International Strange Music Day: 5 quirky Christian tunes you need to hear
Today is International Strange Music Day. The brainchild of a New York musician, this day is an opportunity to get people to listen to the kinds of music they've never heard before.
And where better to experience the weird and wonderful realms of musical creativity than the Christian subculture? Worship has certainly inspired some interesting takes on 'music' of late. In the interest of us all opening our minds, here are five Christian songs that might surprise you.
Lord of the dance
Lord of the Dance is in a field of its own. It is irrefutably catchy, and you're tempted to jig along, wave a flag and cheer the chorus: 'Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he!'
Until you realise that singing in the voice of the Messiah himself is a little odd, especially a Messiah who prances more energetically around Jerusalem than you remember from the Gospels.
It's an infectiously jubilant tune, but then jarringly includes a heavy account of Christ's Passion narrative: 'They whipped and they stripped, And they hung me on high, And they left me there, On a Cross to die.' [...back to the chorus!]
But if that's too brutal to dance along to, just watch the instrumental version with the exuberant Michael Flatley, and you'll soon be carried away into Irish euphoria.
Hillsong's meg-hit Oceans actually works well with an inter-faith crowd, because its lyrics are so vague just about anyone could sing along.
It opens: 'You call me out upon the waters, The great unknown where feet may fail, And there I find You in the mystery, In oceans deep, My faith will stand.'
It's a little vapid, but if Hillsong is fresh territory for you then it's good to try something new. Also, Justin Bieber loves Hillsong, so this is mandatory if you want to be #relevant. This song is a millennial Christian anthem: we're all just moodily wandering our mysterious, introspective 'great unknowns'. Aren't we all on a journey? Come swim with us.
And of course, what's contemporary worship without some 'ohhh, ohh ohhh oh's in the bridge to bring everyone together? If you're looking for a more upbeat rendition, then don't miss the bombastic drum solo version of Oceans. Tonally, it's spot on.
There's a fascinating branch of Christian worship that originated in the rural monastic community of Taizé, France. Here, the songs are written in many languages and revolve around simple phrases, some derived from the Psalms, repeated and again. I visited the community once as an impatient teenager, and can confirm that the chanting could go on for a long time. But there's beauty in repetition and simplicity, and joining with thousands singing in another language, making space for God – these are profound things.
Hipsters: you'll probably love Taizé for its alternative vibe. Just don't bring your ukulele.
How he loves us
They say that debates about human sexuality are the biggest divider for the contemporary Church today. But whoever says that clearly isn't aware of the great How He Loves Us schism.
'Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss', declares the original version of this song. Some people love the unbridled passion in this line, other people retch at the thought of God slobbering over planet earth like an enthusiastic dog. Some say these lyrics prompted God to consider another great flood to wipe out humanity, so clearly he really does love us.
The alternative 'censored' lyrics to this song instead declare that 'heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss', which actually hasn't helped. We've gone from the excessive PDA lover to the creepy romantic who pounces from the dark of the disco floor. Perhaps it's meant more like 'nice surprise' than 'traumatic advance', but maybe it's a sign that kissing is a supremely distracting analogy for a worship song.
New worship songs are written all the time, but there's a vast catalogue of hymns from the past to draw on. Though some of them are a bit nuts.
Consider this graphic depiction of the redeeming blood of Christ by William Cowper:
There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Immanuel's veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
Just imagine a genteel vicar announcing 'and now for There is a fountain filled with blood' on a Sunday morning. You might accidentally unleash their inner vampire/ death metal artist.
Not everything was better in the past.
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