Monday, June 21, 2010

Hillsong United: Worship Music for the Future?, pt. 2. . . The Sound

This past summer, Nancy Beach, one of the authors and creative pillars of Willow Creek’s resourceful and resourced movement in American churches, was the unofficial hostess of their annual Arts Conference.

It was the second session. Hillsong United had just led the attendants in worship, and now Joel Houston (their rhythm guitarist and lead worshiper) and Darlene Zschech (worship pastor emeritus of Hillsong Church) were the featured interviewees. Joel sat there on his bar stool, casually, with a winter hat, claiming to have had a bad hair day, as Nancy Beach asked Joel and Darlene questions about worship and service production.

Then came the turn for questions from one of Willow Creek’s worship leaders. Once this young man had the microphone, the audience could tell that this was a prepared and pressing question for Joel: “How did you guys [Hillsong United] come up with your sound?”

No doubt the sound separates Hillsong United from others. They’re comfortably in the heavier side of pop rock. The band that’s currently traveling is armed with a pair of electric guitars, one acoustic (Joel Houston), two instrument-less singers, drums, bass and keyboards. The acoustic guitarist, one of the electric guitarists, and the two instrument-less singers take turns leading songs.

Joel Houston, who admitted his felt mere adequacy in singing, leads many songs with a commanding voice, both taking the stage inserting his gentle acoustic guitar input with grace. Jonathan (an instrument-less singer) and Jadwin (an electric guitarist) with their slightly more substantive voices, lead with energy, while the versatile Brooke Fraser (an instrument-less singer) sings with both the gentle agility of Sarah McLachlan and the loud passion of Pink.

The instrumental sound gives many nods to the foundational pop rock structure of U2, but they use their additional instruments and resources to take it another step with further involvement of distortion guitar and diverse synthesizer input, thereby adding touches of alternative and modern electric rock. Hillsong United’s chord progressions are often unpredictable and their melodies often walk the line of sing-a-bility, setting them more apart from the rest in the worship music genre.

To return to the opening story, Joel honestly answered that their sound somewhat evolved from their compilations of ideas, seemingly that the “end product” sound that many worship leaders admire was more and better than what they had in mind. Hillsong’s sound is not encompassing. It doesn’t expand into nods of different era, genre or ethnomusicology and wouldn’t fit well into a service of strict “blended service” preferring congregants. The main aspect of Hillsong United’s sound alone, though, that helps them live toward the second part of their own name, as I’ve said, is their professionalism.

But their music is just one pillar. Their lyrics are another . . .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A New Father's God-given Perspective

As a child, I was particularly jealous of every mother on each Mother’s Day and every father on each Father’s Day. They seemed to get the royal treatment: breakfast in bed, special recognition in the morning sermon, lots of nods and applause on the TV, big time discounts in retail stores and local restaurants, and, of course, generous gifts and affirmations from friends and family. Certainly not that they were undeserving, but I perhaps envied that different style of celebration. In response, I invented my own holiday, Brother’s Day, held on the second Sunday of each August, where myself and my two little brothers would buy gifts for each other (as for getting the rest of the aforementioned royal treatment, I was working on that). It started out well, as my little brothers were too young at the time to have gainful employment, so the task of buying gifts for me was naturally given to my parents.

Here I am, fifteen years later. I’m a father, already slowly turning into the hard-to-buy-for dad I tried not to be. If one of my little girls followed in my footsteps and proposed the existence of a Sister’s Day, I’m not sure what my reaction would be. (Sadly, Brother’s Day never got off the ground, and I never heard back from Hallmark on it, either).

I would think that the biggest thing that fatherhood contributes to your relationship with God the Father is perspective. Now, you might think that my purporting such an analogy in which I represent God is nothing short of prideful. On the contrary.

It’s very humbling.

Once I knew that I was, in part, responsible for the upbringing of a clean-slate human being, all my flaws, hypocrisies and my potential future mistakes surfaced in my mind. How can I be a dad? I wouldn’t wish my mistakes and some of my experiences on anyone, and now it could happen to the very people I’m called, both by God and by state law, to nurture, through my bad example and influence. Though I felt ill-equipped and even hazardous, I was a role model to a human being.

As my first daughter learned to crawl, I could at least comfort myself in what I knew I could teach her: the basics of not to touch the stove, knives, electrical sockets, etc. Beyond the normal desire to explore, our daughter is like her parents in her self-driven independence, for better or for worse. And it’s amounted to a few daughter-parent conflicts and episodes of tough love where we have to remove her from reaching a potentially harmful toy or leave in her crib to “cry it out.” She really doesn’t understand that we know better than she does what’s better for her.

And then there’s rebellion. Last night, in fact, she refused to go to bed. She stood up at the end of her crib for almost an hour, shouting, almost waking up her younger sister. Our occasional scolding visits seemed futile, as she just smiled and giggled after we forcibly laid her back down. It can be hard to keep your love for a child unchanging when they’re defying, inconveniencing or even hurting you, but your obligation to them is unchanging as well.

But, oh, do I love to brag about her. My oldest is only nineteen months old, but she can already sing songs, dance and count to ten. You will never (aside from her younger sister) find a more intelligent, artistic or beautiful little girl. You can’t ever persuade me otherwise. Maybe I’m biased, but she’s my little girl.

God the Father, on the other hand, given His holiness and purity, is quite the sufficient role model. God the Father, given His knowledge, experience and perspective, knows a lot better than we do what’s better for us (I tend to have trouble with that one). God better tolerates and unconditionally loves us despite our most disrespectful rebellion. And, oh, does He love to brag about us.

This regularly gives me some proper perspective.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Personal-ism vs. Individualism: a quick thought

As with all expository (non-topical) studies and messages, you look upon a passage of Scripture and you end up scratching the surface of a lot of topics, potentially opening up many cans of proverbial worms. Even just a single passage of Scripture can't be confined into one "moral of the story." Such is the way with it being of God and it being the also the voice of human experience.

This was certainly the case with Pastor Dr. Gary Hylander's recent message "The Critical Question," based on Mark 8:27-9:1. It's a very remarkable point in the life of Jesus and the story of the disciples' development. One could easily use this passage, as Dr. Hylander did, to at least give a nod to:

-the Church's relationship with culture
-the deity of Christ
-the social and political climate of the time
-the Messianic expectations
-philosophy of evangelism

and . . .

-the personal nature of one's faith and relationship to Jesus

It's the most recent I've been thinking about, because I recently read this article in Christianity Today. Certainly, there has been a strong push for individualism in pop culture, and it's somewhat reflected in the contemporary worship scene.

I've been thinking about how there's a balance between how God's love is extended to the individual, but we still need community. We need to be personal and individual, but not selfish. Thoughts?