Music

Catholic Rocker Matt Maher Finds Cross-Over Appeal Among Evangelicals

Photo courtesy Matt Maher

Catholic artist Matt Maher. Photo courtesy Matt Maher

Growing up Roman Catholic in Newfoundland, Matt Maher never imagined that his childhood interest in music would lead to a career as a Grammy-nominated, chart-topping Christian rocker — let alone a crossover artist featured on Christian radio and in evangelical worship.

After he stopped going to Mass as a freshman in high school, Maher wasn’t even sure about his own faith. The idea of maintaining a personal relationship to God seemed a foreign concept.

“Where I grew up, evangelical Christianity really hadn’t made any strides,” said Maher, now 38, describing the mainline religious culture of his wind-swept Canadian homeland.

Listen to any of his catchy, guitar-driven pop-rock anthems, such as his new single, “Lord, I Need You,” and it’s clear God is never far from Maher’s mind these days.

The 2013 Sweetlife Festival: At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

Photo Brandon Hook / Sojourners

The crowd at the sweetlife festival waits to hear the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Photo Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Passion and purpose.

Sounds familiar, huh? Those two words are at the heart of activism and social justice. I could have safely assumed that almost every young Christian activist at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia back in February was passionate about a particular purposeful cause. I’m surprised a Christian conference hasn’t already picked up on the whole passion and purpose thing for slogan or tag line.

Christian conferences aside, I never thought those two words would be the foundation of a cutting-edge music and food festival at Merriwewather Post Pavilion, and certainly not one where 18,000 people were jamming to some of their favorite artists and scurrying over to local food trucks for healthy, delicious food in between sets. Heck, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a festival that focuses on both music and food.

Hugging Bono, Engaging Critics, and Wishing 'The Frontman' a Happy Birthday

Bono outside the Vertigo tour show in St. Louis, photo by Andrew Smith

Bono outside the Vertigo tour show in St. Louis, photo by Andrew Smith

I don’t know how I feel about liberalism or capitalism beyond the degree to which I participate in both by necessity. But I do know what I perceive as the source of my activism and Bono’s: Jesus and the Bible; spirituality and scripture; the new commandments of radical love and service taught by the carpenter from Nazareth. What’s been called the preferential option for the poor. Bono’s lack of economic literacy, or worse, allegiance to wrong-headed economic mentors, may make me and others uncomfortable and may play into the hands of the problem-creators rather than the problem-solvers, yet Bono’s Biblical, musical, and poetic literacy remain on target in my eyes and heart.

In 2005 just after How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, as much as I loved that record and the subsequent Vertigo tour, part of me wanted to give up on Bono for his self-imposed public silence on the Iraq War, for hanging so intimately with people like George Bush and my then least favorite Tennessean Bill Frist. That year, I picked up Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas. Not only does the front man answer all his critics in a nuanced manner, he diminishes and self-deprecates his own significance. The alleged egomaniac also has a streak of deep and deferential humility.

But more than that, he speaks ever so elegantly and evangelically about his faith in Jesus and how Christian religious perspective, spiritual practice, and central Gospel narrative inform everything he does. Like Bono, I am no economist, but also like Bono, I take seriously the Biblical teachings about poverty and justice.

Stornoway: Hopeful and Honest

Photo courtesy of Stornoway

Stornoway deliver with hopeful songs about life, love, and everything in between. Photo courtesy of Stornoway

I first got wind of Stornoway back in 2011 when Izzy Westbury was president of the Oxford Union during the Michaelmas term of 2011 at Oxford University while studying abroad. The group of Oxford natives were Izzy’s favorite band at the time, and she made sure to give them a chance to play that I regretfully passed up to grab a pint with some friends.

So when the opportunity arose to see Stornoway in Washington, D.C., envelope myself in Oxford nostalgia, and enjoy some good tunes, I couldn’t pass it up.

And Stornoway delivered with hopeful, honest songs about life, love, and everything in between. Delightful is probably the best word to describe their music and the experience of seeing them live. It’s like taking a deep, refreshing breath. The British quartet mix elements of beach boys-esque pop with fleet foxes’ harmonies and a low fi, organic feel.

Julian 'J-Kwest' DeShazier on Rhymes & Reasons: The Stories of Hip-Hop

Julian 'J-Kwest' DeShazier

Julian 'J-Kwest' DeShazier

For nearly a decade, the ministry of Julian “J.Kwest” DeShazier has been an exploration in the relationship between music and faith. As artist, this Chicago native has used his unique rhythm to tell stories of deep meaning, inside and out of the church. A 2007 Holy Hip Hop Award winner, his song, “So Blessed,” was featured on the Grammy-nominated compilation Holy Hip Hop: Taking the Gospel to the Streets, and J has been celebrated as “Living Black History” by Urban Ministries International.

In 2012 he and his group, Verbal Kwest, were featured in the Sojourners, OXFAM, and Bread for the World-produced documentary The Line, providing a critical voice against poverty and violence in the U.S. A graduate of Morehouse College and the University of Chicago Divinity School, Julian currently serves as senior pastor of University Church in Chicago, and is a regular contributor to Sojourners, UrbanFaith and Kidult publications.

Editor's Note: There may be some objectional language in the beginning part of this about hour-long interview. 

 

Modern Hymn Writers Revive a Lost Musical Art

Hymnals at a church, Alexander A.Trofimov / Shutterstock.com

Hymnals at a church, Alexander A.Trofimov / Shutterstock.com

Most songwriters in Nashville want to get their songs on the radio. Keith and Kristyn Getty hope their songs end up in dusty old hymnbooks.

The Gettys, originally from Belfast, Ireland, hope to revive the art of hymn writing at a time when the most popular new church songs are written for rock bands rather than choirs.

They’ve had surprising success.

One of the first songs that Keith co-wrote, called “In Christ Alone,” has been among the top 20 songs sung in newer churches in the United States for the past five years, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International. It is also a favorite in more traditional venues — including the recent enthronement service for Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Hearing that hymn sung by a boys’ choir with a brass ensemble and thousands of worshippers was a thrill for Keith Getty, a self-described classical nerd.

Still A Believer: A Talk with Singer-Songwriter Nataly Dawn

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Marini

Nataly Dawn, a singer-songwriter, wrestles with faith and judgment in some of her work. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Marini

A while back I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Nataly Dawn about faith and songwriting. Dawn grew up in France, went to Stanford for undergrad, and made it big on YouTube with a duo called Pomplamoose before signing with Nonesuch records and starting her solo work.

This interview was edited for length and content.

Nataly: I have to warn you, I’m in a little bit of a food coma; I just made a really big brunch. I had probably five pancakes.

Brandon: Wow. Impressive. That’s awesome.

Former ‘Jesus Freak’ Traces the Evolution of Christian rock

Photo courtesy Bob Gersztyn

Bob Gersztyn wrote “Jesus Rocks the World—The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music.” Photo courtesy Bob Gersztyn

Bob Gersztyn owned a fine collection of 300 rock ‘n’ roll albums in 1971, the year he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Among them were some choice 1960s vinyl from Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Mothers of Invention.

But all of a sudden, this was the devil’s music.

“I destroyed some of them with a hammer and took the rest to a used record store,” he recalled with a laugh. “I think I kept 10 classical music albums that I decided were not anti-Christian.”

Gersztyn retained his love of rock ‘n’ roll, but limited his listening to Christian rock, a genre that was just getting going in the era of the hippie-inspired “Jesus freaks” and the hit Broadway musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

He joined a Four Square Gospel Church in Los Angeles, enrolled in Bible college, and became a Pentecostal preacher. He also started emceeing and booking concerts for such Christian artists as Keith Green to 2nd Chapter of Acts.

George Beverly Shea, the Voice of Billy Graham Crusades, Dies at 104

RNS photo courtesy Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Grammy-winning gospel singer George Beverly Shea in 2008. RNS Photo courtesy Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

George Beverly Shea, whose signature baritone voice was a standard feature of Billy Graham crusades for more than half a century, died Tuesday at age 104.

He died after a brief illness, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association announced.

Shea, who was 10 years older than Graham, met the famous evangelist seven decades ago when he was working at Chicago’s WMBI, a Moody Bible Institute radio station. The evangelist heard him singing on the program “Hymns from the Chapel” and asked Shea to sing on his new radio program.

“I’ve been listening to Bev Shea sing for more than 70 years, and I would still rather hear him sing than anyone else I know,” the ailing Graham said in a statement. “I have lost one of the best friends I have ever had, but he and I look forward to seeing each other in Heaven relatively soon.”

Shea, who lived about a mile from Graham in Montreat, N.C., sang before Graham preached as they traveled the globe, often “I’d Rather Have Jesus” or “Victory in Jesus.”

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