Lately, on multiple occasions, I have been accused of being a “progressive” Christian. I say “accused” because it is definitely a label applied with hostility: “You say [x], [x] is what progressives say, and being a progressive is not real Christianity, therefore you are not a Christian. In fact, you are a deceiver and someone who twists scripture”. There’s a LOT to unpack there, and it is not a fair accusation; mostly it serves as a way to write off whatever I am saying in a given conversation.

To be clear, I do not think that being a “progressive” makes someone not a “real” Christian. I am not certain what encompasses the belief system of “progressive” (I doubt there is a codified definition anywhere), but usually this label is applied to those who disagree with things evangelicals believe. But evangelicals have not been around forever; they are one group of Christians who have emerged in recent history, and their beliefs do not encompass everything that historical Christianity has believed.

Now whether I am a “progressive” is another question. Since I cannot wrap my head around what “progressive Christianity” is, I certainly do not want to be boxed into it. I am always trying to live my faith as I understand Jesus, Paul, and other biblical writers have explained it, and if their teachings align more with evangelicals, progressives, or any other label, that is not important to me. Boxing myself into a thought system and then trying to support those beliefs from scripture is backwards to how I approach faith.

Aligning with core statements said 2,000 years ago is NOT “progress”; it is the starting line.

What is most concerning to me about these accusations of progressivism is that they often follow from me writing about love being the most important thing in Christianity. The trend is that I will say that loving God and loving others is the core Christian ethic, and they will respond with “that is the kind of thing that progressives say”. I do not understand this accusation (which it clearly is), because loving God and others is what Jesus, Paul, and others CLEARLY taught to be at the heart of Christianity. Jesus said loving God and loving others were the most important commandments. He said we would be known by our love for one another. Paul said that love is the summation of the law, and that if we do not have love, our beliefs are worthless. James said that without works (which he describes as caring for other human beings) our faith is dead. The scripture is clear about a very strong emphasis on love as the dominant factor in the Christian faith. If saying so sounds like progressivism, then that makes progressivism look pretty good, but I cannot see how it is. Aligning with core statements said 2,000 years ago is NOT “progress”; it is the starting line.

When defending their view that progressives are evil, evangelicals cite concerns like rejecting Penal Substitutionary Atonement (the belief that our sin makes God angry enough to condemn us, but Jesus substituted himself on on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins), acceptance of LGBT folks, or supporting abortion rights (which is extrapolated to mean voting democrat in the U.S.). Once you start talking about loving others, all of these other concerns get dragged into the conversation, and accusations are made that if you are on the wrong side of any of these issues, you are not a real Christian. None of these issues represent Christianity defining beliefs, however.

Regardless of whether it is true or not, PSA is an odd place to draw a line in the sand, as for over a thousand years Christians really had no codified belief around it. Certainly the idea of Jesus as Savior and Victor was a part of Christian belief, as well as the importance of following Him, but the notion that Jesus paid a debt we owed to God to stave off his wrath is not evident in historical Christian writings. Some of the well regarded theological thinkers throughout history laid the groundwork for PSA, but it did not really come about in its current form until the Reformation. I am not saying it is not true; I AM saying that mental assent to it is not a requirement for real faith. For hundreds of years Christians existed without expressing belief in PSA. Evangelicals use “The Gospel” as shorthand for PSA, but there is nothing in scripture that would suggest this. Scripture talks in less specific terms about following Jesus and seeing Him as a deliverer from sin and death.

Social issues like sexual identity, abortion, or even patriarchy, are other lines in the sand that evangelicals draw, but these are at best secondary issues that they have raised to primacy. Abortion is hardly mentioned in scripture (and what it does mention is far from definitive), and questions of patriarchy and sexual orientation, while brought up in scripture, are not as clear cut as evangelicals claim. There are open questions as to whether patriarchy is the social backdrop to scripture, or if it is prescriptive. The same applies to sexual orientation. Yet, if you do not toe the line with the evangelical line of thought on these topics, you are labeled as a “progressive”. For my part, I think that scripture speaks more strongly and directly against things that evangelicals love, like Trumpism as an example, but trying to be critical here (not even drawing a line in the sand) earns more accusations of “progressive”.

I will not be boxed into a label to be written off

The bottom line is, for me, I will not be boxed into a label to be written off. I call myself a Christian because I follow Jesus to the best of my ability. I accept many different people who call themselves Christians, and I do not draw lines in the sand or proclaim who is in or out. I have serious questions about the behaviors and beliefs of some people who identify as Christians, but at the end of the day, I trust God to sort out the details. What I do myself is follow Christ as I understand His teaching, and try to love others the best I can, relying on Grace when I get it wrong. If that makes someone want to call me a “progressive”, I believe that reveals more about that person’s assumptions than it does about the validity of my faith.

Posted in Faith | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Go ahead and check it out, and share it if you can!”You Are My Neighbor” is now on Spotify!

Go ahead and check it out, and share it if you can!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Release: “You Are My Neighbor”

You Are My Neighbor

This song is the reason I started writing again- in a world so divided, it is the cry of my heart to remember that despite real differences and real pain we are doing to one another, that we look for ways to love instead of looking for ways to hate.

Drums: StudioPros
Vocals, Guitars, Hammond, Bass: Jeff Sylvester

Posted in Faith, Music | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What I’d Rather Do” is now on Spotify!

Go ahead and check it out, and share it if you can!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Release: “What I’d Rather Do”

What I’d Rather Do

Hot off the presses, this is a song I’ve been working on for several months! If you enjoy it, please share and download. I’ve got another song on the way soon, so make sure to check back here for updates.

If you want to chat with me, I’m starting a new discord server; you can join from this link to discuss this song, or any of the other songs or blog posts I’ve written: Love Without Fear Discord

Unlike most of my songs, this one isn’t religiously themed- it’s fun one I wrote while dating my wife 8 years ago; I’ll have an upcomming blog post with a bit more details about the inspiration and recording.

Drums: StudioPros
Vocals, Guitars, Hammond, Bass: Jeff Sylvester

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Strange Fire

Strange Fire

Strange Fire is probably my moodiest song, and I love the atmosphere it creates. It’s dark and foreboding, and also one of my better early uses of electric guitar. When we recorded the first Steady On album I didn’t even own an electric guitar, so I had to borrow one! Glenna sang the lead vocals for this, while I sack backup and play the guitars. Paul Fruia played drums, Randy Holsapple played Hammond, and Trip Wamsley played the bass (an absolutely standout bassline, as everything he does is).

This song is based on the story of Nadab and Abihu, found in Leviticus 10. A dark and tragic account, Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire for bringing an unauthorized sacrifice to the altar. Which, admittedly sounds pretty extreme, but the takeaway for me has always been to really consider what my goals are in worship and service.

I clearly love music, and I enjoy playing music, whether leading worship or songs I have written. It is naturally very easy for me to get caught up in the art of what I am doing, rather than the ultimate meaning and purpose of the songs. I know some have used this account in scripture to justify a very restrictive approach to worship, but I have always believed the warning is more about the heart and intent. The scripture has examples of a wide variety of worship practices, but always in view is the heart of the worshiper.

I recently participated in an online discussion of modern worship, and there was a criticism over how emotional the music is, with a suggestion that emotional music is manipulative. I disagree. I think music is supposed to be emotional, and our worship is intended to be emotional as well. The accounts of David dancing appear filled with emotion to me. The key is not whether we have emotional elements in our worship, but whether they are serving our purpose to elevate God or satisfy ourselves. 

So, back to the song; Strange Fire is really about being reflective over what I am really doing in worship, and even more broadly in acts of service, giving, or anything else that seeks to please God. It can be so easy to be doing the thing I have been doing, only to realize it has become something else. It is no longer the road I thought I was on. If I take my internal temperature, I will see that my actions feel more about myself and my own goals than pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom.

I think this is likely a natural temptation for any kind of art, so we do want to be vigilant and mindful. If we are doing some cool arrangement, or I found a really neat harmony, guitar tone, or bass line, it is so easy for that thing to become more interesting than focusing on the One I am there to praise. But at the end of the day, if I am trying to show off, I am really going to fall short. That is a great way to crash and burn. If I start thinking I am hot stuff, well, I am going to be disappointed. I am a decent enough musician, but there are way better out there, and even their efforts pale in comparison to enjoying the power and grace of Jesus.

In the song, the metaphor turns from a burning that is dangerous and scary, to one that is passionate and full of life and love. I turn from having “faith in me” to worshiping at the feet of Jesus. That is, of course, the ultimate goal: closeness with Jesus. That is why we get together and sing the songs we do. It is why I write the songs I do. It is why I yearn for social healing and justice. To ultimately be close to Jesus and do the work of His Kingdom in this world. That is much better than an affirmation of my skills, as much as I appreciate a compliment.

Please feel free to download and enjoy this song (along with any of my others), and may it encourage you to be intentional about worship and service to God, and make a relationship with Jesus the focus.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hating What God Loves

I recently wrote a blog post asking who we are allowed to hate. It is a topic that appears to dominate much of our discourse. But there is one target of hate I did not discuss, and it is a fairly consistent one: self.

Self hatred is everywhere. I have heard many a Christian say things along the lines of “I am the worst sinner I know”. It is almost a competition for how much we can talk ourselves down (which even can be viewed as a perverse way of talking ourselves up); I think many want to liken themselves to Paul and to own his story, but let us not forget we are talking about a man who went around killing Christians (or seeing that they are killed). When he says he is the “chief of sinners”, he was not just using some grand flowery language: he meant it. We should be very careful before taking on that kind of a label for ourselves.

I once heard someone say “If you are the worst sinner you know, you should probably march yourself down to the police station and turn yourself in!” It is a really good point: in a world with so much evil and people showing a great capacity to harm others, if you really think you are the worst, you probably know you need to be locked up to keep society safe. But, realistically, people do not actually believe that. I suspect a lot of this talk is an interpretation of the doctrine of “total depravity” that views everyone as utterly evil and equally bad. A casual look around at the world, however, tells us there are real degrees of evil; we cannot all be the worst. As a side note, I will mention that RC Sproul taught that there is a difference between “total depravity” and “utter depravity”, and that the former means people are imperfect in every area of their being, but not that they are completely evil with no good in them. More recent thinking about total depravity does not seem to distinguish. But, this is beside my point, and I will leave it as a discussion for the good reformed folks to work out.

I have belabored the point, but all this “talking down of self” really amounts to self hatred. We think of ourselves as evil creatures, ugly and unlovable. And, in fact, I have heard more than one person come right out and say it: they will claim to hate themselves and talk about how awful they are. Some pastors openly preach it. For example, Paul Washer has been quoted as saying “The moment when you take your first step through the gates of hell, the only thing you will hear is all of creation standing to its feet and applauding and praising God because God has rid the earth of you. That’s how not good you are.” All creation applauding your demise certainly sounds like hatred.

But self hate does not square with what the scripture says about humanity, or what Jesus taught. We all know John 3:16- “For God so loved the world . . .” God’s love didn’t come after He redeemed us: it was the driving force. And not only did God demonstrate His love for us, but He commanded us to love others. Jesus and Paul both said it was the highest law. We ARE lovable. We are lovable even in sin. God created us, in His image, to be loved. And if God Almighty loves us, and commands others to love us, who are any of us to say “No, you may love me, but I hate myself”? In a very real way, that would be rejecting the truth about ourselves and placing our own views above God’s views. Definitely a place to tread carefully. None of us should be so audacious to hate what God loves.

I do understand that the scripture teaches us not to think too highly of ourselves, and there is also warning about self love, though it is clear what is meant by self love is narcissism: thinking of oneself so highly that you place yourself above others and care only about your own needs. But, that is not the same as thinking of yourself as a lovable person, created in the Image of God. That kind of love is not self seeking, nor is it sinful. It is an accurate reflection of the love God has shown us.

I have heard of so many people who struggle with self hatred. For some, it is a persistent darkness, and one that their experience with church has only encouraged. This is heartbreaking, and I think we need a reversal; the church should be about showing people how lovable they are. We should encourage people to care for and think well of themselves, because God does. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we are broken. But God has made it clear that we are still lovable. We do need a Savior to clean up our mess, but that does not make us unworthy of love.

Finally, I believe if we are going to take seriously the challenge to “love our neighbor”, we have to see ourselves as worthy of love. When we practice self hate, what love do we have to offer others? When we live in darkness of spirit, how can we bring light to the world? Instead, we should glow with the knowledge that we are lovable, and loved, and that should radiate out to others, our neighbors, and show them that they too are lovable.

When we look in the mirror, we should resist hating what we see; we should work on our vision to see a person created in God’s Image, loved and cared for. Yes, we should love our neighbors, but we should also love ourselves. Anything else is a rejection of the truth God has given us about ourselves and our value. And our value is so great that he sent his Son to die for us. What greater act of love is there than this?

Posted in Faith | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

It Is Well With My Soul

It Is Well With My Soul

It Is Well With My Soul is my favorite song. Not just my favorite hymn, or my favorite worship song, but simply the best piece of music I have ever heard. I love both the music and the lyrics, and recording it has been one of my favorite things to have done. My take on it is quite upbeat (compared to how it is often sung at funerals), which I think is appropriate as I believe the theme to be very hopeful.

This recording features, again, the lead vocals of Jenny Kelly, with background vocals by myself and Laura Sully Davis, who graciously lent her voice to this project. The drums and bass were provided by Studio Pros, and I played the guitars and Hammond. The arrangement is my own, including reverting some of the lyrics back to those of the original poem written by Horatio Spafford, and the vocal harmonies which I have always enjoyed singing.

I first heard the song in, of all places, high school marching band. It was an arrangement entitled, as closely as I can recollect, “On A Hymnsong Of Philip Bliss”. For a song with such great lyrics, it was the music that first inspired and moved me. There is something about how the verses build that just feels inspiring and strong, while the chorus exudes a kind of quite strength. When I found the lyrics, I found that they matched perfectly, and gave substance to the strong emotions the music evoked. Much credit should be given to Philip Bliss for bringing Spafford’s poem to life with so much power.

The theme of the lyrics is the wellness of our souls in times of both great joy and suffering. I believe some people focus primarily on the “suffering” part (a natural inclination, especially given the story around the song), but I think recognizing our wellness during joy is also significant. That is, as Christians, our spiritual health is not dependent on joy or pain. It rests on the faithfulness and provision of Jesus. It is a wholly different axis that is independent of the events and emotions of life. In my view, this really is the entire point of our faith: in a broken world full of sin and pain, that our souls might be healed and rest in the goodness of God, for now and eternity.

There is a version of faith that denies pain and suffering in the world. It sees belief in Christ as a kind of opioid that masks pain with happiness, and manifests itself often as showing joy in the face of trial. While I can certainly appreciate that true faith can bring a supernatural joy at times (and indeed, we see this in scripture), there is a real dark side to making such a response to suffering a prescriptive measure of belief. It is one thing for joy to be granted us in times of trial; it is another to expect joy to always override pain. Yet often, people are told by outsiders to their pain to re-focus away from suffering, as if pain is not allowed to be a part of the Christian experience.

Spafford does ultimately re-focus his view onto Christ and the Cross, but he does so while engaging with the pain. He writes of his own struggle “when sorrows, like sea billows, roll”, and that in the midst of this grief, he knows that it is well with his soul. I really like his choice to write of “wellness”, which speaks to health, rather than euphoria. In the final verses, when he says “A song in the night, o my soul!”, there is an expression of both hope (a song) and current distress (the night). He reminds himself, and us, that pain is not the final word. Our salvation is not a drug that takes away pain, but rather a promise and hope that, in the end, we are, and will be, “well”.

There is much to the story of how and when Spafford wrote the poem that became the song, but the short version is that he wrote it in the place he believed most of his family had perished. He was in real pain when he penned the words, and he placed his hope in the grace of Christ, even as he suffered. But his life did not end with the writing of the poem; in fact, the full story of his life (and that of his wife, Anna) is quite tragic. They lost more children after this event, they were pushed out of a church due to some viewing their repeated tragedies as a form of divine judgment, and in the end, it appears they formed a kind of organization with, at best, cultish tendencies, but also did good through service to others. It is not a perfect ending to their story, but it IS a human one, and it shows their suffering did not end with Horatio putting pen to paper and writing these words, as wonderful as they are.

But, still, I believe, the words hold true. Whatever did happen, whatever pain or joys, it was well for their souls, despite lifelong trauma. And that, really, is the Christian promise. That is certainly the promise I believe: whatever my failures, tragedies, or successes, my soul is well and safe with Christ.

If you are familiar with the song, you will note two lyric changes in my recording. Both of these were reversions back to the original lyrics of the poem. I do not know the story or the reason these lyrics were changed (whether it was for the song when music was added, or some time after), but in both cases I prefer the original

The first change is from “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say” to “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to know”. I actually LOVE this, and struggle to understand the motivation to change it. But the wellness that he is talking about is not just something we speak of, but something we know and live out. It is a part of our reality to walk with the knowledge of our souls’ wellbeing. Whenever I sing this song, this line always strikes me as an important, deeply felt knowledge that comes through faith in Christ.

The second change is from the final verse: “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul” becomes “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, a song in the night, o my soul”. I have always found the “even so” line a bit confusing following the declaration that Jesus is coming back, but clearly the intent is to recognize we are not there yet. So it means “Even though the Lord has not returned, it is well with my soul”, but I find it confusing while singing. “A song in the night, o my soul” is a better, albeit more poetic, reflection on the hope of the Second Coming of Christ, and how that is part of the wellness that we have: that thought we may be in “the night” at present, one day all things will be made perfect in Jesus.

The music of this song has always moved me, and the lyrics continually speak to me. It is such a real and honest expression of what I believe faith is about; I always walk away from singing it or listening to it feeling blessed. Being able to record my own version of it, which carries my own sense of joy and faith in ultimate “wellness”, remains one of my favorite experiences.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evangelical No More?

In previous blog entries, I mentioned that I no longer consider myself an evangelical, something I’ve also said publicly on social media and to my friends, in person. But really, what does that mean? Am I deconstructing? Have I left Christianity? Have my beliefs changed? Do I go to church? What kind of church do I go to? In the interest of transparency, so readers who want to know will get a sense of what I am about, I would like to provide a little more information about where I am coming from these days.

Simply put, to answer the big question first, I have not left Christianity. I no longer want to be identified with a sect of Christianity that I believe is far too intertwined in non-Christian goals regarding power and politics. But, really, it is only a label. I do not know if my current church is “evangelical”, and I am not going to avoid attending any specific church because it does or does not claim that label. It is, after all, a fairly loose tem. What is important to me regarding attending or belonging to a church, is that it is living out a Christian ethic, and increasingly, the word “evangelical” is associated (not by outsiders, but by insiders) with goals that do not reflect my faith.

I do want to address the question about “deconstructing”, since it is a hot topic right now. As I understand deconstruction, that is not how I would describe my own process. The term tends to be overloaded with meanings, depending on who you talk to, but my own faith journey has followed much of the same flow that it always has: testing what I assent to, determining if it is consistent with my core beliefs, and rejecting that which does not align. It is true that I have had to reject a bit more in the last few years than previously in my life, but it still feels like part of one fluid journey. And yes, I transitioned away from identifying as an “evangelical”, but I do not think that word should carry the weight of a faith identity change. It would be one thing if I was re-thinking basic Christian doctrines, but I have not. I still believe in the core creeds that have held true since the early life of the Church (not that these items cannot be on the table, I just have not seen a need to change them, as they still make sense to me). It is more that I have seen very clearly how much “evangelical” is associated with things outside of those core beliefs.

Now, a savvy reader will note that I wrote I test to see if what I assent to is “consistent with my core beliefs”, NOT, as evanglicals will most likely demand, “testing against scripture”. I have seen people say the litmus test to whether you are deconstructing depends on rejecting the inerrancy of scripture. I DO hold to a view that scripture is inerrant, but I ALSO believe that this question is one that is “on the table”. That is, if I were to one day come to believe scripture is not inerrant, that would not destroy my faith. I know that early Christianity existed without the full scripture that we have now, and for a period in history many Christians were unable to even read it. If faith is possible without access to scripture, I cannot see an assent to inerrancy as being essential. If I meet someone who follows the teachings of Jesus, but does not agree that scripture is inerrant, I see such a person as a fellow believer in Christ. Ultimately, I believe faith is measured by following Jesus and doing the work he has given us to do in the world. By contrast, were I to lose faith that Jesus is God and has provided salvation through his death, burial, and resurrection, that would be a fatal blow to my faith. So I DO test beliefs against scripture, but this is because a trust in scripture is stilll a core belief of mine.

So what HAS changed for me? What drove me away? For a long time, I lived with a tension about ideas taught in church that bothered me. I wrestled sometimes with how I saw the church treating outsiders (and making people outsiders), but my internal dialog always understood this tension to be a product of finding a balance between living in the truth, and showing compassion and love to a fallen world. This is not to say that in the past I did not hold to beliefs I reject now. For example, there was a time that I believed having women preachers was against scripture and a Christian ethic. I understood women preaching to be a rejection of the truth of scripture, and while well meaning, a triumph of human desires over God’s instruction. To be sure, this bothered me; I did not understand this command of God, but for some portion of my life, I believed that assenting to ideas that were not aligned with my emotions was a true test of faith. Since people I trusted with faith matters told me that this was the only valid interpretation of scripture, I believed it. As of writing this, though, I attend, and serve in, a church where one of two pastors is a woman, and I reject a patriarchal interpretation of scripture.

I started questioning many of the issues I internally struggled with due to two events in my life. The first was my divorce, and how the church responded to it. To put it mildly, I was shocked at how unloving this was. I had always assumed that the church would have a compassionate answer for difficult situations like divorce, instead of doubling down on the pain. I was sorely let down.

The second event was the high degree of support Trumpism gained among evangelicals. I do not want to deal with politics on this blog, but I cannot separate my faith journey from politics this point: I could not understand the overwhelming support the church would give a person who is so transparently antithetical to the Christian ethic, an ethic that that same church had spent a lifetime instilling into me. It felt like failing the very basic Christian morality test. And it was not just that the church was agnostic on the area of Trumpism, but highly supportive, with examples of actually pushing people out who disagreed.

Once I started to see the failure of the church around the issue of divorce, and the large support granted to a personality like Trump, I realized a lot of the “difficult” issues that I had wrestled with were really things I held on to because I trusted the people teaching them to me, and not because I saw them as critical to my core understanding of Christianity. When I lost trust in those leaders, I no longer had a reason to hold on to those teachings. And of course, that led me to understand that many of those teachings were not, as I had thought, grounded in Christ or His teaching, but additions to the faith that served social and political agendas.

Yes, I go to church. I love to be around Christians who profess faith in Christ, evangelical or not. I may not agree with what has flown under the banner of “evangelical”, but I love people, whether they wear that label or not. I love to worship God, and I still believe the core idea that we are made by God and need the grace of Christ, provided through his death, burial, and resurrection. I cannot look around the world today and NOT see a brokenness, and that real healing requires outside help; that real healing requires supernatural intervention, and Jesus and His work best explains and addresses our real world situation.

In the end, both Jesus and Paul said the most important thing for us to do was to love: to love God and to love others. I believe that if any interpretation of scripture defies this, we are on shaky ground. And this core idea is what I do not see reflected in the evangelical church today, at least not in the broad sense. And yet, it IS an idea I see reflected in many Christians, and those are the folks I want to be around, and commune with, whatever labels any of us choose to wear.

I do not want to be associated with a group known for its hostility toward some groups, its rigid beliefs regarding some very debatable issues, and its support for a political agenda that is very damaging and harmful to people. Yet I do not want to disassociate from Christ, nor do I believe “evangelical” has the corner on Jesus (though they appear to claim it a lot). Thus, I simply aim to be known as someone who loves and follows Jesus, and would like to work with others who are of the same mind so we can, together, live that out, whatever labels we do or do not adopt.

Posted in Faith | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing Less

Nothing Less

Of the songs I’ve written, Nothing Less is one of my favorites. Musically it fits nicely into a rock style, and performing it with the electric guitar is a blast. On the recording, I played the electric and acoustic guitars, the Hammond Organ, and sang the lead vocals. Jenny Kelly sang harmonies, and studio musicians from handled the drums and bass. One part of the song I really love is the guitar/bass duet during the solo; I wrote the two to work together, and the bassist did a great job with it.

Lyrically, this song is interesting, because I am sure if I wrote it today, it would come out a little differently. In fact, I originally wrote it nearly a decade before recording it, and I remember altering the lyrics significantly for the recording. Since this is a song that is critical of the church, these changes reflect how my own relationship to the church has changed over the years.

The core message of the song hasn’t changed, and it is one that I feel deeply: a criticism of not living out a Christian ethic that requires both truth and love, and failing at the latter. Scripturally, I am on solid ground, as Paul makes that point quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 13. How well that describes modern day Christians is the debatable point, of course, and that is where my thinking has evolved over the last few decades (the song itself is probably around 20 years old).

When I wrote Nothing Less, I saw the church I was in as a flawed vessel: an institution with good motives that sometimes overemphasized truth over love. At the time, I’d have said that other churches would do the reverse: emphasize love and not truth. I was not criticizing those churches in the song, as my goal was to call for change for myself and my church. I wanted to praise our desire for truth, while pushing us to be better at loving.

By the time I recorded the song, I was a bit more skeptical of motives, as I’d gone through a painful episode with a church that showed me sometimes the lack of love was not just falling short, but bad motives. I added lines like “We like to bolster our pride”, with an emphasis that I could see all of those same motives in myself. The core idea of the song was still living out the truth in love.

If I wrote the song today, I would not aim it at the church at all. I would self reflect how both truth and love can get out of balance in my own life. As an individual, I feel like I am far more balanced and do not generally overemphasize one or the other (which means I fall short at both, depending on the situation!). My view of the evangelical church that had been my home and identity for so long is something I feel outside of now, so I would be far more reluctant to be critical. I prefer my songs to be self-reflective. Other people write better protest songs!

I do not believe any of this invalidates the song; I regret a bit of the we/they language, just because it can create “out” groups that make contempt easier, but it is not strictly wrong. I am certainly part of groups (the church and otherwise) that can easily stray into being bold in proclamation of truth and failing in action of love. So a song like this can help me remember that “nothing less [than love and truth] could ever be enough”.

At the end of the day, I hope this song can serve as that kind of reminder. Boldness and strong belief are not wrong, but if they do not produce love in the form of action, they are worthless.

Posted in Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment