If you have come here from the Christianity Magazine article “Lies our Worship Music Culture Tells Us” then welcome to you. There was so much I wanted to add, but space was too short. So here are here are some recommended albums and songs with Spiritual Protein to add to our musical diet, to counter-balance the lighter stuff that we are often fed.
I have expanded the few listed in the article and added some songs by topic, a section that didn’t make it into the piece.
Grammy-winning producer, musician, author and pastor-to-artists Charlie Peacock’s The Secret of Time got him known. I will never forget seeing it on the racks in the Greenbelt Festival music store and being almost in tears at the poignancy and relevance of his lyrics. Add the music and it is an even finer release. His career has left a regular stream of superb music, but the more recent Kingdom Come has several particularly excellent pieces for church use. “Wouldn’t it be Strange?” is essential listening. I have used it after a sermon about upside-down Kingdom values. Lyrics include:
Wouldn’t it be strange if riches made you poor
And everything you owned left you wanting more?
Wouldn’t it be strange to question what it’s for? Wouldn’t it be strange?
I know we’ve got some interest to protect
A set of dots we’re committed to connect
It makes us nervous in light of how it’s been to play a little game of pretend
Wouldn’t it be strange if power made you weak
And victory came to those who turned the other cheek?
Wouldn’t it be strange to welcome your defeat? Wouldn’t it be strange?
Wouldn’t it be strange to find out in the end
The first will be the last and all the losers win?
Wouldn’t it be strange if Jesus came again? Wouldn’t it be strange?
Jon Foreman often writes confessionally in Switchfoot, or about making the most of life (“Meant to Live”). But his solo work is as meaty (“Instead of a Show” and “Equally Skilled” deal with justice) and I have used his brilliant “God Badge” (under the Fiction Family moniker) after a sermon on judgmentalism. Lyrics include:
Unlock your heart and love someone
There is no us or them
There’s only folks that you do or don’t understand
Unlock your heart and love someone
You’re not your own idea and neither was this town
Love alone was yours to carry; you could lay your gavel down
Let Him light your path and love someone,
You’re not the jury or the judge
Quit acting out the fear that you call love
Put your God badge down and love someone
Jars of Clay have a vast catalogue of quality material, ranging from straight hymns (Redemption Songs) to more complex content touching on child abuse, crucifixion and being changed. Several compilations are well worth having, and possible career best The Long Fall… deals with integrity, inner life and re-building relationships.
“Two Hands” includes these lyrics:
I’ve been living out of sanity
I’ve been splitting hairs and blurring lines
I am a house that is divided in my heart and in my mind
I use one hand to pull you closer
The other to push you away
If I had two hands doing the same thing
Lifted high, lifted high
The Newsboys have veered between safe worship music and (earlier) more direct songs, with plenty of humour and sharp lyrics influenced by punk-thinker-filmmaker Steve Taylor. Shine – The Hits includes songs about witness, lifestyle and celebration (“I’m Not Ashamed”, the title track and “Joy”).
Bob Dylan’s gospel trilogy has often been treated as a phase he passed through, as if it had no lasting value, but listen to the passion in the first two particularly. From a man so hungry for answers, the relief all the way through ‘Saved’ is palpable. So much so, the lyrics are not very deep or Dylanesque. But the substantial “Pressing On” shows the persistence needed to live a gospel lifestyle.
Keith Green was often called a prophet, and the hard-hitting lyrics to “Asleep in the Light” from No Compromise are part of the reason. Talking of a lukewarm church, he rages, “Jesus rose from the grave, and you…you can’t even get out of bed!” He softened his stance for Songs for the Shepherd and the two offer a well-balanced diet.
Hardly known outside their native Ireland, U2’s breakthrough album The Joshua Tree offers material on the model of Larry Norman’s Only Visiting This Planet: sing about things that everyone can identify with, whether personal or cultural, and don’t hide Jesus. That the Church has rarely used their songs says more about the Church than the band (maybe frightened of the title, “I Still Haven’t Found what I’m Looking for,” we can miss out on the urge to go deeper, which is what the song is about.)
More recently, The Brilliance’s Brother has offered simpler, almost Taizé-like songs that are already being covered by others. Reconciliation, listening for God, confession and looking for home are some themes here.
Jeff Johnson (often with Brian Dunning and friends) has released small-group devotional music, but I recommend him for his minimalist instrumentals, particularly A Thin Silence, the liturgically-based Standing Still or Frio Suite, his reflective work with Phil Keaggy. These are my first choice as backing for prayer evenings in church.
Some songs by topic
In the article, I mentioned the shortage of songs that specifically tackle the everyday issues that we face, or the human drivers ‘money, sex and power’. Here are a few examples of songs that deal with specific subjects.
Jesus: Surprisingly, very few current songs are directly about Jesus on Earth, but Larry Norman’s “The Outlaw” tackles the different aspects of his ministry and asks who he was. Later versions tweak the lyrics for the better. Martyn Joseph’s “He Never said” is a good one for Jesus’ teaching.
Work and employment: Bryn Haworth’s “Unemployment Blues” and Martyn Joseph’s “Please Sir” touch the heart.
Life after death: Julie Miller’s celebration “All my Tears” (also recorded by Emmylou Harris and Jars of Clay) is my top pick for my funeral, and Mike Farris’s gospel exuberance on “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down” and “Sit Down Servant” is infectious.
When sex goes wrong: Abuse survivor Plumb poignantly describes its legacy in “Damaged”; Jars of Clay have a go in “He” and Charlie Peacock goes for the root cause in “Put the Love back into Love.”
Critiquing the culture: Carolyn Arends has two excellent songs on Pollyanna’s Attic. “More is Less” deals with materialism and the affecting “No Trespassing” is spot-on about individualism and lack of community:
They heard his cries in the night from across the lawn / They found him dead at the bottom of the lake at dawn / Nobody’d come running to the rescue and when they were asked / The passersby said that the signs that they read said “Keep Off the Grass”
Chorus: ‘Cause you can’t go near / Anybody else’s private ground / See folks ’round here / Have got a democratic right to drown / And you’re just a fool / If you care about the faces in the crowd / We’ve got a new edition of the Golden Rule: No trespassing allowed
Nobody asked her ’bout the bruises on her face / I guess she was glad that they gave her her personal space / When the bones wouldn’t mend and it came to an end in the dead of the night / The neighbors were sad but at least they had respected her rights
Can’t you read the signs? / These are enlightened times / Got to be careful not to think too much / You can watch ’em going under but you just can’t touch