#lazychurches; or, The Devolution of Worship Music - Part Two

Chris finishes his series on the state of Worship Music and the Church by asking things like:

"What happens when we start writing songs only to package them in a friendly wrapper and secure a marketing deal to sell records, book shows, and score some radio play? We commoditize worship. Selling our "Praise and Worship" should raise some questions about what, exactly, we are praising and worshiping."

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Worship Music

Let church bells ring

Let children sing

Even if they don't know why, let them sing.

Why drown their joy

Stifle their voice

Just because you've lost yours?

The above quote is from the song "Church Bells" by Gungor, a band that enjoys all too much turning conceptions of cultural Christianity and worship music on their heads. They introduce my thoughts here nicely, because Michael Gungor is leagues more eloquent than I could ever hope to be. Also, I know for a fact that I will step on toes (because I've always been afraid of that in the past and stuff), and some third-party sources do nicely to refute the "but that's not how it's always been" counter than one loud-mouthed, snarky 20-something could.

Christianity is in a state of disarray today not because of the King it proclaims, but because of the people proclaiming Him. It conjures images perhaps of Westboro funeral picketers, money-hungry suits shouting religious cliches, belligerent and misinformed political arguments, philosophical lightweights trying to pick heady fights with people much more versed in their fields, low quality product being acceptable in the light of the producers' "great hearts," kitschy facebook statuses, and out-of-context scripture plastered as catch phrases. As a CHRISTIAN, Christianity turns me off, so it doesn't surprise me the looks I get when people ask if my band is a Christian one and I answer, begrudgingly, "yes."

I've written about music on many an occasion (Lovedrug, Bon Iver, Slash, and others I'm sure you could dig up if you truly felt like it), but it is something that somewhat defines me, so I feel like it's fair for me to give it one more go. A super brief overview of what some of the above things talk about: I abhor the term "Christian music." I also abhor the term "worship music." I don't believe that music is a thing which can be Christian, nor do I believe that it should be deemed "worship," because inherent in the idea of music IS worship. It's what music is, in its being. It is communication of something unutterable for the purpose of exalting one thing or another above everything else in that moment - it's just that in some situations (church, "Christian music," etc), God is specifically mentioned as either the recipient or the focus of the melody. Music may express worship of sex or money or fame or a woman or the spirit of creation, yadda yadda yadda. Now that we have that established.

The Part Where I Set Up Where I'm Coming From

I have the distinct pleasure of traveling with four other boys in a van across a fairly expansive territory, from flat Kentucky farmland to the southernmost border of sweet tea availability in South Georgia, setting up loud systems and bright lights and making it so that those leaving the shows experience the delightful buzzing in their ears that accompanies the exit of an appropriately volumed concert. And let me tell you, it is a privilege. We've screamed songs out in the middle of Traditional sanctuaries "tarnished" by our trusses and rugs and boutique amps and seen our Creator come down thick - not because of anything WE do, but because He moves when He's called. And sometimes it's just that He's easiest to see when we're shaken a little bit.

Now, I said this because we're often branded a "worship band from Chattanooga" so that some of these more, shall we say, set-in-their-ways churches, will allow us passage through their doorframes to play for their kids. Because there's something safe about "worship," and I find that very backwards. Entirely too easily, we allow worship (the musical branch of it. More on this in a bit) to be something to bring us pleasure - we quibble over genre, over location, over content, over hymns vs "praise choruses," and make it our business that if there is an aspect of "worship" that exists, we are professionals at arguing about it. So we have settled on making it as unthreatening a thing as possible so that nobody gets upset. We bring the noise down, ritualize the services, repeat praisey cliches, play vi-IV-I-V until the spirit falls, then rinse and repeat.

Or perhaps we read only from the KJV and sing only from The Baptist Hymnal and have Offertory Prayers after a hymn of introduction before we sing the first, second and fourth stanzas of "How Great Thou Art."

I don't have problems with any of these things. I absolutely adore Cathedralic pipe organs and think that hymns are some of the most beautifully penned and marvelously adapted bar songs in existence. I love services of music that stretch on when it just feels as though stopping the moment would itself be a sin. But I come strongly against the notion that either of these things are worship.

A Turn Of The Screw (or of the volume knob, as the case may be)

Music is a people thing that has developed out of a need to express something we can't understand. Worship is the heart thing that needs to be expressed. So if we talk about having a problem with the worship this morning, is it that we were offended by the music or were you really just saying that we have a heart issue that we don't know how to communicate except through bitter refusal to clap when the long haired, skinny jeaned kids with guitars finally quit playing?

Another thing that irks me: worship/church/Christian music has become synonymous with "crappy." The joke when the Black Eyed Peas took the stage a few Super Bowls ago with their famously terrible live mix: "It sounds like they hired the church sound guy with a 'great heart.'" We show up at a venue and the people in charge say, "Oh wait, you're, like, legit." Or when they expect a "worship band" and then say, "we didn't expect it to be this loud. Can it come down?" Perhaps we'll start giving away earplugs.

A Story for Illustration, and Examples to Follow

One of my favorite stories that my dad tells me of Billy Graham: dc Talk has taken the stage at a Crusade and commenced rocking face. Mark Townsend and Brent Barcus are shredding, Toby and backup dancers are doing backflips off of trusses and subwoofers, and kids are effectively losing their minds in the throbbing pit in front of the stage.

Enter the tongue-cluckers into Reverend Graham's suite, relaying the above information as if it were the worst news on the planet. It was a far cry from George Beverly Shay indeed. I mean, people were sweating down there, for crying out loud. Billy's son Franklin leads him over to a window overlooking the concert and says, "Daddy, believe it or not, all of those kids down there didn't come to hear you preach. They came here because they knew dc Talk was going to be here and they'll put up with you in the meantime. God used that band to bring them here." Much to the ladys' dismay, the Reverend then stamped his approval on the ruckus happening on the stage, saying, "if that's what gets them to where I get to share God's word with them, then they're what I want."

Worship's not music, you guys. But if it must take that form temporarily, I argue that it should be loud and filled with the voices of people bent not on checking our worship boxes but on building a fire so big that the neighbors have to ask what in the world is going on.

(Caution: the music linked to below has been known to cause side effects of blown pacemakers, headbanging neck cramps, old people complaining about "noise," and tons of people getting saved.) Tell me that this isn't worship. Listen to Mattie preaching to a crowd who may not hear any sort of Gospel presentation, if not ever at least not at festivals like this. If you can't understand him when the band comes in, just google For Today's lyrics to "Agape."

Or this? "You find yourself helpless, grown. Christ is not a fashion, fleeting away," yells Josh Scogin at around 4:34 to a crowd who seems more pumped to hear it than probably your average church service which proclaims the same King.

Or this (lyrics only)? This is Oh, Sleeper's envisioning of God's thunderous reply to Satan's hubris-drenched challenge offered in their song "Son of the Morning." "From the armories the Angels sing. You will fear them when they lift their wings. They will sing to a world reborn - they will sing as I cut off your horns," screams Micah Kinard with a voice that echoes what I imagine God's will sound like when He says the same thing. \

Or this? (lyrics only) "Cause I'm getting sick - sick from all this turning, Driver, sick from turning on You." It's cries of a heart broken by itself and turning, dependent, back to the place where it can be fixed. Come on, now.

I don't mean to single out Metal music here, because I understand that it isn't for everybody (nor is it the only thing I listen to), but it gets similar reactions from the Church nowadays that dc Talk did once upon a time. The "it's just noise" argument holds no water - for noises are what were told to make. Joyful ones. And anyone who tries to tell me Norma Jean isn't a joyful noise actually means "I just don't like it" and has never been in the middle of a pit screaming their lyrics back at them. Because scream Christ's name alongside an auditorium full of people and tell me it isn't slightly more shiver-inducing than the old ladies we met this weekend who made quips about our hair in the House of the Lord behind our backs.

Your attitude matters is what I'm trying to say. Disagree, but for the right reasons. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Worship exists in a building and is best experienced in the key of E, but rather understand that Worship is a thing between you and your Creator, where you say "I'm done making this stuff down here about me and it's time You took credit for everything, so here it is." And for the Love, it is time for those making the things they're labeling "worship" to start doing it with excellence, because I can't imagine that tarnishing the rest of it brings very much glory to the Receiver.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

Bon Iver and the Revival

Almost exactly two years ago I was in Grant Park in Chicago with just under a hundred thousand other people finding myself quite a small, insignificant cell of an overwhelmingly complicated, breathing organism named Lollapalooza. I only pretended to know half of the bands that my fellow music loving Chicago travelers were so excited about seeing as we charted our days from stage to stage with highlighters, being sure to hit all of the acts we absolutely had to see or else the world would surely collapse, or something like that. It's like registering for classes."We'll have to leave Fleet Foxes early to catch the beginning of Coheed" or "Would you be ok with seeing only half of Animal Collective? of Montreal is at the Vitamin Water stage and I hear their finale is awesome" or "No, Hamilton. We cannot miss Snoop." And so on.

For those unfamiliar, a brief description of Lolla. There are somewhere around eight stages spread throughout Grant Park, between 50 and 100 bands, six headliners, three days, and the palpable promise of unexpected, out of place revival.

The resonance in your stomach as Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra cries "Oh God, I need it, for I was wrong again. Take me to the River and make me clean again. Oh my God, make me clean again, and oh my God let me see again"

The purple clouds painted behind a skyscraper skyline silhouetted by a massive, orange-glowing orb that no longer hurts your eyes to watch skirt impossibly far down until it disappears as the backdrop to Ben Harperplaying slide guitar in the city that has its own kind of blues.

The spark of this brief reminiscence: Friday was miserably cold. The rain started promptly at noon and let up just before the headliners took the stage that night, leaving the ground muddy and trampled by both feet and gaping, gathering puddles of filthy water. There was a grave-chilly breeze sweeping like the unwelcome arms of the angel of death off of Lake Michigan that all but stole the heart from inside of us. But the crowd packed like slimy sardines in front of the stages and sang anyway.

We were at the Playstation Stage, because that is where the crowd had swept us. It was off track from where we wanted to be, but outside the throb of people was where cold dwelt, and in there at least we didn't shiver. On the stage there were little stagehands like scampering minions ensuring all of the equipment was good to go before the band began playing. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver walked out first, humbly, barefooted. He carried a guitar in his right hand and a stool in his left and sat before the microphone and in a tone that brought warmth to all who heard it said "Thank you guys for standing out there in the rain. We are Bon Iver and we'd like to play some songs for you."

What happened then was one of those things that exists beyond coincidence. Justin sang the opening melody line to Woods (love this version) and the rain slowed to a drizzle for a moment before stopping completely. You could watch the crowd's heads look up momentarily and smile before watching the rest of the band members walk up to their mics and add in the looped, sweeping, haunting, awe-striking harmonies that gives the band its soul-aching sound. The crowd echoed back at Justin's beckoning, "what might have been lost" at the end of The Wolves (Act 1 and II) (around 2:36), but besides that, they were captivated in uncharacteristic silence and drenched not in water anymore, but in magnificent, melodious, devastatingly beautiful sound.

Love

I begin this short section with what could be a step in an Aristotelian Logic proof when it is actually a proof in itself:

God = Love

Love has been horribly mistreated lately, mostly because it has been portrayed as something that exists in its strongest form between two people, or between somebody and God, or between somebody and anything at all . Mostly I submit that it has been mistreated because we have inserted ourselves into it, profaning perfection. How can we, with straight faces and hearts that do not break from the heaviness of the defacing of something beautiful, even say that we are worthy of Love? How did we arrive at the conclusion that Love is sex or feelings or friends or any exclusive category to which we can assign it? Why do we not teach "God is Love" as it should be taught: that being without God is being without Love? If He was telling the truth (as I'm fairly sure he was) when He called Himself Love and the ultimate reason that we are here in the first place is to find God, delight in Him and bring Him joy, how can we flippantly toss "I love you" around anymore?

How did we forget that "I love you" means "Together we are touching this thing that is much bigger than we are, and we should delight in that, because it is so much more important in delighting solely in each other?"

When Love lights on the shoulder of a human being, it is more beautiful than words or music could describe, but it has an effect, I assume, similar to the tranquil transcendency of Bon Iver during that break in the rain. Connecting with Love is connecting with God Himself, so the only way you can find it is by looking for Him. You can burn your dating manuals and Cosmo relationship advice, because anything we conjure - even what we call love itself - to try to mimic the existence of God will ultimately disappoint. You will find yourself in a world that has what it calls a love crisis when it's not a love crisis at all. It's simply what happens to our substitutes for God when we hold them up to the light.

Where you can find it I needn't address this, because the answer isn't limited by your search terms. Perhaps God will stop a rainstorm and sweep you up in sound to say "Hey, remember that I invented this, so connect with me." Maybe you'll see a stranger walking out of McDonald's with coffee and biscuits for a man with spiders nesting in his dreadlocks and God will remind you what acting in Love (in Him) is. You'll find it in everyday things that are beautiful in ways that are bigger than your tasks or debts or deadlines or your broken heart. Pretty soon you'll see God as the constant on the graph and we are the erratic heartbeat, only occasionally blipping high enough to see Him.

Edit: I urge you not to take this as a piece of new-age nonsense or a defense of the increasingly common and frustrating idea that finding out who God is is sufficient. I laid awake last night with this (perhaps) irrational fear that I could be construed for making a case for Universalism or that we can make a connection with God without going through Jesus first. If I come across that way, I assure you it is not my intention. Honestly, I was simply trying to offer encouragement to those who have been where I have or who have been plagued by seasons of doubt or questioning or borderline disbelief. We are so easily caught up in things of man and so quickly drawn into the political or philosophical realms that have been created around God that we forget to see God for who He truly is.

I just wanted to say that perhaps it'll take you packing close to hippies and headbangers listening to a band who doesn't know they're singing about God to realize that finding Him is less of a task than we make it out to be.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

Gerbils in Our Wheels

So I wrote this post early this morning in a fit of unsleepyness at the end of a discouragingly long span of time since my last. And I figured that the middle of a "fulfilling requirements" class in between work and work was a fitting time to publish it.

Got sick of the marching band and lost my head I am the straw that broke the camel's back Sometimes you gotta let it all out

I see you talking but I don't hear words I'm just a gerbil in the wheel, caught

Sometimes you gotta let it all out

-Lovedrug

I finally got to see Lovedrug a while ago in the dingy basement of a record shop in Nashville. Michael Shepard and I spoke for brief moments next to their merch table (which he was manning) where I told him that he and his band inspired me and that he should keep fighting the good fight and that I would buy and have bought all of his cd's from eternity to eternity and all of that cliché nonsense that he has surely heard a hundred times before.

Phase 1: Inspiration Riding Triumphantly on her White Horse I watched and listened that night to songs I'd memorized as if they were new; I was inspired all over again. I wanted a James and a Thomas and a Jeremy to be equally as passionate about the things I am and to be pumped to play in a basement half full of 50 people who knew every word to our songs and to realize that's more special than an arena full of people who had just heard them on the radio before. I wrote and prayed and began looking for these people who could get excited with me about nerdy things like tone and music for the love of it and songs that were songs, not regurgitated formulas for a twisted commercial version of success (look at how hipster I sound right now).

Phase 2: The 100m Hurdles Nights like those are beautifully dangerous. They create a little bubble in the passing of time where you neither become tired nor regain awareness of the still-turning world outside of it until it pops. It lingers like remnants of a dream in the recesses of your chest so that you remember specific feelings rather than actual events that took place.

It takes a minute to readjust your mind's eye to reality. As it refocuses, people for a minute seem horrific like trees because they did not exist for the hour and half previously. Work reappears from the happy fog. The night air loses its shine and becomes humid and closes its gentle hands around your neck so slowly you can't feel it until it is too late and already choking you. You still have all of those papers to write.

However, the dream is still fresh in your muscle memory. It has embedded itself in that place where you won't and can't forget it, for it is all that tethers you to the moment that was suspended before you set out on your drive back to the desert of the real. But all of the sudden, upon arriving back home, the music will just have to wait until you turn in that portfolio and change that projector bulb and write those chord charts and collect that paycheck and run that mile a day in the spinning tire in your cage next to the water bowl and food bucket atop the bed of pencil shavings.

Phase 3: The Gerbil in the Wheel Months go by and you can't even so much as type words on the internet or scratch them out with a dying pen on paper. You can only hum other people's melodies. You never even pretended that yours were better or even good but they were yours. Stephen Crane captured the feeling perhaps better than anybody:

"In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, Who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said, 'Is it good, friend?' It is bitter -- bitter,' he answered, But I like it Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart."

But eventually you can't even partake of it, for all of your running on the wheel. For all of your changing of projector bulbs and fetching coffee grounds and showing up at class not to learn but to be counted present and your checking your pockets for the words that used to flow through you but now dangle like the carrot in front of a donkey tied to a mill.

And all the while your legs, and your heart, pump furiously.

Phase 4: Dawn A thought occurs to you: the wheel only keeps spinning because you keep running.  Your schedule is full but you take a chance anyway and all of the sudden you get new music (still not your own, but it's a step) and new people with whom to play it. People playing who love to play and people listening who love to listen. Your cage still functions without your constant treading on the rungs of the wheel and plus, now that rhythmic squeak from the joint is gone. You realize there is more to be attained.

The wildest notion appears as well: you don't even need that wheel in your cage. You just ran on it because it was there and now you question that decision in the first place. Don't get caught up with jogging on the treadmill if you want to run a marathon. If you were created to color, don't be content with the 12-pack of crayons. Don't even be content when you get the 200-pack with 12 shades of purple and twin sharpeners in the back. Don't be happy just because you get a bigger wheel - for it is still a wheel.

Horribly overused by teenage girls on Tumblr but relevant nonetheless:

"If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." ~Vincent Van Gogh

We were created by a creative God to be creative, not complacent. Complacency is a slap in His face. You were given something that you love to do, so for the love of Him who gave it to you, do it. Don't write because you crave fame, write because unless you write you feel incomplete. The same goes for crunching numbers and hugging strangers and feeding orphans and smiling and teaching dogs how to jump rope.

If we focused half of our attention on the things we were created to do than we do on comparing ourselves to everybody and everything around us, think of what we could accomplish. Beauty cannot be found in magazines, it must be pursued. Beauty is felt, not seen, and anybody who tries to say anything else is sadly lost to a generation full of people trying to be something that they are not.

I have heard people who claim to love the same God I do tell me they are not good at anything because they can't draw pictures or play the piano or make a really really good milkshake like somebody else they've seen. They are envious not of possessions but of love. They have fallen into the trap that says unless people are listening they are not successful... even though the people they envy couldn't care less if people are listening or reading or tasting or not. We must stop treading our squeaky wheels in our cages and being content with it and we must start doing what we love because we love doing it, and we can feel the Almighty smile when we get it done. Play your guitar not so people can hear you, but because you must play it.

I can't help but think that God would feel closer to us if we'd quit running our individual acts of worship by people first.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

>With Such Passion That Our Hands Shake

>I wrote a while back about Identity and this is in no way intended to step on the toes I established then. Just to cover my bases :)

I in no way intend do define who I am by what I do, because I find my identity with Someone bigger than whatever accomplishments I could ever hope for on this temporary earth. However, what I do I hope to craft to reflect the magnificence of the God I serve. Right now I'm not talking necessarily about those minute-to-minute decisions, thoughts, or actions, because it is in those ways I will never be perfect and therefore in constant need of a system of checking. Without forgiveness and that mindset of always striving for perfection in the most Divine sense of the word, the rest of the thoughts I'm about to lay out hold no weight. This is the next step above the moment; in fact, it is a way of escaping from the moment.

The most appealing of traps in which we build our homes is that on which countless poorly written pop-rock songs / indie-romance films dwell: live for the moment, because once it's gone, it's lost forever. By that same logic, the argument contradicts itself at its core, thus making it a logical fallacy; for if not seizing the moment means that you might miss it and have it be gone forever, then doing everything in your power to make that moment yours means as soon as the moment passes your efforts were for naught. No, I submit that this is the reason for the emptiness that plagues our country (and even our world). Everybody who takes this advice has to constantly fill the void left by the moment which leaves as soon as it arises and makes them stuck in a cruel game of catch-up. Just like Zeno's example of Achilles and the tortoise, once locked in to that method of thinking, you can never actually catch up to the tortoise, because once you finally get to where it is, it has moved again.

The only way to escape from this flawed ideology is to not follow Fall Out Boy's advice (as crazy a notion as that may seem) and look past the moment. It takes some heartache and frustration to realize that the moment isn't all it's cracked up to be, but very little convincing to realize, once you're there, that you are capable of so much more than what one tiny snapshot in time can offer. Yes, prototypical Church-Answerer, we set our sights on Jesus and the example he set for us. That is all well and good, but I'll tell you this: you won't get there.

I'm not being Frankie Thunderstorm here either, because what we don't seem to realize is that this is the point. We can't do it.

Kinda makes you feel small, you say? It should. It should make you feel incompetent, lowly, some might even call it worthless, powerless to live up to such a magnanimous example set before us. It's ok to not be good enough.

This is where so many people professing to be Christians get it so wrong. We were not created to live up to a Divine example, we were created to bring our Creator delight and praise and adoration. Part of that delight does happen to be attempting to be more like our Example every day, but that's not the whole of it. It's knowing that we, in ourselves, will never be good enough, and even with help from God Himself, the point of our bodily forms is that we will mess up (note: this is NOT a free pass to sin. Please do not take that from this) and when we realize that even though we have defiled the name of our Creator He loves us anyway, and we worship Him for it.

The point of this blog, finally.

All of this in mind, we craft our worship out of everything that we hope to be. Striving for perfection is, in its most innocent and basic sense, our act of worship. One aspect of this that I want to touch on quickly is (don't die from the shock that I want to talk about this) music.

It frustrates me to no end, to a point beyond what words can describe (though I constantly attempt to describe it anyway), that we have created this "genre" of "worship music." Music IS worship. Words are not beautiful, for they are simply signifiers of grander ideas, but music... music transcends communities and beliefs and traditions and locations and stages of life and everything physical that separates us both from other humans and from the Divine. It creates, wordlessly, emotions followed by thoughts followed by a primitive connection, in its most foundational sense.

So WHY do we call this bland, formulaic, monotonous category of supernatural connection worship?

Because it's easier. It's easier to reuse melodies that have proven successful or chord progressions which we know work than it is to craft something so wonderful, so pleasing to our God's ears that we share the joy with Him of listening to something that he breathed life into follow His example and craft right back to Him. Perhaps it's that those gifted to create such expressions are more in love with traditions or expectations than the God who created it all. Maybe they're just lazy.

Let's re-learn that worship is a lifestyle. That if we are not searching for perfection like our Heavenly Father is perfect, we are insulting Him every time we slap His name on something that is mediocre.

Let's craft everything we do with such passion that our hands shake. It's a process that takes much longer than a moment can offer.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

>Insert a Title Here That I Like Better Than The Original One

>I've been journaling a lot more than I usually do as of late, which means that I'm writing less and less on this thing... And I can't say that I'm too happy with that decision. So, I guess I'll just copy and paste from the pages of the notebook (for better or for worse... it will be word for word. stroke for stroke.) onto here if that is ok with you :) Thank you for your continued readership!

At 35,000 feet above sea level, the things on earth way down below your feet, looking up towards the underbelly of your plane, facing the problems accompanying the frantic way of American life, seem quite fleeting and unimportant. The world keeps turning despite tragedy. People get older in spite of wayward promises of forever. The individual disappears into a cloud of dots and shiny metal car roofs peppering the interstate that suddenly doesn't seem so straight or vast anymore. People down there are ending relationships or being robbed at gunpoint or holding the one person in the entire world that means more to them than themselves and they are all concerned with how their individual situations will play out.

And all I can think about is my ears won't stop popping.

I have been thinking a whole lot about why we do the things we do in relation to this truth: that it is important to literally no other human being on the planet in the way that it is important to us (whatever "it" might be). It forces the individual back into that aforementioned cloud, that distant view where nothing a human could do would change the landscape visible from halfway between terra firma and outer space and reduces each person to nothing but a number without personality or passions or family or loves or any of the things that separate us from ants crawling on a dusty sidewalk, desperately constructing a mound which will only be squashed by an ill-wishing toddler.
Suddenly, nobody playing the guitar in their room where nobody but the faces in the walls can hear them, nobody writing in their journal which nobody will read in a lawn chair in their back yard, nobody making clouds appear in their mind as lollipops or alligators, makes any sense at all. They are not doing things which make the world a better place or helping somebody in need or loving their neighbor as themselves; indeed they are a cosmic negative, in the scientific, quantitative way of seeing things.
However, I am reminded of a dream my very dear friend recounted to me which may change everything you once thought about the individual.

He started out by prefacing his story with the disclaimer about taking the dream as a word from God or just a dream being completely up to me.

He said in his dream he was visiting a worship service at a church that was very run-of-the-mill. It was so vivid , he said, that he did not yet know he was dreaming. Songs. People. A select few swaying, hands raised. All of the sudden, his gaze was cast to the plants at the front of the stage and his mind was unnerved suddenly, as the plants and planters were hovering just inches off of the ground. Nobody was really making that big a deal about it, in fact nobody seemed to even notice all that much, but he told me that it literally unsettled him to his core.
He started looking around, trying to figure out a source for this anomaly. He noticed, after nervously glancing about, a man with his eyes closed, and he got this feeling that this guy was responsible. He just knew it in his gut. He let it go and before he knew it, the service was over and he was walking out, and he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned to see the man he noticed earlier, standing close behind him. He spoke: "I noticed that you saw me during the service. I know it doesn't make any sense and I don't really know how to explain it, but I do know that I can make those plants hover. I can't do it anywhere else or to anything else, and I can't really do other things. I can't play an instrument or sing or speak in front of people or build things from scratch or write poetry, but I have been given the gift of making those plants levitate. It makes no sense to me either, but when I'm doing what God has gifted me to do, I feel that it makes Him happy, so I do it, even if nobody's noticing. Because it's not for anybody else."

The story almost brought me to tears as chills traced patterns up my back, neck and arms. I knew the dream had to be shared, because it is just so relevant to everything we struggle with as humans. It not only explains a little of how God sees us, but it also tells us something about ourselves, that we are created to bring our Creator joy.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

>Ok so perhaps my logic is flawed, along with a note to readers

>I was floating around the halls of Facebook the other day in the midst of one of these weekly fits of insomnia in hopes that the dull monotony of seeing the same pages over and over would lull my brain into a few hours of rest before rising for a busy day. It.was.so.hot. in my room, despite the fact that the AC had just been turned on after not having touched it hardly at all since Ryan moved out. I lay on top of this concoction of covers draped over my bed, my face still wet from my having doused it with freezing cold tap water, and I figured that the quickest way for me to lose all will to remain awake was this tactic of boring myself to tears. I would force my eyes to want to close.

I am positive that you relate. Jumping straight to the point, I had visited the profiles of literally every one of the people dotting my friends list when some words caught my attention. One person I knew posted a lyric from this old hymn that is just timeless in its beauty. As a brief side note, do not for a second assume that I am one of these reckless youth who despise all things Organ and choir just because I happen to play the electric guitar and I appreciate music some people affectionately call "noise." I am a firm believer that at heart I was born in the wrong generation. People have forgotten how to be eloquent and all traces of civil talk have turned into what I admit is an appalling sort of vernacular. I prefer to read authors who are dead simply because I think that the language is far more powerful than what is published today (not to author's faults... it is simply that there is a diminishing appreciation for things that were once considered beautiful).

That said, I went on to read what some people had commented on this lyric. There was lament on the diminishing use of Organ in church music, and though it had a tinge of personal attack on my church, I could have let it slide in conversation. People are entitled to the things that they love and it is valid for them to be sad to see them leave. I know that if music turned entirely to synthesizers and drum loops I would certainly be sad to see guitar being used less and less, and so I have no problem with this particular person wanting to see it return. What came next, however, made me read it again, just to make sure that I had the entire message. I searched it for sarcasm or irony or tongue-in-cheek, but unfortunately there was none to be found. This is the part that caught me off guard: "So sad that the church is going the way of the world with its music. How can they justify it?"


Excuse me?


I couldn't help myself by chime in, because it was an opportunity too great to let my sarcasm rest. I have an enormous problem with calling music "worldly," because music itself is not a thing of this world. It transcends language and experience in a way that nothing of this earth possibly could. I have heard compositions in foreign tongues and immediately been of one mind with the writer, whereas had he written a book or made a speech all I would see is stagnant ink on a page and all I would hear is a series of repetitive but nonsensical consonants. If try you tell me that music is a worldly thing, I will submit that you know nothing of heaven. I have heard more beautiful sounds coming from two guys with sticks and buckets than I have in any elaborate and glorious building ever constructed by man. I guarantee you that David, the most famous worship leader ever, did not have an organ or a piano, but a harp (which had strings, by the way, and probably sounded a little like a guitar). He was all about joyful noises, drums, clanging cymbals, and even dancing naked, so do not even try to tell me that stoic, stuffy men in suits who mouth words printed on a yellowing page are more holy than a crowd of people literally losing their minds, being enveloped by "noise" so loud and a spirit so overpowering that there is no room for distraction from the focus of the night. I plan on spending the rest of my eternity in a pit of people throbbing, kneeling, bowing, dancing wildly and singing so loudly before the Throne of God that, were I in my earthly body, it would collapse from exhaustion.


I will repeat myself, which I do not do often. If you try to tell me that music is of this world, I will tell you that you know nothing of heaven.


I'm not sure what the point of this one was. I will save this pent-up rant on tradition worshippers for another day when it isn't quite so pretty outside. Perhaps I was just looking for an outlet for this small amount of frustration. But you should tell me what you think about all of this!


On another side note, there has been a significant jump in readers over the past month or so, and I am tired of just writing about these little rabbit trails in my head. I would be more than happy to explore submitted topics or questions or musings that you guys have, whether it be if Left 4 Dead 2 better or worse than the first, who would win in a battle between Chuck Norris and Himself, why Mary Shelley is awesome, why I can't wait to get Xbox live back, etc. I am an open book. You can email me (hjbarber@gmail.com), comment, text me, whatever. I'd like to hear from you! Ok. Go outside. It's far too pretty to be trapped within walls like I am today.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.