The Psalms & John Mark McMillan (REVIEW)

The book of Psalms is arguably the most beloved book of the Bible.  At 150 chapters, it is the longest book of the Bible.  It contains the longest (Psalm 119) and shortest (Psalm 117) chapters in the Bible.  If you were to flip open the Word to around the middle, chances are that you’d land somewhere in the Psalms.  Three things stick out about this book:

1) It speaks to many different situations and feelings.  Feeling thankful?  Read Psalm 21.  Feeling afraid or uncertain?  Read Psalm 23.  The topics that David covers in these songs and poems are seemingly endless.  You could probably spend your whole life studying the Psalms and you would not run out of new things that you didn’t notice before.

2) The Psalms are masterfully written.  They, among other writings of the Bible, develop its own style of poetry, using parallelism as a main device.  David paints beautiful word pictures with the Psalms.  He gave his all when he was writing.

3) Lastly, the Psalms are honest.  While there are some very beautiful Psalms, there are others that use less attractive wording.  For instance, take a minute to read Psalm 88

David was very honest about his feelings.  Here he is obviously struggling.  I feel this is something that is missing from music today that is written by Christians.  A lot of Christian writers compose songs about how good God is and bow their life is going so well.  Now don’t get me wrong, these songs are great – encouraged even.  You won’t have to look very hard to find a Psalm praising God and his goodness.  But I feel that the whole picture isn’t being painted.

As much as I’d love to have a perfect and lovely existence all the time, that’s just not the way it works.  Jesus, whose life we are to imitate, had bad days.  He cried tears like any other human being.  He sweat blood in the garden, and was very transparent with his Father about his feelings.  I’m not sure why we are afraid of transparency.  I think it can sometimes be due to fear of rejection, or a desire to be “politically correct” and not “whine.” 

But that’s obviously not what God desires.  The Psalms are included in the Bible, and David sometimes wrote out his incredibly violent thoughts towards his situations.  They are sometimes grim.  But God can handle our struggles.  They are small to him.  We need to be honest and get these feelings off our chests.  Then God can do what he does and repair our brokenness.  But we need to offer it to him first.

This leads me to my Music Thursday review: Borderland by John Mark McMillan.  In speaking of his album, McMillan says, “Borderland speaks to the idea of the ‘place between places, which is where I feel I’ve been living as a person, as an artist, and as a believer for a couple of years. While few things describe the Christian experience more than the ‘place between places,’ it is also a concept everyone can relate to. We all walk lines between work and family, love and responsibility, art and commerce, passion and business and so on. Many of these songs are my commentary from a life between the crevices and on the verge.”

Borderland

In order to commentate on this “borderland,” one must have honesty.  John Mark McMillan writes with a refreshing poetic intensity and honesty reminiscent of the Psalms.  While the album includes some beautiful worship songs (see the video at the end of the post), it can also become grimly honest.  Take for instance the chorus of album opener “Holy Ghost”: “Dead in the water/Like lamb to the slaughter/If the wind doesn’t sing her song/And I’m speaking in tongues/Cause I need a Holy Ghost.”  One important thing to notice is that, amidst the darkness, McMillan maintains a God-centered perspective.  That is crucial when being transparent.  If unchecked, our honesty can lead to the enemy gaining a foothold in our lives, shifting our thoughts and perspectives constantly toward the dark.  When honestly reflecting your thoughts, keep Christ at the forefront. 

Musically, McMillan and his band weave a sonic landscape with big sounding drums (I particularly enjoyed the usage of roto-toms), strings, horns, and guitars.  Talent is evidenced throughout the album, from the jangly beat of “Borderland” to the powerful gang vocals of “Silver Shore.”  Speaking of vocals, McMillan croons in a Springsteen-esque tone.  Although, he is still able to pull a good falsetto (“Love at the End” is a great example of his vocal range).

John Mark McMillan exemplifies how Christians should write music, giving his best in writing and music.  This is so far my favorite album of 2014 so far.  It has inspired deep thoughts in me.  Give it a listen, and I’m sure it will in you as well.

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