Johnny Cash and Beyond

I get a lot of suggestions from friends and co-workers of songs that we should play in worship.  I very seldom have to start from scratch for new ideas, because they keep landing on my lap—so much that I literally have a sticky note titled, SURF & SNOOP containing songs, artists, websites and such that I peruse on those need-a-new-song days.

Almost all of these suggestions are right on the money for one criteria or another, but that’s the problem.  They hit ONE criteria that would qualify it for a worship song.  Sometimes the message of the piece is perfect, but the melody has nothing memorable to it.  Sometimes the song is easy to play and sing but has no real substance to the lyrics.  Sometimes the song is easy to sing, has a message that fits our topic of the day, but would be too complicated for any regular band to play.

Let’s talk MESSAGE.  So many songs have been suggested for certain topics that I’m often overwhelmed to choose just one.  Sometimes we have 6 songs at worship revolving around “water” or “forgiveness” or “crucifixion”.

It’s very easy for the band and myself to play the same old songs that we’ve done before dozens of times.  We do this for several reasons: it cuts down on workload/learning time, our congregation is familiar with it, we’ve already got arrangements/charts drafted, etc.  We always have to balance these familiar tunes with brand new material.

I often get push-back from the band about a song or two; I have to balance my gut, my head, my rehearsal times, and my player’s availabilities to determine weather we play it safe or push forward into new-song-territory.  The bottom line is that if the scripture and sermon topic presented doesn’t jive with the lyrical content we are singing, it doesn’t feel right.  No one wants to hear “Learn to Fly” for a sermon about the head of John the Baptist on a plate.

Sometimes we are hard-pressed to find ANY songs that deal with a particular topic at hand, and the entire set is comprised of material that ONLY sets-up or reflects on the aftermath of a scripture/sermon.  Anyone else confused by Jesus’ parables?

Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” has been suggested to me so many times.  I’ve balked at this each time because the suggester can’t give me a solid reason why it would pertain to worship—other than the facts that the song contains the word “Sunday”, he mentions a church in verse 3, and there’s a general sense of remorse.  I hear it as a helluva lonely hangover song, but it never seems to match a scripture or sermon theme.  I love Cash; someone find me a sermon this song matches.  Anyone in the Bible feel remorse and self-loathing from the night before and craving forgiveness?

More currently, artists like Trampled by Turtles, The Avett Brothers, and Mumford & Sons are writing songs that are wonderfully introspective and poignant.  When we look at how scripture is interpreted these days and how our political and cultural landscape is marred by discord and anger, different points of view and new connections are needed.  Please, keep sending in those song requests.  They force me to connect as well as be challenged in workload and viewpoint.

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