Psalm 57: The Thunder’s Rage Is Roaring (with Kate Bluett)

I met Kate Bluett through a Facebook group in which we’re both members: Liturgy Fellowship. After she won first place in a song contest and I placed second (always the bridesmaid!) I introduced myself and asked if she’d like to collaborate. The first fruit of our collaboration is a fresh setting of Psalm 57.

Kate did a great job of capturing a difficult Psalm. The first verse teases out the storm imagery that accompanies the famous “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” The second verse focuses on the Psalmist’s foes who are laying traps. The third verse is my favorite; Kate not only includes the beautiful “I will awaken the dawn with singing” of the original Psalm but concludes with the point that the temporary terrors of the night are momentary, whereas God’s love never ends.

Musically, I wanted something bold and energetic. The opening octave leap does just that. “Pow!” It says. The above demo borders on stoner rock, but I could also imagine it being sung in the style of a sea chanty. (Any TikTokkers want to cover it?) The tune name, by the way, is DO NOT DESTROY. (David already named it in the Psalm itself. Who am I to argue?)

1. The thunder’s rage is roaring,
and lightning flames on high.
I lift my voice, imploring,
but who will hear my cry?
My God, come down; restore me!
From heaven now draw nigh!
Your guarding wings spread o’er me
’til storms have passed me by.

2. My foes, they hunt and hound me;
my grave they have prepared.
Like lions they surround me,
their words as sharp as spears.
My God, come down; confound them
and catch them in their snares,
Your saving love has found me
and held me in your care.

3. O God, my heart is ready
to sing and wake the dawn,
for thunder fades already,
the storm will soon be gone
No night outlasts your heaven,
where terrors all are done.
Your mercy lasts forever,
your love goes on and on!

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You Walk Along Our Shorelines

Sylvia Dunstan wrote the beautiful hymn “You Walk Along Our Shorelines” in response to Mark 1:14-20, in which Jesus calls the first disciples. It is often paired with the tune AURELIA (“The Church’s One Foundation”), but I felt it needed something simpler–a story rather than a proclamation. My tune has a classic AABA structure, a hint of nostalgia, a 7.6.7.6 D meter, and a little bonbon of harmonic surprise. Could you ask for more?

Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John, in the film The New Gospel.

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Psalm 56: O God, in Mercy Look to Me (Carlill)

I came back again to Adam Carlill’s Psalms for the Common Era, this time his version of Psalm 56. This Psalm is a plea for mercy when being hotly pursued by enemies. Have you ever felt like David did when he wrote this–slandered, hunted, trapped? The Psalmist petitions God for deliverance, reaffirms his trust in God’s care, and throws in a few ideas about what God might want do to his enemies. Interestingly, the Psalm ends with a future/past tense statement of faith: “I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me…” Now that’s faith!

Musically, I thought a Medieval Celtic sound would fit this text well. Instead of the standard pentatonic scale, though, I used the Dorian mode. That raised 6th scale tone gives the melody a unique contour that keeps it from becoming predictable.

If you want to geek out for a minute, pay attention to the form of the song. Usually, folk ballad forms are AABA or ABA or something similar, with each phrase of music being the same length. (Take a look at “Sally Gardens,” for example, which is AABA.) This allows a song to have a good deal of singable familiarity, while also having some variation. My tune is an ABAC form with each A being four measures long and the B and C being two. Even more interesting is that the music’s form doesn’t exactly match the text’s form. This creates an oil-and-water tension that keeps the song interesting over its seven verses.

1. O God, in mercy look to me,
for I am trampled low.
All day they challenge me and fight,
oppressors watch me from their height,
to strike and overthrow,
to strike and overthrow.

2. When I am nervous and afraid,
I trust in your decree.
In God, the Lord, whose word is dear,
in God I trust, and will not fear.
What can they do to me?
What can they do to me?

3. All day they falsify my words,
with evil schemes and strife,
while secretly they trail and track,
they keep a watch behind my back,
to take away my life,
to take away my life.

4. Will they escape their wickedness,
who wait to snare my soul?
You count my wanderings as I pass,
decant my tears into your glass;
you note them in a scroll,
you note them in a scroll.

5. Bring down my foes in wrath, O God,
confirming your decree.
In God, the Lord, whose word is dear,
in God I trust, and will not fear.
What can they do to me?
What can they do to me?

6. I call to you, and then my foes
withdraw in disarray,
for God is with me, this I know.
I pay in full the vows I owe,
my sacrifice today,
my sacrifice today.

7. For you deliver me from death;
my feet are sound and shod.
I will not stumble during strife,
but follow you, the light of life,
to walk before my God,
to walk before my God.

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My Days Are in Your Hands, two versions

It seems that my recently written “My Days Are in Your Hands” was timely. A number of people downloaded it for use in their New Year’s services. One of those was was Joel Jupp, who recorded this beautiful rendition for his church’s first (virtual) service of the new year.

Dr. Joel Jupp serves as a worship and college leader in Chicagoland. In addition, he teaches philosophy courses at Aurora University, as well as writing courses at Judson University and Bible courses at Moody Bible Institute. He is the Executive Editor at PaperBlazer, and his music is available at JoelJupp.com, Spotify, and Apple Music. Follow him on Twitter: @joeljupp.

The next is from my own church’s service. At Fuller Ave CRC, we try blur the lines between traditional, contemporary, global, etc. All instruments are called upon to play all musics. In this case, Chad Boorsma and I felt the combination of guitar and organ fit the song well.

My hope is the variety of styles in which “My Days” has been sung in its first few weeks of life speaks to its potential for crossover appeal in the future. Nothing makes me happier than hearing my songs sung by big, small, modern, historic, monocultural, and multicultural churches.

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My Days Are in Your Hands

Matt Mulder is preaching from Ecclesiastes 3 this Sunday. Thanks, Matt… Of course, one always thinks of the Byrds’ iconic “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in relation to this scripture passage, but Matt will be teasing out a New Year/Old Year theme: God incarnate as Jesus gives meaning to all of our times–both good and bad.

As I searched for appropriate hymns to follow the sermon, I came across a text by W.F. Lloyd: “My Times Are in Your Hands,” an obvious tip of the hat to Psalm 31:15. I used that as a launching pad for a completely new song on a similar theme. “My Days Are in Your Hands” is a prayer of trust, offering our lives to God in faith, whether our days be dark or bright, long or short.

1. My days are in your hands;
my life is in your care,
and all the things I am or love,
I leave them there.
The things I am or love
I leave them there.

2. My days are in your hands;
in days both dark and bright.
In pleasure or in pain
still you are by my side.
In pleasure or in pain
you’re by my side.

3. My days are in your hands;
why should I doubt or fear?
Your peace, O Christ, surrounds me
both in joy and tears.
Your peace, O Christ,
surrounds in joy and tears.

4. My days are in your hands,
though days be long or short.
I know your care today,
your love forevermore.
I know your care
and love forevermore.

5. My days are in your hands;
your hands once pierced with nails.
Your heart, it knows my pain;
your love will never fail.
O Lord, I know
your love will never fail.

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The Peaceable Kingdom

Lest you think songwriting is a simple, linear process…

This song started its life a few years ago at the Christmas songwriting retreat that produced Refugee King, Jesus Be Enough, and Tiny King. The page of sketches had “Peaceful Revolution” scribbled at the top, a phrase I still like. It remained in my ideas folder until this week when I realized it would fit perfectly in Fuller Ave’s virtual Lessons & Carols service.

“The Peaceable Kingdom,” like the Edward Hicks painting from which I borrowed the song’s title, is a rendering of the famous Isaiah 11:1-9 passage that describes predator and prey playing together, led by a little child. At Christmas, we understand this Child to be Christ, the little child who came into the world to usher in an age of peace. Of course, a quick look around shows that this peace is not yet fully consummated. Indeed, a second theme of Advent is preparing ourselves for the triumphant return of Christ, when the world will truly reflect Isaiah’s vision.

I hear this song as a diminutive sibling to “Peace in the Valley,” a song which I adore and have used with Isaiah 11:1-9 in Lessons & Carols past.

1. From a stump in the forest,
there rises a life-giving shoot
that reaches to heaven–
a branch grown from Jesse’s deep root.

For God’s Spirit will fill him:
the Spirit of wisdom and word,
the Spirit of knowledge and power,
and delight in the fear of the Lord.

2. This One will bring justice
flowing deeper than sound or than sight.
The wicked and righteous,
laid bare before his holy eyes.

On that day earth will tremble
rich and poor will be stunned as they hear
the Word of God banish all malice
as the Kingdom of Heaven draws near.

For the lion will lay with the lamb
and the serpent will surrender its fangs,
and a child will lead all his people by the hand.
There will finally be peace in this land.
O Lord, let this Kingdom begin.

3. O Lord, we are waiting
for the day that this word is fulfilled.
We catch glimpses of glory
but sadness and sin haunts us, still.

Break your light in our darkness
Let your love cast out all fear.
O Lord, come quickly, we’re waiting
until your Kingdom is here.

For the lion will lay with the lamb
and the serpent will surrender its fangs,
and a child will lead all his people by the hand.
There will finally be peace in this land.
O Lord, let this Kingdom begin.

When the Lion of Judah comes again,
the Lamb of God will take away the world’s sin,
and the serpent will surrender to God’s holy reign.
O Lord, let this Kingdom begin.
Come, quickly Lord, amen.

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Psalm 53: Fools Deny Their God within Them (Carlill)

I returned to Adam Carlill’s excellent Psalms for the Common Era to get his take on the difficult Psalm 53. This Psalm (and its nearly identical twin, Psalm 14) is full of rancor, claiming that foolish humans are godless, corrupt, and warring, and will eventually face God’s wrath, their scattered bones telling the tale of their judgment. Heavy stuff. Adam’s metrical rendering of this Psalm retains its themes but uses language that allows us to enter into it more easily.

I decided to accompany the text with Baroque-flavored music. It’s outside the norm of congregational songs, but I think it’s quite singable. The melody is relatively simple, while the harmonies and bass line scurry around it with all the fury of Psalm 53’s evildoers. I especially like how the final half verse shifts to a major key, letting the accusations and anger of the previous verses give way to a final note of hope.

Sheet music is available here.

Fools deny their God within them,
while they work unrighteous mayhem;
there is no-one virtuous.

Then our God from heaven descended,
and our nature comprehended:
was there thought or thirst for God?

All have gone astray together,
fraudulent in their endeavour,
no-one upright here at all.

Wicked-doers have no knowledge,
as they swallow those in bondage.
They do not proclaim their God.

All the wicked shall be daunted,
and by fear and terror haunted,
shattered bones and empty camps.

You, my God, have scorned the vicious,
and their cruel, vain, ambitious
plans; you have rejected them.

Who will give relief from Zion,
freeing captives from their prison?
May his people all rejoice!

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Jesus Cristo, esperança do mundo/Jesus Christ, Hope of the World

This fall, I was commissioned to write an arrangement of the lovely Brazilian milonga, “Jesus Cristo, experança do mundo.” It premiered last night in the second installment of Calvin University’s four-part Lessons and Carols. The whole program was lovely and it was great fun to hear my choral piece elsewhere than in my own head!

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Your Stupid Phone

If you are anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with your phone. On the one hand, all the knowledge of civilization rests in the palm of your hands. On the other hand, that needy little chunk of technology demands more and more of your attention, leaving precious little for anything else. I fear that many of us–that I–am living my life through a 2×3 inch window that is only somewhat like real life. More and more I find myself wanting to cut the cords of virtuality and lose myself in the tiny details of this beautiful world.

All these musings turned into a song that starts out with a jealous lover and moves to all the joys that an enfleshed existence offers.

On technical note, I used this recording to experiment with the drum set I just moved to my office. I’m very happy about having drums just a few feet away from my desk. My coworkers? Not so much.

1. Your stupid phone doesn’t love you like I do.
Your stupid phone doesn’t love you at all.
No one at all could love you like I do.
No one at all, no one at all.

‘Cause I’m here
and I’m real,
and isn’t that what we all want?
So put down your stupid phone.

2. Do you ever see the beauty around you?
Does the mundane wonder of the world ever put you in awe? [leave you enthralled]
Take notice of the humming life that surrounds you.
Are you ever overwhelmed by the tragic joy of it all?

Pen to paper, clay to wheel.
All I want is something real.

The heat of coffee, the smell of toast,
butter on the tongue; what could matter more?

Sun on skin, feet on the ground,
air in the lungs–these are things that count.

Skin to skin, eye to eye,
breath to breath, life to life.

Pen to paper, clay to wheel.
All I want is something real.

All I want is something real.

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Psalm 6: Lord, My God, Do Not Contend (Carlill)

A few weeks ago, a friend recommended Psalms for the Common Era, a collection of 150 Psalm versifications by Adam Carlill. It is a lovely collection that strikes a fine balance between faithfulness to the Hebrew texts and singability for modern congregations.

Of course, the best way to become familiar with a hymn text is to set it to music! I began with Psalm 6, which is one I’ve never set to music before. I wrote a Celtic-style ballad, which feels to me like it’s sturdy enough to contain the harsher elements of the Psalm (“do not castigate and chide,” “Turn away from me my foes” ), but soft enough for phrases like “soothing touch and balm inside.”

I’m sure I’ll be writing more songs using Adam’s texts. In the meantime, visit his website and get the book for yourself!

Sheet music is available here.

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