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Singing a New Song

How Shall We Sing a New Song in a Foreign Land

At the first Kairos Craft retreat of the New Year, we welcomed two ladies from Harrogate.  One was the organist at the church and was talking about a preacher coming, who’d written a new song, and what is more to a tune they didn’t know.  There was some evident concern, as to how well this would be received.  I understand the sentiment, as someone who routinely chooses new songs for worship, I’ve had some disasters – but continue to pick them, regardless of organists’ protestations. Reflecting on the congregation later, however, I realised I was quite troubled at the idea of a congregation that has found its music and lost a desire to learn new songs.

2 Chronicles 5:12-13 David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals.

According to Chronicles, there were 288 people ‘trained and skilled in the music of the Lord’ , elsewhere it describes 120 priests sounding trumpets, and singers lifting their voices in praise singing ‘He is good; his love endures forever’.

 The Psalms, is, of course, a hymnbook, although it doesn’t always come across that way to us.  When Nehemiah rebuilt the temple, his first act was to appoint gatekeepers and then musicians.   Music has been at the heart of worship and the spiritual life of our faith, long before Jesus.  There are fewer references to music in the New Testament, although Paul admonishes the Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:18-20  18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which suggests to me it remained something that was practised and valued. I attended a connexional weekend in January, and was asked in the preliminary form, to choose a ‘worship song to be added to the playlist.’.  I realised then, that although I regularly choose hymns and worship songs for when I lead worship in church, I rarely these days play them for my own spiritual benefit. On the other hand, I recall quite clearly, how important they were for me when I started at university.  Having been brought up in a traditional Methodist church, that only had the old Methodist hymnal, and ‘Sing to God’ a small yellow book, which contained the livelier songs of the day, I was hungry to sing something that felt more upbeat and relevant.  Walcot church, in Bath, where I joined Methsoc, used Mission Praise, which in contrast felt so joyful and vibrant and singing those songs just seemed to lift my faith too.  After leaving university and attending a church in Paignton, there was a group of people who attended Christian conferences like Easter People, and there we were introduced to even more modern worship songs.  I started buying them as CDs and would listen to them regularly, always keen to hear the newest output from Graham Kendrick and his ilk. 

A decade or so later, and learning to lead worship, and take more notice of the theology of what I was singing, I found myself appreciating and valuing afresh the old hymns (although they still warranted and yearned for less dirgy tunes!).  I increasingly began to find some of the worship songs I’d once enjoyed, empty and repetitive.  I began to appreciate those that were deeper and more biblical.  Matt Redman seemed to speak to my evangelical heart, and Casting Crowns spoke to my frustrations with church. 

In more recent years as my theology has become more progressive, I’ve begun to struggle again, with some of the black-and-white certainty of some of those songs, such as the ‘wrathful’ God, and general ignoring of the grey areas of life.  Over my sabbatical, I visited the websites of several progressive churches in the US and found that several have started writing their own worship songs, which expressed far more reality, doubt and questions.  Sam & Hayley Hedrick who lead worship in one such church wrote this

We are leaving
Crumbling buildings
Full of dust and
Full of judgement
We are leaving
Violent teaching
From those who refuse to
Learn from the best of us

We are seeking a
Holy healing
Full of hope and
Full of justice
I’ve got a feeling that
We’re in the middle of it
I’ve got a feeling
She’ll see us to the end of it

( Middle of It: Sam & Hayley Hedrick)

I even found a Progressive Christian music playlist on Spofity, including this, which speaks to my sense of us inhabiting a liminal / wilderness time….

I walk through desert plains, here on the open range
Feel like a renegade, looking to runaway
Here in the wilderness, I’m coming face-to-face
With all that I have done, and who I will become, yeah yeah

I run through wasted lands and barren fields of sands
Hoping to find a path, a city made to last
I’m searching for the flame, my heart will find the way
I will not hesitate until I see

The place, the place, where my eyes are finally open
And the winds of change are blowing
The place, the place, where I love You in the mystery
And You rewrite my history in the grey, yeah yeah

I’m breaking down the walls, ’til I see the sun
I fight for kingdom come, this has just begun
I press through tears in pain, to reach in Heaven’s gate
I will not hesitate until I see

The place, the place, where my eyes are finally open
And the winds of change are blowing
The place, the place, where I love You in the mystery
And You rewrite my history

The place, the place, where my eyes are finally open
And the winds of change are blowing
The place, the place, where I see You in the moment
And all my discontentment fades away

(In The Grey/The Place  William Matthews)

Obviously, Kairos largely embraces online meetings, and the technology not yet being such that singing together is feasible, corporate singing, or sharing music has been limited to one person playing and others listening, or muting and coping with the reality of our own voices. We still do share music, in our times of prayer. We shared in our in-person Desert Island Discs gathering in Hull and used it to tell our stories. In some ways it’s been refreshing to experience something of ‘ when the music fades, all is stripped away’ (Matt Redman) , but the result for me is I hunger for it to be a part of our collective life in some way again.

What I have found more recently, is that music has become a larger part of my own daily life. Having signed up to Spotify, I’ve been able to revisit some of the music that has punctuated my life story. Through a combination of the software’s subsequent recommendations, using Google’s ability to find the name of a song being played in my vicinity, or simply stumbling upon new music, I have found other music that expresses my emotions and life’s ups and downs, in ways that worship songs never quite managed to. I’ve found music, that can lift me when I am down, and conversely, music that can express my misery or confusion. I guess, like hymns, sometimes we use music to express what we cannot put into words, enabling us to dwell more fully in the reality of our situation. Other times, we use it as a means to break free from the emotions and thoughts that constrain us, to sing songs of hope when we feel hopeless, and songs of faith when we are full of doubt. Maybe the beauty of our corporate singing, is that we get to share the depth of ourselves in a way we would struggle to do with words alone.

Andy Lindley Jan 2024

  • I wonder what your relationship with music is like?
  • How important is music in your spiritual life?
  • What’s more important to you, the words, or the tune?
  • How important is corporate music for us as a movement?
  • How might we incorporate it into our shared life?
  • Which songs are speaking to you at the moment?

3 thoughts on “Singing a New Song”

  1. Music has been important to me for as long as I can remember. I really value listening to all sorts – revisiting Supertramp is a current favourite. I love turning the volume up when I have the house to myself. I might be kidding myself thats its mindful, stress busting, but there is something about being in the moment with songs you love.

    In terms of ‘spiritual’ music I’ve been looking for something more progressive and also which I like in terms of the musical style. I think its out there, eg John Bell at Flourish had some good examples of hymns, its just on Sunday we keep getting the same old stuff with substitutionary atonement as the core. Anyway Spotify has been been helping me a bit & also some friends. Current favourites are Rend Collective – Hallelujah Anyway and Lauren Daigle – You Say – they both recognise the struggle of life and own up to vulnerability.

    Thanks for the topic / questions.

  2. Love it 👍 Music is a massive part of my life mostly in my faith journey. I enjoy a variety of artists and styles. I find it incredibly therapeutic as you say, lifts me up or helps me express my troubles when I can’t find the words. I have music on every day, I’m not sure what is speaking to me most at the moment my sentiment is quite variable.
    As for words or tune I find words have greater importance to but the tune has to match the sentiment being portrayed.
    Thanks for the post! I can totally relate 😁

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