Sometimes, I feel like an atheist amid worship. The songs being sung earnestly around me are about a god I don’t really believe in anymore. As Shane Claiborne asked, does God really have lightning in his fists, or is this Zeus we’re talking about? “God, rid me of ‘god,'” Meister Eckhart prayed. Many times this is my silent prayer amid circles of saints singing their hearts out to a deity I scarcely recognize.
[September update: For visitors from Jonny Baker’s blog, I’ve included some new thoughts here. Feel free to drop by this post once you’re finished with the present one.]
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy singing, and many songs old and new still resonate with me. I used to be an assistant worship leader in my old church, ages ago. And I still keep track, albeit a bit peripherally, with the “worship world” today. There is much to be commended in the crafting of new music for friends of God in Christ to sing, as there is among those who lovingly revive somewhat older hymns and ancient liturgies.
But to put it bluntly, my worship-life-in-song has not quite kept pace with my spiritual, theological, and social development these past 5-10 years. My journey of apprenticeship to Jesus means that I’m reading, praying, thinking and doing very different things now than I did as a late teenager. At the same time, I’m still singing the same old songs. I don’t know about you, but I’m longing to raise a new song to God, one that integrates a vision of God and humanity, creation and cosmos that I can get behind.
How close are we to such a worship-in-song renaissance within the emerging church conversation? I don’t know. But in this vein, I want to bring your attention–if you’re not already aware–to the inaugural widespread release of one of the newest singer-songwriter kids on the block…Brian McLaren. “What, he sings too?”, you ask. Yep, the epitome of the well-rounded human being, Brian has actually been strumming his guitar and creating original worship since his post-Jesus Movement days. (I always hated those guys in school, the ones who were good at poetry and calculus; some of them are my closest friends, alas…) Songs for a Revolution of Hope is inspired by his upcoming book release, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope and is coming out this fall. One of the tracks, “Atheist,” explores this worship dissonance I’ve been feeling head-on. It’s now on YouTube in a sort’ve “music video” format:
Here’s the full lowdown from Brian’s website:
“In July I spent a week in the Colorado Rockies, working with some wonderful musicians to record a collection of songs that I’ve written or co-written to accompany my upcoming book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. Like the book, the songs will be available this fall via CD and MP3 download at Restorationvillage.com – where you can pre-order now.
I wrote an article a few years ago called “An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters” which received a lot of positive attention and has been translated into several languages. [Mike’s note: See John Mortensen’s Unauthorized Postscript to Brian’s open letter] This collection of songs is a small offering in the direction of the issues raised in the open letter. A lot of people only know me as a pastor, author, and speaker, so they may be surprised to know that music has always been a big part of my life. I did some recording back in the late 70’s and early 80’s … it was a real thrill to return to these creative roots after 30 years this summer.”
Some of the Restoration Village musicians have been involved with projects like Enter The Worship Circle, as well as a group with roots in Brian’s home church, Harp 46. Overall I anticipate Songs for a Revolution of Hope to be a hope-full addition to a “new kind of singing worship.”
I’ll probably write more on this soon, expanding and clarifying. Because I don’t mean to say all contemporary/ancient worship is somehow sub-par, nor do I want to overlook some of the great stuff coming out today, particularly in Europe. If you’re part of an emerging church and you’ve recorded some worship-in-song that you think I need to consider, contact me and I’ll give you a way to get it to me. I’ll review it here.