Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Power of Music to Fuel the Revolution

(I get to lead worship this Sunday at Redeemer!)

This morning I'm going to set up my laptop and work and pray and study on this  Sunday's sermon, "The Missional Church and Freedom From the Spirit of Control." I'll place my Bose Soundlink Mini on my desk, and channel music through my cell phone.

At the top of my listening choice for writing is Mark Isham's cd "Pure Mark Isham." I love this music!

I listen to a lot of minimalism - the subtle layering of Steve Reich, Jeroen van Veen, Philip Glass, Eric Satie. And Alexandre Desplat. Desplat's sound track to the movie "Tree of Life" is on my top ten list of music that moves me.

And Arvo Pärt. His music haunts me. It makes me cry. I listen to him when I need a metaphysical readjusting.

I can barely listen to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Yet I must.

Gregorian chant. For many years I took Gregorian Chant into the forests to pray. Now, whenever I listen to it, my soul is transported to praying in the woods.

The solo piano work of Bach artists Andres Schiff and Glenn Gould.

I've listened a lot to Aphex Twin, and similar artists.

The amazing Bela Fleck. (I especially like "Perpetual Motion.")

Jeremy Begbie, in Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, writes of the power of music to frame worldviews. I'm now thinking of when I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University, and the massive offensive lineman Tony Mandarich was there. Mandarich used to listen to Guns 'N Roses music before he ran onto the field to play the game. That music empowered him.

I was listening to Tracy Chapman's incredible "Revolution" song recently, and felt like running into the streets to change the world.

This summer I've listened again to my favorite lyricist, Bruce Cockburn. His passionate lyrics and melodies interpret nature and life for me. I used to cover "All the Diamonds," the best conversion song I have ever heard. And then there is "What About the Bond?", the best musical apologetic for marriage ever written.

As a musician myself, I have no doubt that music has "power." Begbie writes that "few doubt that music can call forth the deepest things of the human spirit and affect behavior at the most profound levels. Anyone who has parented a teenager will not need to be told this - study after stufy has shown that music often plays a pivotal part in the formation of young people's identity, self-image, and patterns of behavior." (15-16)

I wrote a song that was sung at my wedding. I had it recorded, because I would not have been able to sing it to Linda on that day without totally losing it. (It was picked up by some Christian artists and recorded.)

Music relieves factory workers of boredom and fatigue, "warriors forget their fear and rush into battle, and the mentally ill are helped to health." (16)

Music fuels revolutions. Begbie writes:

"Polish sacred music played a key role in the solidarities that eventually overturned communism. It is small wonder that some totalitarian regimes have been extremely nervous about music (the Taliban administration in Afghanistan sought to ban virtually all music because of its perceived social dangers) and that others have unashamedly harnessed it precisely because of its influence (the Nazis, for example). Any Christian who cares about the good of human society ought to be concerned with what kind of power music might possess and how such power might be used responsibly." (16)

After my son David died, listening to U2's "One Tree Hill" was part of my healing.

For the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, "the slow movement from Brahms' third Quartet pulled him back from the brink of suicide." (16)

Sting has said, music "saved my life. It saved my sanity." (16)

"Music," wrote George Steiner, is "a preferred medium for expressing religious meaning." (16) Steiner says:

"Music and the metaphysical, in the root sense of that term, music and religious feeling, have been virtually inseparable. It is in and through music that we are most immediately in the presence of the logically, of the verbally inexpressible but wholly palpable energy in being that communicates to our senses and to our reflection what little we can grasp of the naked wonder of life... It has long been, it continues to be, the unwritten theology of those who lack or reject any formal creed." (In Begbie, 16-17)

Begbie cites, for example, "the fierce crucifixion symphonies of James MacMillan." (17) My soul bleeds out as I listen to MacMillan's "Christus Vincet," or his "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani?" (Both songs are on his "7 Last Words From the Cross.") Begbie gives us six pages on MacMillan. (176-182)

I could barely listen to Glen Hansard's "Once" soundtrack, since I was playing it at the time our dog So-Fee had to be put down.

And then there's the thing about worship. Over the past 40 years as a Jesus-follower there have been only a few worship songs (among bazillions of them) that have simultaneously broken and elevated my heart before God. When it happens, when it hits, it's non-discursive experience time. Such music is, for me, anointed by the Spirit of God, and speaks to me in ways that sermons and books cannot. Sometimes it heals. Sometimes, in and through and by it, I see sub specie aeternitatis.

Bono & U2 wrote "One Tree Hill" in honor of their friend Greg Carroll who died in a motorcycle accident. In the recording studio Bono felt he could only do one take of the song. It was too emotional, too power-filled, for him to do it again. Now U2 is doing it on tour. Will they make it through that song without breaking down?

Who will write the music that will fuel the revolution?