Music for Small and Tall
This year, as we start Sunday School and churches come back from summer schedule, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Bryan Moyer Suderman. It’s rare that you find music that appeals to all ages with a strong social justice focus, healthy theology, inclusive language, environmental concern, and really good musicianship.
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As Brian McLaren and Dave Csinos wrote in the intro to Bryan’s new CD:
Bryan takes up the challenge of uniting the old and the young, the tall and the small, with songs of faith that echo the depth, beauty, struggle, complexity, and unconventionality of walking in the way of Jesus.
Bryan is a minstrel, a prophet, a visionary, and a follower of Jesus who invites listeners of all ages to join him in “infiltrating the world with the love of God.” His music is captivating, his lyrics are theologically-rich and thought-provoking, and his voice invites us all to live God’s kingdom wherever we are.
I had a chance to catch up with Bryan after he served as the worship leader for the “Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity” (CYNKC) conference in Washington, D.C., in May. (Bryan’s CD was distributed to everyone who attended the conference.)
After we spent three days in intense conversations about the future of children and youth in the church, I asked Bryan about his view of his work as a musician in that future.
Bryan: “In some ways it is a big responsibility to think about the fact that songs we learn as children stay with us all of our lives. It is not to be taken lightly. But part of what I love about writing for children is that it's so much fun, and it helps to keep me from taking myself too seriously.”
What better way to help children understand the message of Jesus than Bryan’s songs “Our God is a God who makes friends,” “God loves a picnic,” and “Detectives of Divinity”?
But his music ministry is called SmallTall Music for a reason. Bryan loves it when someone approaches him and says “These songs you write for children, they’re not just for children are they?”
On each of Bryan’s CDs, there are some songs that are more serious like “You’re Not Alone,” and there are others that communicate a message in a way that's just plain fun, like “When You Learn to Follow Jesus (You Will Act a Little Strange).”
I asked Bryan about his sense of call as a musician and about the idea that God calls us to particular work.
Bryan: “I do not believe God has one particular plan for our lives that is like a needle in a haystack, and it is our job to find it. How can we identify with God’s mission in the world? How can we be part of God’s vision in our particular context?”
Each of us should ask ourselves, ‘What is God doing and how I can join in? What are your dreams for the future? What are God’s dreams for the future? Where can I have impact? How do my dreams and God’s compare, and how do they contrast?’ I want us to take God’s future into consideration. God’s story is our story, too.”
The lead track to Bryan’s first album, “God’s Love is for Everybody,” reminds us that we are called to love our neighbors “from across the street to around the world.”
Given the global consciousness in Bryan’s music, it is no surprise that Bryan grew up in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries on earth. The stark disparities of my United States’ and Bryan’s current home, Canada, could not be more different than the world where he grew up. His experiences inspired him to write, “There’s enough for all, if we would learn to share it,” with such beauty, hope, and enthusiastic dulcimer.
Bryan is Mennonite, and his musical career was launched when he and some friends and colleagues in the Mennonite church began thinking about how the church can sing about God’s kingdom in ways that are accessible to all ages. In his song "Peace Meal," Bryan tells us,
Every Wednesday, I go down to a sacred space
Everyone is welcome there, each one has a place
Coffee’s perkin’, cards are played, you can come in off the street
Whatever kind of shape you’re in, there’s something good to eat,
It’s a peace meal… .
But Bryan doesn’t just leave us with the call to be an advocate for social justice, he puts his music in the context of our faith.
Sometimes I am angry, sometimes I’m in pain
Sometimes there is someone that I’d rather not see again
Sometimes I can catch a glimpse of something hard to see
In the cup and broken bread, new possibilities
It’s a peace meal, a peace meal.
The table’s set, don’t you hear the call?
A peace meal, a peace meal
A table set for us all.
Bryan has created songbooks so that his music can be sung by congregations. You won't find Bryan's music heavily marketed in Christian bookstores and radio, but it can be found on iTunes and via his website www.smalltallmusic.com.
Here you can see Bryan leading the Mennonite Church Canada’s 2011 national conference in singing “New World Coming:”
Lisa Daughtry-Weiss is grateful for the opportunity to raise her son and daughter in a loving, Christian community that is not afraid to ask the hard questions and is truly welcoming of doubters and of all people. She works at Sojourners and attends Hyattsville Mennonite Church with her best friend, husband, and favorite cellist, Daniel.