Song Explanation: You’re There

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
– Psalm 139

I am terrible at writing worship songs. Allow me to explain:

Part of my job at Community Covenant Church is evaluating and selecting appropriate music for our worship services, and it’s something I take very seriously. There’s a (dated) saying that goes, “If you want to know what’s important to a person, look at their checkbook.” Well, it’s kind of like that with a church’s theology: if you want to know what they believe, look at their songbook.

Consider these words from Constance Cherry in her book, The Worship Architect:

The persons responsible for song selection are accountable to God for what they ask the community to sing. Selecting music is a holy duty that carries the weight of great spiritual responsibility. The implications for our choices are enormous because…song selection wields tremendous influence on singers…Selecting song texts, then, is one of the most significant things that worship architects do because they are shaping their congregations’ theology (and therefore worldview) by the texts they select. It is an awesome responsibility. (182)

This is a very high standard! If I’m responsible for putting words in the collective mouth of the congregation I serve, then I want to be sure that I’m selecting songs consistent with our theology. The music that’s popular on Christian radio or churned out by mega churches isn’t always a good fit for us. If I’m not careful, I can inadvertently use songs that confuse people or lead them to believe the wrong things about God. I need to be careful, mindful, and most of all, faithful.

Of course, when evaluating a song I’m also mindful of practical concerns: is the song congregationally-friendly? Is it easy to pick up on the melody? Is it in a singable key? What’s the melodic range? Is it in a style or genre that works for my church, and if not, can I adjust it? Does the instrumentation make sense for our team? Is it worth pushing musical boundaries for the sake of good theology? Etcetera, etcetera.

So what does this have to do with You’re There? Well, You’re There is a worship song, and it’s one of the only worship songs I’ve written that I actually like. Most of the time, I overthink it. If I sit down with the goal to write a worship song, I get bogged down asking all of the questions listed above before I write a single note or lyric. What comes out is something clunky, or too heady, or so mind-numbingly simple that it sounds like a poorly written Tomlin knockoff.

So what was the difference this time? I threw my “worship rules” out the window, and, instead, tried to write an honest song that doesn’t suck. Does this mean that my concerns about congregational worship don’t matter? Hardly! But what I realized is that if I’m a follower of Jesus and I care about good theology already, it will naturally be reflected in the songs that I write. Will I always hit a homerun? No, but not every song that I write needs to be sung by my church. I just need to keep trying to write good songs, and once they’re complete I can evaluate them based on the criteria that’s important to me.

I recognize that this entry is more about my philosophy of songwriting, but I figure some of you might appreciate having the curtain drawn back a bit. This is the kind of stuff that worship leaders and songwriters are thinking about all the time!

Fun Fact: You’re There is used as the opening music for the Husker Football Fan Podcast. It’s the kind of thing that happens when one of the co-hosts is in a band 🙂

When I’m surrounded by friends, you’re there
When I’m alone in my bed, you’re there
Through the night and the day
When asleep or awake
I will not be afraid, ‘cause you’re there

Oh, you’re everywhere
And you’ve made my heart your home
Yeah, you’re always there
And I will never be alone

When I’ve figured it out, you’re there
When I’m scared by my doubts, you’re there
When the world’s crashing down
And there’s no one around
Still your mercy abounds, ‘cause you’re there

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Redirection

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
– 2 Corinthians 5:17

2012 was a watershed year for Flight Metaphor, and it started with Redirection. I recorded an acoustic demo of the song in December of the previous year, but it wasn’t until we started working on it as a band that things really came together. The result is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, and I think it’s the best representation that exists of Flight Metaphor 2.0 (Me, Bill, Cody, and Brad). Bill’s drumming plays off of Brad’s bass line, and they carry the song as Cody’s lead guitar dances on top of everything. What I’m playing on rhythm guitar takes a backseat to what the band is doing, which really isn’t something I could say about our earlier work.

We started playing the song at shows the following spring, and it was incredibly well-received – more so than any new song we’ve ever introduced. We had just started planning for a full-length album, but when people started asking us how they could get ahold of Redirection, we knew it couldn’t wait. We changed our plans and recorded the Redirection EP right away.

Lyrically, Redirection is a snapshot of who I was five years ago. I look back on those days and see a lonely, clingy mess; someone who was unwilling to accept change, someone who kept coming back to the same wells long after they’d run dry. By the grace of God I can sing this song in hindsight, but I think one of the reasons I still enjoy it is because throughout my life I’ve found myself asking God for mini resurrections. The joy of knowing Christ isn’t that I was “saved” only when I first asked Jesus into my heart – his salvation is as real and as necessary for me today as it was over 20 years ago. His Holy Spirit continually works in and on me, redirecting and sanctifying me all the days of my life. I may mess up from time to time, but my hope is in Jesus’ resurrection. The old has gone; the new is here!

BONUS: Listen to and download the original demo of Redirection below.

Where did I go wrong?
I’m off the beaten path once again
I need a redirection
A tiny resurrection in my soul
‘Cause I get so distracted
I find myself attracted to what I
know will never pay off
But still, I always come back to it

Redirect my heart
Resurrect my soul

Give me better vision
Help me see what matters in this life
‘Cause there is no division
Between the so-called sacred and profane
I need to learn to let go
But man, I’m used to holding on so tight
When everything is changing
But you have never left me to myself

And I know that every empty feeling passes
In time you’ll do your healing
And I’ve put my hope in who I know is steadfast

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Echoes

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
– Isaiah 59:1

Echoes is a simple song of devotion that I wrote in one sitting on January 18th, 2013 (I only remember the date because I originally posted the demo to soundcloud with the title “New Song 20130118” 🙂 ). I had observed that whenever I sit down to write a song, I’m generally drawn to more melancholy themes and lyrics – I blame all the emo and indie music I listened to in high school! This time though, I intentionally chose to write something a little more hopeful.

Sometimes life can feel like a steady progression of disillusionment, but I like to believe that innocence and youthful optimism are still locked away in our souls somewhere – and they’re actually accessible. Echoes is a song about reclaiming that innocence. There are plenty of reasons to be cynical or jaded towards the world, but all of it is conquered by the blood of Jesus. In this world we will have trouble, but take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world! Where, o death, is your sting? With these themes in mind, Echoes acknowledges the pain and struggles of life, but like any good Psalm it ends by proclaiming hope and confidence in what God has promised.

Recording the song was a dream come true. Charlie Lowell of Jars of Clay lent his talents by contributing a subtly tasteful Wurlitzer piano to the piece. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been a hardcore Jars fan for nearly 20 years, so I’ll openly admit that I had tears in my eyes the first time I heard the keyboard track – before it was even added to the mix!

By the way, Charlie has a new project of musical collaborations called Hollow // Hum. If you like the work he did on Echoes, you’ll love what he’s doing now. Click here to check it out.

Somewhere in the corners of my wildest dreams
I hear your whispers and their lingerings
The echoes of your voice still calling me
Return to my first love
Remember what it was

Hope, she calls,
cutting through the noise
of every lie I once believed
Promising a reason
and a purpose for my days
And so I sing

There’s such a loneliness that sticks around
So many things that could have brought me down
But I’m not giving up, I’m not far from
Your saving arm’s reach
This broken heart still beats

(I still hear you; I still hear you, Lord)

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Every Hidden Thing

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
– 1 John 1:6

Back in 2013, I originally imagined the new record as a concept album called Light Songs for Heavy Souls, and I wanted each song to take the listener on a journey from darkness to light. Every Hidden Thing would have been a pivotal song where the subject matter of doubt, sin, and shame effectively got “burned away” by a conversion experience.

I’m not quire sure how it happened, but the spaciest, most dynamic song on Flight Metaphor also ended up being the most biblically-inspired. Throughout the entire song, I’m playing around with the biblical metaphors of fire, light, and blood as agents of purification. Two passages of scripture in particular, 1 John 1:5-9 and Zechariah 13 had the most influence on my choice of imagery:

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.”
– Zechariah 13:9 (Click here for the full chapter)

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:5-9

Musically, I wrote Every Hidden Thing as a love letter to Thrice’s 2009 album, Beggars. I know I’ve mentioned their influence on my songwriting many times before, but if you haven’t listened to this album yet, do it now.

Stuck in between material things
and the unseen
We play in the dark with complete disregard
for the sunrise

Burn it all away
Every hidden thing is set on fire
Step into the light
Expose the underside
And come out clean

Blood washes clean
Flame purifies every misdeed
Walk in the light
As he is in the light

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.

Song Explanation: Draw Your Lines

“Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
Isaiah 19:25

The words for Draw Your Lines were written on the heels of one of the most wonderful and nerve-wracking experiences of my life. Draw Your Lines is one of the last songs I wrote for Flight Metaphor’s new album, and even though I had a good idea of what I wanted to do with it musically by the fall of 2013, I didn’t have a single usable lyric until July of the following year. And it all came at once.

In the summer of 2014, I spent some time in Israel taking a historical geography course through Sioux Falls Seminary and Jerusalem University College. For three weeks, my classmates and I traveled throughout the entire country learning about the land and its history. I maintained a daily journal with photos from nearly every site we visited, and you can read it right here.

The timing of my visit was somewhat unfortunate, however, as tensions were rising between Israel and Palestine at the time. I arrived four days after the controversial kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who would later be found dead. The event sparked an increase of military violence between Israel and Palestine, eventually leading to the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict. The program I was enrolled with did an excellent job of keeping students informed and adjusting our itinerary for everyone’s safety; while we were aware of the threat, it very much felt like we were isolated from any unrest. It was a reality tucked in the back of our minds as an unlikely worst-case scenario, and it remained that way for the majority of our stay.

On my final day in Israel, I was waiting to check my bags the airport in Tel Aviv, and I became very confused as a siren began to sound. Immediately the security staff on duty began ushering everyone towards the basement shelter. I stood up from my spot on the floor, looked out through the airport’s large front windows, and saw two white streaks in the sky:

Israel’s Iron Dome had shot down a rocket over Tel Aviv, one of the 25,373 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza over the past 15 years. On July 8th, 2014, the day I departed from this incredibly beautiful and sacred land, I came face to face with the violence that has plagued the Levant for millennia. While the threat was dealt with in a matter of minutes and the whole ordeal was over in less than an hour, it’s something that has stayed with me ever since.

One of the first things they teach schoolchildren in Israel is that they need to keep themselves within 15 seconds of shelter at any given moment. To them, it’s the equivalent of a tornado or fire drill. Is that the kind of world we want to live in?

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to make it clear that I’m not making a statement in support of or against Israel, Palestine, or anyone reading this post. I’m just finally putting into words what I’ve been mulling over for a couple of years now. Sharing this story has always been difficult for me, because I don’t want to come off as too sensational or too political or whatever. Any time I’ve tried to discuss it, I’ve found myself at a loss for words. At the very least, this blog post is somewhat of a catharsis.

The statement I do want to make is that war sucks, and it’s not what God intends for us. For several weeks before my trip, I spent hours upon hours marking up a set of maps for the class I was about to take. A vast majority of the markings dealt with war, conquest, exile, or occupation. As I learned about the land, it was necessary for me to also learn about its violent history. To be curt, in Israel, I believe things are as they have always been.

Yet in the midst of all this war and death, God’s people put their hope in an audacious promise, found in Isaiah:

“…There will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
– Isaiah 19:24-25

Despite the conflict that has plagued Israel since its foundation, the followers of Yahweh look forward to a day when all Middle Eastern peoples will live in peace. And if it’s possible in the Levant, it’s possible anywhere!

As a Christian, I believe this peace cannot be attained by the sword, but rather through reconciliation made possible by Jesus’ blood. In the face of political and religious persecution, Jesus Christ chose not to engage the broken system of violence with more violence. Instead, he disregarded the world’s way of solving its problems and gave himself over to the powers that be. The crucifixion was not only an act of atonement (although that would be more than enough); it was also a mockery of the world’s way of dealing out “justice.” When left to our own devices, we become so deluded that we believe murdering God is somehow justified.

So sure, Draw Your Lines is a war protest song, but not in the traditional sense. It’s over and above our petty conflicts, the lines we draw in the sand or on maps. It’s about the belief I have that one day, by the grace of God, all human conflict will be put to rest. People have been stabbing, shooting, and bombing each another for thousands upon thousands of years, yet somehow world peace has yet to be achieved. There has to be a better solution, and I believe that solution is found in Jesus. God has made a promise – even now it’s hard to imagine a “highway from Egypt to Assyria” – but if there’s one thing I know about my Lord, it’s that he keeps his promises.

You can read more about my time in Israel and Jordan here.

When the smoke trails stretch across the sky
In the hiding, we cannot forget
We are more than merely flesh and bone
We are body, mind, and spirit, all

There’s an ever-coming day
So much closer than before
When the borders that we draw
Are a distant afterthought

Draw your lines now, hope is biding time
Even hardened hearts can turn from stone
No one’s ever too far gone
Hope is singing her resilient song

And a highway in between
Bringing everyone to see
That we’ll finally live as one
Every daughter, every son

You can stream and purchase Flight Metaphor via Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify.