Tag

songwriting

A Call to the Lionhearted

By | Leadership, Music, Theology, Worship Arts | No Comments

BeBrave

A blank page is a beautiful thing, don’t you think?

It’s fresh, opportunistic, and challenging. It’s a space that’s capable of becoming anything.

Okay, maybe a blank page doesn’t always seem so exciting–at least, not to me. But, it’s my suspicion that I’m not alone in ever having felt intimidated by a blank page.

Does a blank page, with its blinking cursor or its empty blue lines, look overwhelming to you?

Does it look like the song that you’ve held in your mind for years but never transcribed? Does it look like the paper that you have to write by tomorrow, but feel incapable of finishing? Does the intimidating blankness look like all the things you’ve wanted to write and accomplish, but have never felt capable enough to complete, or even start?

No ability. No talent. Mediocre.

Perhaps your self-criticism swirls endlessly in your mind, and all the while that cursor blinks at you–no words on its left side, no ideas on its right side.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Perhaps you echo it with words confirming your self-doubt.

“I can’t.” “I can’t.” “I can’t.”

And perhaps, by simply looking at that blank page, you become increasingly aware that you’re not good enough.

You’re not capable enough.

You are worthless. 

And, isn’t it that continual rejection that we fear? We fear seeing our own inadequacies on paper, in black and white. We sit in that fear, marinate in it, and do anything to escape it, including sliding the mouse to the “X” at the top corner of the page, shutting down the computer program, crumpling up the paper, and avoiding the notion to write anything at all.

Do you want to know something strange? Every successful songwriter, novelist, playwright, or poet that I have ever studied has had trouble writing. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it really doesn’t seem strange at all that most writers struggle with writing.

You see, I’ve found that writing is more about courage than ability. You might think that you are incapable of writing that song, lyric, script, or novel.

But I think you’re wrong.

It is my sincere conviction that you do, in fact, have the ability to write–and not just write, but create–beautiful things.

William Wordsworth once said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Allow your heart to overflow onto the words of your blank page. They don’t have to be well-constructed words; they must only be authentic words. 

You see, we all have very important stories, memories, and experiences to share–stories that come so naturally to our minds and hearts that they feel as simple as breathing. And this, dear friend, is where you must begin–have the courage to breathe in and breathe out the things of your heart.

One of my favorite moments in the children’s novel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is when Aslan, the mighty and gentle ruler of Narnia says to Susan, “You have listened to fears, child. Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

You have listened to fears, child.

Be unafraid. Be vulnerable enough to expose yourself to failure and rejection in the exchange of speaking things that simply must be heard.

And may the things that we speak be uttered in praise to the Lord.

It is time to inhale the breath He has given to you, and let it make you brave, once more.

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
Pour out our praise to You, only

Pick up your guitar.
Place your fingers on the keys.
Put your pen to the paper.

Breathe in, and be brave.

 

– Chelsea

“Great Are You Lord” – All Sons and Daughters
© 2012 Integrity’s Alleluia! Music

Songs That We Sing

By | Higher Education, Music, Oxford Adventures, Theology | One Comment

“These are the songs that we sing, to make the day better.” – Matt Costa, “Songs We Sing”

Saturday morning I woke up late (like, three hours after I had been planning on getting up) and groggily pulled myself out of bed, still wrapped up by terrible dreams, still worrying about work I hadn’t finished, and conversations that had said too much or not enough the day before. A depressing heap of dirty laundry sat at the foot of my bed, a heap composed of every piece of clothing I’d brought across the Atlantic except for one formal dress, a few scarves, and two sweaters. Those were still marginally “clean.” I needed to buy laundry soap (and to buy groceries for the week while I was out: bread, eggs, milk, bananas…), to respond to that professor’s emailed question, to catch up on emails from friends that I had somehow still not gotten to answering…. I sat blearily on my bed, and some voice in my mind began to sing a little ditty that I had made up a few days before as I biked up the steep Headington Hill, coming home after a long day of studying and lectures. The lyrics go like this:

[Verse 1a]

It is dark

And it is cold

And my fingers

Are trying to hold

Onto

These frozen handlebars

 I rummaged through the laundry pile for something that was clean-ish, mumbling vaguely-coherent morning prayers, and glanced at the stack of books that I had to read, at least one of which is already overdue (I’ve only been here two weeks; how have I already managed to forget to renew a book?). So, like a mature adult, I didn’t do anything and scrolled through Facebook and Instagram. Then I didn’t read my Bible and shuffled downstairs to find something for breakfast, still hearing the now-familiar tune in my head:

[Verse 1b]

It is dark

And it is cold

Oh, why was I so bold

As to think

This was a good idea?

This was clearly not a good idea.

Breakfast is a good thing (scrambled eggs, muesli in yogurt, hot coffee mixed with hot chocolate powder). There are friendly people, conversations, dishes, and laughter, and I somehow manage to partly engage and still partly remain in my own unhappy head, singing my unhappy song:

[Chorus Part A]

But I’m here now, aren’t I?

I’m afraid, and I’m alone.

I’m here now, aren’t I?

Singing about my woes.

Though I could stay and linger with my cup of coffee-cocoa and talk with people, I don’t. I carry my isolated self to my third-floor room and, still lacking the energy to read Scripture or pray properly, I plug headphones in and listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a program titled, “A God of Surprises.” The fifty-minute conversation ranges across Tutu’s spiritual influences, the Truth and Reconciliation Council, forgiveness, apartheid, racism, and overall, a God who is in the business of putting things right. Near the end of the interview, there’s this exchange:

Ms. Tippet: …I think people might look at you and the life you’ve lived and also, you know, the bad things that continue to happen in South Africa and all the rest of the world, and say, “This guy says this is a moral universe?” And there’s this line you’ve just echoed, you’ve written so many times, “God is in charge,” and they might also say, “How can he say that?” I mean, tell me, you’ve been saying God is in charge for a long time, for decades. And so what do you mean when you say that and what that means to you, has that changed? Has that evolved? 

Archbishop Tutu: Well, I mean, you must add that I’ve sometimes said to God, “It would be nice for you to make it slightly more obvious that you’re in charge.” [laughter]

When the program ended, I pull out my headphones, take the stack of books in my arms, and head to the “typing room” (computer lab). As I thud down the stairs, I finally finish the second-half of the chorus, the final two lines that had been resisting my attempts to make them fit the way I wanted them to:

[Chorus Part B]

I’m here now, aren’t I?

So what am I to do?

But keep pedalling

And crying out to you.

Because that’s all I really know to do: to bring myself to God and say, in a very basic way, “I’m unhappy. Please help.” And perhaps the strangest, deepest mystery of faith is that my prayers have been answered. Not in clear-as-sunlight ways. But in, choose-to-have-eyes-of-faith ways. When I suddenly understand the significance of Handel’s switch from opera to oratorio. When a connection is made and an acquaintance feels like a friend. Being invited into an unplanned dance-party in the kitchen after lonely hours studying. A warm radiator to lean against after a cold bike ride. Someone asking, “How are you?” The opportunity to ask another, “How are you?” The strength to get out of bed in the morning. Seeing a friend via Facetime. Hearing a song I know.

Tiny answers to tiny prayers that give me the energy to keep pedalling (and, when the way gets very steep, the humility to step off my bike and push it the rest of the way up.) It’s not much, but it’s enough. The point of today is not to accomplish a lot of things but to echo Tutu and every other biblical prophet and say, “God is in charge.” And then, to prove my belief by doing what I’ve been given to do: essays and groceries and people and emails and paying my overdue fine. And I am comforted in that.

Biking to the Wycliffe Library, about a fifteen minute ride down a hill, over speed bumps, across a field, and on the bike path, I composed and sang Verse 2:

Today the sun is shining bright

Sending sad thoughts

Into flight

Like pigeons,

Startled by my bike.

 

So I’ll raise my head up high

And drink in that blue, gorgeous sky

And praise God

for his tender mercies

For truly, they are

tender mercies

 

[Chorus]

Because I’m here now, aren’t I?

Not afraid and not alone

I’m here now, aren’t I?

And grace is what I’m shown.

 

And I’m here, now asking,

What am I to do?

But keep pedalling

And singing praise to you.

~Jewel

Jewel is Senior, majoring in General Music.  Jewel is spending the semester studying music and literature at the University of Oxford in England.  She is an accomplished cellist and is very involved with the Chamber Orchestra at JBU.

 

Blind To Darkness

By | Leadership, Music, Worship Arts | No Comments

I just walked back from the Chapel Preaching Team meeting that happens at the beginning of each semester. On any given Tuesday during chapel, you will find a faculty or staff member preaching, lecturing or sharing a testimony focused on a certain book of the Bible or theological topic. We do this in an effort to “introduce” a variety of faculty and staff members to the larger JBU student body and to demonstrate an integration of faith and learning, encouraging the faculty and staff to teach and share through the lens of his or her specific discipline or job. Every semester, I make it clear to these speakers that a student worship leader will be contacting them to hear more about the scriptural themes in the specific service and to discuss how music can be a part of presenting the Word of God that day. These points of contact are generally brief, with a few emails exchanged and perhaps a couple of songs suggested. While this process works quite well and closely mirrors the conversations commonly found in a local church context, it’s always exciting as an educator, pastor and artist when students decided, on their own accord, to dig in a little deeper.

In the Fall of 2013, Clint O’Kelley and Seth Kaye were scheduled to lead worship for Dr. Ted Junseok Song, a member of the Engineering faculty at JBU. They sent the initial email to ask about themes and song suggestions, and Dr. Seong asked to meet with them in person.

“He shared with us his heart for JBU to remember that, yes we are saved by grace, but we cannot forget that the Lord is holy and just and our sin is not something to be treated flippantly. Seth and I left that meeting being blessed by the Spirit’s presence in a meeting with a professor that neither of us had met before.”

And so they started the process of planning…

“We went round in circles trying to find a song that would make people slow down and realize that while we do have grace and restoration in Jesus Christ, our sin is something that can’t be overlooked or brushed aside.”

And when they came up empty, instead of landing on a generic song that “would work,” they decided to take a risk. They decided to write.

“The next week, we spent almost every night locked in the same practice room. These nights usually looked like the two of us trading off at the piano playing over chord progressions while the other was singing out melody lines or lyrics. We would make a big chunk of progress and then hit a wall in our writing.”

And they didn’t give up…

“Some nights, we would leave the practice room frustrated because we just knew we were on the brink of creating the next portion of the song, but our minds wouldn’t let us go any further. I recall many times throughout that week lying in bed and texting lyrics to Seth to pray over and think about, and he would do the same with me. One of my favorite parts of this whole process was how collaborative it was. Seth and I both had such a genuine desire to create something that was not only of good quality musically, but that also had a greater purpose than just being a good song.”

And, so, “Blind to Darkness” was born. Dr. Song’s chapel was one of the most memorable chapels of that semester, and the song continues to be sung and led at various chapels, churches, and retreats all over Northwest Arkansas.

“It has been almost a year since then, and we are still completely humbled and blown away by the response to this song. It never fails that tears roll down my cheek when I am in chapel and I hear the voices inside the Cathedral singing out those lyrics that were crafted in that small practice room.”

Many students and community members have asked where they can buy this song. It is my privilege to announce the official release of “Blind to Darkness,” written by Seth Kaye and Clint O’Kelley, performed by The Red Steps. You can find it on iTunes here.

It’s a song written by the Church, for the Church. May Glory be to God the Father, to His Son, Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Ghost. Now, and forevermore. Amen.


 

 “Worthy is the Lord our God.  He is pure and holy.

Sinners come before the throne to be reconciled.

Demanding that blood be shed, Death would take you only.

Redeeming your righteous Bride that you made out of wretched sinners,

blind to darkness, sanctified by Jesus’ blood.”

~Seth Kaye & Clint O’Kelley