Watch Your Mouth

In the Church today, it’s apparently becoming narrow-minded to watch your mouth. I’ve seen Christians who look down on other Christians for thinking that language still matters. Some try to claim it’s all “a heart issue,” and the actual words aren’t as important as the spirit in which they are said.

I beg to differ.

I realize it can be taken to the other extreme. For example, I’ve known wonderful, godly people who think it’s a sin to say the word “darn.” My family once even had to sit through a skit on the subject by some very earnest teenage girls. In the opening scene, they sit down to eat lunch, and one exclaims, “Darn, I forgot my sandwich!” Another says in shock, “You shouldn’t say that word.” We had a running joke for some time afterwards that perhaps the profane word in question was “sandwich.”

Nevertheless, I do take our use of language seriously, because I think language is too beautiful to be turned into something ugly. Moreover, when it profanes something that’s been ordained by God as sacred, I believe it’s a form of blasphemy. That includes the relationship between a man and a woman.

This is something that I think a lot of Christians are losing a sense of. For example, there are Christian singers who stand out in their chosen secular genre in some ways because of their faith, but to an extent they still blend in when it comes to songs with suggestive content. This is true of artists like Josh Turner and Brad Paisley.

Another trend I’ve observed is that Christians in the Church are picking up suggestive turns of phrase without really stopping to think about it. For example, Christian guys will refer to their “smokin’ hot wives,” or Christian girls will titter over the latest “hottie” they saw on TV. Several years ago, I even heard a motivational speaker on Focus on Family recall the moment when she first saw her future husband in a group at church by saying, “And then four of the yummiest guys I had ever seen walked in.” The other girls in her audience were very appreciative, naturally. I wasn’t. I fully believed that she was a godly lady, but I wanted to do a facepalm.

It makes you want to ask some of these people, “Brother in Christ… sister in Christ… do you understand that sex is sacred?” And they might look at you and say, “Well, yeah, it means you’re supposed to be faithful to your spouse and stuff like that.” Okay, that’s a start. But sometimes I think Christians still don’t really understand what it means for sex to be sacred. Simply, it means that when you treat sex lightly, as a thing to be joked about or sung about in suggestive songs, you’re profaning God. I don’t even appreciate it when Christians take the f-bomb and replace it with some euphemism  (freakin’, flippin’, frickin’, etc.) What’s the idea—that we’re supposed to fall all over ourselves and be so very grateful that you didn’t actually say the f-bomb? How restrained. Yes, I realize everybody does it. That’s the problem. By the way, what’s wrong with “stinkin’?” Brad Stine manages to make do with it.

My point is, think before you imitate. Think before you toss off an expression. No, I’m not saying you should become obsessive and insufferable (“Did I just hear you say that tuba was cute? Watch your mouth”).  I’m just saying, be discerning. Be thoughtful. Guys, is it really necessary to tell the world that your wife is “hot”? Try telling the world that she’s beautiful. It sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Girls, “yummy”? Come on. He’s not a cheeseburger you know. Be like my little sister, who likes Michael W. Smith because he’s “haaaaandsome.”


Sing it Again: All That I Am

Recently fridaynightrevival put up a post highlighting a forgotten gem from Gold City’s Standing in the Gap called “All That I Am.” Written by Terry Franklin with his wife Barbi, it’s a quietly majestic piece with powerful lyrics and a melody reminiscent of Danny Boy:

FNR said he believed somebody should bring it back, and I agreed. However, instead of coming up with my own idea of who should revive it, I decided to ask Terry himself. He actually had a couple of suggestions. First he said that he thought Wes Hampton could do a great job on it. This hadn’t even occurred to me because it was originally carried by a lead singer (David Hill). However, I immediately saw that he was completely right. Wes could infuse a lot of expression into the lyric. Raise the key by a step or two, and he’d bring the house down.

But Terry’s other suggestion was even more intriguing: Debra Talley. I could absolutely hear this working as well, although the arrangement would probably be a little quieter and more nuanced. Debra has a very rich voice that would also capture the song’s essence quite beautifully.

Do I hear more ideas from my readers?

CD Review: Part of the Family, by The Collingsworth Family

The Collingsworth Family has been turning heads in the industry over the past few years, and with good reason. They’ve cultivated an incredible blend which has only become stronger and fuller as the four kids grow and develop. Add to that Mrs. Collingsworth’s virtuoso piano playing, as well as the older girls’ prowess on the violins, and you have what may be the most musically talented group in southern gospel. I was privileged to see them live in concert last year, and I can tell you that if they are ever in your area, it’s a show you don’t want to miss. (Oh yes, and Mr. Collingsworth plays trumpet too.)

Part of the Family is their StowTown Records debut, and it’s arguably their most mature project yet. Their sound has always been primarily a blend of gospel and old-fashioned inspo, with dashes of country and jazz, and this album continues in that vein. Wayne Haun is at the production helm as usual, contributing his arranging talents and a couple of new songs.

1. God’s Family (Lanny Wolfe): The CD begins appropriately with the song from which its title is taken. Lanny Wolfe’s material always fits the Collingsworths like a glove. (I’m still waiting for them to discover “The Sounds of His Coming,” which is one of his lesser-known pieces but in my opinion his best.) The lyrics and music are somewhat schmaltzy, of course, but the Collingsworth Family has a way of taking these kinds of songs and delivering them in a fresh, un-schmaltzy way. It’s sure to be a concert favorite.

2. Tell the Mountain (Kenna West/Lee Black/Sue Smith): This new mountain-flavored ballad is one of the best cuts on the project. Phil Jr. takes the lead, and it showcases how much his voice has matured even in the past couple of years. A few other people have already made comparisons to Doug Anderson on this number, and I definitely hear that resemblance as well (pay special attention to the line “God is with you, and you’ll overcome” — the way he holds out “overcome” sounds exactly like Doug). I would say that he’s developing into a light baritone. Much like Anderson, he has resonance in his lower register, yet also has a flexible upper range. As for the song, it’s a very uplifting message of encouragement for people who are dealing with struggles in their lives. It reminds us that whatever the “mountain” is, and however big it is, and whatever it tries to tell us, we’ve got something to tell back to it: Our God is even bigger.

3. Joy Unspeakable (Caleb Collins/Wayne Haun): This has a similar feel to “Bottom of the Barrel” from The Answer.  It’s a vigorous, up-tempo country/jazz number (listen for some great keyboard work). The Collingsworths always do this sound very well. I could see this song working as a concert opener to get the crowd good and warmed up.

4. Jesus is All I Need (Marty Millikin): This is a mellow Kim Collingsworth feature. Lyrically very predictable, but very comforting and easy to listen to.

5. Nothing’s Worrying Me (Jerry Kelso/Marty Funderburk): Think of this as the bluesy, easy-listening jazz counter-part to “I Know” from The Answer.  I personally love this style, and eldest daughter Brooklyn handles it with a smooth class that’s hard to resist. While references to the bad economy peg the lyric as modern, the music has a deliberately old-fashioned feel. It actually sounds like the kind of thing Ernie Haase & Signature Sound might sing.

6. I Pray (Lyn Rowell/Wendy Wills): This new offering from the authors of “Jesus is Holding My Hand” features Olivia, the youngest at 13. Her voice is still developing, yet she already shows great promise. She has a sweet tone and sings low notes with great clarity. If you compare her voice with clips of big sister Courtney at the same age, the resemblance is very striking (so don’t be surprised if she turns out to be a Courtney clone when she’s done growing). I really like the laid-back feel of the arrangement. It’s a simple song, simply accompanied with acoustic guitar. A very good way to introduce small children to the power of prayer… and remind the grownups who may have forgotten.

7. At Calvary: Kevin Williams and his friends recorded an instrumental version of this hymn last year that was so creative and incredible it made me wonder if I’d ever appreciate a normal rendition of it again. But the Collingsworths won me over right away with their characteristically powerful, dynamic arrangement. Much like “I Want a Principle Within” from the last project, it takes the listener on a journey, changing keys multiple times and featuring multiple vocal combinations. I especially enjoyed the ladies’ trio on verse two and the sibling trio featuring Phil Jr. on verse three—more proof that Phil Jr. has become quite capable of pulling his weight in a dramatic piece.

8. I Found it All (Helga Kaefer/Wayne Haun): This is one of my favorite new songs on the project. It’s, like, sooooo Wayne Haun. The chorus goes like this:

I found it all
When I lost everything
And gave my life
To serve a risen King.
I found the truth
That I’d been looking for.
I found it all
When I found the Lord.

Middle sister Courtney takes the lead and delivers a pure, honest vocal. My only nit-pick is that I think the production could have been scaled back a bit and actually made it even more powerful. But no matter. It’s a sweet cut. If anybody remembers the old AC Christian radio hit “Can’t Live a Day Without You,” this is thematically a little like that, except better-written, and without the pop bombast.

9. Just Another Rainy Day (Cindi Ballard/Daryl Williams): If I’m not mistaken, this features the sibling trio of Brooklyn, Courtney and Phil Jr. It’s a hand-clapping, foot-stomping, house-bringer-downer (is that a word?) I’ll eat my hat if that’s not Gordon Mote on keys, and there’s all kinds of fun stuff going on with the B-3 Hammond (you’ll remember that’s my weak spot), the guitar, and the bass. And the lyrics contain great wisdom: “If God says ‘Build an ark,’ it won’t be just another rainy day!” Believe it or not, think Brian Free & Assurance on this one. It’s got that same kind of slightly progressive drive to it. Expect them to encore this at least twice in concert.

10. Praise You (Bill & Gloria Gaither): Brooklyn takes the lead on this low-key Gaither cover. The instrumentation is very similar to the GVB version of “Home Where I Belong.” I felt like I had heard the song somewhere before, then I remembered it was one of two unreleased Vocal Band tunes Wes Hampton recently shared that had been on the table for the last lineup but never got put on a project of theirs. I love the way Wes sings it in that clip, but I think it fits the Collingsworths even better. We’re treated to a great duet between Brooklyn and Phil Jr., as well as some work from the ladies’ trio and the Phil Sr., Kim and Brooklyn trio.

11. That’s the Place I’m Longing To Go (Robert Batton): Like “I Can Pray,” this song relies on an acoustic backdrop. It’s carried very tastefully by guitar and mandolin, and it’s a beautiful project highlight. You’d never know it was a new song unless you looked at the date. It sounds like it could have been around for decades. With vivid imagery, it evokes a picture of heaven as a place where nobody is orphaned, hungry, or mourning for the dead.

Where no tears will ever fall, where death angels never call
Where the crepe never hangs on the door,
Where the hungry never cry, where we’ll never wave goodbye,
That’s the place my soul is longing for.

12. The Resurrection Morn (Bill & Gloria Gaither): Bringing things to a majestic close is this old Gaither piece. I believe they themselves have done better with this theme on a piece like “These Are They,” but hey, it’s Bill and Gloria, and it’s the Collingsworths. Hard to nit-pick.

Closing thoughts: Although the Collingsworths’ sound is better than ever, this project doesn’t take too many liberties from a creative standpoint. As a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist who dislikes change, I’m not really complaining. Grandma’s apple pie never gets old, even though she uses the same recipe every Christmas…because it’s Grandma’s apple pie! The same is true of the Collingsworths—who would even want them to change?

From a song selection standpoint, there’s honestly nothing here that really leaps out at me, even though there’s nothing I dislike either. It’s simply a very good, enjoyable, consistent listen. The new material is very solid, but I still don’t think they’ve found that one Hit with a capital “H.” As for how it compares with The Answer, I would probably still cite that project as my favorite because the songs were a little stronger/more memorable, but this one is tighter and more cohesive as a whole.

The production is quality as always, and they continue to show themselves wonderfully adept at a variety of sounds. This may be the first project I’ve heard of theirs where certain songs actually remind me strongly of another group (like Signature Sound on “Nothing’s Worrying Me” or BFA on “Just Another Rainy Day”). They are in expert hands with Wayne Haun, and he always brings the best out of them. I’ll never forget the chance I had to chat with him a bit at my first southern gospel concert last year (seriously, it was like meeting the President or something—actually, just kidding, that’s an insult to Wayne). Anyway, I had just recently listened to The Answer, and I told him that I loved the way he let the family be themselves, yet complemented and supported them perfectly for what they were doing. He does the same here. I especially liked the more stripped-down feel on several of these numbers, because it really allows their full talent to shine. It makes me wonder what an entirely acoustic (or even acapella) Collingsworth project might sound like.

Bottom line: The bottom line is that if you’re a Collingsworth Family fan, you should buy this project. And if you’re an SG fan who hasn’t heard of this group… you are seriously deprived, and you should buy this project.

StowTown, you’re three for three—first the George Younce project, then Doug Anderson’s debut, now this. Keep going.

Review copy provided.

Tim Duncan Appears With Mercy’s Mark

While browsing through Brian Free & Assurance’s facebook photos, I found a concert where they were joined by the temporarily resurrected Mercy’s Mark. To my surprise, I saw another familiar face on stage too—Tim Duncan! Here’s a shot of Tim and Jeremy Lile sharing a mike. (The whole photo album is great. Of COURSE Brian and Jay had to duke it out on “Looking For a City,” and it yielded some priceless shots. My favorite is this one of Jay stealing the show while Brian and Bill are flabbergasted in the background.)

Groveling to the World (or The Wishy-Washiness of Willow Creek)

I recently came across this message from Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels. Apparently Willow Creek wanted to invite Starbucks president Howard Schultz to come speak for a leadership seminar, but the constituency of Starbucks had other plans. Believing the church to be “anti-gay,” over seven hundred angry petitioners came together in protest, threatening to boycott Starbucks unless Schultz declined the invitation. So he did.

At this point, Willow Creek had a choice as to how they could respond. You would like to think they would have said, “Well yes, as a matter of fact we are ‘anti-gay,’ and very proud of it too. Gee, isn’t it nice to be hated by the right people?” Unfortunately, Hybels’ response was a little different:

Where to begin? We could start by the fact that at the end he’s citing Matthew 18 (??) as their basis for trying to “meet with” the petitioners in order to “seek a better understanding” and perhaps come to a point of “mutual respect.” The petitioners, who are (we presume) not even remotely Christian and not associated with the church in any way, shape or form. That sounds like a private grievance with a Christian brother, not. But Matthew 18 seems to be the go-to thing these days… no matter what the situation, Matthew 18 must apply, somehow.

So that’s just weird, right there. But of course there’s a big picture problem here, namely that Hybels is somehow trying to have it both ways. Notice that he does say at one point that the church “challenge(s) homosexuals and heterosexuals to live out the sexual ethics of the Scriptures,” and he even elicits some applause. However, he immediately continues with some fluff about “grace-filled spirits” and “honoring everybody’s journey,” whatever the deuce that means.

Official stance aside, what is getting repeated over and over here? It’s this all-inclusive “welcome” message. “The mat on every door at this campus [campus–don’t you love that?] has always read ‘welcome’. ” No, the church is not anti-gay. In fact, the church is not anti-anybody. (One would like to ask, “Does that include the world, the flesh, and the devil?” But moving right along…) That’s what he’s harping on, and harping on. Now granted, in a church that size, there wouldn’t really be much you could do to actively prevent somebody gay from walking in on Sunday. But it’s pretty obvious that there wouldn’t be much of an attempt to exercise church discipline on an immoral member, or to communicate a pointedly, explicitly anti-gay message from the pulpit that might “offend” [Edit: In fairness, I just read an article which quoted a 2007 sermon that did contain anti-gay messages. Whether Hybels would preach something similar today is another question.] The clear take-home message here is, “It’s all right, it’s okay.” Make no mistake, Hybels is trying to walk an impossibly fine line, and something has to give. We’re seeing a serious disconnect between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. It may take a few years, maybe even a decade or two, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see even the official policy quietly disappear one day.

But until that happens, the angry petitioners still won’t be satisfied. I can see it now: Church sets up the meeting (if the petitioners are willing to meet at all), and Hybels goes and spouts the liberal line, saying nothing at all about the church policy if he can help it. But sooner or later they drag it out of him, and then it’s all over because as long as the letter is there, they will fight it.

I see this as just one more part of an emerging trend: Christian entities (churches, organizations, etc.) are becoming more and more eager to invite completely secular speakers for secular purposes, in an effort to “find common ground.” Compare with Focus on the Family and Blake Mycoskie. The Church is actively extending these kinds of invitations: “Hey, let’s forget about our differences and have you come and talk about leadership, or giving shoes to poor children, or anti-AIDS charity, or [insert something else generic]?” When those secular leaders yield to pressure from their base to refuse the invitation because of the officially conservative values of the Christian entities extending it, said Christians react by saying, “Oh, we’re so sorry. We’re good little liberals, honest! Er, yes, well, we do officially have standard Christian principles of morality, but can’t we w0rk something out anyway? Pleaseohpleaseohplease? All together now: WE ARE NOT EXCLUSIVE.” Instead of which they should realize, “You know, maybe that’s what we get for trying to work with somebody who doesn’t particularly share our values, at least not enough to stand up to a vocally complaining left-wing base. Let’s invite x solidly Christian speaker next time instead.”

The Church wasn’t built to grovel to the world. She was built to overcome the world. And if taking a stand for what’s right means that we are reviled and scorned… well, somebody kind of important once said that we should count that as a blessing.

Now that’s what I’m talking about

A while back, I made a post lamenting the lack of high quality southern gospel music videos. My readers and I were able to scrape together a handful, of varying quality, but we agreed that it’s not exactly an area where SG excels.

Fortunately the Ball Brothers are doing their bit to change that. Check out this video for “It’s About the Cross.” Granted, it’s less interesting than a concept video for a story-song would be, but the production is still impressive. I saw one of these “performance music videos” for a Brian Free & Assurance song (it was “Die Another Day”), and this one is honestly better. It was produced by Levi Kirby and features all four brothers as well as their new pianist Cody McVey:

Don’t they look nice and classy? Thumbs up boys. I hope you can do more at some point.

Oh yes, and check out their latest “Rollin'” episode, in which they get together with some other guy friends and draft fantasy football teams. 😀

CD Review: A Season to Remember—Their Greatest Hits, by Brian Free & Assurance

Brian Free & Assurance has built an impressive track record of consistency and excellence in the southern gospel world. Though they have taken some stylistic liberties to appeal to a wider audience, many southern gospel fans have embraced their music through the years. One of their signature traits is strong song selection. Brian Free is very adept at picking songs that say something, and say it well. They have also cultivated a tight, quality sound, defined by Brian’s unmistakable tenor and held together by Bill Shivers’ powerful lead vocals.

This greatest hits collection draws from over a decade of ministry, and it’s hard to argue with the selection. No-brainers here include “Long as I Got King Jesus,” “For God So Loved,” and recent smash hit “Never Walk Alone.” However, die-hard fans will notice the absence of any cuts from their beginning years as a trio, when the lineup was Brian Free, Kevin Smith and Mike Lefevre. It would have been a nice touch to include songs like “Stand Up For What I Stand For” and “He Thought of Me,” even though they come from before the group really took off as a quartet. As it stands, recent projects like Worth It, Real Faith and It’s So God make up the bulk of this collection. Fortunately, there are some older gems in the mix as well, such as “Mary Knew” and “There Will Come a Day” (which is placed effectively at the end of the disc).

With room for only fourteen songs, I naturally have many favorites (e.g. “Man of Sorrows,” “Goodness and Mercy,” “There is a Kingdom Coming”) that didn’t make the cut, most likely because they weren’t hits. Which is understandable. Still, a few omissions did leave me scratching my head. Where, for example, is Jeremy Lile’s signature song “Save Me a Seat at the Table?” Or “Jesus Will Pick You Up?” Or “Coming of the King?” I also find it interesting that the title track of Real Faith didn’t make it, as well as “Only God Knows” (though I’m probably okay without the latter, even though I love the message). It seems as though something like “Healed” could have been dropped for one of those songs.

But I repeat: There is a lot of great stuff here. As I look over the list, there are maybe two or three songs I’d skip over, at the most. “You Must Have Met Him” is probably the project’s weakest moment, even though I understand its inclusion as a hit. The aforementioned “Healed” is nice but never clicked all the way with me. “I Believe God” is solid, and again, an understandable pick, but could have been replaced with something even better. But those are minor gripes with what is, on the whole, a very consistent listen. Personal favorites that did make the cut include “I Am Redeemed,” “Greater Still,” and “Die Another Day.” As has already been noted, fans will likely have all the songs anyway, but this would make a fantastic gift for friends who haven’t been introduced to the group—or southern gospel music for that matter. In fact, I would encourage listeners to give this one a try even if they don’t normally listen to southern gospel. The core southern gospel sound is definitely there, but you can also hear shades of black gospel and contemporary pop. Newcomers may just discover that southern gospel music can be a lot more interesting than they thought.

Track listing:

  1. Long As I’ve Got King Jesus
  2. For God So Loved
  3. Praying Man
  4. If It Takes A Valley
  5. Never Walk Alone
  6. Die Another Day
  7. You Must Have Met Him
  8. I Am Redeemed
  9. Greater Still
  10. Mary Knew
  11. Healed
  12. I Believe God
  13. It’s All About The Blood
  14. There’ll Come A Day

Revival Awards—Vote!

Hey fellow southern gospel fans, go check out what my buddy fridaynightrevival is up to on his blog. He’s running his own awards show with categories that showcase the best of southern gospel in a fresh way. While there’s nothing wrong with the standard “favorite artist” or “favorite bass singer” type of awards, there’s a lot of talent in the industry that slips under the radar that way. The Revival Awards are designed to recognize gifted people who may not be household names, like engineers and non-performing songwriters. There will also be some “most creative ____ ” categories to award artists who are thinking outside the box. Look for some opportunities to vote for your favorite songs a bit later as well. Right now, the first “batch” is up for you to vote and comment on. So what are you waiting for?

Full disclosure: I’m on the advisory board, which selected nominees and will handle the results at the very top once readers have helped narrow down our lists.

CCM vs. SG: Cover Songs

Recently I’ve been pondering yet another one of the many things that sets CCM and SG apart: cover songs (and projects). In southern gospel, it’s quite common for even top-tier groups to fill up a good percentage of their main releases with covers, whether of relatively recent songs or old standards. It’s also common for groups to put out entire projects of covers, sometimes as a tribute to another group like the Cathedrals or the Happy Goodmans.

I don’t observe this nearly as much in CCM. On occasion, various artists will collaborate on some special event covers project as a tribute to somebody significant in Christian music (like Rich Mullins). Once in a while, a group will release a project of CCM classics covers (Avalon, Another Time, Another Place). Some praise and worship artists will cover each other, but those are generally songs everybody and his uncle is doing anyway (“How Great is Our God,” “Blessed Be the Name”). In general, it would be considered odd for half of an artist’s latest project to be made up of already-recorded songs. In fact, on the rare occasion that an artist chooses to re-interpret an old song (e.g. Bethany Dillon with Amy Grant’s “Lead Me On”), it’s focused on as a somewhat surprising/significant choice. And you never see current non-worship artists regularly incorporating each other’s songs into their repertoire.

Think about it. Has MercyMe ever covered Casting Crowns? Has Third Day ever covered MercyMe? Did the new group Sidewalk Prophets start out with projects of MercyMe, Casting Crowns and Third Day covers? No—each group has its own material. Going farther back, 4Him was often compared with the Imperials, but did they ever release an Imperials tribute project in between main-lines? No (although that could have been pretty cool). Come to think of it, there were a lot of similar-sounding AC harmony groups in the 90s (4Him, Point of Grace, Phillips Craig & Dean, Avalon), but they all did their own stuff and had their own styles.

Why is this? Is it because southern gospel has even more similar-sounding artists, thereby making it easier for the same songs to get bounced around among various groups? Is it because CCM has fewer adaptable “standards,” thereby making it more urgent that new artists bring all-new material?

Here’s another thought: I see more of the “covers phenomenon” in country than in CCM, although still less than in SG.