BWAHAHAHA! How to write a praise song (in 5 minutes or less)

This is such a perfect (and unfortunately, true) satire of what passes today for Christian praise music, it must be viewed by all.

The beauty (and power) of this brilliant and clever video is that it’s dead on the money. The unimaginative, grammatically ignorant, theologically defunct tripe that passes for “worship music” today is parodied perfectly by Garrett Vandenberg.

Watch it and lament what has become of contemporary worship music.

my choice for worst christian song ever: ancient words

Rod of Alexandria has begun a meme asking different bloggers to choose the worst Christian song in existence and describe why it is so abhorrent to them. Those who know me know that I have been no fan of much of what passes as “Christian music” for many years, be it what we today call contemporary worship or “praise” music, ridiculous, out-of-date hymns (especially those particular hymns with “Christian soldier” themes, or those that employ the use of the word “yonder”), or the newest fad, wannabe Christian rock songs, which (imho) were they any good would be able to cut it with the big boys and girls on the “mainstream” charts like U2. The fact that so many Christian musicians and bands choose to flee to the safety of the “Contemporary Christian” minor leagues to have any chance at “success” is quite telling.

And let not a Christian song’s widespread presence in churches across the country fool you; the fact that a “praise song” gets played repeatedly in many worship settings is usually more of an indication that the song’s instrumentation is easy to play, or that the congregants mindlessly singing along lack any theological training or inquisitiveness than it is an indicator of a well-written song. Let us also not neglect the possibility that many crappy Christian songs survive only because individuals in worship settings are often too polite to look to the person standing next to him/her and say, “This song really, really sucks!” For some reason, we’re told we’re not supposed to criticize bad Christian songs, because it may have edifying qualities to another listener no matter how theologically unstable the song’s lyrics may be. This phenomenon tells us much about the state of Christian music (and Christian knowledge of the actual text of the Bible) today. But I digress…

Contemporary worship or “praise” music bugs me the most. With their theologically vapid lyrics, I have just about had it with what passes for worship music today. The theological complexity of many of these songs today often sounds like little more than: “Jeeezussss, I sooo freakin’ loooove youuuuu, you are my all in all, fill me with your presence, help me feeeeel you inside me, me me me me me me me me.”

It seems “worship” is quickly taking the place of doctrine/dogma as that which stands in the way of what ought to be at the center of the Christian life: service to others. But, service to others is hard (read: “haaarrrrd,” like a whiny child), and takes a lot of time, as does forgiveness, kindness, making do with what you have, and educating oneself about precisely what one believes (and, for that matter, what one does not believe, as well as what can be proved and what cannot be proved, what is outdated, and what no longer belongs as part of a modern Christian life!). It’s much easier and much more fun to see church as a divine therapy session, where self-righteous, self-absorbed doctrine helps us feel superior, and “meaningful worship” helps us recharge for another dreary week of actually having to interact with others outside of the gated communities and guard booths, and make a difference in the unsterilized, unsanitary world Christians are supposed to be affecting. But again, I digress…

Being raised in the Restoration Movement in an a cappella tradition, song lyrics are all the more important, especially when there is no instrumental accompaniment to cover up poorly written, theologically defunct, or grammatically incorrect words.

Speaking of theologically lacking, grammatically incorrect music, let me introduce Lynn DeShazo and perhaps one of the worst offerings of grammatical nonsense of the past few decades. About five years ago, the University Church of Christ in Malibu introduced a song entitled Ancient Words into the repertoire. This group of thrown-together words that some call a “song” has got to be one of the most ill-conceived songs in the recent history of the English language. And yet, it gets passed along from one church to another like a joint at a reggae concert, often without anyone ever pausing to ask, “but is this really any good for us?” If you succeed in getting past the fact that Michael W. Smith is performing it (above), you are then left with the unavoidable reality that the song is a complete butchery of the English language.

Here are the lyrics:

Holy words long preserved
for our walk in this world,
They resound with God’s own heart.
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

CHORUS:
Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you,
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Holy words of our Faith
Handed down to this age
Came to us through sacrifice
Oh heed the faithful words of Christ.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world.
They resound with God’s own heart
Oh let the ancient words impart.

CHORUS x4
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Please allow me for a second to explain the grammatical concept of a transitive verb.

Intransitive verbs do not need an object. I run. The dog eats. He dies. These verbs are intransitive; they don’t require direct or indirect objects. One cannot die something. You die. In this sentence, “die” is an intransitive verb. However, transitive verbs are verbs that require objects. For instance, were I to say, “Tomorrow, I am bringing,” you would think me an idiot, because “bringing” is a transitive verb and requires a direct object. What, precisely, am I bringing? (Answer: I’m bringing the smackdown on this disgrace of a song.)

Now re-read the lyrics to Ancient Words above and pay special attention to the chorus. “Oh let the ancient words impart.” Period. Impart what exactly? Impart direction? Impart wisdom? Impart love? Joy? Happiness? What are the ancient words imparting? Nothing! We don’t know what the ancient words are imparting because the song’s author never tells us! She just wrote some pretty sounding ancient words together, but forgot the ancient rules of grammar!

Here’s a Christian lyric for you: Of what good are open hearts if we know not what the words impart? (See, this stuff is easy.)

It’s a sixth grade grammatical song for an increasingly sixth grade Christian consumer market, willing to recite anything – including theological and grammatical nonsense – just to have their ears tickled and feel good. In many contemporary worship services, words mean nothing, but, if we sing them with heart and passion, perhaps we can overlook the fact that the lyrics are fundamentally ridiculous.

So add Ancient Words to Ha-la-la-la-la-la-la lei-lu-jah (whose second verse, ‘Jesus is a friend,’ sounds like a bunch of snakes hissing at each other), Blue Skies and Rainbows, Shine Jesus Shine, Onward Christian Soldiers, I Come to the Garden Alone, and anything written and/or arranged for a cappella by Ken Young as songs that should never be sung in corporate worship settings. And, as I have the unfortunate experience being reminded of others, I shall add them to this list.

Until such a time as this, allow me to offer this challenge to songwriters: focus on the lyrics. Good lyrics make good songs. But, don’t just write pretty sounding lyrics. Show your lyrics to others, preferably, to those with a theological education and at least a sixth grade education in English grammar. Use poetic license, but check for glaring grammatical errors. And, for the love of all that is good and holy, write lyrics that have meaning beyond simply fitting alliteratively into a fixed syllabic space.

Seriously, it’s OK

Alexander Campbell and a Guitar

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton and His Band, MidLife Crisis, Rock Pepperdine

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton performs with his band MidLife Crisis at Pepperdine. Screen capture from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q_fyO8m0ug)

Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton performs with his band MidLife Crisis at Pepperdine. Screen capture from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q_fyO8m0ug)

Pepperdine University has been rocked by a MidLife Crisis – the band that is. Pepeprdine President Andrew K. Benton and his MidLife Crisis band mates, Jeff Pippin, Chris Stivers, Reber Carroll, and Logan Carroll performed at the President’s Brock House mansion last September, 2009, and professionally edited videos of the event are now available for public viewing on YouTube. It was a great performance and students appeared to have a great time as demonstrated by the large number of them dancing during the performance. (And if you can get kids to dance these days, you’ve got to be doing something right.)

You can watch videos of the set list on rrcarrol’s YouTube Channel.

Songs include “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World (original video here):

“Fire” by Jimi Hendrix (original song with lyrics here):

and “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby (original live performance here):

Let me state clearly that I fully support President Benton’s participation in a band (in fact, I wish I could play that well), and I love his band’s choice of songs. President Benton’s band was true to the original on their version of Jimmy Eats World’s The Middle (original here), and Jeff Pippin absolutely nailed the solo during Jimi Hendrix’ Fire (original here).

It is worth pointing out, however, that there are some in the Churches of Christ who would object, quite strenuously in fact, to these same instruments, same voices, and this same amplification equipment being used to sing songs about God. For some reason, using these instruments and voices to sing lyrics like Jimi Hendrix’ classic line, “You say your mom ain’t home, it ain’t my concern. Just don’t play with me, and you won’t get burned. I have only one itching desire: Let me stand next to your fire,” on the campus of Pepperdine University is wholly good and acceptable (and even a little bit rockin’), but using these same instruments and voices and microphones in a worship setting to sing praises to God and about God is somehow heretical and displeasing to God.

I fail to comprehend this so-called logic. Allow me to clarify the position of those who oppose the use of instrumental music in worship:

  • Play guitar to Jimi Hendrix = good
  • Play guitar to God = bad
  • Play piano during “The Way It is” = permissible
  • Play piano during “I’m Going That Way” = not permissible
  • Pep Band play in Firestone Fieldhouse during basketball game = scriptural
  • Simply play recorded instrumental music before worship service in Firestone Fieldhouse = not scriptural
  • Play piano in Raitt Recital Hall or Brock House or Elkins Auditorium anytime during the week except Sunday from 10:15 to 11:30 am = OK
  • Play piano in Elkins Auditorium on Sunday from 10:15 to 11:30 am = Not OK

I don’t know about you, but I find that argument hovering somewhere between hypocritical and indefensible. How is using these talents and tools for fun and dancing at the Pepperdine President’s mansion permissible “under the law,” but using these same talents and tools to honor God not allowable “under the law”? Go figure. I don’t understand why some would venture to make this obviously strained argument.

When someone can adequately explain this argument to me (with a straight face), I’ll stop raising the issue. Until such a time as this, I shall continue to raise the issue of why instrumental music is not permitted by the Elders of the University Church if Christ in Malibu during worship services.

I call upon the Elders of the University Church of Christ in Malibu to host a public forum on the topic of the occasional use of instrumental music in worship, and invite all student, faculty, and staff members to participate at a convenient time when all can be present and voice their opinions.

Until then, I thank President Benton and his band, MidLife Crisis, for continuing to bring rockin’ instrumental music to Pepperdine!!

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D. (UCLA)

thoughts on the use of instrumental music in worship

Man with GuitarI’ve begun posting some of my thoughts on church-related issues on the Malibu Church of Christ Blog.

For instance, I recently posted some thoughts entitled, “Opposed to instrumental music in worship? Here’s the site for you,” which discuss the ongoing opposition from some to the use of instrumental music in the Churches of Christ.

The position that congregations/churches (including Churches of Christ) should only use a cappella music during worship is completely indefensible (imho) outside of an argument from tradition (i.e., we’ve never done it that way, so let’s not start now because it might upset some more traditional donors contributors university administrators members).

It is not enough to point out that other denominations and institutions of higher learning mock those sectarians and sectarian institutions who still argue that any church that uses instrumental music during worship is “unpleasing to God” or worse yet, “unbiblical” or even “heretical,” because sectarians draw strength from isolation and ridicule. (They feel righteously persecuted for their “correct” beliefs.) Rather, we must have a transparent discussion in public about the issue of instrumental music in corporate worship, and must act upon the results of that discussion. During that debate, it will be important for those holding various points of view on the subject speak up. Likewise, when completely untenable, theologically sloppy arguments are made on either side of the issue, they should countered as appropriate, and should be challenged (professionally) even if the one making the argument has a Ph.D. in religious studies! (That goes for me too.)

The church must stop cowering to those whom seek to impose their minority opinion on the rest of the congregation, and whom refuse even to bring the issue up for debate.

It’s simply time we had the discussion. We can have it in this space or elsewhere, but we must have the discussion, and we must act on that discussion’s outcome.

the purpose of worship

i find myself promoting some comments i recently made on worship to a blog post of its own. i feel that if one is going to criticize the practice of others and point out an injustice or a problem, then one ought to do something constructive as well, like offer a viable alternative. in this spirit, please allow me a few brief thoughts on the purpose of worship.


"Contemplation" by Jean Proulx Dibner. Bronze and Stone.

"Contemplation" by Jean Proulx Dibner. Bronze and Stone.

i have a fundamental difference of opinion with many others regarding the purpose of worship. this difference in the understanding of the purpose of worship is based upon a related difference in my understanding of what it means to live a life of faith. i seek enlightenment through knowledge and reason, allowing for the possibility of that which i cannot understand, but rejecting that which has been materially disproved, lamenting that which is ignorant, and attempting to shed light on darkness. a life of faith is not about a set of orthodox beliefs, but a set of adopted behaviors that rejects complacency and instead embraces a life dedicated to solving problems, be they intellectual or practical, individual or social.

a life of faith seeks to utilize one’s talents to help others. for me, a life of faith is to endow others with verifiable facts, teach them to reason, and encourage them to ask questions. a life of faith is one that understands the science of the physical universe, as well as the unquantifiable mysteries of love and beauty. a life of faith is neither about making money nor preserving money, but making sure that others have when they have need.

a life of faith should not revolve around proper doctrine and dogma, but service and compassion. it is not about being right; it is about admitting that we don’t know, and supplementing our ignorance with acts of kindness and service.

this understanding of a life of faith manifests itself in a particular view of worship. the goal of worship is not ecstasy, nor is it communion with the divine. in fact, the goal is not even about getting to heaven, as if proper behavior is somehow a means to an end, a capitalistic investment for a future return on my deposit. rather, the goal of a life of faith should be to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with god. it is to give the cup of cold water when i have one to give. it is to celebrate the joy, lament the sorrow, and laugh with (and at times at) that which is humorous.

for those who see worship as a pep rally, a concert, a money-making endeavor, or a charismatic communion with the divine, they have received their reward. rather, i view worship as an opportunity to say thank you. thank you for my life – good or bad – and for the opportunity to think, wonder, rationalize, philosophize, ponder, ask questions, discuss, learn, experience, and hopefully pass on both a balanced mindset of discovery and disposition of service to those around me.

worship is acknowledging and offering thanks for my very existence, the mere opportunity i’ve had to experience life itself.

if worship has any purpose at all, it is an opportunity to say thank you. it is not for us, but for god.

so here’s my problem with nonsensical charismatic / pentecostal worship

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Prov. 22:15)

unless, of course, the child’s parents and the church authorities are fools as well, in which case, they have no rod. (they’re welcome to borrow some of mine. there’s plenty.)

i don’t know whether to laugh directly at this kid because this is funny, or be angry with his parents and that church’s leaders for allowing this ridiculous nonsense. the child is obviously emulating what he sees on a sunday morning, which gives me even less comfort. i do not see the value in a style of preaching that is little more than a cheerleader screaming theological palaver in a metered cadence.

seriously, what is this? how is this in any way beneficial, worthwhile, or even spiritual? at least someone had the sense to subtitle it with equally ridiculous, phonetically correct subtitles. allowing children to do childish things in an otherwise sacred setting simply because some think it’s ‘cute’ is sheer stupidity. it reveals the foolish nature of the child’s parents and the church’s leaders. it is sheer and utter nonsense. the parents should be embarrassed and the church’s pastor should be canned.

then again, when church is little more than a pep rally, what can you expect?

i’m a fairly smart guy, but i fail to grasp the purpose and value of dancing like a nut in church. church is not jazzercise. seriously, join a gym. if you’re going to jump around like a jackrabbit that’s gotta pee, at least call it what it is: a show. seriously, get a band and some music and sell some tickets. because that’s what it is.

at least someone had the sense to dub some heavy metal over this nonsense. seriously, when church becomes the place to go for a weekly pick-me-up, both church and parishioner have failed. i suggest you leave that congregation, visit a starbucks to get your shot of espresso, and re-examine your life.

(HT:Jim West)

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