329 | New Music

May 4, 2014
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #329: New Music


Dear Family,

Happy Quattro de Mayo! Since tomorrow is an Americanized Mexican holiday (most of the Mexicans I polled here have no clue why May 5th is celebrated), staff came looking for homemade alcohol, door-to-door. I don’t know why they need to have OUR alcohol, when they can easily just buy their own out in the real world. And it probably tastes better than something made from rotting fruit in a toilet. I’ve never had alcohol myself, but I’m fairly certain it’s not all that exciting. Joe and I dutifully opened our boxes to reveal our clothes and books, and sent the staff looking elsewhere.

Meanwhile, some new guys moved into the cell next door. Constant thumping through the thick cement wall reminds us that tubas are an integral part of every Mexican song, no matter what day of the year it is. We can’t exactly sing along, since we don’t know the words. But if we did, we would.

What we have been singing along to is our own collection of CDs, generously donated to us by friends and family. We can play them through my TV speakers, filling the room with beautifully uplifting Christian music.

Joe has determined to make changes in the music he listens to. For years, his music taste reflected the gang lifestyle he was involved in, the rap music especially encouraging drug and alcohol use and violence. Though Christian music is not what he is accustomed to, Joe gets blessed every time we have it playing, whether during our devotional time, mealtime, or while we’re working out. He’s purposed to listen to his old favorite, classic rock, less and less, and he recently sold all of his old CDs.

My music taste is quite different from Joe’s, having been raised in a conservative Christian home where only wholesome Christian music was played.  For years, I didn’t even listen to so-called contemporary Christian music, feeling that much of it didn’t honor God as it tried to copy the world’s sound. It took years before I began to notice some beauty in some of the current music played on Christian radio and sung in church worship services. I’ve recognized that I can still be discerning about the music I listen to, without dismissing an entire category of music. I’m still very sensitive about flashy Christian performers, since I know from personal experience that it is quite easy to get caught up in the attention-seeking and fame-grabbing on the path to leading in worship.

On Wednesday mornings, I’ve started working with the Spanish Christian choir during their practices. To this point, their choir has simply sung in unison, loudly, with several guitars all strumming fast and loud as the accompaniment. They want me to introduce harmonies into their songs, splitting their members into parts, but I’ve been working with each of their instrumentalists as well, to create spacing and variety.

My pet peeve with church worship is the abundance of distractions that creep in, often due to a lack of concern for excellence. Awkward pauses, extended set-up between songs, lengthy instrumental solos, and songs sung without words given to the congregation can all detract from the worship experience. I enjoy helping equip and prepare this group to present their best to God as they lead the Spanish church in worship. Would it sound racist to say it has “bean” going well?

Recently, Joe has been borrowing a guitar from a friend of ours. A few guys in our pod have shown him chords, and he has practiced like a madman. Like, if Saddam Hussein had intended to learn guitar, his practice habits would’ve been similar to Joe’s. He has developed all the right fingertip callouses and nearly chewed his tongue off in thoughtful pondering and mental anguish.

I’m really proud of him, actually. I taught him to play, “How Great is Our God,” but our great God is the One who continues to work the message of His greatness in our lives. And you really should hear Joe play it, accompanied by the oom-pah, oom-pah of the tubas next door.