ve some—difficulties, of our own,” his uncle replied, seeming to smile though sounding so very sad.

Ah,” Alban said, “I think I know…”

What do you mean?”

I’ve, I’ve had a dream… More than once, and when you said that, about difficulties, I remembered it. Yeah, that’s right; I’ve had it at least three or four times in the last couple of months.” Father and daughter looked at each other, then back at Alban. “I thought it was strange, and knew it pertained to—shall we say, ‘things not temporal’, but when I reflected on it, it simply didn’t seem relevant to St. Fridewide’s.”

Funny name,” remarked Bridget.

Old church,” Alban smiled, “but anyway— But I also didn’t think it’d have anything to do with Ordo. I’ll try to remember details, if you like.”

Please do.” Finlay leaned in, almost instinctively, toward his nephew, whose tones became quite hushed.

Well, here goes.” He closed his eyes, the better to remember what he’d seen in his sleep, and so as not to be distracted by his family’s expressions. “I was walking through fields, bright green, lush, even wet, though the sky was bright. All around were rolling hills, though there were rugged mountains in the distance. I was walking, approaching the crest of the highest hill in sight, and could hear both the sound of water and animals from the other side. When I came over the top, I could see that there was flock of sheep in the vale that opened up in front of me. There were all sorts of sheep—scraggily, old, young, fat, lean, sleeping, grazing, roaming. Many different colours too, like I never see mixed on the average sheep farm. They seemed quite content, and not really to notice me as I came nearer, so I came up to the river bank and sat down among them.” Alban paused, emptied his glass, and cleared his throat. He could see almost a ‘so what?’ look in his cousin’s face, and went on. “While I was sitting there, I realized that there were actually a few sheep who were quite busy; there was one ewe who had a really strange—bleat, I guess we call it.”

What? A strange what?”

A strange sheep-sound. I mean, she sounded like a sheep, but she was very ‘growly’. I know that sounds dumb, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. She didn’t really seem to do much besides move around and bump the other sheep, no matter what they were doing, just to get them to notice her. Once they were looking at her she’d stamp the ground in the way horses do, and make that growly sound. Most of the time, they’d look and listen for a moment, then move off, and sometimes she’d follow them a few steps, growling and stamping her little hoofs. But after a while another sheep came along who caught my eye. And he was weirder.”

Weirder?”

Well, he made a lot of noise; he wasn’t loud, but he was just chattering, all the time.”

How’s that weird?” Bridget asked. “I’m sure there are plenty of talkative sheep. Pfudor whines all the time!”

Fine then, I can’t explain it,” Alban said, then shut his eyes again. “But it wasn’t just that; this sheep was wearing this tiny little crown, kind of stuck into the wool at the top of his head.” His uncle chuckled. “It’s true,” Alban said, “and he seemed quite pleased with himself. But then, a little boy with a shepherd’s crook came along and called the sheep to get moving. Some of them were more ready to go than others, and they took the lead. The growly ewe sort of sat back on her haunches until she realized she’d get left behind, and reluctantly followed along. I started following them, and the boy didn’t seem to mind.”

What was he wearing?”

Bridge, don’t interrupt me with trifles. That didn’t seem to matter. I just know he was the shepherd. But! The sheep with the little crown was being quite boisterous, dancing out in front, even going in front of the kid sometimes, and a couple of the sheep, especially a parti-colored one with really big round eyes, would venture out with him… but they almost took a wrong turn, and when they shepherd called to them, the sheep with the little crown just stopped and bleated at him. They exchanged looks and sounds for a minute, and then—that sheep! It just walked right up to the boy, the parti-colored one right behind it, and bit him in the hand! Right in front of the rest of the flock; even the other sheep seemed startled by it. Before the shepherd had a chance to react, though, all of the sheep looked up, and then so did he.” Alban paused again, and his cousin urged him,

What, what happened?”

It took me a moment to realize it, but then I heard what they must have been hearing—wolves. I saw the boy take his crook into both hands and urge the sheep into a cluster, then he turned away from me, and the whole thing was over. And that’s where it’s stopped every time.” He sat up straight and opened his eyes.

That’s it?”

That’s it.” Alban looked at his uncle, who had been silent during the whole of the telling. “What do you think it means?” Rev. Rhos smiled a little.

Do you have any ideas?”

I might,” Alban replied.

And?”

I think,” he said drily, “that you need a sheepdog. And that you’re right—there’s something going on here bigger than Ordo, bigger than Pilgrim Street—this whole community is touched…”

***

I’d only written one other episode, in which Alban and his cousin’s cat, Pfudor, are out in the woods behind the parsonage in the afternoon, and the cat warns him of something ‘out there.’  What the two of them see I never quite got around to describing, even to myself.  It may always be a mystery.

***

I never finished the ‘allegory’, because the real-life story kicked into high gear, with surprising, sometimes shocking plot twists, its own false hopes, betrayed trusts, glimmers of redemption, dramatic confessions, unexpected friendships, strange Providence, and a Lord of the Rings-type series of ‘endings’.  And it ain’t over yet.

I would have hoped this story was a halfway good one.  But what we have instead is what makes up veritaspraebita.

Of course, the committees, church visitors and other miscreants in this plot have produced fiction, but of the desperate, self-serving, vague and unimaginative type.  Yet they get ‘published’ (if only by classis, haha)–go figure.  Still, this blog has had sufficient readership to prove that you don’t need Zondervan for effective publicity.  Just something interesting to say, and a little conviction behind it.

It was Thanksgiving this past week: let me say that I’m grateful for both my regular readers, and every visitor who comes to this blog with an open mind and an honest, inquiring eye.  God bless you.

[Return to Table of Contents.]                                                        The Big Picture.–>

What about Love?

<–Lead by Example.                                               Strangeness and Fictions.–>

The longest chapter in the Bible…Psalm 119…as I read it again today, it struck me that, while it is a prayer, with several different components, including praise, thanksgiving, and petition, it is also a love song, the expressed object of love and delight being… the Law.

ps-119-imIn our New Covenant age, even with good biblical teaching about the purpose, value, and even Jesus’ view, of the Law, we may find such expressions of love for the Law strange.  Because way deep down, even if we’re not anti-nomians, we’re often thinking, ‘Ah, who needs that?  What are you, a legalist?  A Pharisee?’

But when people in the church talk about love, I’ll take my cue from the Son of David, who taught that Love is the fulfilment of the Law, Matt.22:36-40 (Paul also states this twice quite clearly in Romans 13, as does James in ch.2 of his epistle), and from David himself, who declares in many different iterations, ‘Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day.’ Ps.119:97 (see also esp. vv. 113, 163).

One might argue that loving God, loving neighbour, and loving the church itself first requires psalmist-level zeal for God’s Law and His Word: that is the definition, even definer, and measure of love.  Love does the godly thing–the right thing.

[Return to Table of Contents.]                                  Strangeness and Fictions.–>

Lead by Example.

[Return to Table of Contents.]

I sometimes wish, as I do and present my research, that I could simply ‘cite’ anonymous sources, or make general claims about things and people without specific references.  It would be so much easier, and so much quicker.  Some people are permitted to operate that way, when even more than an academic degree is on the line.  Instead, like any honest scholar (and responsible professional), I have to write hundreds of footnotes and include something like this:

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Kyle, D. (2007) Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World. Oxford.

Kyriakides, S. and De Martino. F., eds. (2004) Middles in Latin Poetry. Bari.

Lonsdale, S. H. (1990) Creatures of Speech: Lion, Herding and Hunting Similes in the Iliad. Stuttgart.

Lovatt, H. and Vout, C. (eds.) (2013) Epic Visions: Visuality in Greek and Latin Epic and its Reception. Cambridge.

Lovatt, H. (2013) The Epic Gaze: Vision, Gender and Narrative in Ancient Epic. Cambridge.

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MacKinnon, M. (2014) ‘Hunting’, in Campbell (2014) 203-15.

——— (2014) ‘Pets’, in Campbell (2014) 269-81.

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Manuwald, G. (1999) Die Cyzicus-Episode und Ihre Funktion in den Argonautica des Valerius Flaccus. Göttingen.

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Manuwald, G. and Voigt, A. (eds.) (2013) Flavian Epic Interactions. Berlin.

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Martindale, C.A. (1993) Redeeming the Text. Cambridge.

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Monro, D.B., and Allen, T.W. (eds.) (1920) Homeri: Opera, vol. I: Iliadis I-XII, 3rd ed. Oxford.

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Mori, A. (2008) The Politics of Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica. Cambridge.

Mozley, J.H. (1934) Valerius Flaccus: Argonautica. Cambridge, MA.

Mynors, R.A.B (ed.) (1969) P. Vergili Maronis: Opera. Oxford.

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Empty.

In spite of the oft-repeated exhortation of an old friend,

you never do get used to disappointment.

It’s standing in a courtroom in your dreams

night after night,

the jury with unshining eyes

reading the same verdict again and again–

‘We don’t give a sh*t.’

And the prosecution went home long ago.

The defense pops yet another cork–

one could float away on the bubbles.

Float.

Or else drown in grief.

If you’re the family of the victim,

you know how you hang on every word

of the foreman, the judge.

When it all comes to cotton candy,

you know there’s jelly in the spine,

sweet on the surface,

sour to the swallow.

In the dawn the shadows scatter,

daylight smells fresh.

But like the cycle of the waxing-waning moon–

bright to black, bright to black–

the night brings back the close damp

of that wood-panelled room

with no God, no Truth, nothing but cold.

The same case, the same talk, the same waste.

And they shuffle out, they shuffle in.

All rise–the same ‘We don’t give a sh*t.’

The hope always lives, always dies,

daylight comes, then night–

hated hope springs up again,

only to be cut down and take your heart with it.

It’s a torment that promises to fade,

but it will be back tomorrow.

Image result for moon

<–I am the Friend.                                                           Lead by Example.–>

 

 

Anniversary Feature: Rockin’ Rubbish

Happy 1st Anniversary (yesterday) of A. Church’s Article 17! The end of October also saw Rev. 21’s ‘swan song’ service (credit to my brother for this phrase), on Reformation Sunday, the same Sunday on which my father’s last sermon at A. was preached a year ago.

I thought, in honour of the date, we’d have some fun with some bits of H. CRC’s bulletin. Here’s a blurb from 21 himself:

“Today’s order of worship is pretty much just loaded with songs. When I originally decided on a Sunday-date for concluding ministry at H—, I didn’t know it was a day when [I presume the name of a band?] was leading the service. Well, it works out, because while every group that leads worship matters to my soul, this group has been my fellowship -small group from the beginning. So, [21’s wife] and I picked out a smash of our favorite songs. It might feel a little bit like a concert, but it’s really just a lot of songs to thank and praise God for His faithfulness and blessing on our life and walk, together, as a church….just for the joy and thankfulness of it. Thank-you, Pastor 21”

Typical of 21—his affection for unnecessary hyphens is unfading, undying! And of course there are the usual funny (strange) phrases: ‘every group that leads worship matters to my soul,’ and, ‘just for the joy and thankfulness of it.’ Wut.

Anyway, what is this ‘lot’ of ‘favorite songs’?  I’ll list the full order of worship for last Sunday’s service at H. CRC.  Note that I have not edited/fixed typos:

MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE – 9:30 AM

H. Christian Reformed Church

October 30, 2016

Welcome to Worship Songs:

“Flawless” (orig. MercyMe); “Oceans” (orig. HIllsong United);

“The River” (orig. Jordan Feliz); Chain Breaker (orig. Zach Williams)

“Shake” (orig. MercyMe)

“Love Will Hold Us Together” (orig. Matt Maher)

Blessing and Greeting

“Never Let Go” (orig. Matt Redman)

“Lord I Need You” (orig. Matt Maher)

Prayer

Children’s Message (Children will return to their seats)

Offerings: 1st – General Fund; 2nd – ** Ministry

“My Story” (orig. Big Daddy Weave) “LifeSong” (orig. Casting Crowns)

Words of Celebration and Farewell – Pastor 21 & wife

Sermon: Jesus In the Shape of Us

“Today is the Day” (orig. Lincoln Brewster)

Blessing/Dismissal

“Love Come to Life” (Orig. Big Daddy Weave)

**

21 & his wife and their ‘band/small group’ thingy had the congregation sing a total of 12 songs.  If they sang uncut versions with all the repeats, that probably comes to over half an hour, perhaps even 40 minutes, of singing.  I may go onto Youtube at some point and estimate total time from recordings of the songs there.  But for now, you can see for yourself, there’s evidently not much appreciation expressed in the choices (made deliberately, I assume) for ‘traditional’ Christian music, and one wonders if there’s a statement in the omission—you probably noted a dearth of hymns, both old and new (no Getty/Townend numbers, for example).

My first reaction as one on the older end of the ‘Millenial’ spectrum was that I haven’t heard of a lot of these guys in a while (MercyMe, Casting Crowns [red flag?], Lincoln Brewster, Big Daddy Weave). Because I associate big label CCM with pop culture-style transience, I was surprised to see that these artists are, apparently, still around—they were big when I was in high school. So, as we do a little research, we’ll find out if Rev. 21 is both cutting-edge and behind the times.

Now, some of these songs I had heard of before—very recently, as a matter of fact, and I’ve begun to interact with a list of CCM songs of which they’re a part on my personal blog. I’m still in the middle of the series on current top CCM songs; Lord willing I will get back to it sometime soon.

So, what are those on that (according to me) infamous list?

As I glance back at my ekklescake posts on the topic, the only two songs on the HCRC worship order I find are ‘Oceans’ and ‘Lord I Need You.’  I have also heard, however, of ‘The River,’ ‘Chain Breaker,’ and ‘Never Let Go.’ Because I’m not overly familiar with any of these songs, we’ll post the lyrics of half of them, starting with ‘Flawless’ and including every other one.   I don’t have time to fully dissect these poetic and theological messes, so I’ll just underline the possibly or probably unbiblical bits and stick in a few notes in italics.  I have copied and pasted from various lyrics sites on the web; I have not edited typos or format.

1.’Flawless’ by MercyMe [2014]

*Oops, first Google result is Beyonce’s ‘version’! Here we go; sorry, this torture appears interminable.  I have problems just with the connotations of the word of the title, which are usually matters of the superficial and/or aesthetic, such as describing a woman’s facial features, or else an athlete’s or machine’s performance—the song seems also to use it in a moral sense.

There’s got to be more

Than going back and forth

From doing right to doing wrong

‘Cause we were taught that’s who we are

Come on get in line right behind me

You along with everybody

Thinking there’s worth in what you do (Does that mean there isn’t?)

Then like a hero who takes the stage when (This is weird. This song keeps shifting back and forth to different analogies.)

We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late

Well let me introduce you to amazing grace (okay, Jesus is Batman or something…)

No matter the bumps

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

Could it possibly be

That we simply can’t believe

That this unconditional (If it’s unconditional, why did we need the cross to make us ‘flawless’?)

Kind of love would be enough

To take a filthy wretch like this

And wrap him up in righteousness

But that’s exactly what He did

No matter the bumps

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless (Somebody obviously thinks this refrain is good—this isn’t the last time we’ll see it.)

Take a breath smile and say

Right here right now I’m ok

Because the cross was enough (Sounds like a mint commercial for how unserious this is. And again, is this what the Bible says?)

And like a hero who takes the stage when

We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late

Well let me introduce you to grace grace

God’s grace

No matter the bumps

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter what they say

Or what you think you are

The day you called His name

He made you flawless

He made you flawless (Since we’re trapped in some intellectual void here, it’s perhaps pointless to ask the author[s] what is meant by this. There seems to have been a reference to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, but while I am justified, I am not ‘flawless’. Could the writers, or for that matter, the congregational singers, distinguish between justification and sanctification? Does this represent the attitudes of Paul, Peter and James on Christian living?)

No matter the bumps

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

Image result for L'oreal
Because I don’t buy that this song believes its singers were ever ‘filthy wretches.’

 

**

Take a deep breath, because now we’re going down to the river, but not with George Clooney…

2. ‘The River’ by Jordan Feliz [2015]

*This song is plain insubstantial. You’re better off just singing the spiritual. I’ll underline poor poetic technique and illogical progression of thought and especially imagery.

I know a place where we can go

To lay the troubles down eating your soul (Is this some kind of Fury- or zombie-spotting exercise?)

I know a place where mercy flows

Take the stains make you whiter than snow

Like a tide, it is rising up deep inside a current that moves and makes you come alive (Sounds like a shot of epinephrine—but is it a tide inside or is it a moving current?)

Living water that brings the dead to life

We’re going down to the river

Down to the river, down to the river to pray

Let’s get washed by the water (How do you get washed by a tide that’s rising up INSIDE of you? I know the author is maybe trying to use the water metaphor in multiple ways, but, you have to do so artfully, not clunkily.)

Washed by the water and rise up in amazing grace

Let’s go down, down, down to the river (You will leave changed)

Let’s go down, down, down to the river (Never the same)

I’ve seen it move in my own life

Took me from dusty roads into paradise (Is the opposite of dusty roads [what’s wrong with desert?] paradise? The contrast of dust, which is dry, would be something wet, or a landscape where things flourish, an oasis, perhaps. For a Christian, paradise is not necessarily physical.  What about biblical phrases like ‘path of life’, or ‘wilderness’? Though perhaps a better contrast to ‘wilderness’ is ‘promised land’… but trying to make sense of going down to a river that also rises up inside of you and comes to take you off dusty roads can make your head swim. Haha.)

All of my dirt, all of my shame

Drowned in the streams that’ve made me born again (Ick. Dirt and shame drown these days, apparently. Who knew?)

Like a tide, it is rising up deep inside a current that moves and makes you come alive

Living water that brings the dead to life

We’re going down to the river

Down to the river, down to the river to pray

Let’s get washed by the water

Washed by the water and rise up in amazing grace

Let’s go down, down, down to the river (You will leave changed)

Let’s go down, down, down to the river (Never the same)

Let’s go down [x3]

We’re going down to the river

Down to the river, down to the river to pray

Let’s get washed by the water

Washed by the water and rise up in amazing grace

Let’s go down, down, down to the river (You will leave changed)

Let’s go down, down, down to the river (Never the same)

Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go down in amazing grace [x2] (Cheap, hopped-up knock-off. Where’s my O Brother Where Art Thou? Album?)

Image result for i want my dapper dan

3. ‘Shake’ by MercyMe [2013/2014]

*Warning: these guys are apparently extremely fond of repeating vacuous and annoying lyrics.

I just can’t believe

Where my life was at

All that I know is that my heart was broken

And I don’t ever wanna go back

Ain’t no explanation (Then what’s the point of this song?)

How I saw the light

He found me and set me free

And it brought me back to life

Blame it on the transformation

Changed down to the core

His love is real

And I can’t sit still

Cause my name’s not shamed no more (Is this biblical? See 1 Cor. 1, I believe…)

Great God Almighty done changed this

Great God Almighty, He done changed me (So we keep going on about this thing God’s done to change a person, but we don’t know how or why. It can’t be explained, this transformation from a “broken heart” to… being set free and having life. Umm.)

You gotta shake, shake, shake

Like you’re changed, changed, changed (What does shaking have to do with being changed? It just makes me think of seizures and Poseidon.)

Brand new looks so good on you (Is this a joke?)

So shake like you’ve been changed

Come on and shake, shake, shake like you’re changed

Shake, shake, shake like you’re changed

Maybe He came to you

When everything seemed fine

Or maybe your world was upside down and hit you right between the eyes (The upside-down world hit me between the eyes?)

No matter when it happened (We still don’t know what ‘it’ entails.)

At 7 or 95

Move your feet ’cause you are free

And you’ve never been more alive (Well that’s good to know. Why not?)

(…And again the writers are so impressed with their nonsense that they want you to chant it like a mantra. Total earworm.)

You gotta shake, shake, shake

Like you’re changed, changed, changed

Brand new looks so good on you

So shake like you’ve been changed

Come on and shake, shake, shake

Like you’re changed, changed, changed

Brand new looks so good on you

So shake like you’ve been changed

Come on and shake, shake, shake like you’re changed

Shake, shake, shake like you’re changed

Shake, shake

Great God Almighty done changed me

Great God Almighty, He done changed me

Great God Almighty done changed me

Great God Almighty, He done changed me

No matter when it happened

At 7 or 95

Move your feet, ’cause you are free

And you’ve never been more alive

You gotta shake, shake, shake

Like you’re changed, changed, changed

Brand new looks so good on you

So shake like you’ve been changed

You gotta shake, shake, shake

Like you’re changed, changed, changed

Brand new looks so good on you

So shake like you’ve been changed

Come on and shake, shake, shake

Like you’re changed, changed, changed

Brand new looks so good on you

So shake like you’ve been changed

Come on and shake, shake, shake like you’re changed

Shake, shake, shake like you’re changed

Shake, shake

Great God Almighty done changed me

Great God Almighty, He done changed me

Image result for neptune bristol
Neptune (Poseidon), Earth-Shaker.

4. ‘Never Let Go’by Matt Redman [2006]

*Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I like a song by Matt Redman. Kind of a lot. But not even the greats can hit a home run every inning—John Wayne made The Conqueror. It’s not as bad as the others, but to be honest, I’d never choose to sing it, because, well, it’s a bit dull, and way too long [assuming it’s not a misprint on metrolyrics.com] for what it has to say, which isn’t much. That’s all on this one.

Even though I walk through the valley

Of the shadow of death

Your perfect love is casting out fear

And even when Im caught in the middle

Of the storms of this life

I wont turn back, I know You are near

And I will fear no evil

For my God is with me

And if my God is with me

Whom then shall I fear?

Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go

Through the calm and through the storm

Oh no, You never let go

In every high and every low

Oh no, You never let go

Lord, You never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming

For the heart that holds on

A glorious light beyond all compare

And there will be an end to these troubles

But until that day comes

Well live to know You here on the earth

And I will fear no evil

For my God is with me

And if my God is with me

Whom then shall I fear?

Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go

Through the calm and through the storm

Oh no, You never let go

In every high and every low

Oh no, You never let go

Lord, You never let go of me

and i can see a light that is coming

for the heart that holds on

a glorious light beyond all compare

and there will be an end

to these troubles

but until that day comes

we’ll live to know you’re here on the earth

And I will fear no evil

For my God is with me

And if my God is with me

Whom then shall I fear?

Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go

Through the calm and through the storm

Oh no, You never let go

In every high and every low

Oh no, You never let go

Lord, You never let go of me

Yes, I can see a light that is coming

For the heart that holds on

And there will be an end to these troubles

But until that day comes

Still I will praise You, still I will praise You

Yes, I can see a light that is coming

For the heart that holds on

And there will be an end to these troubles

But until that day comes

Still I will praise You, still I will praise You

Oh no, You never let go

Through the calm and through the storm

Oh no, You never let go

In every high and every low

Oh no, You never let go

Lord, You never let go of me

You never let go, You never let go

Oh no, You never let go

Through the calm and through the storm

Oh no, You never let go

In every high and every low

Oh no, You never let go

Lord, You never let go of me

You never let, You never let go, You never let go of me

Image result for bloodhound bored
*sigh*

5. ‘My Story’ by Big Daddy Weave [2015]

*This song perhaps has more to recommend it than any of them so far. I have one big quibble in the first stanza—everything after that isn’t my cup of tea, but it could be worse. At least Jesus is named, allusions to the Gospel are fairly clear, sin and justice are mentioned, etc. I’m not a huge fan of the throwing in/stitching together lines from classic hymns, which seem like an attempt to up the song’s pedigree or add a dash of gravitas. The contemporary poetry has to be pretty good for Fanny Crosby’s couplet to fit, even tacked on at the end.

If I told you my story

You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go (Does God hope? Because I’m assuming this ‘hope’ pertains to Him, as do the ‘Love’ and ‘Life’ below…)

And if I told you my story

You would hear Love that never gave up

And if I told you my story

You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

If I should speak then let it be

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin

Of when justice was served and where mercy wins

Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

If I told you my story

You would hear victory over the enemy

And if I told you my story

You would hear freedom that was won for me

And if I told you my story

You would hear Life overcome the grave

If I should speak then let it be

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin

Of when justice was served and where mercy wins

Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song

Praising my savior all the day long

This is my story, this is my song

Praising my savior all the day long

For the grace that is greater than all my sin

Of when justice was served and where mercy wins

Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in

Oh to tell you my story is to tell

Of the grace that is greater than all my sin

Of when justice was served and where mercy wins

Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

This is my story, this is my song

Praising my Savior all the day long

Nobody likes the guy that steals toys.

6. ‘Today is the Day’ by Lincoln Brewster [2008]

*I think we’ll just plunge in.

Oh, oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh, oh

(Here we go) (How articulate. These aren’t legit. And is this appropriate for congregational singing? Wait, I forgot–this is CCM.  See T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, esp. 95ff.)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

I’m casting my cares aside

I’m leaving my past behind

I’m setting my heart and mind on You

Jesus

I’m reaching my hand to Yours

Believing there’s so much more

Knowing that all You have in store for me is good

Is good (Let’s run away together, to California!)

Today is the day You have made

I will rejoice and be glad in it

Today is the day You have made

I will rejoice and be glad in it (See comment on above song by BDW: here, we’re invoking the authority of the psalms… or something? Fishing for inspiration?)

And I won’t worry about tomorrow

I’m trusting in what You say (What does Jesus say, exactly?)

Today is the day

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

I putting my fears aside (Nothing to see here—skip to just past the next iteration of the mind-numbing ‘Oh, oh, ohs’..)

I’m leaving my doubts behind

I’m giving my hopes and dreams to You

Jesus

I’m reaching my hands to Yours

Believing there’s so much more

Knowing that all You have in store for me is good

Is good

Today is the day You have made

I will rejoice and be glad in it

Today is the day You have made

I will rejoice and be glad in it

And I won’t worry about tomorrow

I’m trusting in what You say

Today is the day

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

I will stand upon Your truth (What is the truth? I think it’s gotten lost in the fluff…)

I will stand upon Your truth

And all my days I’ll live for You

All my days I’ll live for You

And I will stand upon Your truth

I will stand upon Your truth

And all my days I’ll live for You

All my days I’ll live for You

Today is the day You have made

I will rejoice and be glad in it

Today is the day You have made

I will rejoice and be glad in it

And I won’t worry about tomorrow

I’m giving You my fears and sorrows

Where You lead me I will follow

I’m trusting in what You say

Today is the day

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

(Today is the day)

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**

I think I need to take up writing songs for the Worship Mill. People make money doing this.

Well, that was half of them. Some of them are surprisingly current–from 2014 and 2015.  At any rate, I highly doubt anyone will be singing them in 100 years.  See Jonathan Aigner’s columns (especially here, here, and here), and note that the pop nature practically breeds an inherent tendency toward speedy obsolescence in CCM.  I quote from the third article by Aigner linked to above: ‘Contemporary worship is an unstable and non-theological movement. To be thoroughly contemporary necessitates a slavish allegiance to the new, the current, the hip, the cool, and the commercial. It requires a thorough rejection of what is old, passe, not current, not cool, and what doesn’t make money. The bright shiny objects that get butts in the seats must continue becoming brighter and shinier. This holy bait-and-switch tactic is wearing thin. This constant need to reinvent yourself is a pretty tough row to hoe for any church, and few besides the largest and wealthiest are able to keep butts in the seats with any continued success.’

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The two I mentioned before, ‘Oceans’ and ‘Lord I Need You’ will get fuller treatment on ekklescake eventually, but they’re two to add to the ‘Stinkers’ list (which would include all of the above printed except for perhaps ‘(You) Never Let Go’ and ‘My Story’.  4 out of a total of 12 songs chosen by the pastor and his wife are junk—and are they representative of more of those 12? I’d say yes, just based on the other two I’ve heard before.  And again, no hymns amongst their ‘favorites’.  Or at least not here.  No ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ or ‘Come Thou Fount’.  Since this is their selection, it can’t be assumed a typical musical experience for H.CRC.  But if it is, I feel sorry for anyone with musical training, anyone who cares about sound language (both beautiful and meaningful), especially poetry, and anyone over 30 who hasn’t been marinating in the culture’s non-reflective sentimentality.

That brings me to one final point–given that the lyrics of some of these songs don’t even make sense, it makes you wonder whether CCM (more than traditional hymns, though anything can be done mindlessly or superficially–ask ex-Roman Catholics or people raised in a ‘cold orthodoxy’) encourages people not to think about what they’re singing.  A question then arises: can you worship biblically without engaging your mind?  When lyrics don’t matter because it’s the ‘music’ that engages and wows people, what are we saying?  See the second post in the Literacy series–we already know that many Christian folks, in spite of the fact that they are people of the Book, don’t read.

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At any rate, HCRC on the 30th of October saw no Newton, no Wesley, no Watts, no Bonar.  No Henry Francis Lyte, Augustus Montague Toplady, no Fanny Crosby.  But are we surprised?  Given Rev. 21’s particular brand of literacy, capacity for biblical engagement, and postmodern intellectual bent (and, I infer, his wife’s support for so-called ‘gay Christianity’), we can’t really be surprised that this is his/their taste.  And I’m not judging, at least, not necessarily.  A lot of people like what I would call crap music.  But for me, the theological and emotional underpinnings, for lack of a better word, of these ‘songs’ fit perfectly with the worldview expressed directly and indirectly by this pastor.  And don’t forget to check out that sermon title: ‘Jesus in the Shape of Us’—doesn’t smack of Thomas A Kempis to me.  But perhaps he was preaching a message on the Incarnation…?  Have fun with these guys, New Church of 21 in West Michigan!

And Happy Anniversary, all!  And please pass the Trinity Hymnal.

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