Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Songwriting -- Canto I: The Struggle

I've had a dream of mine come true -- at least partially, but even the part that has come true astounds me. So in gratefulness, I'm going to document it here.

I refer to songwriting. I'm privileged to lead worship approximately once a month at my church and last Sunday four of the songs we (not just we the worship group, but we the congregation, you understand) sang in worship of our Lord were of my own making -- and in the context of my struggle to have my music recognized by my own church, that is nothing short of amazing to me. I dreamed it long ago. It has happened. Got to say thank you.

It may be a bit silly of me to try a thing like songwriting. 'Why?' seems like an appropriate question. Well, if you've spent any time reading this blog, or if you know me from elsewhere, you'll know I tend to try to swim upstream. If the trend is one way, I will try to buck it if I can. So probably that's in the mix. It's a challenge. Probably also I'm admirer of good music (a loaded phrase, laden with objective and subjective overtones) and I want to produce some, too. The inclusion of the 'too' in that last sentence, reveals a competitiveness, godly or not, that also drives me. On top of that justice also drives me. I recently watched a talk by Bret Victor, a noted software developer,  (I gather that if you are an iPhone user, you see his work all the time) who says that life is not as much about following your dreams as having strong principles, which, when they are violated, drive you to do something about it and correct the situation with whatever creativity you have. Church music is my situation. When I see it, a voice in me says, "There's something we lack in our songs, something missing, something that is slipping away, or some way in which we have stagnated by not having original new songs" and I must do my part to try and rectify that.

There. I've just articulated more about my reasons for songwriting than I've ever done to myself before. Conscious choices, in black and white. But it wasn't always this way. When I started on this particular journey I was the starry-eyed admirer of Vineyard worship and the wealth of new music which came forth from this movement, which I joined and have stayed with (long after the initial bloom has died and we have to see what fruit the tree will yet produce.) My prayer was, "God, let me write songs, too." I would pray that frequently, and pick up my guitar and try. And nothing would happen, or, nothing that I could honestly identify as an answer to a prayer for new songs. (This is not really accurate: I wrote one or two but there was no sense that it was possible that I could ever write any more than that) But I kept praying and I kept trying, and suddenly, it seems, in retrospect, at a retreat (an Alpha "Holy Spirit" weekend, if you want to know...) I wrote a song (we sang it last Sunday) which seemed to uncork the bottle. After that for a time, I wrote new songs nearly every day. God had really answered my prayer. But there was a hitch, a missing component, a thing without which the blessing of being able to write songs at all was somewhat sour.  Maybe I never thought to ask for this also. Maybe God just wanted me to gain what nobody wants the bother of gaining, that is, character, so he withheld this other blessing at the time. I refer to what some have called 'favor.'  There. I said it. Favor. Now I have to resist the temptation to digress into a rant against super-spiritualized Christian code words. But whatever you want to call it, the truth was that few people saw anything particularly special in my songs. I tried submitting them to some who had oversight of that sort of thing in our church and their response was akin to "Don't call us. We'll call you." Yeah. That felt real good. But it didn't stop me from writing even more songs. And I didn't stop. I have slowed over time, but I still haven't stopped. Anyway, it was pretty frustrating. Truth is, if you don't have the opportunity to teach others your songs, no one will get to love them and I certainly didn't.

I'm not going to chart my whole journey from there to here except to mention that some people actually believed in me and my songs. My brother, for one, and a few others -- very sustaining and more than in a small way. So now they let me lead worship and they let me teach my songs and they seem to like it. I thank God. It's a load off my heart. It was always supposed to be a gift to share. I hope to keep sharing.

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