Los­ing some­one close opens up new per­spec­tives and a deep grat­i­tude for that per­son­’s life. Song­writer, wor­ship leader, and Ren­o­varé Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Bri­an Morykon reflects on wor­ship in the light of the loss of his men­tor and friend Scott Baker.

You can hear more of Scot­t’s music at col​por​teur​.band​camp​.com

The pod­cast includes a read­ing of an essay Scott wrote for the web­site of his pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny, Ear­Rev­er­ent. The text is below.

One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries is sit­ting on the floor in our liv­ing room before a small chi­na cab­i­net the bot­tom of which con­tained my father’s small but grow­ing col­lec­tion of LPs. From a sen­so­ry stand­point, those card­board and vinyl objects played as influ­en­tial a role in my per­son­al for­ma­tion as the Luther­an cat­e­chism and litur­gy in which I was thor­ough­ly soaked by the age of twelve. It wasn’t long before Dad con­vinced Pas­tor Garth to let us take drums and bass into the sanc­tu­ary and play a cou­ple of spir­i­tu­al num­bers for the con­gre­ga­tion. This was the same bass gui­tar on which all of us had tak­en a turn play­ing the ubiq­ui­tous open­ing line from Smoke on the Water.” Down in the church base­ment, dur­ing a lull in youth group, you could play it all on the low­est string. Look­ing back, I think we may have been the orig­i­nal Praise Band. Most of the good Mis­souri Syn­od Luther­ans accept­ed the move, I guess, but my Dad told me one of his choir com­pan­ions appar­ent­ly had a word for any attempt at per­me­at­ing the line between sec­u­lar and sacred inside the church build­ing: schmaltzy.”

For some rea­son, many of us offi­cial­ly charged with cross­ing that line over the years (i.e. con­tem­po­rary wor­ship lead­ers”) seem to have tak­en this char­ac­ter­is­tic as a mis­sion state­ment: Schmaltzy: of, relat­ing to, or marked by exces­sive or maudlin sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty.” Get­ting at it from the direc­tion of the the­saurus: hokey, kitschy, maudlin, mawk­ish, schmalzy, bathet­ic, sen­ti­men­tal, slushy, sop­py, soupy, mushy, drip­py.” The over-com­pen­sat­ing cure for schmaltz, of course, is being cool, a qual­i­ty as elu­sive to the touch as a blob of mer­cury. I didn’t try to achieve cool­ness in church until after I had tried it at sundry times and diverse man­ners out­side the church.

By the time I returned, in the late 1980s, those of us in new­ly acquired musi­cal lead­er­ship posi­tions sat­is­fied our urge to speak the lan­guage of Chris­t­ian wor­ship in our own musi­cal ver­nac­u­lar while jus­ti­fy­ing the project as fol­lows: we were bring­ing appeal to the dusty act of going to church for those dis­af­fect­ed mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion.” Any cool­ness we even­tu­al­ly appro­pri­at­ed derived from the son­ic dens of FM, LP, Dol­by-cas­sette, and CD, and we tried to hit two cul­tur­al birds with one musi­cal stone.

Soon­er or lat­er mem­bers of the past few gen­er­a­tions found out that the King­dom of Cool­ness is a hobo train car pan­eled inside with mir­rors. When you catch a glimpse of your own reflec­tion, you either have to hold your sides laugh­ing, turn into Nar­cis­sus, or look else­where for artis­tic mean­ing and pur­pose.

Some­where along the line, I hoped to do more than strum pas­sion­ate­ly along at the front of the room. Like all pre­sump­tu­ous own­ers of a six-string pos­sess­ing mas­tery of the shift from a major chord to a sus­pend­ed chord and back again, I fig­ured I could write con­tem­po­rary con­gre­ga­tion­al music just as well as the next guy. So, between 1993 and 2004, under the wing and embrace of Grace Evan­gel­i­cal Free Church, I trot­ted out a string of fresh­ly penned praise songs” and invit­ed (read: made”) the casu­al­ly-dressed atten­dees to look at the words pro­ject­ed on the wall and then try to sing along.

My first install­ment emerged from a kitchen writ­ing ses­sion where I opened the Old Tes­ta­ment dur­ing Advent and wrote a song called With Us Jesus” right out of Isa­iah 9. This habit of keep­ing the songs ground­ed in the lyri­cal lan­guage of scrip­ture (and the rhythms of the lec­tionary cal­en­dar), using mul­ti­ple texts to com­ment back and forth on each oth­er, became a song­writ­ing prin­ci­ple.

I found­ed a music pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny, Ear­Rev­er­ent, a cheeky pun meant to declare oppo­site refusals and com­pli­men­ta­ry demands. Church songs need not be organ-clas­si­cal nor must they be hap­py-clap­py” kitsch. At the same time, they should merge cur­rent musi­cal strains with time­less, pre-Mod­ern” truth and the litur­gi­cal pos­ture of the age­less church. The music we envi­sioned would be nat­u­ral­ly tied to the folk-rock roots of our exist­ing abil­i­ties and pro­cliv­i­ties but would also strive to tran­scend that con­tem­po­rary deliv­ery sys­tem by seek­ing suf­fi­cient depth of con­tent and litur­gi­cal pur­pose. Songs crawled and jumped out of the sound hole of my Takamine: dron­ing con­fes­sions (“For­give­ness Prayer”), moody Psalms (“Out of the Deep”), and cel­e­bra­to­ry hand-clap­pers (“O Most High”).

When the song had the right musi­cal feel (that’s the Ear side) and the appro­pri­ate litur­gi­cal func­tion and lan­guage (that’s the Rev­er­ent side), it would march right up to the over­head pro­jec­tor and have a go. Noth­ing could real­ly stop it from the human side (that is, some­times unfor­tu­nate­ly, no one has the heart to tell a wor­ship leader No”). Nev­er­the­less, excus­ing the bold­ness of the fol­low­ing obser­va­tion, quite often there seemed to be a big Yes” from the divine side. We sought to hal­low the every­day while wrench­ing the famil­iar out of its giv­en shape and remold­ing it for holi­er use. Every once in while, it seemed to work. To me, Raise a Song” said it best, bor­row­ing from Paul’s exhor­ta­tion in 1 Corinthi­ans 14: I will sing with my mind, and my heart, and my soul.“

To put all this on a slight­ly more ele­vat­ed plane: every Chris­t­ian in each his­tor­i­cal gen­er­a­tion and cul­tur­al set­ting has to find their place in the litur­gy, the way things are done by the peo­ple of God, in time and across it. Those of us writ­ing and singing and record­ing under the Ear­Rev­er­ent label were find­ing a way to be respon­si­bly cre­ative dur­ing tran­scen­dent moments that tran­spire in sacred space, such as, say, the tiled store-front of a rent­ed strip mall unit.

May God bless those adults who let us kids play around with the church music. In this spir­it of grat­i­tude, I’ll end by call­ing to your atten­tion Harold Best’s Unceas­ing Wor­ship. In it, Best pro­vides an update on a state­ment attrib­uted to G. K. Chester­ton, who said some­thing like, any­thing worth doing is worth doing bad­ly.” Best improves this by focus­ing on improve­ment itself: Any­thing worth doing is worth doing bad­ly, but not for long.” Hope­ful­ly, this selec­tion of songs wears the stamp of suc­ces­sive growth in qual­i­ty and depth. I know that I am not the only songwriter/​music leader out there who finds him­self wor­ry­ing about one thing espe­cial­ly: what war­rant do I and oth­ers like me have for adding to the son­ic glut that we call music,” espe­cial­ly if we’re non-pro­fes­sion­als? None at all, it is a priv­i­lege to be tak­en both seri­ous­ly and light­ly. If you elect to include any of these selec­tions in your church’s gath­er­ing-song, may you find a way to make them more Ear­Rev­er­ent than they were when they start­ed out. Let’s leave this place bet­ter than we found it.

— C. Scott Baker

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