Seven Deadly Sins: A Playlist


Rolling in the Deep — Adele
Mama Said Knock You Out — LL Cool J
Lazy Song — Bruno Mars
Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler — Pink Martini
Rich Girl — Gwen Stefani ft Eve
I Want It All — Queen
Eat It — Weird Al Yankovich
Can’t Stop — Miley Cyrus
I Want You to Want Me — Letters to Cleo/10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack
I’m Sexy and I Know It — LMFAO
I’m the Best (clean version) — Nicki Minaj
Devil Went Down To Georgia — Charlie Daniels Band
Jessie’s Girl — Rick Springfield
Dancing on My Own — Robyn

Elegant Beats

Ekaphon maneechot / Shutterstock

Ekaphon maneechot / Shutterstock 

AS KIDS, Wilner Baptiste (viola) and Kevin Sylvester (violin) might have been labeled classical music nerds. They played in the orchestra at their Fort Lauderdale, Fla. performing arts high school and went to college on full music scholarships. They have excelled in an insular and rarified world: one in which people devote hours every day to mastering the subtleties of antique and unforgiving instruments and the difficult repertoire left by the dead white guys. It’s a sphere peopled almost entirely by whites and Asians, and Baptiste and Sylvester are neither.

“Wil B” Baptiste and “Kev Marcus” Sylvester are Black Violin, a duo that fuses the thrilling virtuosity of the European classical world with the booty-shaking funk and street-level grace of hip-hop. In September they released their first major-label album, Stereotypes.

While these two young men were honing their chops in that high school orchestra, they were also typical turn-of-the-century hip-hop kids, tuned into the world of rap. After graduating from different colleges, the two got back together and worked the South Florida clubs, developing an act that involved playing classical-string covers of hip-hop hits.

I know, this whole hip-hop and classical thing sounds like a gimmick, and if I’d read about it before I heard these guys, I probably wouldn’t have been interested. It sounds too much like the prog-rock abominations of the 1970s, when rock operas and rock symphonies almost killed off rock and roll. But I was lucky enough to hear Black Violin live before I ever read about them. They were playing at a banquet honoring top academic achievers from historically black colleges and universities. It was the perfect pairing of artist and audience. Taking the stage backed by a live drummer and a deejay, Black Violin rocked the house with sophisticated sparkle.

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O Happy Day! A Surprise Gospel Moment

Bobby Jones. Image via  / Shutterstock

I knew this was going to be a great trip. I did not know it would afford me a chance to scratch off the top item on my bucket list.

But when the iconic gospel singer Bobby Jones met with the band of international journalists I am traveling with on a fellowship from the East-West Center, he mentioned the song “Oh Happy Day” was so popular among his fans in Russia, Italy and Japan that he can’t get offstage there without singing it.

Was I really the only one present who knew the song, or was I just the most brave? I don’t know, but in a flash I was singing backup — badly —  to gospel music’s greatest on one of my favorite songs.

When It Comes to Worship Music, Hispanic Churches Look Within

Sam Hodges / United Methodist News Service / RNS

Adriana Campos, front left, is a youth band member at Christ’s Foundry United Methodist Church in Dallas who teaches guitar there on Sunday afternoons. Photo via Sam Hodges / United Methodist News Service / RNS

Dynamic, charismatic-style worship is a defining feature of Hispanic churches from evangelical to mainline to Catholic, and across the U.S. they are opening their own in-house music schools to train young people to lead them.

Where English-speaking music ministers might earn postsecondary degrees in worship arts or sacred music at more than 50 Christian colleges, Hispanic congregations are following in the footsteps of Pentecostal churches by raising up music and worship ministers from within, even if they can’t fret a guitar string.

African-American Opera Singer Revives the Yiddish Songs of the Shtetl

Clara Rice Photography / RNS

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell. Photo via Clara Rice Photography / RNS

Three years ago, when Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell took the stage at a Jewish vaudeville celebration and said he was going to sing in Yiddish, people laughed.

As a 6-foot-plus African-American with one golden earring, he just didn’t look like the typical Jew fluent in the language of the pre-World War II shtetl.

Then he opened his mouth. Out came a rich bass voice in a longing lament to the isolated villages and tiny homes left behind in places like Poland and Russia.

Think Fiddler on the Roof's “Anatevka” sung by a guy who looks more like Chris Rock than Zero Mostel.

The Liturgy of Wild Goose

Wild Goose Festival participants

Wild Goose Festival participants, photo courtesy Tripp Hudgins

This summer I had the distinct privilege of being asked to serve as the Liturgical Coordinator for the Wild Goose Festival held in Hot Springs, N.C. The festival is a time and place of celebrating the “intersection of Spirit, Justice, Music, and the Arts” that began a few years ago. As such, liturgies abound. Some of them were rather traditional. The Episcopal tent, for example, held Compline services every night. They also broke out of the mold and hosted a songwriter circle and an agape feast. The Goose is like that. Ask the Methodists about the beer tent. Oh, and the Baptists had a coffee shop.

People break from the mold a little. There was a Eucharistic liturgy where a blacksmith literally hammered a rifle into a farm implement. It was an unusual Eucharist, to be sure, but beautiful.

Sojo Sessions

Image via Sojo Sessions

Image via Sojo Sessions 

Lowland Hum, comprised of married folk duo Daniel and Lauren Goans, have emerged with their eponymous second album a stronger, more versatile, and possibly even more intimate musical pairing than their first album, Native Air. It's this sudden sense of fragility and uncertainty in the face of the next layer of intimacy — and the corresponding joy when the leap taken finds solid ground — that Lowland Hum brought to Sojourners' Summit. 

Watch the full Sojo Session here

Rock-and-Roll Transcendence

THE CLUB WAS full by the time New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem took the stage. Lead singer and songwriter Brian Fallon stepped to the mike in denim jacket and jeans, and the band lit into their song “Howl” (yes, a Ginsberg reference). That’s when I heard a strange doubling sound on Fallon’s vocal. The Gaslight Anthem is very much straight-ahead, meat-and-potatoes, guitars-and-drums. Why would they use that weird effect on the vocal?

Then it hit me. That sound wasn’t coming from the sound board or the speakers, but from us. The audience, en masse, was singing along with every word, on time and in tune. It was what happens when rock and roll is working right: The performers and the audience become one and are swept up into something much larger than themselves.

I’ve also experienced this in churches and sometimes even in collective political action. But some of my most dramatic moments of transcendence have come like this: in a dark room, packed with sweaty people, screaming back at some guy onstage with a guitar. The experience is even more interesting when you know that the guy with the guitar, Fallon, is also a Christian, who knows the true name of the Spirit that has overtaken us.

I only caught this show because my 15-year-old son, Joseph, took advantage of his spring break to insist that he be driven an hour each way, on a Monday night, to see one of his favorite bands. But it didn’t take much arm-twisting either. One of the last of the great guitar-rock bands, Gaslight is firmly rooted in the punk-rock ethos, but its sound has broadened to include elements of R&B and mainstream arena rock. And Fallon’s lyrical references range across the rock-and-roll tradition, from Hank Williams to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding to Elvis Costello and The Counting Crows.

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July 2015
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A Sacred Beat

AT THE WORLD Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in 1996, our North American Native delegation was unable to find any “Christian” Native powwow music that we could use to dance to as part of our entrance into the auditorium. This was important at the time, as we didn’t feel the liberty to use “non-Christian” powwow music for a distinctly Christian event. A contemporary Christian song by a Caucasian worship leader using some Native words and a good beat was selected.

Except in a handful of cases (believers among the Kiowa, Seminole, Comanche, Dakota, Creek, and Crow tribes, to name some)—and those always in a local tribal context—Native believers were not allowed or encouraged to write new praise or worship music in their own languages utilizing their own tribal instruments, style, and arrangements.

What they were encouraged to do was translate Western-style music, hymns, and songs (for example, “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) into their own languages, fully retaining Western cultural musical constructs.

Participation in traditional powwows, with their key features of drumming/singing and dancing, for many Native Christians has been discouraged or forbidden. Long considered a seditious threat to government control and an obstacle to the evangelization of tribal people, there was a long-concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government and missionary organizations and workers to put an end to these practices. Were it solely in the hands of some Native evangelicals to determine what Native ceremonies, rituals, or other cultural practices would be allowed, all would disappear forever, considered by the historic evangelical mission position to be “of the devil,” thus requiring total elimination.

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'That Song You Sing For The Dead'

BIBLICAL LAMENT includes both pleas to God for help and mournful dirges. Sometimes they are rooted in individual travails and grief, other times in anguish for those crushed by injustice or war.

The psalmist and the prophets dig deep into visceral images of bodily suffering—and stretch up, out, yearning to find symbols and metaphors in nature that might capture the mercy and presence of a God who, the psalmist isn’t afraid to say, is sometimes a bit elusive.

The album Carrie & Lowell is indie musician Sufjan Stevens’ multifaceted lament: For a mother, Carrie, he lost at least twice—to mental illness, addiction, and abandonment when he was a child and to cancer when he was a man. For the grief that surprised him after her death. For his inability, as he sings to his mother, to “save you from your sorrow,” hinting at that lingering, impossible guilt felt by so many children of troubled parents. Stevens reaches no tidy resolution in the course of the work (although early on, in the first song, he does offer that most basic, difficult, and saving grace: “I forgive you, mother”).

So why would you want to listen to something that speaks of so much pain? For starters, these are exquisitely spare, beautiful, and haunting folk-not-quite-rock songs. Stevens’ gift for hook and melody here is distilled, deceptively delicate, carried by few instruments and subtle effects. Layered vocals and harmonies swell up on a bridge or carry a song wordlessly to the end, like waiting choruses of angels, or ghosts.

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