Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Finding Faith in Pop Culture: Music we Love

Plato once wrote, 'let me write the songs of a nation, I care not for its laws' which is a big statement. What's so special about songs, about things in the world that we find beautiful, and the artists who create them? To St. Pope John Paul II, artists had immense power. 'Beauty is the vocation bestowed on the artist by the creator in the gift of creative talent.' And, every now and again, you find this beauty, the essence of God, in the mainstream of our world. 

Here's just a few places we've found it in music.

Passenger - Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea 

(Megan James's choice)

Passenger (that guy who made it big with 'Let Her Go') has just released a new album. Some of the tracks spoke to me in a way I really didn’t expect; they spoke to me prayerfullySo much of the album revolves around the idea that in life we need more than just ourselves, and whereas Passenger sings of a romantic interest to fill that void, it's easy to imagine God there instead.

The opening song, ‘Everything’, was one I instantly connected with;

‘something stirs down in your soul,
 if everything is nothing ‘til you got someone to share it with.’

This line not only reminds me how life is made so much more meaningful when it is shared with Christ, but it also reminds me of how faith is elevated through fellowship and mission, and how our faith grows through sharing it with others. Passenger really explores the idea of giving yourself, singing

‘Give 'em everything

Give 'em light and dark
Give 'em everything
Give 'em all your heart
Give 'em everything

For me, it echoes the idea of us offering everything we have up to Christ. We offer him our highs, our lows, our strengths, and our weakness. We give Him all that we have; we give Him our service and our surrender, and through laying all of this down at His feet, we receive His grace and His immeasurable love. 

Chance the Rapper - Blessings

(Loretta D'Silva's choice)

As a musician, my favourite way to pray is through singing and playing my instruments but extending that, I find rap and spoken-word beautiful ways of communicating prayerful feelings to the people around you and to God. 

When Chance the Rapper performed ‘Blessings’ live on Jimmy Fallon's show, I found that each member of the band that had been pieced together for the performance brought something unique; their individual talents were joined together to perform this music which in turn became bigger than the sum of its parts. This rhapsodic approach, plus the meditation on the words ‘are you ready for your miracle’ throughout the song inspired me to pray that my life and the work I am doing would all work towards God. It reminded me of how it is God who is inspiring me and creating through me every day, building up to these miracles.

'I speak to God in public,
I speak to God in public.
Keep my rhymes in couplets,
I think we mutual fans.'

Bear’s Den - Sahara

(Kirsten Brown's choice)

When it comes to blending beautiful instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics Bear’s Den are hands down producing some of the most evocative music out there. One of my fave’s - 'Sahara' - is stunning. It’s sort of a ‘testament to the old me’ with its nostalgic, folky feel. It speaks to me so powerfully of the fact that, for many of us, there has been (or is) something in our lives which feels so much a part of us that it seems unshakable, it’s controlling, it's ‘who we are’ and we feel resigned to it. My favourite line is in the chorus.

 “All my life, I wasn’t honest enough and I thought I would never get over you.” 

How many times have we all been there? And yet our faith shows us that the invasion of Love - of Jesus - completely tears down the lie of ‘I’m not good enough.’ It starts out solemnly but always has me absolutely joyful at the end as they sing out “BUT I found Love"

Yup, they’re pretty awesome.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

(Isaac Withers' choice)

The more I listened to this album, the more I realised that it was describing spiritual warfare. It's a prodigal story overall, in which, ‘Lucy’ is a recurring character and is Kendrick’s way of referring to none other than Lucifer. Yep, the Devil. Sometimes, Lamar raps from Lucy’s perspective.

'I'm Lucy/ I loosely heard prayers on your first album truly/ 
Lucy don't mind cause at the end of the day you'll pursue me.’

Those lines are pretty relatable, the feeling of entrapment, returning to old sins - and all this being voiced by a mainstream rapper? It’s not all dark though. It picks up, mainly because of the presence of faith in the album. ‘Alright’ a song about police brutality and racial tensions in America, talks a lot about pain, and trusting God through it.

‘I’m at the preachers door/
my knees getting weak/
and my gun might blow/ 
but if God got us then we gon’ be alright.

It’s an album that mostly ignores the girls, drugs and parties tropes of hip-hop, and instead focuses on the spiritual struggle. Instead of stoking more hatred, it preaches hand it to the father, which makes it a truly timeless album.

Dustin Kensrue – Please Come Home

(Ben Hince's choice)

Ok, so this song is much more overt in its religious connotations, but it’s an incredible song which you have to listen to! If you haven't heard of Dustin Kensrue he’s vocalist, lyricist, and rhythm guitarist in the band Thrice, but it’s really his solo work which has been grabbing my attention – and ‘Please Come Home’ is one of his finest.

It’s a clever and lyrically modern take on the timeless and very powerful story of the Prodigal son, and Dustin has written it in a way that is beautifully spoken through the loving perspective of the Father; taking us on a journey into the anticipation with which the Father longs for the return of his son.

'Don’t you know son that I love you, and I don’t care where you’ve been, so please come home'   

Bruce Springsteen - I'll Work for your Love

(Emily Milne's choice)

Ah Bruce. The Boss. How to choose a song to write about when there are so many? 
Springsteen crafts the lyrics to his songs so well – he captures emotions using deceptively simple language in such a beautiful way. One song I’ve always particularly loved is ‘I’ll Work for Your Love’. 

I listened to this one a lot on the motorway back from a trip to Russia once, and in the haze of jetlag I remember being so surprised by the lyrics. The chorus is 

“I’ll work for your love dear, 
I’ll work for your love, 
what others may want for free, 
I’ll work for – your love”. 

What a beautiful expression of true romance! He captures so well the idea that love is about sacrifice for the other person, that it involves work, and yes, that so many people now have no idea about the amount of work that love involves.  Our culture tells us that love should be easy and fun, and when it stops being easy and fun it’s not love anymore and we should move on. Bruce sees straight through that lie and brings the truth to us in a powerful way. 

Bastille - Weight of living, Pt. 1

(Paddie Denton's choice)

Bastille, are a personal favourite of mine. I could go into their musicality and why I think they're great, but really it's always their lyrics that do it for me. The lyrics of one song are particularly powerful to me:  'The Weight of living, Pt. 1'

'There's an albatross around your neck,
All the things you've said,
And the things you've done,
Can you carry it with no regrets,
Can you stand the person you've become,

The Albatross is a metaphor for all of your life's regrets and mistakes, but it's far from a hopeless song as it repeats itself, talking about how through a light, you can let go of those things.

 'Ooh there's a light
Ooh there's a light.'

Gregory Porter - Take me to the Alley

(Bryony Wells' choice)

I love noticing where we can find Jesus in popular culture! For me, Gregory Porter’s song ‘Take me to the alley’ is simply too good not to be included in this list.  The chorus of this song is: 
“They will be surprised when they hear him say: Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted ones
Take me to the lonely ones
That somehow lost their ways.”

According to JazzFM, Gregory wrote this song in honour of his mother who used to take in people off the streets and to teach his son to care for the poor in society; but I definitely think it is also about Jesus! Listening to this song was a great reminder to me that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  The song goes on to say

“Let them hear me say
I am your friend
Come to my table
Rest here in my garden
You will have a pardon”

Are these words not the ones we long to hear from Jesus whenever it feels like we ‘somehow lost our way’? He comes to us as our friend, invites us to His table and enables us find our rest in His great mercy.  Let’s not be surprised when Jesus returns and He says to us ‘Take me to the alley’ and better yet let’s pray that He would find us already there, and with the hurting, the lonely and the lost, as we await His return!


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