I have been pondering for quite some time now the purpose and place for songwriting. I am not a songwriter. I'm not even a song-player (unless my Nano counts as my instrument!) But I am privileged to have many friends who are song-players -- on a variety of instruments with a variety of skill-levels. As far as I know only a few have ever confessed to being a song-writer -- and none of them would probably even use that term, "song-writer". I imagine they'd say that sounds too official.
But I've been pondering. The following topics have been rolling around in my brain for several months now: God's insistent commands to 'sing a new song'; the artistic mediocrity of contemporary christian music; the musical skills of so many of my friends; our church's love/hate relationship with new music; why so few people play the banjo?? Well, that last question isn't really related to this topic, but I have considered bribing a few of the guitar players I know to get really good at playing the banjo!
So -- here's the dilemma. God commands us to sing a new song (not necessarily to write a new song) but, in broad and general terms, the church drags its heels to sing new songs and, in broad and only-slightly general terms, contemporary christian music is not doing a great job of writing new songs (meaning there is a difference between a new title and a truly 'new' song).
So, while we were sitting around the campfire the other night, soaking up the intimacy of the crackling fire and the quiet storytelling underneath a starry and expansive sky, my friend Scott wrote a new song. I don't mean he got out a pen and paper and a rhyming dictionary. I mean he started playing a tune and singing lyrics that had never been sung or played before in that same composition in the history of the universe. I wish I could remember the tune and the lyrics -- all I can remember was that it was a simple, cozy poem of gratitude for a happy day with good friends.
And if I could have recorded it I would have. But not because I think it was worth a million dollars and would go to the top of the charts. (although that may have happened...my friend Scott is pretty good)
The impact of the song was deep because it recorded the moment we were experiencing together. It translated what all of us were thinking and feeling into a tune and a rhyme. It was an utterance of words that we could not express fully, but the song came pretty darn close. It was a creative response to our glad Creator.
So, I'm still pondering the questions about song-writing and the church and God's almost-nagging command to worship Him with new stuff. In some ways this experience under the stars is not an answer to the questions, but something more to add to the mix. I am wondering, though, if the local church had more brave musicians who were willing to live in the intimacy of the Body and translate some of the joint experiences into melody and lyric and had fewer musicians looking for the perfect formula or 'hook' to get the song sold, might the Church embrace the new song instead of feel threatened by it?? And, if that were to happen more and more often, might the contemporary christian pop culture stop being addicted to the artistic mediocrity that is sold as 'worship'?
Don't get me wrong. I believe there are those who are anointed to write music for the global Church. Some wrote hymns centuries ago, some wrote choruses last year and some wrote psalms millenia ago. But, I think the number of those musicians are far fewer than the neighborhood christian bookstore would have me believe. I'm beginning to think that just as all addiction is connected to a counterfeit of a true, beautiful, good gift from God, so is our somewhat blind-allegiance to the christian music celebrity. We are actually craving the new song that God commanded us to sing.
Artists in the local church, would you be brave enough to help us translate our gratitude into a new song to our Father so that we can stop searching for the perfect song on the latest recordings?? Your church needs you. Your Father desires you.
I believe I'm getting somewhere in this pondering. And it came to me in a campfire song.