Music, Musings

Songwriting Project…and how YOU can make it happen!

For the past couple years, some of my friends/brothers/sisters have been collaborating on some songs and have formed the Gallery Church Collective: a songwriters group in, of, and for the church.

Some of you may know, but we now have enough material to be able to record our first EP, entitled “Identity” and have created a gofundme page to raise support for the recording, mastering, and release.

We would love for you to consider supporting us, and there are multiple levels of giving which trigger fun rewards (and even a chance to be on the recording yourself!).

The link is here

See the video below…

church, Music, worship

When We Gather: Relationships

I am starting a new series of posts called “When We Gather” in an attempt to work through some of the main ideas/values/guiding principles that (in)form our gathered times of worship. I would love you thoughts in the comments section, as much of this is a work in progress!

Being that this is the first post in this series, there can be an implicit statement of priority that follows: i.e. the first topic or value is the most important. There is a sense in which this is true here. Though important is not necessarily the best term. Think of it more like the idea of an irreducible minimum. Since the focus will be on “gathered” worship, you cannot gather unless you are more than, well, just you! This brings in the concept of relationship.

In fact, I would argue relationship is so foundational, it must be addressed even before the Scriptures, because the Scriptures were written the context of the relationship between God and his people, compiled in community, read to gathered people, and recount songs that were sung by the people of God. This can be a serious oversight that we have when reading our nicely bound Bibles today: most of the “yous” are plural; addressed to a community, or multiple communities.

But “relationship” can still be a sort of abstract term. So I will prefer a different term: family.

I know “family” brings out many different feelings and thoughts. Family can be a filling place and a draining place. It is made up  of people who show love, care, and concern. It is also a place where trust has been broken, where people hurt each other, and where sometimes family members are just flat-out selfish. It is made up of those with different personalities, different goals, different beliefs, and different opinions. It’s a place  of benevolence and and a place of indifference.

But it is all bound by one thing: a family belongs to itself. Sometimes, that is the only thing that keeps you together.

Sounds like church to me.

So now, get this group of people together, along with those who don’t yet belong to the family (guests), and try to get them to sing together, pray together…worship…together.

That sounds like a crazy idea. Even a naive idea.

Or maybe…it is God’s idea.

Paul’s letter to the church family in Ephesus is replete with the idea of different people belonging to the same family:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Eph 2:14-18 NIV, emphasis mine)

So this new, blended, diverse family is bound by one thing: we have the same Father because of Jesus.

When we gather as this family, what should/could our worship look like? (not rhetorical! let me know what you think!)

Baltimore, church, Movement, Music, worship

Why We Sing-Three Movements

During our worship conversation last night (which I will be posting thoughts from in the coming weeks), I mentioned a talk I did with our church back in 2010 (wow….has it been that long?) about the WHY behind singing in the church. Using the analogy of a piece of music with movements, I said that there are 3 movements (possibly more) than make up/inform the whole of church singing:
-Story (History)

Download the audio here.


What do you think? Why do we sing? What informs/guides your singing?

Doubt, Music, worship

Doubt and Liturgy

“To believe is human, to doubt, divine.”

This is the tagline of one of my latest reads that a few of my friends are in the process of discussing. It is a work written by theologian, philosopher, and provocateur, Peter Rollins entitled Insurrection.

There is much to discuss within the pages, and I would be happy to buy a cup of coffee for anyone who would care to read and discuss it with me (not an empty offer, by the way!) But I will have to leave much of that discussion to such venues, or to my current “Breaking Bad Theology” night which is exactly what its double-entendred name describes (discussing a deconstructionist book [Rollins] and then watching Breaking Bad).

All that being said, I feel as though one of the places that Rollins seemed to intrigue me the most were his statements concerning the place of doubt in Christian worship or liturgy.

He uses Jesus’ statement on the cross as a starting point, as recorded in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

For Rollins, this is a witness of Jesus expressing what he describes as an existential or experiential atheism, calling it “the deepest, most radical form of divine loss” (p. 21).

There is much to unpack here (and he does), but in essence, he argues that for us to fully participate in the death of Jesus, we also must go through Crucifixion; a process of having all comfort and structure stripped away until there is nothing left.

And to much of this, I would agree. Now here is where it can get a little scary for us. Many of us would say “yes and amen” to the fact that doubt is real and suffering is real and that many of us have felt that God isn’t there.

We would say “yes and amen” to this fact. But would we so regularly agree with actually experiencing it? That is, would we eagerly desire to engage in such a deep sense of loss or participate in an experience of disillusionment?

This is the part that has given me pause for reflection. As one who seeks to craft an environment where the realities of our faith can be experienced and shape us, the large absence of doubt in our current liturgies concerns me (and I say “our” in the sense of my church, not in universal sense, as I am in no place to speak for others).
Am I offering a sort of holy security blanket in order to shield people from the stark realities that they need to experience, as Christ did? Do we not have opportunities to fully feel the loss because we are so eager to get to the phrase “but God” or speak of resurrection?

What if we were to sing songs that express doubt, that recount anger toward God, or that question his very existence or presence? How would that be received? And better yet, how could it be truly good for us? We do identify with break-up songs a lot, after all…and even sing them! And this can be a sort of catharsis. It is one thing to say that loss happens, and it quite another to declare, in the loudest voice, that loss has happened to me.

But we rarely refuse to sing such things because we say we “know better” than what we are singing. We are quick to say “Yes it feels this way, but Jesus is alive.” “All things work together for good.” “Consider it joy when you face trials” (this last one being one of my least favorite, poorly-quoted phrases that others say to suffering people–one I heard way too often while I was enduring some great losses of my own).

Jesus knew he would be alive again, didn’t he? He said many times that he would be raised. But that fact did not seem to prevent him from being grieved and overwhelmed with sorrow “even to the point of death” (Mark 14) and then proclaiming his felt absence of God. This is not to mention that he still had (has?) scars to prove it. Jesus even directs Doubting Thomas to touch (experience) Jesus’ scars as proof of the fact of his resurrection. Could it be that we need to become more acquainted with the “scars” of Jesus?

What do you think? Should there be room for doubt in corporate worship times? If so, how?

Baltimore, church, city, Movement, Music, Sunday Setlist, worship

He is Risen, Indeed! An Easter 2012 Recap

What an incredible weekend we had! As I write this, I am amazed at how many parts of your body can be sore at once, yet praising God that I still have a voice! What a joy it was to be able to join in with my church family and friends (and their family and friends) and celebrate the good news that Jesus is Messiah and King and has defeated death!

We began our gathering with Angus Dei as our way of unburying the alleluias. This brought our Lenten journey full circle as we had removed the word “alleluia” from out weekend liturgies since Ash Wednesday in preparation for Easter. And it showed. What our church deposited then by burying, they dug up with interest and really lifted their voices, even when we sang in Spanish!

We then sang two hymns that I love. the first, All Creatures of our God and King, was originally penned by Saint Augustine and then arranged more recently by David Crowder. We then transitioned into the song In Christ Alone. To be honest, it is difficult to get through this song without getting choked up. The Gettys really know how to compact a rich Christology into 4 verses. This line gets me every time : No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me / From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny / no pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.

Ellis taught on Mark 8:31-9:1 in a teaching he entitled Antonym. He did a masterful job displaying how much we think that Jesus is the opposite of what he really is (i.e. Peter’s rebuke).

We then responded with more singing. A song that has become a sort of anthem for our church is All the Poor and Powerless. This song is by one of my new favorite worship artists, All Sons and Daughters. If you don’t have their latest full album, buy it. And if you do the iTunes thing, buy the LP on iTunes because it comes with chord charts and videos.

Then keeping with the ‘alleluia” theme, we did a rewritten version of Jef Buckley’s Hallelujah called Another Halllelujah by Lincoln Brewster. I LOVED singing this one with all our voices! We then ended our set with Gungor’s This is Not the End. This is such an epic sounding song and I have to give strong kudos to the band for working through the difficulties of this song (it changes time signature in the middle of the song and then goes back again!)

Thanks again to my bandmates and all our volunteers who made yesterday possible. It is an honor to serve with you all!

Grace and Peace be with you…


Music, Musings, Sunday Setlist

Sunday Set-list: 3/25/12

(Other people do this here.)

It was great to have Ellis back teaching us again from Mark 8 concerning the Pharisee’s response to Jesus . You can listen to the podcast here (it’s usually up on Tuesdays). 

Harbor East 10am Gathering

All Who Are Thirsty Brown/Robertson
This is a song based on Psalm 42. We did a meditation on this song, asking our King Jesus to come and fill in our depths with the deep that is him.

I Will Not Forget You Pasley

All We Need Hall

How Great is Our God/How Great Thou Art Tomlin
This song gives me chills every time I hear a group of people sing it. It never fails

Open the Eyes of My Heart Baloche

Highlandtown 5pm Gathering
Jon, Kate, Colter, and Jared did a wonderful job leading us Sunday evening! It was awesome to see how others can use their gifts to serve in our body! I will let them provide their own commentary, but I loved being able to sing with everyone!

Cannot Keep You Gungor

Be Thou My Vision Traditional

From the Inside Out Houston

Come Thou Fount Traditional
I loved the arrangement of this song. The band pulled off a noticeable homage to the Sufjan Stevens version of this song from one of his Christmas albums. Beautiful and wonderful, especially with voices added! Sadly, no banjo…if you play one, let me know!!

Feel free to share any thoughts or reflections in the comments section!

Baltimore, church, Music, Musings, Sunday Setlist

Sunday Set-list: 3/18/12

(Other people do this here.)

What an incredible weekend we had. We LOVED having Ed and Lorna Dobson with us this weekend. Ed taught about Jesus feeding of the four thousand in Mark 8. You can listen to the podcast here (it’s usually up on Tuesdays). 

Harbor East 10am Gathering

Already Here Niequist
Aaron Niequist, a worship leader at Willow Creek in Illinois, wrote this song. I love the concept behind it. So often we pray things like, “God, show your face,” or “We want you to come here and be with us,” rather than confessing that He is here. We rarely are awake to His presence. But He is always around us.

Oh, Great God Give Us Rest Crowder
We used this song as a form of Daily Window meditation, recognizing that God is the source of our rest and the giver of all the things we need.

All My Fountains Tomlin
Chris talks a lot about how this song came about here.

Let it Rain Farren
It was fun to weave together the ideas of God’s blessing as water. We recognize that all we have comes from him, and that he is the one who controls how blessings fall.

‘Til I See You Houston
My favorite part of Sunday was Ed answering a question by simply stating “I don’t have a good answer for that question.” He went on to say that there are some things about the Scriptures that are troubling at times, and he plans on asking God on the other side. But he still believes the Bible and he still trusts. There is a line in the song that says “‘Til I see you face to face, and grace amazing takes me home, I’ll trust in You.” That can be hard to do. But in light of all that we have received from him, it really shouldn’t be.

Highlandtown 5pm Gathering
(we did a similar set with a few changes…)

Everlasting God Tomlin

We Believe Original
I think I wrote this song over 2 years ago! We were learning about how Jesus made all of these claims to be God and meet our needs. It seemed right, at that time, to call Jesus the “pantry” of bread as we are just one beggar showing another beggar the way.

Feel free to share any thoughts or reflections in the comments section!

Baltimore, Music, Musings, Sunday Setlist, worship

Sunday Setlist: 2/26/11

(Other people do this here.)

This is a Monday Miracle! The Sunday Setlist is posted on a Monday before noon! It must be all the Sigur Rós I listened to this morning…

Sunday, February 26, 2012: Harbor East

Wake Up Sleeper Gungor
I love listening to this song..but playing it is another story! Playing this probably stretched me the most as a musician who had a very loose grasp of music theory. It is days like this that I am very grateful for a talented and creative band. I love you guys! A special thanks to Chris for working through all the hard parts of the song!

You Have Me Gungor
This song has become very special to me. It is a very simple song about how, when things fall apart, God is always faithful to us. It is incredible that when we find our faith “torn to shreds”, that is when we seem to find God. This is a love that goes beyond just mental belief. It is enduring relationship. And…the original recording of this song has a banjo!

Wholly Yours Crowder
As we have entered into a time of Lent in preparation for Easter, we decided to engage in this activity of “burying the Alleluia”. For some of you, this may be a weird concept or even seem legalistic. My friend, Josh, who has begun the process toward becoming an Anglican priest wrote something here that helps to better explain the tradition. So we will seek to omit the word from our liturgy, from our lives, until Easter. A verbal fast. We did that with this song, intentionally not singing it.

In Christ Alone Getty
This song has long been one of my favorite new hymns. I love the richness found in each verse. And you all did a wonderful job singing it! One of my favorite memories is singing this song a cappella in my theology class in college. After finishing a section on Christology (the study of Jesus and his work), one of the students requested that we sing that song. After all, proper theology (study of God) leads to doxology (worship of God).

Come Thou Fount Traditional
We sort of emulated the David Crowder arrangement of this song. I was really struck by the line “tune my heart to sing thy grace” and how it so perfectly fit with the message this week. Matt did a wonderful job explaining how we are born with a bad heart and how we need Jesus to give us a new one. It conjured up the picture of a child coming to Jesus with a little broken toy ukelele, and Jesus sends him away with a $3,000 Taylor guitar. And then he says, “Learn to play”. When we come to him and sing, worship, and learn in our gatherings, God is tuning us from the inside and teaching us how to play the melodies of his grace.

Sunday, January 19th 2012: Highlandtown
(we did a similar set with a few changes…)

Nothing Compares RockHarbor
See a video behind this song here.

Feel free to share any thoughts or reflections in the comments section!

music, Music, Suffering, Sunday Setlist

Sunday Setlist: 1/29/12

So, each week I will be posting the music setlist from our gatherings over the weekend. I do this as a part of a worship community that shares these sort of things.

As of now, we have two gatherings: Harbor East at 10am and Highlandtown at 5pm. I will try to post from the gatherings in which I lead, and make comments from those I don’t! You should expect to see these posts come through each Monday.

Sunday, January 29th 2012: Harbor East

Blessed Be Your Name Redman
The one thing about this song that stuck many of us was this: we have a choice in how we respond to life. Will we always choose to say that God’s name is blessed (meaning that He is good, worthy of our love, and holy)? This is a hard choice for me sometimes. Many of us want to curse His name, as if He is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. The truth is found not in whether or not He caused it but in the fact He is in the mess with You.

Scripture Reading: Mark 6:17-29-This is such a twisted and sad story. (you can listen to Pastor Ellis teach through it here.) We tried to approach it from the perspective of John the Baptist’s disciples and the grief they must have felt. Thus, many of the songs we sang would be classified as laments. These songs (or psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures) have a flow to them: crying out to God about pain, remembering how God has dealt in the past, questioning whether or not He will continue to act, deciding to trust that God will be faithful in the future.

How Can We Sing a Joyful Song? Original
This is a song that I wrote based on the text of Psalm 137. It deals with the sadness that the Israelites felt when they were asked to sing the joyful songs of home while they were forced to live somewhere else. Sometimes I have felt this way: it is difficult to sing when you feel you have nothing to be joyful about. Here are the lines from the last verse that bring us hope.

One day we will sing a joyful song
When darkness in the world all comes undone
All the wrong will be right
All the blinded will have sight
And peace will be our only battle song

Today we will sing a joyful song
‘Cause we all have a place where we belong
Together we are one

As are the Father and the Son
So together we will sing a joyful song 

Psalm 13 (How Long, O Lord) Doerksen
We focused on how sometimes the most profound times in our lives are when we can say the word “but”. This song echoes the words of David; asking “have you forgotten me, God?” He even demands that God answer him before it is too late. Yet he says, “but I will trust in Your unfailing love, Yes I will rejoice because You have been good to me!” This helps us to engage in the work of lament: cry out, remember, question, decide, trust.

I Lift My Hands Tomlin
There is a great video about how this song came to be here, along with chord charts if you want to learn it yourself. (And Tomlin sings it better than I do!) Sometimes our physical actions help to change our hearts, even if it is simply a hand raised.

Amazed Anderson
My buddy Nate did such a great job leading out on this song on the keys! When we get to a point where we really recognize that God is with us and his love is abounding to us, our response can be nothing but amazement.

Sunday, January 29th 2012: Highlandtown

Blessed Be Your Name Redman

Levanto Mis Manos Hernandez
This is the first song I have led that was actually written in Spanish. I am so thankful for my friends and fellow staff members, Bill and Aida Medina who introduced this song to me. To be honest, I didn’t do the best job, but it is helping me to learn how to lead our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. And the church sang very well!

I Lift My Hands Tomlin

Majesty/Majestad  Smith/Garrard
I remember the first time I sang this song. I was in high school at a worship event where we were all singing the line: “Your grace has found me just as I am/Empty-handed but alive in Your hands” . I was broken. I needed to remember that all I have and all I am is because of the grace of God. I come to Him with empty hands. That moment caused a huge shift in my life and I am always drawn back to that place when I hear or sing this song.

Amazed Anderson

Feel free to share any thoughts or reflections in the comments section!