What drives the content of songs and why they are sung - thoughts about Vicky Beeching.

Before going any further, let me make it plain that this is not a comment about her coming out as such, and all the stuff that surrounds that, and if you want to write abusive stuff about her then please go somewhere else.

There's an article here in a British newspaper that is definitely slanted in a way that's not favourable to the church, but does offer some useful and interesting insights none the less. The part I want to focus on is where her songwriting is driven by the what she was experiencing:

"It was my one outlet." Her first song, called "Search Me O God", contains, tellingly, the line: "Find any way in me that does not reflect Your purity."

I very seriously wonder if her struggles with the things going off in her were reflected in many of her songs, and that resonated with so many who also struggle with things they know to be sin, yet cannot seem to escape their draw. Could this have been one of the reasons why she was so successful (as well as the enormous hard work and huge talent she had - but many failed musicians have those)?

So it makes me wonder what drives the content of the songs we write and sing, and what drives our selection of songs too. Are we able to express our struggles in our songs or only the high points. Do we just desire songs of victory, strength and happiness or do we sing songs where we've been through dark valleys too?

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I can't really comment on writing worship songs but I believe I write songs about God.  I want to be honest about being a Christian in what I write.   Here's some of my song titles

1, Black Clouds   - about hope when suffering depression

2, Death is Waiting  -   for all of us

3, Internal Job Vacancy Blues - injustice at work and a bible passage

4, I cannot Judge you -  came from backing a person who is transgender and saying that we are made in the image of a god

5, Do you have what you need -  about the wanting of things

Or a couple of songs I hoped would be congregational don't get an airing 

1 Turning the Tables  -  what's in the title 

2 When the vine is empty(I will rejoice) - Habakkuk

Youth helps with secular type success (in the Church)  starting to write your mid forties is not a good route. 

I think song writing is a great way of bringing us together in our struggles as even though our individual struggles may be different in the specifics, the challenges and difficulties are often the same. I wrote a song a while back when I was praying for my neighbours and realised I knew nothing of what goes on behind the closed doors in my street. It developed as a song in the sense that others don't know what goes on behind my closed doors either! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjL6qCgDYc
I think these types of songs are really important for the Church. I'm not suggesting we all go up the front and tell the whole Church our inner most thoughts and secrets but during worship times we have an opportunity to partner with God on this stuff and hopefully there will be some people in your Church that you can trust to talk to about what God is doing or what you want Him to be doing in your life.

Yes, I think that things outside our "theology" drive our writing (or, as a WL, our selection) of songs - in particular, I think we tend to NOT write or choose songs we would personally be uncomfortable with, even when we can't quote a specific scriptural reason for it.  I don't write or choose songs that emphasize "lifting your hands in worship" because I don't do that, and we don't do that in our church.  I don't do songs with military themes 'cause I'm a retired hippie.  If I write a song that I agree with but I know some people in my church would disagree with, those songs don't get dropped into the worship setlist.

Over the years, I've been able to give myself permission to WRITE whatever I'm thinking, and then to do a certain amount of self-censoring... "yeah, that really is how I feel, but I think we'll just keep that for the private collection album."  In terms of worship songs, where we're putting words into the congregation's mouths, there are plenty of positive things we can say without asking people to sing something they personally disagree with.

I am not familiar with Vicky Beeching, her songs or her story, so I want to do some reading and listening before I comment on that.  But I think that for all of us, our own personal lives affect our song choices.  Very few contemporary worship songs about the evils of tattoos or long haired men or remarriage after divorce or eating pork these days, even if those prohibitions are also scriptural.  yeah, I know, OT vs NT and all that, and I don't want to restart that other debate.

Will have more to say once I've done some poking around...

Thank you for that Charles - I've never really had the literary dexterity to adequately write what I feel in song (I struggle enough with conventional writing).

I'd prefer not to have comments on Vicky as such, because she's probably getting comments from a lot of people right now. The thing I was trying to focus on with this was that in her struggle and brokenness she wrote stuff that connected with a lot of people, and i would guess that was because it connected to their struggle and brokenness too. It would be interesting to see whether songs about having tattoos in church or remarriage after divorce and the struggles with that also made connections for some people. ;-)

But I do agree about choosing songs carefully. Sometimes it can be handy to find some with words that can challenge some theologies a little (providing they're orthodox and fundamentally bible-based - I have in mind Paul Baloche's Everything Will Be Shaken for example). But it's also important not to bring songs that are sticks to hit people with, to keep reminding them of their issues and failings, and that can be tricky if we don't know there are buttons being pushed....

Yeah, okay, just back from listening to 23 Vicky Beeching songs :-)  Trying to stay close to your original question of whether references to "brokenness" in her songs helped make her successful, but tossing in some other observations, as well...

First off: I haven't gone back to CCLI and looked up the copyright dates on all the songs (and I know that even copyright dates don't necessarily track with what inspired a particular lyric), but kinda based on the dates the videos were posted, I did get some sense that in her early stuff, there is a sense of "we don't know what God is thinking, we shouldn't judge."  That was in 2007/2008.  By 2010, it seems like there is more of this sense of the singer finding a refuge in God from her battles with, umm, Christians, and by 2011 I kinda get a sense that she's stopped putting so much "personal" stuff into the songs and is doing a bit more just setting scriptures to music, saying the things the record producers want her to say.  I realize that there are some huge leaps of assumption in that chronology, but I sensed that sort of progression of themes in the lyrics.

Some lyrics that intrigued me: at the end of "Above All Else," she sings "give me Yourself" instead of the more typical Christian lyric, "I give myself to You."  The words of a seeker rather than the words of one who thinks they have the answers.  "May I never lose the wonder of the cross" sounds like someone who is NOT convinced that we know all the answers yet.  And in "Turn Your Eyes," the phrase from the original hymn, "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim" maybe suggest that the whole gay debate is one of those "things of earth" that she wishes we wouldn't get so upset about.

A number of the other songs, though, include lyrics that seem like "Fix me, God" references.  Breath of God.  Suddenly seems like a second coming song that leans in the direction of "those who didn't follow Your word will be sorry."  Undivided Heart there's certainly some sense of "Fix me, God" in there.

There are a number of songs that seem like they reflect her personal struggle, and to the degree that that can be translated into anybody's personal struggle, may relate to your original question.  Everlasting Arms, Refuge, Needing You.  They don't refer to the specifics of her own personal struggle, and in that sense, maybe they resonate in those who are experiencing their own things.  I think there is a certain age group that will relate to that, but it's not necessarily her primary appeal.

I thought it was interesting that she wrote a song called "Awesome God" - Rich Mullins' earlier song by that title certainly has some of the most anti-gay lyrics of any worship song I've come across, and I wonder if maybe this was an attempt on her part to "take back" the title, to write a song that speaks of "the mystery of Your great love for me" and presents God as so awesome that we need to be really careful about assuming that we know what God wants or expects from us.

To get back to the original question of whether her popularity is due to these songs of struggle... I'm not convinced, although I think that somebody who is part of a church full of twenty-somethings who are coming face to face with their own youthful failures and turning to God will sense more of that than I will (in a church of fifty-somethings who have settled into the life they are going to live and just want reassurance that they've made the right choice).  I suspect that, in terms of being popular on the megachurch circuit, it's going to be more the songs that... to me, seemed like they were inspired by specific scriptures and weren't really so "personal" in nature.  Emmanuel, Blessing and Honor, Salvation Day.

I could, of course, be wrong about this, but that's what I got from listening to 23 Vicki Beeching songs at one sitting :-)

Charles, thank you for spending so much time and for such a carefully considered reply. I really appreciate that. I suspect you also know Vicky's songs better than I do now. :)

Yer welcome.  In going through the process, I came across several songs that I think would work really well with our congregation.  I am currently polling our band - here's this person, is anybody going to be offended if we do some of her songs in church?  So far, no objections... of course, this is the worship team that got on board with me doing "Mama Tried" for Mother's Day, so, ya know, they're not real obstinate or anything :-) 

Thanks guys, for your replies.

I remember reading an interview with Tim Hughes in which he talked about his song "I've had questions" - no specifics but he confirmed it had come out of a very tough place for him personally. Similarly Matt and Beth Redman wrote "Blessed be your name" after Beth had a miscarriage, if I recall correctly. The real skill in those songs is that they are sufficiently generic to resonate with many different difficult experiences, while still pointing people towards God and making a declaration of faith despite circumstances. There is definitely a place for those kind of songs in church - anyone who said otherwise would have to ban a huge chunk of the Psalms as well.

I think we already do ban a large chunk of psalms - no-one is very happy reading or singing about dashing out baby's brains or breaking the teeth of opponents. But I do apprecaite to your comments about including suffering and struggle that reflect reality in songs, and the need to point people at God while they are walking through that. Thanks Matt.

http://youtu.be/rDjcf6Oa9PU

Here's a link to a video of my song for those who need to know that they are made in the image of God. I noted this song in my earlier reply.
I was at an open mic night with my friends (gracious g) and a transgender lady wanted someone to play a particular song for her to sing. My fiends volunteered me. I didn't want to do it as I don't know many cover and I didn't want to mess up. But I ended up agreeing to do it as we were there as a Christian presence and I didn't want the lady to feel I was judging her. Well with the help of the internet on my phone I found the chords in the right key and we successfully performed the song. The lady showed me her song writing book and there were some excellent lyrics but what got to me was an issue of feeling isolated from others. Not being excepted. From this I found myself writing this song.

Thanks Vic.

You know, I think the sense of being judged and loneliness & isolation is common to all mankind, at times. Sometimes we can see groups of people with very good reasons for feeling isolated, but for many quite ordinary ones it's a normal and regular part of life. Some characters never seem to experience it, but certainly a great many do - I recall asking in a housegroup who felt lonely at times, and there wasn't a single peson who didn't put their hand up.

I found this blogpost this morning through a friend, and it's a good place to start thinking about how we relate in our churches to the lonely. http://www.ryancook.co/?p=34

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