Until yesterday, I didn't know what "praise and worship music" meant. Most "praise and worship" music grates on my ears, and I never listen to it. I usually see (or hear) it as bad art, and not truly capable of praising or worshiping anything. It's not my favorite attitude, but I understand my reasoning, and I'm not afraid to cop to it. A lot of Christian music truly is bad art. It doesn't have to be good art to be effective and true as "praise and worship music," but I can't listen to bad art without getting derailed by it. I can never "suspend my disbelief" long enough (if at all) to achieve spirtual liftoff. In fact that's exactly what's wrong with it; much Christian music does NOT suspend my disbelief, but rather the opposite: It Suspends My Faith. It fills me with doubt. Not about my salvation. It fills me with doubt that I'll be able to get through the worship service with my heart and mind and nerves intact. A lot of it is truly terrible. There's no way for me to get around it and surrender myself to the heart of the song, even if it's true. For this reason, My Church Is In The Trees. But yesterday, for the first time, I understood what "praise and worship music" meant.
Maybe not for the first time. I have a gospel album, comprised of half original songs and half Christian standards, and the original songs aren't untrue. It has always bothered me that I haven't written a Christian song in English since 2005, when almost all of my original gospel songs were written. I have never been insecure about it, or considered my inability to write an honest gospel song in 15 years as some kind of evidence that I have no relationship with the Lord. The reason for this, probably, is that I've asked that question, independent of any writing concerns, at least 1,000 times. There aren't many things less desirable to be in life than a professing Christian who is self-deceived about his or her salvation. If you're going to deceive yourself, at least get laid, or high, or something. If you're going to live in a state of deception, have some fun. Don't go to church.
"Our God is a Consuming Fire," "Everything I Have Is Yours," and "Heaven Is On Its Way" are original gospel songs that are true. There is a ridiculous, furious performance of "Sad & Lonely" recorded on a CDR somewhere, when I played it one morning at the First Baptist Church of Hollywood, probably in 2005. I remember the pastor saying, "I'd hate to be on Nathan's bad side" after I left the stage. I don't remember what I was angry about, except that it was stupid. Nothing, I am certain.
Some of the songs on the full album aren't public domain, such as "How Great Thou Art," but you can hear most of the album on YouTube if you like:
So what happened? Why the sudden, unsolicited ability to sing "praise and worship" music, literally overnight?
Life, is what happened. Warfare, actually. Spiritual warfare out of nowhere. An unreasonable, unprovoked attack by demonic spirits, against which it was immediately necessary to defend myself.
After a 3 or 4-hour nap, I awoke on a colorful, well-lit battlefield, poured a cup of coffee, and made a big sign to put in my windshield. I finished the sign in a rage, before I even got halfway through my coffee. The sign quotes Proverbs 16:18 in Spanish, "Antes del quebrantamiento es la soberbia; y antes de la caída la altivez de espíritu," or, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." Here's a picture of it:
But it didn't help. I was still pissed off. So I grabbed my guitar and walked into the driveway and started singing. I wasn't playing just to play. I was digging myself out of a grave. I was making Spanish Bible noise over some guitar chords. I wasn't playing songs. I was shouting down the hellfire sprouting up through the flowers and rocks and hummingbirds.
And it worked.
Before long, the lyrics turned into a prayer. What began as a plea to the Heavens turned into a prayer for the neighbors and pets and wild dogs and any creatures within earshot. I saw some movement on a balcony a couple houses down. I had no self-consciousness, declaring to them the peace and mercy of God at the top of my cigarette-damaged lungs (I'd chainsmoked several cigarettes the night before, so enraged that the cherry was almost an inch long, and the cigarette was finished before I even knew I'd lit it). Not only did I have no self-consciousness, in fact it felt like everything right and true about performing. It was like flying. It was freedom. There were no demons capable of touching me, surrounded in the cloud of heavenly fire I'd built around myself by simply singing a verse from the book of Proverbs in hackneyed, gringo Spanish.
It was great.
I did it again today, because the return of the hellion, the person I've begun to refer to as "The Austinite," so aloof, self-righteous, and American are his or her vibes, was an unpleasant experience in the spirit world. The hatred was palpable. It was like trying to breathe under 2 or 3 atmospheres of dark, satanic pressure. So I did it again. I got my guitar and went into the driveway and started singing Spanish Bible verses over some chords, reading them from the windows of my van. It started turning into a song. So I got my camera and recorded it:
Later, I called my friend Alfredo, and we discussed the satanic noise that imposed itself on me just a few nights ago. He speaks perfect English, but used a phrase which is apparently a saying in Mexico, "una raya más al tigre." Just another stripe on the tiger. It is what it is. It sounds dismissive, but after repeating an idea I had by which I thought it might be possible to leverage my way into some more money, he expressed his doubts as to the efficacy of the idea by saying, "una raya más el tigre."
I wouldn't count on it, in other words.
The phrase occurred to me as a great title, so now I have another song under construction, a Spanish gospel song titled Una Raya Más El Tigre. When I can get my hands on something other than the old, reliable work truck (my guitar) with strings from the era of the conquistadors, maybe I'll come up with something more than I-IV-V in C major. I've noticed that a new instrument, especially a new type of instrument, often yields new and unexpected results. I haven't bothered re-stringing my guitar in about a year, because what's the point. It doesn't occur to me. The phrase "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic" is a way of describing the futility of playing music on a sinking ship, which can be a metaphor for anything pointless.
If there's no point in playing on the ship, who's going to break out the guitar on the lifeboat?
Optimists? Idiots? Drunkards?
You are entitled to your opinion, and I know some of you will say, drunk with hope for the future, that sitting on the lifeboat is the best time to play.
That's nice, but another possibility is that playing requires faith, and that watching the Titanic sink is an uninspiring, tragic event that puts you into a state of artistic shock. Perhaps not unlike listening to contemporary Christian music. Sometimes the guitar itself is the lifeboat, and playing doesn't commence until the lifeboat itself has begun to sink, and you're clinging to the guitar itself in the infernal, icy waves.
Then, and only then, do you start to play. And it really isn't playing. Really, you're accidentally strumming the machine while attempting to hold onto it for dear life. The act of playing has become an act of worship. You are free to worship what and whomever you please, but as of yesterday, with a handful of exceptions from 15 years ago,
I finally understand the secret of praise and worship music.
* * *
"Antes del quebrantamiento es la soberbia; y antes de la caída la altivez de espíritu." Proverbios 16:18
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18
"Dios está airado todos los días contra el impío." Salmo 7:11
"God is angry with the wicked every day." Psalm 7:11
"La paga del pecado es muerte; mas el don de Dios es vida eterna en Cristo Jesús Señor nuestro." Romanos 6:23
"The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23
p.s. I do like Mississippi John Hurt, and the Peasall Sisters (the little girls from O Brother Where Art Thou?). There is a lot of great Christian music out there. Why do you never hear it in church?