I am no “Christian music” junkie, and I was repelled by K-Love’s recent challenge to listen to nothing but “Christian music” for a month. Au contraire: I think a diet that includes a variety of musics is beneficial. Cook me up a platter with all of these, please:
- Some Barrueco and Beethoven and Bolling and even a bit of Boston
- Healthy doses of Kansas, with some Khachaturian & Stan Kenton (but no musical theater kitsch, thank you very much)
- Grieg & Glad & Grechaninov
- Sibelius & Scandinavian wind quintets and Simon & Garfunkel
- A pinch of ELO and selected Eagles . . . and gotta have Elgar
- Fernando Ortega & First Call (you can keep Franck and 4Him) and some folk tunes
Basically, I resist the notion that our input ought to be confined to “Christian” lyrics.
First, a good deal of what’s out there in “Christian” music simply isn’t of very good quality. I can’t stomach the tripe. (Can you really imagine Jesus getting up at sunrise in Galilee and singing, “This feeling can’t be wrong; I’m about to get my worship on”?¹) A couple times a week, I find myself trying to listen to something from Christian radio, thinking I need some such message, then wincing at the stylistic stupidity and turning to something else instead.
Second, Christian lyrics’ attention to scripture (or even to what makes sense) is uneven at best. The biblical truthfulness is, I suppose, no worse than with most sermons and Bible classes, but still….
Third, a diet of only “Christian” music would appear to negate the place of purely instrumental music (sans words) beauty, which I take as an equal creation of our God. (He could have left us with no sound, you know. We could have existed with rice and beans and water and a mouth of some type, but no eyes or ears.)
However (and this is a big however, because this is what I started out to write about!), the Exodus album, produced by Michael W. Smith’s Rocketown enterprise, continues to be influential for me. Upon its release, I wrote a review for Worship Leader Magazine, and I’ll share that in a few days, for sake of comparison and interest, but I wanted to write a new quasi-review first, without looking at the old one.
Exodus is one of a handful of go-to albums whenever I want to hear a variety of meaningful, soulful Christian music. Several of the songs have some staying power, and I find myself impacted positively by most of them.
The Exodus album featured some then-up-and-coming singers and groups, such as DC Talk, the Katinas, Sixpence None the Richer, Third Day, Jars of Clay, and Chris Rice. Not all of the Exodus songs ended up as the biggest hits for of those recording artists, but most of the songs were well chosen.
Here’s a sample of some of the lyrics:
For those under the clouds,
Staring up in awesome wonder,
As tears come slowly down,
I’m reaching up a needful hand.
(Jars of Clay)
Draw me close to You.
Never let me go. . . .
You’re all I want.
You’re all I’ve ever needed.
Holy, holy are You, Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb.
You are holy.
During my most recent get-reacquainted time with this album, I re-noticed one of Michael W. Smith’s two contributions—the song “I See You.” On the surface, this is a simple song. I vaguely recall not being attracted to the song back in 1998, and I have rarely paid it much mind since. This time, though, I thought more structurally of the whole. Notice the album’s bookends:
FIRST: Smitty’s mostly-instrumental title track “Exodus” sets up the concepts of the album dramatico-musically, yet soberly.
MIDDLE: Lots of worship and devotion expressed in other songs
LAST: Smitty’s “I See You” reminds the listener, by way of images from the 2nd book of the Torah (cloud, flame, “promised land”), that God is everywhere. ||: “Everywhere I go, I see You.” :||
For me, “I See You” has become part of this album’s thrust. It speaks persuasively and simply of the impelling, persistent experience of the Lord God during the journey out from Egypt. I’d be embarrassed to tell Smitty face to face that I didn’t “get this” for the first 15 years, but he would probably smile at me. Like this Exodus album, Michael W. Smith himself has some staying power. Smith also seems to have had vision and discernment with regard to Christian music and artist selection.
I appreciate so much of what MWS has contributed through the last few decades. Isn’t it curious that he was first an unknown pianist on Amy Grant’s stage. 🙂
[ Next: my 1998 review of this same album. Who knows what the shadows know? I might have said something that proves to be really embarrassing. ]
¹ The song to which I refer, “A Beautiful Day,” sung by Jamie Grace Harper and written by Harper, Christopher Stevens, Toby McKeehan, and Morgan Harper Nichols, strikes me as a next-gen “Cartoons” by Chris Rice, some of whose better material was featured on the Exodus album. “Cartoons” was more clever, but as for me and my house, we refuse to mock the word “Hallelujah” and the idea of worshipping Jah by suggesting Scooby-Doo and Fred Flintstone would do it.