Posted on March 25, 2015
A couple of years ago, Steve invited me over to play through arrangements for some songs he was working on. After 6 months of playing together there were a number of solid songs and He decided to go after recording them.
After about 6 months of playing the songs he was writing through, both of our commitments pulled us in different directions and I had little awareness of how things were progressing until he sent out a kickstarter email and funded the recording in record time! 1
Fast forward a few more months and Songs of Sorrow | Songs of Hope was released and it has been the most listened to album for me ever since.
Another World is possible, so lets sing about it!
Steve grew up as a missionary kid in Germany, though his parents are originally from the US. His experiences in different nations produced a back drop for the album. The album sways back and forth (as the title suggests); witnessing to a world of pain, and then shifting weight towards the hope of a coming kingdom. The songs draw heavily on the traditions of liberation, pacifism and american civil rights history.
In the writing that Steve has posted online about the album he has discussed how ‘worship is protest’. Through that statement and listening to the album I’ve been impacted with what a profound opportunity our worship together is. An Acknowledgement of pain and suffering that we encounter in the world, and then a protest that calls forth the new age of the kingdom.
At its best moments the lyrics of Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Hope press into the sense that not only does the kingdom of God come after pain and suffering, but that hopelessness and pain can itself become a door into a deeper, more truer hope.
Are you heavy laden?
What lashes does your body bear? Are your sorrows plenty? Come lay em down, lay em down, lay em down.
– Steve Schallert | Run Devil Run
Songs that Form us
For many who are used to the evangelical mainstream of worship SoS/SoH2 will be a departure from ‘easy to sing along’ song constructions, but it becomes the genius of the album. It is musically accessible enough, but Steve’s vocation as a teacher3 lures you in to really listen to the lyrics. In the months I’ve been listening to the album I am still struck with thoughts and perspectives that form out of the song lyrics.
Anyone who has heard Steve play live knows that he has an affinity for singing songs which were crafted amongst communities of the oppressed. The Album includes stripped down interludes with many songs from the african american spirituals tradition 4, and the civil rights movement. These work as short resting places through the album in between the more layered and produced songs.
I’ve cycled through many of the songs of the album as ‘favourites’, but ‘Run Devil Run’, ‘Is it all loss’, and ‘ He was numbered among the lawless’, are for me, the high points of this record.
For hate will not drive out hate
Only love can storm the gate
And reconcile this mess we make
At the end of last year Rachel and I visited Syrian refugee camps to engage the great challenge that is being faced in that region and gathered with about 60 others from our church family in a town just outside the largest camp Zaatari. All of us had spoken to families there who were fleeing, lost everything. Every single Syrian we spoke to have lost a family member within the last 6 months. In those times the pat answers to suffering that often plague our faith fall away, and we are left affirming the gravity of those losses and providing meek yet steady witnesses to a kingdom that is coming, and through the grace of Jesus in His people is already here. One evening we gathered for prayer and the eucharist and I led us in singing ‘A Song of Lamentation’.
JESUS, GOD OF THE POOR
LIBERATOR, FRIEND OF THE WEAK
JESUS, LIGHT OF THE WORLD
THESE WEARY BONES, TREMBLE AND WEEP
HEAL EVERY HEART AND EVERY SOUL
HEAL THE VIOLENCE WE CARRY,
THE BLOOD IN THE SOIL…
– Steve Schallert | A Song of Lamentation
It is truly hard for me to find anything to detract from the album as I think about it. In my enthusiastic sharing of this album my only fear has been that the depth of meaning that is embedded in the soul of this album is lost through some phrases that are somewhat ‘insider’ language to the social justice and pacifist traditions that Steve is rooted in.
In the best sense of the word, SoS/SoH is a ‘grower’, it will widen your language and sense of what worship can be, in a time where it is not an overstatement to say ‘worship music’ is suffering from ‘sameyness’5.
Next week, I’m hoping to post an interview with Steve, if you had questions for him fire them down in the comments below, and we’ll see if we can get them answered!
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- pun intended ↩
- The abbreviated title I’ll use from now on. ↩
- which you could say is his ‘day job’ in YWAM. ↩
- Interestingly enough, When Dietric Bonhoeffer came over from Germany to the US, he acknowledged the african american spiritual tradition as the best theology in a worship tradition he has encountered. When he returned to germany his prize possesion was a box of vinyls in this stream. He was baffled why the wider white population would not have embraced and learned from this great resource. ↩
- Im continuing my tradition of inventing words it would seem! ↩